To begin with, I think it’s important to keep in mind that studies and research have shown that sexual assault and abuse victims often behave in ways that may seem counter-intuitive, particularly in terms of having later contact with perpetrators, that make it hard for laymen (and even law enforcement, courts and juries) to properly evaluate their claims.
And in an unfamiliar culture like that of India, where what they call “godmen” like Nithyananda are as much of a fixture as, say, televangelists in the US, it may be particularly hard for us to make sense of, or evaluate, the relationship between someone who who may be viewed as the incarnation of a god, and a follower.
I think there’s even an argument to be made that in the cultural context of India, there is such a power imbalance in any such relationship, that it’s almost akin to statutory rape. That may well even be why there is a long mainstream tradition of such gurus remaining celibate, in order to put a check on something so prone to abuse.
In Nithyananda’s case, I think it is worth noting that the Indian media often compares him to – and it’s possible that he plagiarized from – the infamous late guru and cult leader Rajneesh, AKA Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and later Osho, who had a significant US-based following centered in Oregon that became notorious for bizarre activities including an attempted mass-poisoning, as was partly covered in the recent documentary Wild Wild Country. It’s also interesting that while Osho’s following in the US has dwindled to a few old diehards after his exile and death, in India he remains a popular figure with a large ashram and a significant following – and one of the NXIVM DOS loyalists, Sahajo Haertel, has some connection.
As far as evaluating Nithyananda’s claims and veracity, I think that if it can be shown that he has veered from sort of normal white lies and self-aggrandizement that are typical, to acting like a pathological liar.
Then he becomes discredited and it is legitimate to treat anything he says as questionable.
I’d say that making grandiose, undocumented and almost certainly false claims about miracles and cures, puts him in a category similar to “world’s third smartest man” Keith Raniere, or “war hero” (stolen valor, contradicted by military records) L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology (who was ruled a “virtual pathological liar,” almost habitually unable to tell the truth about things like his background, by a judge).
In cases like these, one even starts to wonder if these individuals aren’t suffering from a sort of delusion that makes it difficult for them to even know what is true, or real, themselves. That also gets to a sort of old paradox: what’s the difference between a guru and supposed seer who, say, claims he receives direction from or channels god/s (or can make animals talk), and an obviously mentally ill person standing on the sidewalk shouting about voices that are talking to him?
Also, since Nithyananda doesn’t even seem to be among India’s top 10 gurus, I doubt he has 20 million followers any more than does Scientology (which uses the same number, but by all reliable measures and reports is down to about 20,000 actual members, though they have accumulated outsized wealth, real estate and power).
And like Scientology, his organization lists somewhat upwards of 100 centers around the world – 144, but they all share about 3 dozen of the same contact names and phone numbers, with no physical addresses given, suggesting they can’t really be that large:
How do you trust an organization that can’t even be honest about something basic like its size – and probably misrepresents it by orders of magnitude?
p.s. Frank, a quick check shows that you might even be able to “investigate” them down in Florida; they have a much-touted “University” that appears to actually be little more than a small, mostly online, unaccredited degree mill; plus a couple of local groups without any actual sign of more than a small number of devotees.
See Frank Report stories on Nithyananda Swami.