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SC on ‘Proxy PILs’ used as instruments of intimidation

We have been repeatedly exposing the unscrupulous and malicious ploys adopted by anti-Ashram elements like Raman Reddy, Sraddhalu Ranade, R.Y. Deshpande and others, who have been deliberately abusing the process of Law by exploiting the weaknesses of the judicial system, not to seek justice of course, but as a weapon for negotiation, intimidation, reputation destruction and other personal gains.

Approaching the Courts was just one of a multi-pronged strategy for these anti-Ashram elements, with which they hoped that they could intimidate and destroy the reputation of the Trustees of the Ashram as well as to buy some time and space for publicity of their campaigns and actions. These anti-Ashram elements know very well that the weakest point of the overstretched Indian judicial system is that it takes time, more often than not a very long time for justice to be rendered. And time is exactly what these anti-Ashram elements wanted to have, because getting justice was never going to be in their interest, as the real victims were from the onset the Ashram, some of its members and Trustees (c.f. 1 & 2).

With time time in their hand, since the year 2008 when the first court case was filed, we have all been witness to how this was exploited to try to sabotage, weaken and even destroy the Ashram. We may recollect how a systematic campaign was unleashed against the Ashram and its trustees. There were nation-wide misinformation and slander campaigns spearheaded by Sraddhalu Ranade, where he visited numerous groups of devotees (c.f., 3), the majority of which were affiliated to centers of the Sri Aurobindo Society, to seek support from those groups which he even got. Agitations in the form of Dharnas were also planned and executed. When initial attempts to build momentum from within the Ashram quickly fizzled out and failed, politicians and goons were roped in (c.f., 4). Even the Members of Parliament were not spared by them and unnecessarily dragged into this controversy (c.f., 5)

It is therefore heartening to at last find that the Editor of the online publication Firstpost has also shared the same concerns and exposed the malicious games that are played by vested interests through the misuse of legal instruments. Of particular interest to us is the study and analysis conducted by Firstpost on the proxy Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that was filed against the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

We reproduce in whole the article published further below here, and draw attention to the following statement which deserves to be highlighted:

“The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not alone in being a victim of power play. Across the country, clever litigants are tying the hands of institutions in inaction and inertia, emerging from which takes money and invaluable time that could be better utilised… the apex court said.”

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Firstpost

SC has shown great foresight in striking against proxy PILs as instruments of intimidation

by The Editor Jan 14, 2016 18:45 IST

In the space of seven days, two benches of the Supreme Court have, in their own way, signalled that the era of frivolous cases and using the courts as a tool for personal and petty ends is coming to an end. They highlight the underbelly of how litigants abuse the process of law. While the judgements under analysis pertain to trusts and non-governmental organisations, the spirit of the order in one case and comments in the other can easily be transplanted on to any type of case anywhere in the country, where smart operators use judicial processes not to seek justice but as a weapon for negotiation, intimidation, reputation destruction and other personal gains.

The two cases under analysis are against the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust (SAAT) and Reliance Jio.

“If the persons in management of the trusts are subjected to multiplicity of legal proceedings, funds which are to be used for charitable or religious purposes would be wasted on litigation,” the apex court in the SAAT versus R Ramanathan case noted in their January 5, 2016 order. “It is time for all of us, litigants, lawyers and judges to introspect and decide whether a litigation being pursued is really worth the while.”

The case is simple: because SAAT did not expel scholar and writer Peter Heehs from the ashram for writing a book that a handful found to be “sacrilegious”, the latter wanted the trustees to be removed. While the case of the book is currently in the Orissa High Court, the excerpt based on which the dissolution is being sought, is to any mind, anything but sacrilegious; on the contrary, it is deeply reverential, as the following paragraph reads.

