Project SATYA

Official Launch: February 16, 2020

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Project SATYA
is a community-funded independent investigation, launched by over 1700 members of the Sivananda Yoga Community (SYC), made up of past and present swamis, staff, karma yogis (unpaid staff), yoga teachers, and practitioners, following multiple public revelations of sexual misconduct since December 10, 2019. The SYC stands with the survivors of institutional abuse within International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres (ISYVC), who experienced sexual, physical, financial and psychological harm, and are now seeking truth, transparency and reparation for survivors and the SYC at large.

The issue of trust is at the heart of any investigation, and although the ISYVC’s Executive Board Members (EBM) announced on January 21, 2020 it had appointed a lawyer “to investigate allegations made by three women about Swami Vishnu-devananda” (Kuttan Nair), the SYC feels this investigation is unacceptable for several reasons, including:

1. Lack of trust in an EBM-led investigation, since there are reports that the EBM has been aware of sexual abuse and did not respond appropriately when they were first brought forward.
2. The narrow scope of the EBM-led investigation does not address issues of potential complicity of the EBM or others, and does not address allegations of abuse made against other leadership within the organization
3. The three survivors who have so far come forward with testimonies of sexual abuse by Swami Vishnu-devananda (SVD), as well as others, have confirmed they will not be participating in an ISYVC-led investigation due to lack of trust. Therefore, without their participation, there will be no real investigation at all.

The Sivananda Yoga Community believes that the community cannot be healed by the same group that has been accused of  the institutional betrayal of its members, and have therefore organized Project SATYA, an independent community-funded investigation, giving a voice to survivors and transparency to the community.

Thank you for standing with us!


If you have experienced or witnessed sexual, physical, financial or psychological harm within International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres and ashrams, please do reach out the the community-funded investigative team at [email redacted].

You can also join the SYC facebook community, here .

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Project SATYA - Overview & Details
Official Launch Date:
February 16, 2020


Purpose: 
1. To give survivors a safe means through which to share their experiences of sexual abuse within ISYVC
2. To make visible abuses (sexual, physical, financial, psychological) that have occurred within ISYVC in a coherent and public way
3. To investigate systemic issues within the organization that may have enabled or promoted abusive behaviour within its leadership
4. To lend credibility to testimonies through professional investigation


Timeline:

The investigative team anticipates that the length of the investigation will largely be determined as the full scope of the project is revealed, however, as a starting point the team offers the following intended timeline.
Phase 1: Testimony collection (February 16 - May 31, 2020) 
Phase 2: Report writing (June - August, 2020)

NOTE: the [email redacted] address will be open for reporting  until May 31,2020. See 'Protocols For Investigative Team' below, for more details.


Audience:
Primary: Survivors, Community 
Secondary: ISYVC, Prospective Students and Guests, Wider Yoga Community, Relevant Experts


Scope:

- All ISYVC-related sexual abuse testimony
- Witness/corroborating testimony, historical & present
- Testimony related to abuse of power (i.e., emotional, psychological, financial, corporeal abuse)
- Testimony related to experiences while engaging the sexual misconduct complaint process (i.e., reporting to staff or the ISYVC’s legal representative)
- Testimony related to experience engaging the EBM
- Abuse of Karma Yogis (non-paid volunteers)
- EBM testimony and/or documentation regarding sexual misconduct complaints


Investigative Team: Carol Merchasin, Dr. Josna Pankhania

Carol Merchasin, J.D.:
Carol is a lawyer and former partner in the Philadelphia office of the international law firm, Morgan, Lewis. She is an experienced investigator into workplace sexual misconduct issues, having conducted dozens of workplace investigations, including those involving sensitive allegations made against top level executives.

In addition, she has developed and taught courses on conducting investigations and investigative techniques to human resource professionals at many Fortune 50 companies. She was the lead author of the book, “Case Dismissed: Taking Your Harassment Training to Trial,” published by the American Bar Association.

Most recently, Carol has conducted credibility assessments and preliminary investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct against a variety of spiritual leaders. She has been interviewed and quoted by the New York Times and a wide variety of media outlets on the need to bring sexual misconduct within spiritual communities to light.

Carol worked as the investigating lawyer for the Buddhist Project Sunshine, which exposed extensive sexual abuses within the Shambhala Community.


Dr Josna Pankhania: 
Josna has over 30 years of professional experience across a range of clinical services. She is a counsellor and psychotherapist accredited with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. She currently works as a senior caseworker for a state-wide counselling service that supports women and children experiencing violence and abuse.

Josna has trained in counselling including person-centred counselling, crisis and critical incident debriefing, narrative therapy, vicarious trauma counselling and group psychodynamic psychotherapy. In the spirit of multiculturalism, Josna is a passionate proponent for incorporating Eastern wisdom into the mainstream therapies of counselling, psychology and psychotherapy and has undertaken training in both traditional Indian and Chinese therapeutic modalities.

Josna has published extensively in areas including counselling, yoga, ethics, mindfulness meditation and traditional Chinese medicine. She has also presented at conferences in the United Kingdom and Australia with topics including counselling, yoga, ethics, and traditional Indian and Chinese healing systems.

