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Ashram’s response to the 68 MPs

October 18, 2012

Earlier this year, in the month of June, Raman Reddy and Sraddhalu Ranade’s website had publicized that 68 Members of the Parliament (MPs) of India had written to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust seeking clarifications of what they alleged was the “mismanagement of the Heehs affair.”

About a month later, in July 2012, the Ashram responded to those MPs. We have now got a copy of that response which we are sharing with our readers as this response clearly dispels all the myths and lies that the above website has not only been propagating all along, but which they have shamelessly used to misguide and misinform the MPs in order to get them to sign and join their hostile actions against the Ashram.

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Ashram’s Response to the 68 MPs

SRI AUROBINDO ASHRAM TRUST

TELEGRAM: AUROBINDO, PONDICHERRY

Pondicherry – 605002

India

Tel: 2233628 / 4210115

Date: 12.07.2012

Dear Shri / Smt…………….

We had received on 28th May 2012 a letter signed by you and dated 22nd May 2012 as an annexure to another letter written by one Shri Kartikeshwar Patra (Ex-MP).

Later on 03.06.2012, Shri Kartikeshwar Patra (Ex-MP) also met us at Pondicherry. We regret to inform you that immediately thereafter Shri Kartikeshwar Patra (Ex-MP) contacted the press and presented a completely distorted version of what had transpired during the meeting. Under the circumstances, Sri Aurobindo Ashram was compelled to write to him about the factual position. Please find enclosed a copy of our letter dated 12.06.1012 addressed to Shri Kartikeshwar Patra (Ex-MP) {Annexure A}. We had also in that letter requested him to provide to us a list of the names and addresses and the contact numbers of the Honourable Members of Parliament who had signed collectively the letter dated 22nd May 2012 and which had been dispatched to us by Shri Kartikeshwar Patra (Ex-MP), so that we may send to them directly the required explanation. However till date and in spite of a reminder, Shri Kartikeshwar Patra (Ex-MP) has not provided to us such a list. Hence it has taken us more time than it would normally have taken in sending this reply as we were left to our own limited resources in identifying at least some of the signatories and finding out their addresses.

We are in entire agreement with you that today “Sri Aurobindo is a national and international figure….” as you have yourself stated in your letter dated 22nd May 2012. It is precisely for this reason that Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust must be extremely careful in whatever it does and Sri Aurobindo Ashram must keep in mind that all its actions must stand the scrutiny and the test of Time and must be fully in conformity with the all-embracing and global Vision of Sri Aurobindo. To abandon oneself to the heat and the excitement and agitation of the moment or to get coerced into taking some action simply because that appears to be the most tangible populist solution immediately available, would be inconsistent with the Truth that Sri Aurobindo represents.

You have also rightly noted in your letter dated 22nd May 2012 another very significant fact, namely, that Sri Aurobindo has worldwide followers. Accordingly our action too must take into consideration that the appeal of Sri Aurobindo transcends the national and provincial borders and consequently persons with different backgrounds, different cultural orientations and individuals representing different shades of personality, all have an equal claim to perceive themselves as being followers of Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo cannot be restricted and confined within the limits of any dogma or school of thought or boundaries that trivial human preferences might like to impose upon his personality and Vision

With this in the background we recount below the nature of the controversy as it evolved before listing out the questions that you have asked and providing answers for them.

 

Background of the Controversy

Since last four years, a small group of persons, who are cooperating with each other notwithstanding the fact that each one of them has in our perception, his own personal agenda and motives, has been trying to disturb the tranquility of the Ashram life. Their current move was to generate a controversy, the details of which are given below, and thereafter exploit it to damage the harmony and tranquility that marks the atmosphere of the Ashram.