“Early in the afternoon the Mother rejoined him, and they walked together to the small outer room where they sat together on a sofa, the Mother on Sri Aurobindo’s right. Here they remained for the next few hours as ashramites and visitors – more than three thousand by the end of the 1940s – passed before them one by one, “There is no suggestion of a vulgar jostle anywhere in the moving procession,” a visitor noted. “The mystic sits bare-bodied except for a part of his dhoti thrown around his shoulders, a kindly light plays in his eyes,” Sri Aurobindo looked directly at each person for a moment “the moving visitor is conscious of a particular contact with these [eyes] as he bends down to do his obeisance. They leave upon him a mysterious ‘feel’ that baffles description. The contact, almost physical, instils a faint sense of a fragrance into his heart and he has a perception of a glow akin to that spreading in every fibre of his being.” Most visitors had similarly positive experiences. But some, particularly those from the West, were distracted by the theatricality of the setting and the religiosity of the pageantry.” [SIC.]

If such is the basis on which the Odisha government has found Heehs’ book, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, deserves to be banned and “its copies, reprints, translations or other documents containing extracts taken therefrom be forfeited to the Government”, it clearly shows that reason is fighting for life in the state. We hope the Orissa High Court, to which the Supreme Court has left the matter of the ban, brings reason back.

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not alone in being a victim of power play. Across the country, clever litigants are tying the hands of institutions in inaction and inertia, emerging from which takes money and invaluable time that could be better utilised. All institutions are entitled to a wide discretion in the administration of a trust, the apex court said.

“A disagreement with the exercise of the discretion (however passionate the disagreement might be) does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of maladministration, unless the exercise of discretion is perverse,” Justices Madan B Lokur and SA Bobde concluded. An important point they have made is that not expelling a historian simply because he has written a book that some consider sacrilegious is not reason enough to remove the trustees.

The judiciary is not unaware of the blatant misuse of the process of law. But now, it seems to be moving towards ending it. That all participants in this institution of justice – litigants, lawyers and judges – need to introspect can’t be overstated. In the battle to control frivolous litigation, the SAAT judgement and the comments on Prashant Bhushan’s serial PILs are two strong wins… But these are small victories in a long and looming war, winning which would mean fighting several such battles.

Source: http://m.firstpost.com/politics/sc-has-shown-great-foresight-in-striking-against-proxy-pils-as-instruments-of-intimidation-2584228.html

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– Well-wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram –

Judgement: SAAT & Ors. Vs. R. Ramanathan & Ors.

We have obtained a copy of the Judgement of the Scheme Suit under Section 92 of the CPC that was filed by R. Ramanathan & Others, where the “Others” consist of anti-Ashram elements like Raman Reddy, Sraddhalu Ranade, R.Y. Deshpande and several trouble-makers even though they may not have been technically party to the case. The copy of the Judgement can be viewed by clicking on the following link: Judgement: SAAT & Ors. Vs. R. Ramanathan & Ors.

As the judgement is 16 pages long we reproduce here some of the salient points of the judgement which we believe summarize and exemplify the position of the Supreme Court of India on this matter:

1.    Leave granted.

2.    The dispute that has arisen in this appeal is one that could have and ought to have been settled in the first instance in the Trial Court…

3.    …In  another decision altogether, this Court had occasion to remark that public trusts for charitable and religious purpose are run for the benefit of the  public. No individual should take benefit from them. If the persons in management of the trusts are subjected to multiplicity of legal proceedings, funds which are to be used for charitable or religious purposes would be wasted on litigation…

4.    It is time for all of us, litigants, lawyers and judges to  introspect and decide whether a litigation being pursued is really worth the while and alternatively whether an amicable  dispute resolution mechanism could be availed of to settle the dispute to the satisfaction of the litigants…

Points 5 to 28 describe the history of the controversy around Peter Heehs’ book “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” as well as of the case till it appeared before the Supreme Court.

Points 29 to 33 discuss the legal aspects of the case.