As a member of the Satyananda Yoga community, Josna has recently worked towards healing, truth and justice in this community. This resulted from the examination of Case Study 21: Satyananda Yoga Ashram by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Visit her website 


Protocols for Investigative Team:
1. Scope of the investigation

a) The investigative team (Carol Merchasin and Josna Pankhania) will investigate
allegations of sexual misconduct, other abuses, and the reported failure of the EBM and other leaders to address abuse of which they were aware. A Final Report will be issued to Project Satya by August 2020.

2. Intake

a) The confidential mailbox ([email redacted]) will be open from February 16 – May 31, 2020. It is intended to be a place where survivors of abuse and people with information about sexual misconduct, abuse and any failure to act can raise their hand to the investigative team through a brief introduction to their complaint. Survivors do not need to make their whole complaint in writing. They only need to communicate that they would like to speak with Carol or Josna who will respond by setting up a time to talk.
b) Carol and Josna will be the only people with the password to the confidential mailbox. Reports to the mailbox will remain confidential and anonymous and will not be shared with anyone, including the Project Satya committee, without the reporter’s consent.
c) After a complaint is made, either Carol or Josna will follow up. Carol will follow up on those complaints that require a full investigation; Josna will follow up on other allegations of abuse that do not require a full investigation. Carol and Josna will confer as necessary to determine the outreach and investigative plan for each complaint.

3. In the case of an investigation into sexual abuse and sexual misconduct claims

a) Carol will interview the person reaching out through the mailbox and initiate an investigation. She will listen to the accounts and seek corroborating evidence in the form of witnesses, people who are not witnesses but who might have been aware of the abuse, documents such as emails, texts, etc. She will assess credibility, corroboration for the claim and patterns of misconduct that appear through the testimonies. If the survivor has told people in leadership positions within Sivananda, she will reach out to them to give them an opportunity to respond.
b) At the completion of the open time of the confidential mailbox, Carol will prepare a Draft Report. At that time, each survivor will have the opportunity to read and make changes to their story. Each survivor will decide whether to have their story in the Final Report. If the survivor does not wish to share the story, only a brief non-identifying statement will be made in the Final Report.
c) After survivors have had an opportunity to review the Draft Report, Carol will prepare a Final Investigative Report which will contain a summary of each survivor’s experience, an assessment of the evidence and a conclusion.
d) Even if an investigation into a survivor’s experience has not been feasible, all accounts will be in the Final Report if the survivors wish them to be.
e) Carol will deliver the Final Investigative Report to Project Satya organizers (Angela Gollat, Antonia Abu Matar and Jens Augspurger) to be shared with the larger community.

4. In the cases of other abuses:

a) Josna will interview and determine what, if any, investigation is required. She
will listen to the accounts and seek corroborating evidence in the form of witnesses, people who are not witnesses but who might have been aware of the abuse, documents such as emails, texts, etc. She will assess credibility, corroboration for the claim and any patterns of misconduct that appear through the testimonies. If the person making the complaint has told people in leadership positions within Sivananda, she will reach out to them to give them an opportunity to respond.
b) In the case of financial and other abuses, the investigative team may not have access to the necessary corroborating or exonerating evidence. In that case, the Final Investigative Report will note that.
c) Josna will collect and categorize the allegations, evidence and where possible, conclusions in the Final Investigative Report to Project Satya.


Cost:
Although the investigative team has stated they are willing to lead this investigation pro-bono, we believe it is appropriate to compensate them for the incalculable hours they will spend interviewing, investigating, researching and writing the report... Not to mention all the defending they will likely need to do following the report's release. (this has been the case with both Buddhist Project Sunshine and work in the Satyananda Community)

We estimate a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of $20,000 USD to be reasonable. Oversight of funds will be the responsibility of project SATYA organizers, and will be dispersed to the investigative team for service.


Community Commitment:
- To participate if relevant and willing
- To contribute to crowdfunding campaign as able
- To share crowdfunding project widely


Additional Information:
- Survivor testimony will be collected using trauma sensitive protocols
- The purpose of the investigation is not to investigate the survivors, however testimony will be vetted by Carol Merchasin for credibility, and corroborated where possible
- Carol Merchasin holds required insurance to cover such an investigation
- Translation for testimony will be provided
- The final report will include commentary, analysis, and recommendations for the ISYVC
- Upon completion, the final report will be published and available to all
- Beyond the initial organizing of the investigation, SYC facebook group administrators WILL NOT be a part of the investigative process.

Donations

  • Anonymous 
    • $10 
    • 6 d
  • Jonathan F Stubbs 
    • $20 
    • 10 d
  • Venetia Mayman 
    • $25 
    • 17 d
  • Diane Bongiorni 
    • $9 
    • 20 d
  • Anonymous 
    • $25 
    • 22 d
See all

Organizer and beneficiary

Project SATYA 
Organizer
New York, NY
Carol Merchasin 
Beneficiary
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