The Siri Singh Sahib Corporation Collaborative Response Team has decided to team up with a religious non-profit organization called An Olive Branch to conduct an independent investigation into the recent allegations of sexual misconduct by its leader Yogi Bhajan.
Below is my letter from March 11 2020 to An Olive Branch regarding the issues that I feel are most important to SGA’s:
To whom it may concern,
I was born and raised in 3HO Sikh Dharma Kundalini Yoga and found this email address through the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation’s Collaborative Response Team website. I write this email on behalf of people who were born and raised in this community, and who do not feel safe to come forward with their stories.
The trauma in our lives under this community was repeatedly present. We were child swapped, neglected, sent away to long camps, and shipped off to boarding school in India, some of us at ages as young as five. We were abused physically, abused spiritually and abused sexually. We were bullied, coerced into arranged marriages and corralled into low paying jobs in companies owned by Sikh Dharma. If someone decided to leave the community, Yogi Bhajan ordered his devotees to stop communicating with them.
The lasting affects of this traumatic upbringing have been profoundly difficult. Yet in spite of this difficulty many of the Second Generation Adults have spoken up to the religious leaders about it–about the trauma, the neglect and the abuse while we were children in this organization. To this day 3HO has never heard us or taken responsibility. All they have done is deny, dismiss and deflect.
Because of their repeated inaction many of us lost trust decades ago. And given our previous experience, you cannot expect us to now trust your process of information gathering. There is no guarantee of privacy or confidentiality with the way you have it set up–a special inbox people must email to. We cannot be sure that our stories of abuse won’t be handed directly to our abusers to do with them what they please.
Furthermore, your entire process is too opaque to expect to be able to build trust with survivors. For one, your organization has not provided citations of previous work you have done in this field. And I could not find any contact information for anyone who works at the organization. Tax filings are not made public, and are sheltered by IRS religious exemption. The only thing I could find was an article written about a report you created for Shambala International, which describes how lacking it was in substance and action on the part of Shambala International.
From the survivor’s perspective, at appears that your process and participation are an attempt to help the Yogi Bhajan organization sanitize its image so that they may continue conducting business as usual. And this is just not good enough. You’ll need to do more and you’ll need to do better if you genuinely want to hear from people, and if you genuinely want your work as independent investigators to have any letigimacy. As is stands now, I personally can’t trust you with my own stories. I thought you should know this, because I hope it will provide you an opportunity to consider changing your approach to make it more transparent and more protective of the privacy of the survivors.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.
“K” from the Indiakids Blog
I waited and had no idea what would come of my email. I didn’t receive an auto reply (the lowest bar for trust-building, IMHO). Then, on March 16th I got this:
My name is Katheryn Wiedman. I received your March 11 message sent to email@example.com. I am the person leading the Yogi Bhajan investigation. I apologize for not replying until today. Reading and re-reading your message, as I have done several times, has left me a bit paralyzed: I struggle with knowing where to begin….except to express profound sadness that the brightness and joy of childhood was stolen from you and so many other innocent children. That many in this “second generation” have had the courage to speak up to 3HO leaders is remarkable. After the repeated denials and dismissals by those leaders though, it is no wonder that you and others do not feel safe bringing your stories now to An Olive Branch.
Although you may dismiss my reply to your assertions about An Olive Branch, I feel it necessary to comment – in hopes that you and others may be willing to try one more time to have your voices heard.
Regarding the “special inbox”: We needed to establish a dedicated email address in order to handle the large influx of messages. I assure you that stories of abuse will not be “handed directly” to the abusers! Many other people have been contacting us at the firstname.lastname@example.org address – but then their trust level must be higher than yours.
Regarding citations of our previous work: The work we do for client organizations is confidential. We do not participate in the social media environment or tout our client list, but sometimes an organization announces that it is working with An Olive Branch as was the case with Shambhala. You may look at our report by following the link at the beginning of this article: https://www.lionsroar.com/shambhala-releases-olive-branch-report-detailing-allegations-of-abuse-in-community/ Then you can decide for yourself if it was “lacking in substance.”