34.   The High Court has effectively faulted the appellants [SAAT] for not making the first strike to secure a ban on the objectionable book. This is really a question of the degree of reaction to the objectionable book on which we would not like to comment… But the question is whether the mild reaction is perverse or could in any way be held to be a breach of trust or an absence of effective administration of the Trust warranting the removal of the trustees. We do not think so. Failure to take steps to ban a book that is critical of the philosophical and spiritual guru of a Trust would not fall within the compass of administration of the Trust. It might be an omission of the exercise of proper discretion on the part of the trustees, but certainly not an omission touching upon the administration of the Trust. We are not in agreement with the High Court that the failure of the appellants to take the initiative in banning the objectionable book gives rise to  a  cause of action for the removal of the trustees of the Trust and settling a scheme for its administration. The trustees of a trust are entitled to a wide discretion in the  administration of a trust. A disagreement with the exercise of the discretion (however passionate the disagreement might be) does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of maladministration, unless the exercise of discretion is perverse. In our opinion, the High Court ought to have allowed the application filed by the appellants for the revocation of leave granted to the respondents to initiate proceedings under Section 92 of the CPC, in the facts of this case.

Conclusion

37.   We find merit in the appeal and accordingly set aside the impugned judgment and order of the High Court and allow the application filed by the appellants for revocation of leave. The parties are left to bear their own costs and once again consider an amicable settlement of their dispute.

Editor’s note: highlights have been added.

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– Well-wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram –

“SC frowns upon litigation involving public trusts, indirectly bats for freedom of expression”

By SCOI Reports, Thursday, 07 January 2016

In Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust and Ors vs R Ramanathan and Ors, a Supreme Court bench comprising justices Madan B Lokur and SA Bobde, refused to intervene in the dispute between the Aurobindo Ashram Trust and the respondents over the former’s failure to take steps to seek confiscation of copies of the book, “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” written by Peter Heehs.

The book was published by Columbia University Press in the US in 2008, and is reportedly critical of Aurobindo. The respondents allege that the book contains deliberate and baseless distortions relating to Aurobindo’s life, to the effect that he had romantic affairs with the Mother, involving veiled tantric practices; that he was a frequent liar and lied about his spiritual experiences, that his spiritual experiences were based on sexual and schizophrenic stimuli and that he was the initiator of the Hindu-Muslim divide and was responsible for the partition of the country.

The respondents also alleged that Hees impersonated as one of the founders of the archives of Aurobindo Ashram. The Odisha Government has ordered forfeiture of the book under Section 95 of the CrPC for being a work punishable under Section 295A of the IPC

The state government concluded that the objectionable book contained matters which were deliberately and maliciously intended to insult the religious beliefs of the devotees of Aurobindo.

The respondents alleged that the appellant did not expel the author from the Ashram, or condemn and dissociate the Trust from the sacrilegious work. They also alleged that the appellant assisted the author in getting a visa for his continued stay in India by standing guarantee for him.

The Madras high court had held that since the Ashram had nothing to do with the publication of the book by one of its inmates, it could not be held that there is a breach of trust. But it concluded that the respondents had the locus to file a suit under Section 92 Civil Procedure Code, for removal of the trustees.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court did not go into the question whether the book ought at all to be proscribed or its sale prohibited, as the matter is very much alive before the Orissa high court, and it is for that Court to take a final call on the legality of the prohibition on circulation of the book.

The Supreme Court has held that the appellants have done what could reasonably be expected of them in relation to the book, pending a determination by the Orissa high court. More important, the Supreme Court has opined that the appellants’ mild reaction to the book’s contents could not be a ground for removal of the trustees. “Failure to take steps to ban a book that is critical of the philosophical and spiritual guru of a trust would not fall within the compass of administration of the trust”, the bench observed.

The Supreme Court thus set aside the Madras high court’s judgment, and allowed the application filed by the appellants for revocation of leave granted to respondents to initiate proceedings under Section 92 of the CPC

Although the Supreme Court did not go into the issue of whether the order banning the circulation of the book was justified, its defence of the Ashram, is interesting. In effect, it says that failure to seek the banning of the book is no reflection on the administration of the trust. This can be construed as a minor triumph for freedom of expression, even if remotely relevant.

