On 7 June 2005, four improvised explosive devices were detonated in locations across London during the morning rush hour, killing 52 people and injuring over 700 more. In the wake of the bombings, the UK’s first Islamist suicide attack, a parliamentary enquiry was launched into whether the security services could have prevented it. The enquiry found that, while there had been opportunities missed, Mi5 would need ‘hundreds of thousands of agents’ to successfully pursue every lead.
Every country is forced to make difficult decisions about security and law enforcement expenditure. There are simply never enough resources available to track every potential criminal organisation. Nevertheless, this shifting focus has allowed other malignant ideologies to grow unnoticed.
A cloak of apathy protecting cult activity
In general, fringe religious groups or cults are greeted with a mixture of humour and indifference in the UK. A broad feeling persists that cults, like the Church of Scientology or The Family International, are little more than documentary fodder for filmmakers like Louis Theroux. This view is misguided and has provided space for dangerous organisations to emerge under a cloak of public and government apathy.
Shoomkloom, also known as ‘the Process’, is a programme under Osho International which has been allowed to fester and grow in this apathetic shadow. Led by self-appointed ‘Guardian of Humaniversity’ Sandesh Michael Gilad, Shoomkloom is a secretive organisation which claims to help its members overcome trauma and find inner peace. Survivors of the group disagree, alleging that Shoomkloom is a sex cult which teaches its female members that they are nothing more than receptacles for sperm and the property of male inductees, who are encouraged to have as much sex as they can. Former members of the cult have stated that Sandesh himself has claimed to have had over 2,500 sexual partners. It is unclear how many granted their full consent to his advances.
One survivor of Shoomkloom has reported that new cult inductees are typically taken on a walk in Kew Gardens by Sandesh, during which he asks them questions about their past relationships and sex lives. It is alleged that he then uses this and other sensitive information to blackmail his victims into servicing his perverse sexual desires – a standard approach predatory cult leaders also use to ensnare their devotees. Perhaps most distressingly of all, Sandesh has been accused of subjecting his victims to forced abortions with support from private doctors working in the UK.
Shoomkloom is not a well-known group, benefitting from the general public and official ignorance of cult activity in the UK. Shoomkloom’s parent organisation, Osho International, is well-known, however.
Founded by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the 1970s and the focus of the 2018 Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country, Osho International officially operates as a wellness and self-help business headquartered in Pune, India. The group’s historical activities differ somewhat. In 1984, Osho International launched a salmonella bioterror attack on the town of The Dalles, Oregon, infecting 751 people of which 45 had to be hospitalised. The attack is still the largest of its kind to have taken place in the United States, and underlined the threat posed by cults in the American consciousness.
Official failings in the UK’s criminal justice system
Public and official apathy is one factor which has facilitated horrendous acts of criminality, but another worrying element is an apparently persistent failure on the part of the UK’s criminal justice system to investigate and prosecute cases.
In the year to March 2020, 58,856 rape allegations were recorded by the police in England and Wales. This translated to 2,102 prosecutions – a conversion rate of just 3.6 per cent and a reduction of 31 per cent on the previous year. More worrying still, the rate at which victims have withdrawn their support for cases has climbed steadily in recent years, rising from 42 per cent in 2016 to 57 per cent in 2020. Taken together, these statistics paint a concerning picture of official ambivalence and falling public trust in the criminal justice system.
The rape and murder of Sarah Everard by PC Wayne Couzens has forced us, as a society, to face up to some uncomfortable truths. Foremost among these has been our apparent inability to pursue the perpetrators of sexual violence, exemplified by a failure to investigate previous allegations of sexual impropriety levelled at Couzens – a scandal which has yet to be resolved.
What will it take for the UK to wake up to the threat posed by cults?
It is unknown exactly how many cults are operating in the UK as of 2021. Unlike Islamic terror organisations, which are regularly the focus of parliamentary and police studies, there is currently no formal government or police list of UK cult organisations. This is a grave oversight, and one which invites disaster.
How long will it be before a fringe religious organisation attempts a bio-terror attack like the one carried out by Osho International in The Dalles? What will it take for the UK to wake up to the threat posed by organisations like Shoomkloom? The 7/7 attacks in London marked an understandable and pronounced shift in Britain’s security posture. It would be irresponsible of us to wait for the next scandal or attack to take place before we face up to the clear threat cults represent.