Nov 19, 2018

Men accuse Reiki guru Prasad Karmarkar of sexual assault

Tariq Engineer
Mumbai Mirror
November 18, 2018

In the second week of September, current and former students of Prasad Karmarkar, a Reiki teacher and spiritual guru based in Dadar, started a social media campaignthat alluded to allegations of molestation against Karmarkar, who has gone into hiding. The campaign was reported in the press, as was Karmarkar’s email saying he could not meet his students at the time. But details of the allegations, and how they came to light, are being reported here for the first time.

The first metaphorical cracks in the dam showed up on July 25 this year. That’s when Reiki master and spiritual guru Prasad Karmarkarreceived a message from the wife of one of his male students. It said she was going to talk about what was going on with him and her husband at a ‘silent retreat’ that was to start the next day.

At the time, Karmarkar, who ran a popular spiritual centre in Dadar with thousands of students, many of them from overseas, was on his way to Silvassa to prepare for the retreat. On reading the message, he instructed his assistants to turn the car around and head back to Mumbai because he was not feeling well.

It was the first time that Karmarkar had ever cancelled a retreat (he called it an ‘intensive’). In fact, he used to insist his students attend his sessions no matter what. If a parent or child was sick, or if they were sick, it didn’t matter — they were still expected to be there. So when they received an email saying the intensive had been cancelled, his students were worried. Initially, they believed he was seriously ill. But soon talk of sexual abuse and molestation surfaced. Over the next few months, the dam would burst and Karmarkar would be accused of molesting or sexually abusing anywhere between 15 and 40 of his male students over the last 15 years.

Mirror spoke to half a dozen of his students, including one of who has allegedly been molested, and read accounts from others, to piece together how Karmarkar allegedly abused the trust of his students and took advantage of them.

***

Everyone Mirror spoke to described the 44-year-old Karmarkar as good-looking and very charismatic. Over six feet tall, with broad shoulders, he was well dressed, took pride in his appearance, and had a reportedly enviable collection of watches. He spoke like the guy next door, complete with swear words. Students said he was passionate and sensitive; quick-witted and with a good sense of humour, though he was apparently not well-read. He was a good singer and dancer. He was a perfectionist who expected his instructions to be followed to the letter; his seminars always started on time. One student also said he was a good son, who took good care of his elderly parents. A vegetarian who ate sparingly, Karmarkar’s life revolved around his seminars and students.

At the same time, they said he had a quick temper, especially if a student didn’t follow his rules. In an article titled The New Guru Cool published in the Fall newsletter of the US-based NorthEastern Anthropological Association, Professor Denise Nutall of Ithaca College describes Karmarkar as “a modern-day guru who is youthful, intelligent, and easy to confide in. He brings joy into the lives of a great number of people who come to him for meditation, transformation, or peace of mind.” Nutall goes on to say that his meditations gave her clarity and insights into events and relationships in her life. His students included doctors, teachers, heads of companies and professionals, many of whom had been with him for years. Most of them said the same thing; that his teachings provided real benefits to them. He was so beloved that one student made a goldplated cast of his feet and hands.

“Nothing pointed to sexual abuse,” says freelance journalist Jahnabee Borah, who signed up for Prasad’s leadership training programme in 2013. “You didn’t let your mind go there because his teachings were working for you, and if they are working for you, why would you doubt? You are seeing the results in your own life.”

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According to his students, Karmarkar grew up in a middle-class household in Dadar. He initially wanted to be an interior designer but was drawn to Reiki and eventually went to Germany to learn from Karl Everding, a German psychotherapist who claimed he could heal sexual and psychosomatic ailments. Curing sexual ailments would form part of Karmarkar’s work as well.