The controversy created by them has of late been centered on a book entitled The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. This is a biography of Sri Aurobindo authored by an American national named Peter Heehs who has been in the Ashram since 1971 i.e. when The Mother was physically present. This biography of Sri Aurobindo published in USA by Columbia University Press, has been written for a scholarly audience and in a style that would be appropriate for modern academic scholarship. It has been praised by a large number of eminent people from India and abroad who have actually read the book and some of whom are scholars of repute. The said Peter Heehs is also being regularly invited to many universities and other educational institutions in India and abroad for presenting his historical research. In fact a few years ago he won a prize instituted by the Govt. of Delhi for his book on the Indian Freedom Movement.  That this book has helped some readers and has generated a wider interest in the works of Sri Aurobindo cannot be denied and as illustratory samples of communications informing us that it is so, we attach:

1)      An article by Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta , President Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and Convenor of the Knowledge Commission, Govt. of India, which appeared as the Editorial in The Indian Express {Annexure B1}.

2)      An article by the well known Historian Ramachandra Guha that appeared in The Telegraph {Annexure B2}.

3)      A letter from The President of the University of Philosophical Research to the Ashram {Annexure B3}.

There are innumerable letters which the Ashram has received and continues to receive and which have been written by individuals from India as also abroad. Amongst the letters received to the effect that the reader has found this book to be useful, some are from persons who are eminent in their fields but there are also letters from persons who are completely unknown to us. We attach a copy of the most recent letter received from The Progressive Writers’ Association of Tamil Nadu {Annexure C}.

 However a small but vociferous section of the people, most of whom have not even read the book for it is not yet even generally available in India, have started a campaign against the author on the alleged ground that he has denigrated Sri Aurobindo. They have been sending mass petitions to the Ashram signed by persons who could never have read the book. In fact some of the signatories could affix their signatures only in the vernacular. We are attaching samples of communications only from those who have not attempted to convert anyone to their personal point of view by taking recourse to any agitational approach or resorting to a networking for the purpose of propaganda of their person viewpoints. The samples of communications by the other group are all over the place and therefore we have not added them as attachments to this letter.

Subsequently the persons belonging to the second group have shifted the focus of their campaign from the issue of the book and altered it to a movement against the Ashram itself, claiming that the Ashram is harbouring a heretic. They have instituted a number of litigations against the author who is defending himself.  Not succeeding to their satisfaction in the course of those litigations, they have finally resorted to litigation against the Ashram itself in order to compel the Ashram to follow their wish. They have been systematically carrying on a campaign of vilification through distribution of anonymous pamphlets or through pamphlets supposedly circulated in names which on enquiry were found to be fictitious. These scurrilous pamphlets are also being regularly sent to various Government Departments, Judges, Members of Parliament and others.

While the Ashram seeks to have no quarrel or harbour any disrespect towards those who have signed the petitions, exactly as some of the Members of Parliament have also signed a petition, it would not be proper for the Ashram to ignore others holding the opposite view and who have equally a right to perceive themselves to be the followers of Sri Aurobindo or seekers who are in their own way trying to understand the Vision of Sri Aurobindo

The Ashram’s position has been straight and clear from the very beginning: the Ashram is not an organization promoting any kind of fundamentalism or standardized conformism. Each individual should engage himself in a personal quest for spiritual Truth and find his own path which would be best suited for his own inner development. No one is entitled to impose his or her personal preferences or predilections upon others. It cannot be emphasised sufficiently that Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a spiritual institution and not a conventional religious organisation – something that has been stated on innumerable occasion by The Mother Herself and which is also a position that has been confirmed by the Supreme Court in the famous Mittal Case.

Hence the Ashram has consciously decided neither to promote this book nor to condemn it. Each one is left free to read it and appreciate it, or not read it if the book is not to his or her taste. The author is free to defend himself as he is doing in all the litigations that have been filed against him in Orissa. In fact a Writ for directing the Govt of India to deport him has already been dismissed by the Madras High Court in the year 2010. We attach the statement given to the Press and signed by Dr. Dilip Datta, Trustee, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust which summarises the declared position of the Ashram {Annexure D}.

Having failed in the Court of Law and in order to coerce the Ashram to support their stand, these litigants then staged a week-long dharna along the Ashram Main Building from the 1st of January 2012. The Dharna was a pitiable sight with hardly anybody attending it. Further the Ashram has received letters from some devotees who apologised that they had been tricked into sitting there because they were misinformed that this is only a meditation session and that at the end of it The Mother’s Prasad would be distributed.  As soon they came to know about the reality and the motive of this gathering, they simply went away.