Source: http://www.legallyindia.com/scoi-reports/anti-aurubindo-book-action-sc-frowns-upon-litigation-involving-public-trusts-indirectly-bats-for-freedom-of-expression

“SC sets aside HC verdict on trustees of Aurobindo Ashram”

PTI
January 5, 2016 | UPDATED 20:40 IST

New Delhi, Jan 5 (PTI) The Supreme Court today set aside the verdict of the Orissa High Court holding that the judicial process to remove trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust can continue on account of their alleged failures to take steps for banning a book, critical of the spiritual guru.

“The question is whether the mild reaction is perverse or could in any way be held to be a breach of trust or an absence of effective administration of the Trust warranting the removal of the trustees. We do not think so.

“Failure to take steps to ban a book that is critical of the philosophical and spiritual guru of a Trust would not fall within the compass of administration of the Trust. It might be an omission of the exercise of proper discretion on the part of the trustees, but certainly not an omission touching upon the administration of the Trust,” a bench of Justices M B Lokur and S A Bobde said.

The bench did not agree with the findings of the High Court that the proceedings under the Civil Procedure Code can go on for removal of the trustees of the Ashram on the ground that they did not take effective steps to get a controversial biography, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, banned.

The book, written by Peter Heehs, was published in May 2008 by Columbia University Press in the United States and allegedly contained some objectionable content against the spiritual guru.

“We are not in agreement with the High Court that the failure of the appellants to take the initiative in banning the objectionable book gives rise to a cause of action for the removal of the trustees of the Trust and settling a scheme for its administration,” it said.

It was alleged that the trustees failed to take any positive action to prohibit availability of the objectionable book or dissociate themselves from the objectionable book.

The other allegation was that instead of taking some coercive action against Peter Heehs, like removing him from the Ashram, the trustees assisted him in getting a visa for his continued stay in India by standing guarantee for him. PTI PKS SJK RKS ARC

This is unedited, unformatted feed from the Press Trust of India wire.

Source: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/sc-sets-aside-hc-verdict-on-trustees-of-aurobindo-ashram/1/563240.html

“Court stands by Ashram Trustees”

J. VENKATESAN, DC, NEW DELHI. JAN. 5, 2016

The Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside an order of the Madras High Court upholding the permission granted by a trial  court to some devotees to file a suit for removal of the Trustees of Puducherry Aurobindo Ashram  for not banning an objectionable book written by an inmate.

A Bench of Justices  Madan B. Lokur and S.N. Bobde said failure to take steps to ban a book that is critical of the philosophical and spiritual guru of a Trust would not fall within the compass of administration of the Trust. It might  be an omission of the exercise  of proper discretion on the part of the trustees, but certainly not an omission touching upon the administration of the Trust.

The Bench said  “We are not in agreement with the High Court that the failure of the appellants (Aurobindo Ashram and others) to take the initiative in banning the objectionable  book gives rise to a cause of action for the removal of the trustees of the Trust and settling a scheme for its  administration. The trustees of a trust are entitled to a wide discretion in the administration of a Trust.”

Writing the judgment and allowing the Ashram’s appeal  Justice Lokur said a disagreement with the exercise of the discretion (however passionate the disagreement may be) does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of maladministration, unless the exercise of discretion is perverse. In our opinion the High Court ought to have allowed the application made by the appellants for the revocation of leave granted to the respondents to initiate proceedings under Section 92 of the Civil Procedure Code, in the facts of this case.