Regarding our contact information: We do not publish our private telephone numbers. You wouldn’t either if you knew some of the cases we work with. Our pictures are on our website and anyone can reach us at the “support” email address. We are NOT hiding!
Regarding our handling of confidential material: We correspond individually with people who reach out to us. No group emails. Ever. We arrange a time for a private, confidential interview – preferably via video-conferencing but by phone if the person does not want to use video. And if a person does not want an interview, they can submit their story via written narrative. The only people who have access to our files are the three co-directors of An Olive Branch – two of us are handling this project (Leslie Hospodar and me). The third co-director, Barbara Gray, is working on other projects. The three of us consult one another as needed but the investigation information will never be shared beyond that. In our investigation report all information will be anonymous unless the person asks us to identify them.
Well… I have to stop now… I feel that those who want to find fault with An Olive Branch will do so quite independently of anything I write. Perhaps it will help you to know that other second generation people are coming forward and their experiences will be heard and reported. We remain open to hearing from you – either in an interview or via your written account.
Indiakids Blog reply March 18:
Thank you for your reply. I am open to an in person interview with you. Your response to me is reassuring. However, it is important to me to point out that words still require the backbone of real, concrete action. Might I suggest adding a few good faith measures in order to engender more trust among those with stories of abuse of power?
If you wanted to add an extra layer of confidentiality, you could create input forms in google forms which would give people the option to be anonymous, or to share their contact information for further data gathering, with added layers of privacy in this process.
Another simple, yet effective thing you could do is set up an auto-reply on the inbox with three things:
- A clear and concise privacy and confidentiality statement
- A statement that would clearly demonstrate your methods for neutrality in the process.
- A statement on how your report will guarantee both privacy to the accusers and transparency of the organization.
Of particular great concern is the welfare of the most vulnerable: those who were sexually abused as children. It takes enormous courage and vulnerability to come forward, and it is well known that people will not come forward if survivors feel that nothing will be done. In past cases in 3HO, Law Enforcement was never contacted when a victim came forward. Perhaps it would be most helpful to them to outline a plan that you put in place for reporting on criminal activity such as this.
I’m glad to hear AnOliveBranch is getting emails, yet I do not think it should be taken as a sign of implicit trust, as implicit trust can be un-earned when good-faith measures are not taken. In this way, explicit trustworthiness could be offered. Please consider this: whatever email count you are currently receiving is likely due to the sheer volume of problems in the 3HO organization. Think of them as the tip of the iceberg. For every one person that comes forward, I can comfortably say that there are probably ten people that are not. A few simple steps on your part could create a sea-change and begin to paint a much more realistic picture of what has been going on at 3HO for five decades.
Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or want to talk to me in person.
And, here’s what she wrote after that:
Thanks for your message and openness to an interview.
Before going into the details of how the interviews work and setting one up, I want to share the “boundaries” of our investigation so you can determine whether your experience puts you in that frame.
There are two paths for reporting:
1. The investigation’s scope of work is to collect testimony from people who had direct, personal experience of abuse or witnessed abuse at the hands of Yogi Bhajan, or at his behest by a Secretary, or someone in his inner circle. The abuse includes sex with YB or people in his inner circle, grooming for sex, psychological abuse (shaming, bullying, imprisonment, etc.), and physical abuse (punching, kicking, inadequate nutrition, etc.). These messages should be sent to me at email@example.com.
2. Child abuse allegations such as those referenced in your email – child swapping, sending kids off to India to live, physical, spiritual, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of people appointed by YB – are being handled separately and should be reported to Sat Nam Singh, an attorney in the Office of Dharmic Counsel ( firstname.lastname@example.org ). I realize that people who have suffered harm may not want to “try again” to submit their claims to anyone in SSSC, though. And if people send their allegations of child abuse to me, I would be breaking confidentiality to forward those messages to ODC. Catch 22?
