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Exploitation and Betryal of Trust

August 2008
Exploitation and Betryal of Trust

By P. Ravi Sarma and

Valmiki P. Raghunathan

Fox 5 Atlanta investigative reporter Randy Travis and his I-team recently broadcast a two-part report on the activities of Annamalai Annamalai, a self-proclaimed religious leader who goes by the name Dr. Commander Selvam, and by other titles such as “Swami,” “Siddhar,” “His Holiness,” and “Maharishi.”

The report shed light on allegations of credit card fraud, deceptive advertising and claims by Annamalai, of the Hindu Temple of Georgia, that he has founded many other Hindu temples across the country. The second part of the story profiled two priests at the temple who claimed they were abused, and it ended with a note about a woman in New Jersey who claimed she was charged $13,000 for a bag of sand and jelly to cure her abdominal pain.

For our community, it is a sobering reminder that even in interactions that involve faith and beliefs we should be ever vigilant. We have seen this happen time and again, and across various religions: it was Jim and Tammy Baker and the PTL ministries in the ‘80s who preyed upon Christian believers. In our own community, we routinely see advertisements of such charlatans who claim special power to make all your problems disappear—for a price of course.

Whether the allegations aired in the story and in subsequent blogs are proven to be true or not, there are lessons to learn for the Indian American community. Many of us tend to respect our spiritual leaders. When we call someone a “swami,” we convey a sense of reverence. The implication is that such a person is really learned, free of material desires, has a power to bestow grace and is always a well-wisher, even if our hardships don’t magically go away. Naturally, we are generous benefactors of such holy men and women. We also respect our institutions of worship and look at them as places that sustain our faith, culture and heritage. Therefore, it is only natural that we tend to support such religious individuals and institutions with our blanket faith.

In addition, we are also vulnerable, especially in times of hardship and need. Whether it is the television preacher offering miracle cures or a holy man claiming special powers to remove our suffering, we tend to go to them in our desperation. When such heartfelt trust is exploited it not only hurts individuals but also maligns the religion used as a cover for such malfeasance.

That is when a community has a collective sense of responsibility for speaking up. It is important for us to realize that every community, religion and organization has its share of bad apples, and we have to be educated consumers and stay constantly vigilant, even in matters of faith.

This is the time to restore values maligned by opportunists. Our own faith, beliefs or selfish intents should not blind us to the fact that such miscreants cast a shadow on the work of great monks like Swami Vivekananda who gave their entire lives for the cherished spiritual values of our heritage.

This is the time when we should stand up and put a fight for justice, truth and protection of our religion. This is not the time to say, “I need not care as long as I am not affected,” because we are all in it together. What these conmen do affect not only us, but our next generation as well, and it diminishes the respect and reverence the world has for the Hindu faith.

Until we stand up for what we truly believe in, we cannot bring about any change in our world.

[Commander Selvam’s response to Fox 5 can be viewed online at http://community.myfoxatlanta.com/blogs/RandyTravis. Videos of both the parts of the Fox 5 report can be viewed online at www.youtube.com ]

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