 

Deccan Chronicle

Court stands by Ashram Trustees_Deccan Chronicle_2016_01_06

Source: http://103.241.136.50/epaper/DC/CHN/510X798/2016-01-06/b_images/CHN_2016-01-06_maip1_14.jpg

 

The Supreme Court delivers a much awaited blow and outcome

In a nutshell, yesterday, on the 5th of January 2016, the Supreme Court has effectively dismissed lock, stock, and barrel the case that was filed and supported by Sraddhalu Ranade, Raman Reddy, R.Y. Deshpande, R. Ramanathan (late) and other anti-Ashram  elements against the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust (SAAT), that sought the removal of the trustees of the SAAT for an alleged breach of trust.

It may be recalled that these anti-Ashram elements had taken the SAAT to court because of their personal motives against some of the trustees and Peter Heehs in particular, demanding that the SAAT must act against the latter as well as the publication of his book “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo“; a book which has been greatly and increasingly appreciated by a wide range of readers – scholars as well as people who are new to Sri Aurobindo and his philosophy.

The case that was filed in the year 2010 with malicious, mischievous intent and under false pretexts by these anti-Ashram elements, with the objectives of bringing the Sri Aurobindo Ashram to disrepute, and with the illusory hope that it would allow them to eventually take control of the Ashram once it was in shambles, had been dragging on for years since then. In the end, as was anticipated by all of the Well-Wishers of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the SAAT prevailed and the Supreme Court finally dismissed the case in a manner which gives the SAAT and all of its well-wishers much relief and joy.

The bench that heard the case in the Supreme Court correctly observed and concluded that:

“The trustees of a trust are entitled to a wide discretion in the administration of a trust. A disagreement with the exercise of the discretion (however passionate the disagreement might be) does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of maladministration, unless the exercise of discretion is perverse.”

The Supreme Court bench has therefore unequivocally expressed that there was nothing perverse and no failure or breach of trust, as alleged, on the part of the SAAT in its administration of the Ashram’s affairs, dismissing the case and thereby granting the Trust a comprehensive victory.

The malicious mischief that was played by Sraddhalu Ranade, Raman Reddy, R.Y. Deshpande and other anti-Ashram  elements against the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust (SAAT) now stands fully exposed. It will now be only proper if these anti-Ashram elements tender an unconditional apology to the SAAT as well as to all the Well-Wishers of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for all the hostility and negativity that they unnecessary created during all these years, as it was all along exclusively driven by entirely personal motives that did not concern the SAAT or its Well-wishers. And should they be incapable of any decent behavior they might as well just leave the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, graciously if at all possible, in order to pursue their personal objectives at their own expense instead of that of the SAAT’s.

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More from the Deccan Herald:

Deccan Herald logo

 

Apex court against removing trustee for failing to ban book

Ashish Tripathi NEW DELHI, Jan 06, 2016, DHNS

The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that failure to take steps to ban a book—critical of philosophical and spiritual guru of a trust—could not be treated as a serious omission to seek removal of its administration or trustees.

A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and S A Bobde said it might be an omission on the part of trustees in exercise of proper discretion but it would not fall within the compass of administration. The SC overturned an order by the Orissa HC granting permission to R Ramanathan and others, residents and followers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, to initiate proceedings for removal of the administration over their failure to stop publication or circulation of a book “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” written by one Peter Heehs.

The book purported to be a biography of Sri Aurobindo was published in May 2008 by the Columbia University Press in the United States by Heehs, one of the ashramites. However, objections were made to its publication for containing sacrilegious materials about Sri Aurobindo. Though the Odisha government and the Centre banned the “objectionable” book, it was contended that the Ashram administration did not take any step to expel Heehs or to sever all ties of with him. Neither any effective action was taken to stop the publication of the book by contacting the Columbia University Press in the US or stop its sale through online sites here, it was claimed.

Allowing a plea by the Ashram, the SC bench said it was not in agreement with the view that the failure of the appellants to take the initiative in banning the objectionable book gives rise to a cause of action for the removal of the trustees and settling a scheme for its administration. “The trustees of a trust are entitled to a wide discretion in the administration of a trust. A disagreement with the exercise of the discretion (however passionate the disagreement might be) does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of maladministration, unless the exercise of discretion is perverse,” the bench said.

