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From TLOSA: Members of Parliament Seek Clarifications from Ashram Trustees

Jun 6, 2012

The mismanagement of the Heehs affair by the Ashram Trustees has become a national issue ever since Heehs’ deportation order was discussed in the national media.
Sixty-eight sitting Members of Parliament (MPs) have signed a letter seeking clarifications from the Ashram Trustees. The list of signatories includes sitting Cabinet Minister Shri Srikant Kumar Jena, Ex Chief Minister of Bihar Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ex President National Commission for Women Dr Girija Vyas, etc. The letter was mailed to the Ashram Trust Board by Ex-MP Dr Kartikeswar Patra who then sought a meeting with the Board to discuss the issues raised by the Hon’ble MPs.
Unfortunately, as is the habit of our present Trustees they played a dirty game of deception and outright lies. First, they tried to prevent him from meeting the Board. When he insisted on the meeting, they refused to permit his colleagues to attend the meeting, although they had their assistants present throughout. In the meeting they asked for another two months to reply to simple questions that everyone has been asking for the last several years. When Dr Patra insisted on an immediate reply, they promised to give a written reply the same evening, and then late at night sent an unsigned note saying they will take several months to reply as suggested by him! This is not only an insult to the signatory MPs but also an insult to the Indian State and the People of India whom the MPs represent.
Inebriated with their extreme arrogance, the present Trustees have lost all sense of propriety and basic values. They are trying to deal with Members of Parliament with the same high-handedness with which they deal with Inmates of the Ashram. Perhaps the years of exercising absolute power on utterly dependent and meek Ashramites has caused these Trustees to lose touch with reality. Having entrenched their autocratic rule in the Ashram, they want that the whole of India also must bow down to their whims and fancies in the same manner as Ashramites are being forced to do every day for the last 20 years!
Below are the two relevant letters.
1.       Letter of 68 Members of Parliament with signatures. (Signatures are partially covered to protect from misuse.)
2.       Letter of Dr Kartikeswar Patra after he was snubbed and deceived by the Trust Board.
1. Letter from 68 Members of Parliament (MPs)
The Board of Trustees
represented by Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee
Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry 605002
15th May 2012
Sub: Request for Clarifications from Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Dear Shri Manoj Das Gupta,
Sri Aurobindo is a national and international figure widely recognised as a freedom fighter, national leader, yogi, philosopher and poet. Over the last hundred years his writings have increasingly inspired people all over the world by their depth and insight and their inspirational and practical content. He is revered and worshipped by millions of people in India and abroad.
The controversy surrounding the book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs, an inmate of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, has raised questions and issues which require immediate clarification and resolution.
As you will agree, while the Ashram community in Pondicherry is representative of the worldwide followers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the Beneficiaries of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust (a public charitable Trust) number in millions and are spread all over. As Trustees of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust you remain answerable not only to the immediate community in Pondicherry but to all Beneficiaries wherever they be, in India and the world. As Members of Parliament from various States, we the undersigned deem it our duty to speak on behalf of the people we represent and raise the issues that concern them. Besides there are matters of national interest and security and these need to be considered in all their details. We would be obliged if the following questions are answered by you at the earliest.
1.       The ambiguity of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust with regard to the book by Peter Heehs is intriguing and disturbing. You are on record as having stated that the book has “crossed all limits of simple decency!”, that the book does in fact “denigrate Sri Aurobindo”, you have warned of its “potential danger”, the need to ensure that it “should reach as few readers as possible”, and you also claimed that he had “initiated” “a few corrective measures” with “more on the anvil”. You have confirmed that Peter Heehs has impersonated himself as the “Founder” of the Ashram Archives to give his book credibility, and you claimed to have initiated “disciplinary action” against him. Manoj Das, scholar of Sri Aurobindo’s life and multiple National Awards winner and a former Trustee of the Ashram, identified ninety passages in the book that he found damaging to Sri Aurobindo and his Ashram, and read out each one of them to you explaining why and in what manner they were harmful. He asked for and received your promise to stop the book and remove Peter Heehs from the Ashram.
        Further you have claimed that “Legal aspects are being looked into as to whether the Indian publication may be at least modified if not stalled.” You have acknowledged that the book involved theft and misuse of “access to privileged material” and recognised the publisher’s malafide motives saying “the publisher would be only too eager to exploit the situation in order to promote its sales!” In response to pleas for legal action to stop the book you wrote “if you feel that some legal action is the need of the hour, I am game for it.
