Netflix’s ‘Searching for Sheela’ is an hour-long documentary wherein the controversial Ma Anand Sheela, one of the top aide’s/secretary of Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, aka Osho, seems to present her side of the story. With a film project already in the pipeline about her life, starring Priyanka Chopra as the convicted felon, this documentary comes almost as a prequel that highlights how Sheela perceives herself and how she wants the world to see her too. So now, if you’re curious to know more about her, including her current whereabouts, we’ve got the details for you.
Who is Ma Anand Sheela?
Born as Sheela Ambalal Patel in 1949 in Baroda, Gujarat, India, despite what some people believe, she initially moved to America at the age of 18 for studies, attending the Montclair State College in New Jersey. There, she met and married Marc Harris Silverman from Highland Park, Illinois, and took up the name Sheela P. Silverman. The couple came back to India in 1972 to pursue spiritual enlightenment under Guru Rajneesh’s guidance.
After all, Sheela had first met him through her father when she was 16-years-old and had become instantly devoted. As years passed, Sheela lost her husband, remarried another co-follower, John Shelfer, became the guru’s secretary, and even helped him establish an ashram in Wasco County, Oregon. Within the subsequent four years, in 1985, though, what she described as mutual love between her and Osho turned into a problem.
After facing heat from local ranchers in the county, not only did Sheela attempt to influence the municipal elections, but she also orchestrated one of the most significant bioterrorism attacks in the US — infecting ten local salad bars, and thus over 750 people, with a toxic salmonella bacteria. In the fall of 1985, days after Sheela fled to Europe, Rajneesh accused her of arson, wiretapping, poisoning, and attempted murder, adding that she was the one who wrote the book ‘Rajneeshism’ and published it under his name.
He asserted that Sheela was simply power-hungry. The authorities subsequently searched her home and found incriminating evidence linking her to the bacteria and the wiretapping, resulting in a warrant against her. Sheela was apprehended in Germany and extradited to the US, where, in 1986, she ended up pleading guilty to assault and attempted murder charges for the bioterror attack.
Where is Ma Anand Sheela Now?
Sheela, who had taken the title of Ma Anand Sheela after getting involved with Guru Rajneesh, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison but was paroled after just 39 months due to good behavior. Soon after the Indian native’s restrictions ended, she migrated to Maisprach, Switzerland, where she started a government-approved special needs nursing home called Matrusaden.
Today, as a Swiss citizen through her third marriage, Sheela, 71, continues to manage her business, all the while trying to move on from her past. We say move on because she made it clear that there will be no redemption. “Redemption lies in guilt,” Sheela said in the Netflix documentary. “That’s why I can not redeem myself.” In other words, she implies that she is not guilty of the charges she was accused and convicted of, and there is no redemption needed because she has already served time and paid all her dues.
The one aspect of Sheela’s story that has never wavered, though, is that she was in love with Osho. In fact, in ‘Searching for Sheela,’ she says he was in love with her too. “You should see some of the photographs and see how he looked at me, and the way he said “Sheela,”” she recalled. However, Sheela just had to leave him in 1985. “It was bound to happen, wasn’t it?” she admitted to India Today.
“It’s like needing a doctor when you are sick. When people are not sick, where is the need for a doctor? I had had enough of him. I was in love with him all these years, but things just crystallized over that time. There were no specific instances which escalated matters but it kept building up till I reached a stage where I decided to go on my own.” And now, Sheela is independent and thriving in Switzerland, practicing Osho’s way of communal living through her work.
Read More: Where is Ma Anand Sheela’s Daughter Now?