Opposition and Criticism: Ex-followers Speak Out
Prem Rawat's autocratic leadership has impeded any expression of dissent within the Prem Rawat movement. Even as a mere 'inspirational speaker' he is presented as being beyond challenge. Although Prem Rawat frequently side steps religious matters, in the face of criticism, his organisations have adopted defensive responses pioneered by openly religious groups such as Scientology and The Family.
In the early 1970s Prem Rawat's marriage at age 16, his hospitalisation with stomach ulcers, and the spectacular failure of the Millennium '73 festival combined to draw a barrage of media scorn. By contrast in the 20 years from 1976 to 1996, there was only very occasional media attention given to Rawat or his movement. Indeed after 1975 only authors of books on cults and cult interested psychologists seemed to be aware of the Rawat movement at all.
If the 1980s and 1990s were a time of gentle decline for Prem Rawat's movement, at least it was largely left alone by media, regulators and disaffected followers. This 'remaining undisturbed' was supported by a strict policy of 'remaining invisible' - itself a reaction to the Public Relations failures made by Rawat and the then Divine Light Mission in the 1970s. For twenty years there was no advertising whatever, and promotion of Rawat and his movement was exclusively by word of mouth.
Until the mid-1990s followers who left Prem Rawat's movement found that not only were they rejected by their former premie friends, there was no alternative support base outside of the movement. Then in 1996, two North American based former followers of Prem Rawat set up the ex-premie.org/ website. Information and personal reports from hundreds of contributors steadily built into a comprehensive archive. Internet Forums were set up, Elan Vital and Divine Light Mission secrets were made public, and countless photos were published. Struggling to keep up with the first breath of opposition in two decades, Elan Vital appointed 'monitors' to keep track of the website and its forums.
ex-premie.org has continued to provide first hand testimonies from former followers. Additionally its readership continues to grow, the latest available statistics (for the month of January 2008) show that there were over 39,000 visits to the site, with over 120,000 page views. The contacts that the site has supported have allowed numerous one time followers to gain an understanding about Prem Rawat and his movement that would not otherwise have been possible. The site has undoubtedly contributed to many former followers actively rejecting Prem Rawat. The approach of the website is to question the emotional basis of followers' attachment to Rawat, and to provide verifiable information as to his questionable behaviours.
Using the platform of the Internet, former followers have become visible in their opposition to Prem Rawat, something which has extended to live demonstrations and media contact. A protester at the gates of the Amaroo complex, attracted Australia-wide media coverage in September, 2002. And, in 2003, a protester outside an event attended by Prem Rawat in Bristol, UK, generated several newspaper stories.
Although pro Rawat websites have never acknowledged that a body of criticism exists, a number of Elan Vital websites have FAQ sections which acknowledge that Rawat has detractors. The Elan Vital position is that Prem Rawat's detractors are morally or mentally deficient.