He started teaching about 15 years ago, and in 2014, founded The Spiritual Company. The next year, he brought celebrated chanter Krishna Das to India for a series of events across the country. He offered two courses in Reiki — basic and an advanced leadership training programme (BLTP and ALTP) — and an open-ended leadership training programme. The BLTP cost Rs 60,000 for 10 months, the ALTP Rs 66,000 and the open-ended course Rs 72,000. His teachings were apparently a mix of Osho meditations, Louise Hayes ‘intentions’ and Everding’s teachings. The basic LTP was about letting go of the past, while the advanced programme was about building a better present. The first step in the basic programme involved writing a complete life history, including your deepest secrets. People wrote about sexual abuse and mental illness in their families. One copy was to be given to Karmarkar and another to what was known as a ‘sharing partner.’ “In that process, you are peeled because you have shared everything,” said Zahir Mirza, a former advertising professional and former student. “You are out there. Once you are two or three months into BLTP, you are like, ‘Man, this is my family and these are the people I trust’”.

It is this trust that Karmarkar allegedly exploited. Savio, one of his victims detailed how, in hindsight, Karmarkar groomed him and abused the bond between teacher and student. Savio, who is 40 years old, first met Karmarkar in 2008, when he attended one of his meditation sessions in Dubai. “He just said all the right things that made me feel that he understands me and knows me. I got the feeling that he was someone I could trust,” Savio told Mirror in a phone interview (he no longer lives in Dubai). He would go on to take both Reiki courses that Karmarkar offered in Dubai. Then, in 2009, Karmarkar asked to stay with him during his visit. “At the time it was a big honour,” Savio said. “It was like God coming to your home.” They ended up sharing a bed in the living room while Savio’s wife and sister slept in the bedroom.

Karmarkar had told Savio he had high sexual energy, so when they were in bed, Savio said Karmarkar asked him how his sexual energy was and placed his hand on Savio’s penis. Savio replied that it was fine and they continued talking. Later, Karmarkar would ask him to caress and massage his stomach and his abdomen. “I still didn’t think it was weird,” Savio said. As the massage progressed, there was a grunt and then Savio felt wetness on Karmarkar’s abdomen. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, has he just come?’ I was instantly uncomfortable.”

According to Savio, Karmarkar did not say a word. He went to the bathroom, cleaned himself and then went to sleep. But Savio couldn’t sleep. The next day he came home late from work and found that Karmarkar was already asleep. He was uncomfortable about sleeping next to him again, but, at the same time, wondered if he was at fault because he was the one giving the massage. “My wife could sense something was wrong. I told her but I couldn’t tell her that he had ejaculated. I told her I was massaging him and he got an erection and I felt uncomfortable.”

Despite this incident, Savio signed up for the BLTP course on the urging of his friends. During the interview for the course, he confronted Karmarkar, who said there was nothing sexual about what had happened. “He looked at me and very calmly and confidently said, ‘Because of my work, my root chakra becomes very sensitive and when you massaged me, I just got an erection and this was just a release that happened. It is just how the body works.’”

Karmarkar assured Savio that he was not gay, that he had relationships with women, and he wanted to put the incident behind them. The next day, he called Savio and once again asked if they could put the incident behind them forever. “At that point, I thought I could trust him again. I could see him as my teacher again,” Savio said.

He soon started to see the benefits from Karmarkar’s teaching. He stopped drinking and smoking and turned vegetarian. He said he healed his relationships with his wife and his parents. “My friends commented on how much calmer I was and how much easier I was to be around,” he said. He also started living a less superficial life, one that wasn’t focused on partying and having a good time.

One of the practices during the BLTP involved pairing up and giving each other foot, back, or head massages. Karmarkar began to ask Savio to give him foot massages. Over time, a foot massage became a leg massage, and then back massages, which became lower back massages and then butt massages as well. “He would say since he sat all day, his butt got sore,” Savio said. Karmarkar also told Savio that he gave good massages, sometimes in front of the class, which made Savio feel special at first.

Initially, Karmarkar was clothed during the massages. But over time, he started getting undressed. He would take off his shirt for a back massage and then his pants for a leg massage. On the morning of an ‘intensive’ in Goa in 2012, Savio got a call around 11am saying Karmarkar wanted to see him. When he went to his teacher’s room, he found Karmarkar naked. “He straight away asked me to massage his butt and ask me to caress his penis and scrotum. And as I did that, I wondered what I was doing there?”