Having failed in this attempt, the same organisers brought hired crowds mainly from Orissa. There were about 50 or 60 persons who were brought from outside when the same individuals organised the second Dharna for 3 days from 26th February 2012 onwards. Some of those persons who had come from outside did not even know as to why they had come or what for they were sitting in the Dharna. In the meantime Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust has also received letters from devotees in Orissa and other places who have expressed their deep anguish as regards the unethical behaviour of those who were trying to organise such agitations {Annexure E}.

We have come to know that the organisers wanted to gherao the Managing Trustee of the Ashram on the last day of the Dharna and leave Pondicherry before any complaint could be lodged. But their plan went awry when by mistake, one day earlier than planned they manhandled another trustee of the Ashram – a person who is 80 years in age – as he was proceeding to attend the meeting of the Trust. Acting on a complaint by the Ashram, the police arrested 6 of those troublemakers, who were all outsiders and had been brought to Pondicherry. The complaint by the Ashram was at 10 a.m. In order to somehow create some ground for negotiation and compromise, one of them at 4 p.m. filed a complaint against the victimised trustee’s daughter who had rushed to safeguard him when he was being manhandled, stating that she had uttered racial abuses against the Oriyas. Unknown to those doing the Dharna there is a CCTV camera covering the streets around the Ashram. The recording of that camera has been given to the Police.

Having failed in this move also, these persons tried to lobby in some quarters. The Immigration Office informed Peter Heehs that though there is no blacklisting of his name, his residence permit would not get renewed beyond April 15 , 2012. Immediately a large number of intellectuals wrote to the Prime Minister and also the Home Minister, saying that they have found this book to be a valuable addition to the study of history and it would be a matter of grave concern if the Government abdicates its responsibility after being cowed down by a group of motivated individuals. Shri Jairam Ramesh wrote a personal letter to the Home Minster saying that he has read the book and has found it to be excellent. We attach a copy of the letter written by well-known scholars to the Prime Minster and the Home Minster of India {Annexures F & G}. The Media also, both visual and print, appreciated the reasonableness of the Ashram’s position. Despite the confusion created and the sustained campaign launched by these few persons against the Ashram through distribution of defamatory leaflets and handouts and creation of websites in which the Ashram came under continuous attack, the Government of India too appreciated the reasonableness of the stand of the Ashram. The Government of India extended the period of validity of the Residence Permit of Peter Heehs.

We once again assert that as an institution the Ashram is neither against nor in favour of the book. These matters are best left to the taste and judgment of each individual. But the Ashram upholds the right of any author to pursue his independent approach.

Some devotees who have liked the book have selected some representative passages showing how a few motivated individuals are misleading the people. Those passages are attached in a separate file {Annexure H}.

Now, having received a letter on which some Hon’ble Members of Parliament have affixed their signatures, the Ashram feels that it would be proper to provide the required answer to that communication.

Very briefly the specific points raised are being answered below:

 

Reply to points mentioned in the letter signed by the Hon’ble MPs

 

‘Please explain the reasons behind your change of mind….’

There was no change of mind. The passages quoted are completely out of context. They are from personal and internal correspondence between The Managing Trustee and other members in the organisation, exchanged in the early days of this controversy when different perceptions were getting crystallized into a definite form. Even so, if one reads the entire communication from which such phrases have been culled, a very different evaluation would emerge. The position of the Trust has been clear. It is not the Trust’s responsibility to either prescribe or proscribe a particular book. This is consistent with Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, where each one is free to shape his inner life. Each one must be free to approach his or her Guru in his or her own way. It is nobody’s business to dictate what path others should take. The Trust has also received numerous individual letters from both devotees and academics in warm appreciation of the book and which the Ashram should not ignore simply because some others have resorted to organising mass petitions against it. Further, it may be noted that some of the most well-known Indian historians and writers have recommended Peter’s book for those interested in Sri Aurobindo. At the same time the Trust has also received mostly mass-petitions condemning the book. Be that as it may, the Trust has decided to take a neutral stand on the issue and is awaiting the outcome of the various cases filed against the book and the author before deciding on any further course of action.  The Trust’s position is neutral, and it has not demonstrated any promotion for the book or any condemnation of the book. Its stand has been widely appreciated by the followers, devotees and people in general, within and outside the Ashram.

