A former close aide of spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi has come out with a book which narrates tales of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse in the ashram.
In the recently published Holy Hell, A Memoir of Faith, Devotion and Pure Madness, Gail Tredwell alias Gayatri describes how she was sexually abused at the ashram, where, according to her, senior inmates had physical relations.
Ashram representative Sudeep Kumar confirmed that Gayatri had been with Amritanandamayi for two decades before quitting the ashram in 1999. However, Kumar said the contents of her book were absolutely baseless. “The allegations were surprising and defy common logic,’’ he said.
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Tredwell, an Australian national, joined as a personal attendant to “the hugging saint’’ in 1978 at the age of 19, and witnessed how the young woman from a fishing village in Kerala grew into a towering spiritual leader, with followers across the world, and whose trusts now run a network of institutions in health and education sectors.
Tredwell said she wanted to know God and by working as Amma’s personal attendant, she thought she could achieve that goal. During her early days at the ashram, Tredwell said she was blessed with unforgettable spiritual experiences.
She alleged that in order to keep up her facade of innocence and purity, Amritanandamayi had a small team of trusted individuals doing her dirty work, and she (Tredwell) was one of them. “I was indeed uniquely privileged to witness Amma’s human side and her array of emotions — pretty standard ones, most of them, for non-gurus — that were highly contradictory to what she taught and displayed in public,’’ she wrote.
Tredwell alleged that one of the ashram colleagues had sexually exploited her and such repeated abuse eroded her faith. Her memoir contains details of alleged promiscuity among ashram members.
She said when a section of dev-otees became vocal about the wealth of Amma’s family, her trusted lieutenant, whom Tredwell describes as Balu, told the devotees that the wealth belonged to her father’s fishing business.
“I cringed when I heard this, for it was a flat-out lie, and even more because I knew people were not that gullible,’’ Tredwell wrote.
Tredwell said said towards the end of 1987, it became almost a daily routine for Amritanandamayi to threaten to throw her out. “Those who dared to speak out were immediately blacklisted, deemed a traitor, and looked upon as a threat to the preservation of faith among her disciples. This life was more than just grueling,” she wrote.
Ashram spokesman Sudeep Kumar said Tredwell had left the ashram at her own choice. “She never had any such complaints in the initial days after she left the ashram. We had supported her later. Everyone knows Amma’s life is open and transparent,’’ Kumar said.
Kumar, however, said they did not plan any legal action against Gail Tredwell at this stage.
While reports on the book, available on Amazon.com, went viral on social media, CPI(M) Rajya Sabha member and party daily Deshabhimani’s resident editor (Kochi) P Rajiv criticised mainstream media’s reluctance to report on the issue. “The media should know that gone are the days when people would be kept in the dark since you (media) hide the truth,’’ he posted on Facebook.