BBC Radio documentary
The International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres Organisation is aware of the three part BBC Radio documentary “Guru – Yoga, Power, Abuse”, broadcast from 15 June 2021 onwards. The documentary includes an account of allegations made against Swami Vishnudevananda, Swami Mahadevananda, and an unnamed individual. It is presented by a former Sivananda Yoga Teacher, Ishleen Kaur.
Although they relate to three identified individuals only, and in large part to historic allegations of misconduct, the Organisation recognises that the issues raised by the documentary are very serious. Its Board of Trustees, as the detailed response which features in the third episode of the documentary makes clear, sympathises with the women who came forward for the documentary. It has both apologised for historic mistakes which it made in taking action over the issues raised, and has taken a range of steps to ensure that there can be no repetition of the failings it describes.
Those steps include the commissioning of an independent investigation led by a Montreal based lawyer with relevant expertise, which has invited complainants to come forward. They also include the appointment of legal experts to review and implement safeguarding policies. The Organisation’s misconduct policy is available at https://sivananda.org/misconductpolicy/ and includes a confidential reporting facility.
The allegations raised by Julie Salter regarding Swami Vishnudevananda were first brought to the attention of the Board of Trustees in 2006, thirteen years after he passed away in 1993. A successful mediation involving Ms Salter took place in 2006, at which it was made clear that she should make the allegations public if she wished to do so. Following the mediation, the Organisation started a process of implementing protocols and procedures for staff, karma yogis, guests and students, which have been in place since. Without making any criticism of Ms Salter or any other complainant, the timing of her complaint about Swami Vishnudevananda has meant that there has never been any opportunity to resolve it by reference to the requirement of natural justice that both sides to any dispute are allowed a fair opportunity to be heard.
Swami Vishnudevananda founded the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres in 1959 in Canada in the name of Swami Sivananda and worked tirelessly as a spiritual teacher and peace missionary, setting up yoga centres and ashrams throughout the world. The Organisation continues to honour its lineage and its teachings.
The Organisation is deeply committed to its safeguarding responsibilities, and to addressing the issues raised in the documentary. However, it is also concerned by its treatment by the BBC in the course of making the documentary. One highly damaging and inaccurate allegation about the Organisation has already been removed from the second episode of the documentary by the BBC, following representations made on its behalf, and it is urgently seeking advice regarding further steps in response, including a regulatory complaint to the BBC or legal action.
Before she became involved in the documentary, Ms Kaur, as she admits within it, was a member of a Facebook-based group purporting to provide a safe space for yogis to discuss the Organisation. This group is itself currently the subject of a legal claim for defamation by the Organisation. The Organisation’s view is that the BBC failed to honour its own commitment to fairness as part of its editorial values, in particular by failing to disclose to it in advance the involvement of Ms Kaur in the documentary, and by failing to provide it with a sufficiently detailed description either of the allegations it contained, or of the nature, format and content of the documentary before it was broadcast.