Savio explained that one of the things they learnt from Karmarkar was that a person manifests on the outside what is going on inside. So he thought these incidents were happening because “I am so horny”. Karmarkar also kept telling Savio that his erections were not sexual but simply the result of blood flow. It was just how the body worked.

Other students said Karmarkar had a number of pet phrases that made it hard to know when a line was crossed. He would often tell his students that “I am with you”, “Go beyond your body”, “Surrender to me” and “Serving your master is your sole duty.”

Since Savio wasn’t sure what was going on, he didn’t talk to anyone about it. He also didn’t want to rock the boat. “Everything was working out so beautifully for me except this part,” he said. But after another incident in Goa in either 2013 or 2014, he decided it had to stop. The next time Karmarkar invited him, he said he was busy and couldn’t make it. “There was still hesitation. He was still my teacher and he had done so much for me.” Savio said. He now sees everything differently. “At the end of it, the massages were a sham. He just wanted to be touched”.

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While Savio was the only victim who spoke to Mirror, another written account that details a similar experience was shown to Mirror on condition of anonymity. Only in this case, on one occasion, Karmarkar, who was staying in this person’s house, switched positions and started giving his student a massage. “I don’t want to protest as I don’t know what he’s doing. Is he reciprocating what I did to him … the great Prasad Sir giving me a massage... hence I don’t stop him,” the person writes. At some point, Karmarkar allegedly even tried to pull down the person’s pyjamas but the drawstrings were too tight. This person calls that night “a low point of my life”. After another incident, he confided in his wife, who helped him realise this was a form of abuse, and he quit.

After talking to some of the other victims, Savio realised he was not alone. “I had not allowed myself to feel what I should have felt after every session. Instead, I sugar-coated it and said this was my teacher and he had asked me to do this for him. But the actual feelings that I had not allowed myself to feel after every one of those situations where he made me massage his genitals — all that started coming up and all the anger started coming up. The illusion shattered for me. And that’s when I could see him for who he was — a con man who wanted sex.”

While other victims have also spoken about their experiences within the group, they do not wish to come forward out of fear of retribution, potential damage to their careers, or they simply want to move on and forget what happened.

***

For years Karmarkar had managed to keep these incidents hidden but earlier this year one of the victims told a friend in the programme about what had happened. Turns out similar things had happened to the friend as well and the dominoes began to tumble, leading to the message sent to Karmarkar on July 25.

Karmarkar stayed away for over a month, claiming he had heart trouble. Then he sent an email on September 10 saying he wanted to meet everyone on September 12 and explain his side of things. Before that, he met a group of his teachers, who pushed him to tell the truth. He reportedly confessed to molesting 12 of the men and asked for forgiveness. The teachers told him he should do that in front of all his students. But the day of the meeting, he sent a two-line email saying, “Hi, I wanted to meet you all. But sorry that we have to postpone today’s meeting.”

About a week later, he sent another email saying, ‘Hi everyone, Just wanted to reach out and say that I am not absconding or running away. But there were reasons and circumstances that I could not meet you and hence had to take a step back. Will meet you all soon. Prasad.”

However, the teachers went ahead and met the students on September 12, and described what happened at their meeting with him. Jayashree Nair, the managing director of a pharmaceutical firm who was present at the meeting, says the teachers detailed the three methods which Karmarkar used. In addition to getting students to massage him, and massaging them in return, they were told he also showered with some of his students. “This was said in front of 100 people on September 12th,” Nair said. At the same meeting, another victim talked about his experience with Karmarkar, said Nair. Her recollections were corroborated by a second person at the meeting, who spoke to Mirror on condition of anonymity.

“I was shocked beyond belief,” said Nair. “He is a guru of a spiritual nature, where we feel he is above all these things. In the Hindu system, when you wear the Tulsi mala, it means you have given up all sexual feelings. And he had three strands of Tulsi around his neck. To do all these things with the Tulsi mala, it is a very degrading thing.”