 ‘Copyright violations and intellectual property theft…’

The Ashram is of the considered opinion endorsed by its legal advisors that no case for copyright violations or intellectual property theft has been committed by Peter Heehs. Some time back we received an unsigned note on a plain paper by someone who claimed that the note had been prepared by a lawyer and who held the view that copyright has been violated. Enquiries revealed that the said note was prepared by a lawyer who regularly files frivolous suits against the Ashram.  In any event that person was asked to give the legal note with the signature of the lawyer and on the letterheads of the lawyer who had drafted the same. That person never wrote back.

‘Orissa  Gazette, recommendation of Peter’s visa, and anti-national stance…’

The said notification is under challenge in the Orissa High Court (WP Crl 86/2012). Since the matter is sub-judice, the Trust is awaiting the esteemed view of the Courts before taking any further action. Moreover, Peter’s visa has been extended by the Government of India itself. Thus, is the correspondent alleging that the Government of India is itself anti-national? The Notification has been challenged on various grounds in the High Court of Orissa such as the Govt issuing a notification even while the Govt. is itself on record that it does not have any copy of the book, as also the fact that the only passage quoted in the notification is surprisingly in praise of Sri Aurobindo and so on. Supposing the High Court quashes the Notification, would not the same persons who are agitating now  then start demanding by extending the same argument, that now the Ashram should publicly declare that the High Court itself is also anti-national!? Please see attached the Gazette Notification by the Govt. of Orissa and the admission that although the Govt. has issued the notification, it does not have the copy of the book and hence its entire contents are not known {Annexure I}.

‘Public dharnas, protests, and attempt to gag devotees…’

The fact is that a small group of persons with ulterior motives and agendas have whipped up this controversy to attack the Trust and further their own personal ends. The so-called protests and dharnas organised by this small clique of dissenters have failed to elicit any support within the Sri Aurobindo community. Since they have so-far failed to destabilise the Ashram through the Courts or through the Media, and failed in their attack against the author and in their attempts to cancel his visa, this endeavour to swing the opinion of the Hon’ble MPs is a desperate effort by that small group of motivated dissenters.

The Trust has indeed initiated disciplinary proceedings against some persons who while being inmates of the Ashram and enjoying the full benefits provided by the Trust, have violated the basic Rules governing the inmates of the Ashram and who have prima facie acted in a manner prejudicial to the Ashram Trust, thus endangering the smooth functioning of the Ashram, and the daily lives and livelihood of the hundreds of people who depend on the Ashram Trust to provide them with the basic necessities and amenities.

‘Theft of Sri Aurobindo’s manuscripts…’

Strict controls to regulate access to the original manuscripts are in place. These are stored in archival conditions that have been found by noted experts to be among the best in the country. No theft or tampering of the manuscripts has been discovered by the Trust. It may be noted that when a few persons among the said group of dissenters sought access to the manuscripts for verification, it was provided to them. The said persons have not got back to the Trust with any proof of the above allegation even though more than 3 years have elapsed.  So far not a single person has ever said which manuscript has been stolen. They had made the allegation of tampering with the works of Sri Aurobindo more than 10 years ago although in innumerable judgements the Courts including High Courts and Supreme Court have already dismissed such false allegations.

‘Racial abuse by Dr. Datta and his daughter…’

Our enquiries reveal that no such abuse took place, and that on the contrary, it was Dr. Datta who was physically manhandled in a pre-meditated attack by a group of persons (6 of whom were arrested) outside the Trust Office of the Ashram. This is also borne out by the Ashram CCTV footage of the incident. Further, one Mr. Sraddhalu Ranande and 2 of his associates have the entire scene on camera, but have still not released the entire unedited footage. The only genuine public outrage (as opposed to sponsored mass-petitions) ensuing from the incident has been that of concerned devotees directed against these motivated troublemakers for vitiating the atmosphere of the Ashram. Police complaints have been filed in this regard, and the matter is still under investigation by the appropriate authorities.

