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Jailed Indian Guru Shuns Southern Grits, Changes Mind About Coffee

October 31, 1985

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Jailed Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, accustomed to being waited on, is adapting to life behind bars and wearing prison clothes, but he drew the line Wednesday at eating grits, a Southern delicacy.

Rajneesh, arrested Monday after a flight from his 64,000-acre commune in Oregon, ate a breakfast of yogurt, toast and grapefruit juice Wednesday, said Sandra Carter, head of the medical unit at the jail where he is being kept.

″We tried to get him to eat some grits,″ she said. ″We told him we were going to make him into a real Southern boy. He said he might try it later. I’m sure it’s hard on him after being waited on and having everything catered to him.″

Mecklenburg County Sheriff C.W. Kidd said Rajneesh told jailers he didn’t drink coffee, but he tried it once and ″he’s been drinking coffee every day.″

″He laughs and smiles, says he’s never been dressed like this before,″ Kidd said. ″He’s all right.″

The sheriff said later that that he had received calls from Oregon and Germany in which the callers said he should watch Rajneesh’s health. Kidd said the callers threatened to come to Charlotte if Rajneesh was mistreated.

And a court brief filed by the government said: ″The results of a previous investigation of followers of Rajneesh indicate that attempted poisoning and- or contamination at the hands of certain followers might have been planned. Apparently, there has also been some discussion among certain members of that group with regard to a suicide of the defendant.″

Ma Dhyan Rosalie, spokeswoman for the Rajneesh, called the allegations about suicide ″absolutely absurd. ... Bhagwan is very involved with living, not with dying.″

The 53-year-old guru was arrested by federal and local authorities when two Rajneeshee-chartered jets landed here. He and six followers have been in jail awaiting a Thursday hearing on whether to return them to Oregon to face charges.

The Portland Oregonian newspaper quoted an unidentified source in Thursday’s editions as saying federal agents recovered a .38-caliber handgun loaded with Teflon bullets when they searched the baggage on the Learjets.

Rajneesh, who claims 500,000 followers around the world, is accustomed to being waited on and driving one of his commune’s more than 90 luxury Rolls- Royces. Normally he wears a hat and a floor-length robe, but in jail he was bare-headed and clothed in a green prison shirt and blue pants.

″I have complaints about the conditions but not about the people,″ he said in an interview published Wednesday. ″The nurses and other employees have treated me lovingly, humanely and respectfully.″

A federal magistrate refused a request by Rajneesh’s lawyers to have the guru examined by private physicians, ruling his health is not in danger after three days behind bars.

″They don’t believe us when we say he’s doing well, but he is,″ said Mrs. Carter. ″Every time we take him out to check his vital signs, we check his chest for wheezing and shortness of breath. He hasn’t had any.″

Rajneesh and seven disciples were indicted last week in Oregon on charges that they covered up sham marriages between his American followers and foreigners. He also is charged with lying to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to conceal his intent to remain in this countrty permanently and with attempting to flee the country to avoid prosecution.

He said he intends to fight the charges all to the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, although he believes he will receive a fair trial.

″They have turned an innocent person into a prisoner. It shows America’s real face. It is a country filled with hypocrisy ... I will go back to my country,″ India, which he left in 1981, he said in the interview.

″I have such a respect for the American Constitution. That’s why I chose to have my commune here. When I was arrested, I felt for the first time that I am not in America but the Soviet Union.″

Rajneesh said he was unaware of the indictment, which was unsealed Monday, when he left Oregon.

″Then why did I leave? Well, for a few days there were so many threats,″ he said. ″My friends thought it would be better to take me away for a few days to a safe place.″

Rajneesh’s secretary, Ma Prem Hasya, said Rajneesh had planned to rest with a friend in Charlotte and that followers considered taking him to Bermuda or elsewhere if he could not rest here. Federal authorities said disciples had already tried to charter jets to the island.

Rajneesh is due in Oregon Nov. 20 for a grand jury hearing on his allegations against former disciples, including former secretary Ma Anand Sheela, who was arrested Monday in West Germany. He has accused Sheela of embezzling $55 million and plotting to eavesdrop on potential rivals, kill public officials and contaminate a town’s water supply.

Two other deposed commune leaders were arrested with Sheela, all three on charges of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree assault. They are accused of poisoning Rajneesh’s physician, Swami Devaraj, who is one of the six disciples charged in Charlotte with harboring Rajneesh.

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