Cult leader Sheela Rajneesh offered women up for sex, encouraged sterilisation & poisoned 750 locals in terrorism attack

WHEN she fell in love with 'sex guru' Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and helped him set up his free love community on an Oregon ranch, Ma Anand Sheela expected a slice of paradise.

But her growing obsession with the mystic led the Indian-born Sheela to commit a string of horrifying crimes – from arson and attempted murder to a bio-terror attack that left 750 poisoned by salmonella.

When her crimes were uncovered, in 1985, the truth about the goings on at the 400-strong Rajneeshpuram community also surfaced, with accusations of sexual attacks, slave labour and mass sterilisation.

Sheela, who was jailed for 20 years in 1986, became the unlikely star of the Netflix hit Wild, Wild Country, a docu-series about the movement which aired three years ago.

Now a new Netflix documentary, Searching For Sheela, follows her as she returns to India for the first time in 30 years and discusses her life in the Oregan “cult,” insisting she is “not the person people think I am.”

“I had a number of hardships after I left Bhagwan, but history is not written from my heart,” she tells the show. “It is Bhagwan’s history, not Sheela’s history.

“To me it doesn’t make a difference because I know who I am and what I am.”

Mysterious death of first husband

Born Sheela Patel in Gujarat state, Sheela moved to the US at 18 but returned to her native land to study spirituality with her first husband, American Marc Harris Silverman, in 1972.

She changed her name to Ma Anand Sheela when the couple became disciples of Rajneesh – author of the free love manual From Sex To Superconsciousness – who held naked therapy sessions and encouraged followers to have sex with multiple partners.

When Marc died, nobody questioned the circumstances but the former mayor of Rajneeshpuram, David Berry Knapp, later told the FBI that she had confessed to his murder.

He claimed she told him, on a trip to India, that she had injected her first husband with chemicals that caused his death.

Appointed as Rajneesh’s personal assistant, in 1981, Sheela was asked to find a US base where the guru – who was being pursued for millions in unpaid taxes by the Indian government – could set up a commune, or ashram.

She originally chose Kips Castle, a stately home in New Jersey, where Rajneesh installed himself in a luxury apartment while his followers, known as sabbyasins, were forced to toil 19 hours a day to renovate the crumbling pile.

As fame and following grew, the guru – who hailed himself as the “Messiah America has been waiting for” – moved his ashram to the bigger plot of the 64,000-acre Big Muddy Ranch in Wasco County, Oregon.

Single women forced to sleep with men on 'waiting list'

The cult encouraged “unrestrained sexual encounters” but men outnumbered women five to one.

According to author Hugh Milne, Sheela dictated that “any female sannyasins who did not have a regular boyfriend would have to make herself available to the unattached men.

“She would now have to agree to sleep with any man who asked her—this was the new surrender.”

The men, in turn, were told that they “could approach any women they wanted, and be put on a waiting list.”

There were also regular “encounter” groups in which followers, often naked, would beat each other to release aggression – sometimes with pillows but, on other occasions with bare fists or sticks.

One man reported leaving a session with a broken arm while a German actress, Eva Renzi, claimed that when she refused to sleep with one man she had been paired with, the group turned on her, ripped her clothes off her and punched and kicked her while she was naked.

She later wrote an article describing the movement as “craziness garnished with sadism”.

Rajneesh – also known as Osho – would choose beautiful women to act as “energy mediums” during ceremonies.

When they sat or lay on the floor, it’s claimed he put his foot on their vaginas “to connect with their sex centre” and fondled their breasts with his bare toes.

Diamond watches and 93 Rolls Royces

Dubbed the “Gucci Guru'' by some, Rajneesh revelled in material wealth – boasting a fleet of 93 Rolls Royces and diamond watches, while raking in millions through meditation centres, courses and a network of other business interests.

But his red-robed devotees were forced to toil from dawn to dusk, were not allowed to keep material possessions and were given just enough food to live on.

Becoming parents was actively discouraged and many couples, like author Satiya Franklin, abandoned their children to join the “master.”

Franklin also revealed that the leader advocated sterilisation of women and vasectomies for men and right hand woman Sheela was among the first to comply, undergoing a hysterectomy.

“I know people who left became angry about the sterilisations. They were livid that their lives were ruined,” says Franklin.

“People were told if you want to be on a spiritual path this is good to do. They were not forced, but if they didn't they were at risk of losing their ashram job or being asked to leave.”

Franklin also claimed that she was poisoned by Sheela, jealous of her closeness to Rajneesh, after seeking help for a neck injury.

“I was very ill and was fed enormous amounts of tranquilizers and hallucinogens and became addicted,” she says.

“Finally my weight went to 79lbs and I was sent back to the States."

Plans to poison lawyer's drip and salmonella bio-terror plot

Despite his habit of fondling women’s genitals with his bare toes, Sheela says her own relationship with Rajneesh was never consummated.

She admits she was in love with the guru and claims he was also in love with her, but she told Vogue: “There was no sex with Osho. Our relationship was not sexual. The integrity mattered because I was already drowning in him…"

However Franklin says power made Sheela increasingly “unpleasant” and dictatorial.

When the commune was threatened by objections from locals, she developed an “us vs them” mentality hatching violent plots against anyone who stood in the way of her ambitions to grow the commune.

A plan to assassinate public prosecutor Charles Turner as he lay in hospital, by administering poison through his IV drip, failed when the devotees sent to carry out the deed found no intravenous tubes.

She also came up with a plan to crash a plane into the county planner’s office, with the pilot bailing by parachute shortly before it hit, but that failed because no one volunteered.

When two seats in the Wasco County Court were up for election, Sheela put two devotees forward and then bussed in 3,000 homeless people in a bid to rig the vote.

But this was not enough for Sheela – who also attempted to stop locals voting by lacing local restaurants’ salad bars with salmonella.

Around 750 people became violently ill, with 45 ending up in hospital.

Poison plot against guru's girlfriend and doctor

Ma Anand Sheela’s crazy crimes continued in the commune, as she repeatedly attempted to poison Rajneesh's caretaker and girlfriend, Ma Yoga Vivek.

After she also tried to poison his personal physician, Swami Devaraj – real name George Meredith – the increasingly frail guru fell out with his right-hand woman, and she fled to Europe in September, 1985.

A few days later Rajneesh publicly accused her of arson, wiretapping, attempted murder, and mass poisonings.

The US authorities searching her home found wire-tapping networks, used to spy on the commune's hierarchy, and a laboratory in which the bacteria used in the bio-terror attack had been grown.

Sheela was arrested in Germany and extradited to the US where she was jailed for 20 years for trying to poison public officials as well as Meredith, setting fire to a county office and the salmonella plot.

Released after 39 months, for good behaviour, she moved to Switzerland where she runs nursing homes for the elderly and disabled.

After being arrested over the poisonings, Bhagwan quit the US in a plea bargain over immigration charges and the commune fell apart.

He died in an Indian Ashram in 1990.

Despite his public denunciation of her, Sheela has remained devoted to her one-time leader.

“Whatever he said made me sad but it was his problem and not mine,” she says.

“However, I can’t forget my love for him and I am eternally grateful for that.”

Searching For Sheela is available on Netflix from Thursday

    Source: Read Full Article