‘Over 160 cases filed against you…what is wrong with your administration.’

This is one of the rumours that has been floated since about 4 years: if anyone could list out the so-called 160 cases, we shall be very glad to respond. Actually there are about one dozen cases, mostly disciplinary cases where the Ashram is a defendant and 2 cases which the Ashram was compelled to institute in order to recover small pieces of Ashram property on which some people were trying to encroach. The same trouble makers had filed in different courts cases relating to the same issues like the publication of Savitri. Most of them have been dismissed, the rest we are sure shall also get dismissed.

It may not be inappropriate to end this clarification in a slightly lighter vein which for all its hilarity is illustrative of how this whole campaign of vilification is being conducted: a few days ago a local lawyer from Pondicherry had come to the Ashram. He had brought with him a pamphlet issued anonymously but which contained a list of not 160 but no less than about 120 cases. In that list at least the cause-titles and the numbers relating to those cases had been provided. That local lawyer’s stunned remark was “From this list, I find that some of the cases that have been listed here about the Ashram are actually those where I am appearing as the advocate on record and the Ashram is in no way connected to them! Someone may or may not be stealing the manuscripts from the Ashram but I have a right to demand as to how Ashram is now becoming bold enough to steal my cases!”

From the facts that we have provided to you , we are sure , it would be clear to you that whose who met you and obtained your valuable signature on a prepared draft, were consciously or unconsciously acting on behalf of some dubious elements. They began with a certain book only as a pretext. They were not so naïve as to be ignorant of the fact that the Ashram is neither the publisher of the book nor is its promoter in any way. The book is not even available in India and no Ashram Department sells this book. The worst irony is, that those who are agitating against the book are the ones who have made people curious about this book published by a University in USA, by distributing tens of thousands of leaflets quoting such passages (without providing the context and also with their own comments and interpretations meant to inflame hatred in the readers) from the book which they believe people should not read at all!

However, since we have high respect for you and we greatly value the position in which Providence has placed you, we have submitted to you our stand on the said book and well as brief clarifications on the colossal lies these elements had the audacity to present before the Honourable Members of Parliament.

The Ashram never publicises itself. But people who visit it from far and near find it to be an abode of inner peace and harmony. As you know Sri Aurobindo’s Vision of the future evolution of man is gradually waking up thoughtful people all over the world to a hitherto unknown spirit of optimism about tomorrow despite the gloom in which the world remains plunged today. This is a time for the Ashram to be more responsive to their expectations in several ways. Some hostile power is obviously keen to derail the quiet progress of the institution along that path. Vested interests and simply over–ambitious and envious ones apart, possibly there are also cynical people who find a perverse pleasure in throwing filth on a clean monument and all of them are packed into an aggressive horde to damage the institution. We request you to do whatever you think best to thwart this dark move.

We hope that through this letter the Ashram has been able to explain the situation adequately. However should there be any lingering doubt in your mind, please feel free to contact us directly and we shall surely provide the necessary information. We have also not been able, in the absence of any other noting, to identify some of the signatories by their signature alone. As stated in the beginning, Shri Kartikeshwar Patra (Ex-MP), has also failed to give us the necessary details. We would be very grateful if you could help us by informing your co-signatories about the explanations that we have submitted herein.

Thanking you,

Yours sincerely.

.

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– Well-wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram –

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3 Comments
  1. A Devotee permalink

    The SAA Trustees’ response was posted on SR&Co’s tlosa.com website in the comments section with a request to publish it on their website. Is it surprising that SR&Co have censored that comment because of their “objectivity”?
    SR&Co and all those whose articles get published on that website are unscrupulous liars who don’t care about the Truth.

  2. anotherdevotee@gmail.com permalink

    Dear Devotee,

    You say that SR& Co are liars but then did you expect anything else from that globe-trotting Guru called Sraddhalu Ranade?

    He has got so used to having his disciples lap up any nonsense that he may utter, that now he feels that he need not even bother about Truth or even truth.

    Unfortunately for him there are sane people also left in the world. And now he has to reckon wiht the fact that his halo is slipping.

    Not very pleasant.

    Another dvotee

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