Source: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/521435/apex-court-against-removing-trustee.html

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– Well-wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram –

BJP President lauds, deeply appreciates the Sri Aurobindo Ashram

While the Sri Aurobindo Ashram does not depend on or need the patronage and certificates of good conduct from politicians, bureaucrats, the media, etc., the visit of the president of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) Mr. Amit Shah to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram yesterday (25th August 2015) is worth mentioning in the backdrop of the misinformation campaign that has been undertaken by anti-Ashram elements in recent times.

Raman Reddy, Sraddhalu Ranade, R.Y. Deshpande and their ilk have been trying their best to misinform and misguide influential members of various political parties and of the government, especially those from the present dispensation at the Center in New Delhi, so that some action is taken against the Ashram management. One of the many lies that these anti-Ashram elements keep spreading is that Sri Aurobindo’s manuscripts that are stored and preserved at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives Department are in the wrong hands.

However, Mr. Amit Shah’s visit not only to Sri Aurobindo’s room in the Ashram, but also to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives Department where he was shown the scientifically controlled conditions in which Sri Aurobindo’s manuscripts were preserved has delivered a body blow to the lies that the anti-Ashram elements have been fabricating. To the great displeasure of these anti-Ashram elements, Mr. Shah is reported to have been “deeply appreciative of the manner in which the manuscripts were preserved” and “lauds trust members for preserving [the] manuscripts.”

Now that also Mr. Amit Shah has witnessed with his own eyes that Sri Aurobindo’s manuscripts are in the safe, capable and responsible hands of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust and the capable archives team, these anti-Ashram elements are left with fewer lies to spread around.

We reproduce here the news reports describing Mr. Amit Shah’s visit to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram:

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PUDUCHERRY, August 26, 2015

STAFF REPORTER

Aurobindo Ashram visit

BJP president Amit Shah on Tuesday visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram. He went to the room of Sri Aurobindo where he had carried out his spiritual experiments. Mr. Shah also wished to see the manuscripts of Sri Aurobindo. The Ashram has created a vault and all the available materials of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother have been preserved in scientifically controlled conditions. Mr. Shah was deeply appreciative of the manner in which the manuscripts were preserved. He left tha ashram at around 3.30 p.m. Union Minister of State for Shipping Pon. Radhakrishnan and TN BJP president Tamilisai Soundararajan accompanied him.

Earlier, Mr. Shah visited the Natarajar Temple in Chidambaram.

Source: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/aurobindo-ashram-visit/article7580722.ece?ref=sliderNews

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PUDUCHERRY, August 25, 2015

BOSCO DOMINIQUE

Amit Shah visits Sri Aurobindo Ashram, lauds trust members for preserving manuscripts

PUDUCHERRY: BJP president Amit Shah visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram here on Tuesday and stood in silence for a few minutes before the samadhis (tombs) of Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator, Mira Alfassa, paying tributes to them.

Shah went to the room of Aurobindo, where the revolutionary-turned-philosopher had stayed from 1926 to 1950 after retiring from daily contact with his followers. The followers had visited him in his room for darshan on a few occasions a year and these days were later known as darshan days. A major portion of his epic Savitri was written in this room.

The BJP leader, who also visited the ashram’s archives, was impressed by the way in which the manuscripts of Sri Aurobindo were preserved in a scientific manner by the trust. The archives has a cold storage vault, which regulates the temperature and humidity in a scientific manner to preserve the manuscripts.

The papers used in Aurobindo’s time were not acid-free and would not last long if steps were not taken to preserve them.

Shah, who reached ashram 2.55pm, was received by a section of trustees. He left the ashram at 3.30pm to attend a meeting of industrialists.

Earlier, Shah, who is on a one-day visit to Puducherry and Tamil Nadu, visited the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram.

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– Well-wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram –

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