I have re-read both of your messages, trying to discern your role. Will you please let me know if you are on “path #1, above? I will then work with you to find an agreeable date+time for an interview.
You said you were writing “on behalf of people who were born and raised in this community, and who do not feel safe to come forward with their stories.” I hope you understand that the investigation requires direct experience, first-hand testimony. You can certainly refer others to the two paths above so they can file their own first-hand report – either through an email or a written statement.
I appreciate the ideas you put forward; we are working to implement the three statements you suggested.
We understand that some people may never come forward because of the harm suffered as children and the previous lack of response from 3HO.
She also forwarded an FAQ from the Siri Singh Sahib Response Team.
Okay, so let’s talk about this, these circuitous efforts by 3HO to gird themselves from responsibility.
In my first email I said “We cannot be sure that our stories of abuse won’t be handed directly to our abusers to do with them what they please”.
It was met with a defensive tack, “I assure you that stories of abuse will not be “handed directly” to the abusers!” and goes on to say that other people must just have a higher trust level than me. (So, something must be wrong with me then, I take it? This is gaslighting, defined.)
After I had to explain the difference between implicit trust and explicit trustworthiness, I was given two options. The first option is to agree to talk with AnOliveBranch, but restrict my content strictly to firsthand experiences with Yogi Bhajan. The second option is to take my child abuse, swapping, and boarding school complaints directly to the lawyers for 3HO.
Meaning, hand our stories directly to our abusers. Are they trying to break my brain?
Why though? Surely this offshoot organization of the Zen Center of Pittsburgh cares about the welfare of children raised in the spiritual communities they purport to assist. Hmmm?
In the SSScorp CRT FAQ there’s this, below is a screenshot from https://www.ssscresponseteam.org/faq (in case this changes later)
Text: Will the investigator/An Olive Branch report accounts of abuse to the legal authorities?
Members of An Olive Branch’s staff are mandatory reporters of child and elder abuse. They will report accounts of abuse to the authorities as required by law.
They will report accounts of abuse to the authorities as required by law.
Meaning? AnOliveBranch is made up of mandated reporters, people who are required by law to report instances of child abuse, childhood neglect and child sexual abuse. It doesn’t even matter when it could have happened. If they know, they have to report. And that is why we are being told–by AnOliveBranch–to take our stories –stories of abuse, neglect and sexual abuse that took place when we were children–back to 3HO’s legal department… um, like “directly to our abusers… to do with what they wish?”.
This right here? This is in NO WAY an olive branch. An olive branch is an extension of reconciliation and atonement. And it’s not a Catch-22 either. This is more like a Morton’s Fork, in which we are being asked to choose between two equally unpleasant scenarios. Or a Hobson’s Choice, in which we are asked to ‘take it or leave it’. Or possibly a Buridan’s Ass, in which we (the asses) are placed mid-way between two life-sustaining objects, and we become paralyzed when faced with which one to turn to first.
I replied to Katheryn one final time:
My role is both. #1 and #2.
I was a child brought up in 3HO who experienced swapping, boarding school, neglect and abuse (physical, emotional and spiritual), as well as experiencing shaming, bullying, verbal abuse and excommunication from Yogi Bhajan himself.
That is really all that needs to be said. If they can’t grasp that our abuse was institutional and systemic, it’s their failure. Any hope for a good-faith effort was undone by the sum total of the above (bad-faith and gaslighting) correspondence.
Nothing. Definitely no interview. Reconciliation is highly unlikely and we are re-traumatizing ourselves by doing to majority of the intellectual labor, only to be ignored and dismissed time and again. There is nothing more to do other than to push ahead with our lives and do what’s best for ourselves to heal and to learn to love ourselves and care for ourselves and the people in our lives.