***

Since the sexual abuse allegations were made, some students have also alleged that Karmarkar was physically and mentally abusive. “When people did not do well, he would slap them. Hammer them. Girls or boys,” said Nair. She said one of her friends had a fever during a session and wasn’t paying attention, so Karmarkar hit her. Another time, she says, a woman, whose mother had jaw cancer, was not smiling, which is apparently a requirement, so he hit her and told her to face the wall.

Ridhima Sharma, who did her Reiki 1 course in 2008, says Karmarkar had a temper and that at least some of his students were afraid of him. When questioned about his methods, he would reportedly say this was the only way to handle people and that he wouldn’t get results if he said things nicely. She also alleges mental abuse, saying he shamed people for the way they looked and dressed and walked. Sharma, a hair and make-up artist, also claimed that private information shared in confidence in the class was leaked to others outside, causing her distress. And his disappearance has exacerbated her abandonment issues. “I don’t feel safe. You [Karmarkar] promised me that you would not abandon me. [But] you have refused to answer my calls and messages.”

According to notes she took in class and showed to Mirror, Karmarkar said things like “To be attached to your teacher takes courage” and “Once you get attached with your Guru, your other attachments [to friends and family] will grow”.

He also made it hard to leave his classes, telling people if they left, they would struggle. “He was a master manipulator,” Sharma said. “He knew how to talk to me, to you, that aunty.”

Mirza said the angry Karmarkar was a new Karmarkar. The person he met in 2007 was humble, but by 2010 he had expanded to Dubai and was being invited to other countries to host Reiki and meditation sessions. When he travelled, he would fly First or Business class. One person described him as the “Guru in Gucci”. Success, they say, went to his head and they think he felt invincible. “Now I feel I was part of a cult, even though it felt so modern,” Borah said.

Mirror attempted to contact Karmarkar but his phone was switched off. When we called his parents’ house, his mother said he was out of town and did not know when he would be back. She said she didn’t know anything about the allegations against him but asked for the names of those making the allegations. When Mirror demurred, saying this couldn’t be revealed at this time, she offered to pass on our request for an interview to him whenever he returned. An email to him went unanswered as well.

Mirror does possess a WhatsApp message he reportedly sent to his followers, in which he offers ambiguous contrition and asks for forgiveness but without saying why. “It’s taking me time to show courage to reconcile with some parts of my life,” Karmarkar writes. “I am trying to make peace and accepting it slowly. Didn’t realise how blind I was that that I was digging my own grave.”

His students have tried repeatedly to speak to him in their quest for answers, but have not been able to reach him, and this has angered them even more. “As close as we were — I was there for five years — why can’t he face us and say, ‘yes, I am a human being, I have erred’? Forgive me’. Then it is up to the victims and the accused to decide on the penalty. But his absconding is only doubling our doubt,” Nair said.

Sharma pointed out that Karmarkar’s refusal to face his students goes against everything he has taught them about taking responsibility for your actions. “It’s about time he practices what he preaches,” she said.

According to one person — not a victim — a section of his followers thinks he simply made a mistake and that if he apologises, he can be forgiven. But this person, who has been with him for years, pointed out that a mistake might happen once or twice, but the alleged incidents, this person believes, occurred over many years. It appears Karmarkar knew just how far to go with whom, until he finally went too far.

Savio wants Karmarkar to come clean and admit to what he did as well. “I want him to go to jail,” he said. But for Karmarkar to go to jail, an FIR needs to be filed. And this is a step none of the alleged sexual abuse victims are yet willing to take. They are worried about the consequences, and do not want to get entangled with the arduous Indian legal system, especially since it could appear that they consented to the massages. In this respect, the story of Karmarkar and his alleged victims becomes a depressingly familiar one.

https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/cover-story/shivaji-parks-guru-in-gucci/articleshow/66673821.cms

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