However we find that your recent media releases and statements are the exact opposite of your earlier position. You seem now to support and promote Peter Heehs and his book. What is strange is that you profusely quote supporters of the book who are not scholars of Sri Aurobindo and whose first point of contact with Sri Aurobindo is through this controversial book, while you deliberately and entirely ignore the extensively documented criticisms of the numerous longstanding scholars of Sri Aurobindo’s life and teachings. It is to be noted here that these extensively documented scholarly objections against the book numbering in hundreds have not been responded or scholarly refuted to by Peter Heehs or for that matter by any other scholar during the past four years giving credence to the conclusion that the book is defamatory, denigrating and perverse.
Please explain the reasons behind your change of mind and your new public position as well as your obvious bias to praise the book. Are you under pressure from some external agencies?
2.       Peter Heehs by his letters dated 24.9.2008 and 13.10.2008 addressed to you has confirmed his a) violation of copyright, and his b) not being the Founder of the Archives. Additionally the erstwhile colleagues of Peter Heehs at the Ashram Archives by their letter dated 8.9.2008 had complained and brought to your notice the theft of the Ashram’s intellectual property. Late Shri Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya vide his letter dated 5.8.2009 had listed numerous and serious criminal lapses of Peter Heehs in the publication of this book.
                                In spite of the above, we find that you have initiated no legal or criminal actions against the author nor against the publisher Columbia University Press in order to safeguard the intellectual property assets of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
                Please explain this apparent dereliction of duty as the assets of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram belong to the Beneficiaries in particular and the public at large and one individual cannot be permitted to gain financially at the cost of the institution.
3.       The Government of Odisha vide its Extraordinary Gazette Notification dated 9.4.2009 has proscribed the offensive book and has stated unambiguously that the sole intention of the author Peter Heehs is to denigrate and defame Sri Aurobindo and to create communal strife and tension within the country. This is a very serious indictment and yet you have continued to harbour, shelter and promote Peter Heehs within the Ashram community and have issued letters to the Ministry of Home Affairs recommending extension of his visa!
                Please explain this very serious lapse and this anti-national stance given your position of responsibility in a public charitable institution.
4.       What is extremely disturbing and worrisome is that the nationwide public condemnation by devotees and disciples alike is falling on deaf ears. There appears to be no attempt from your side to explain, reconcile or resolve the problem. Things have gone from bad to worse in the last 4 years and the recent public protests and dharnas by devotees have brought public attention on your lapses. What is even more disturbing is that you have initiated legal action against very senior and responsible members of the Ashram, academics and professors for taking part in the public protests and for making statements to the Press.
                Please explain your attempts to gag the inmates and devotees, and your avoidance of any attempt at clarification and reconciliation.
5.       Over many years now there has been a growing concern and chorus regarding the manhandling, theft and abuse of the original manuscripts of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo stored at the Ashram Archives. It must be noted that these are priceless national treasures and of immeasurable spiritual and cultural value. These are not in safe hands as has been demonstrated by Peter Heehs’ violation of copyright and alleged abuse of intellectual property as well as the numerous accusations of his tampering with Sri Aurobindo’s writings. In view of the above, it is imperative that an independent and external audit is conducted in order to assess the damage as also to verify inventory.
                Please explain why no such action has been initiated by you so far.
6.       The recent public outrage over the misconduct and alleged racial abuse by Dilip Datta, one of the Trustees, and his daughter with regard to devotees of Odisha is a matter of serious concern.
                Please explain why no action has been forthcoming from the Trustees to address the issue by taking appropriate steps against Dilip Datta and tendering a suitable apology by the Trustees to the People of Odisha in spite of petitions with thousands of signatures which have been submitted to you.
7.       It is found that there are over 160 Court cases against you as Trustees of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust filed by the inmates of the Ashram and pending in various Courts all over the country. These cases involve serious violation of human rights, sexual abuse, financial impropriety, abetment of murder, etc. It is deplorable that a spiritual organisation should have so many cases filed against it by its own inmates within the short span of the last 15 years, and reflects a deep malaise and complete failure of administration.
                Please explain what has gone wrong with your administration in the last 15 years, and what steps you have taken to cultivate internal transparency, democracy and administrative reforms.
It is imperative for us to know how much money has been officially spent by the Trust on these legal matters, and whether inmates of the Ashram and Beneficiaries were taken into confidence.
The issues raised above deserve your urgent attention and a detailed response at the earliest as they are of concern to large numbers of Devotees of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother all over India. This is a matter of national interest.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Signatures of 68 Members of Parliament
2. Letter of Dr Kartikeswar Patra
The Board of Trustees
represented by Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee
Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust,
Sri Aurobindo Ashram,
Pondicherry 605002
3rd June 2012
Dear Shri Manoj Das Gupta,
Sub: Clarifications sought from Ashram Trust by Members of Parliament
Ref: Our meeting this morning
1. With regard to the above and with reference to our meeting, I place on record my deep disappointment and regret at the deceitful behaviour unbecoming of Trustees of a spiritual institution and of a public charitable Trust that was displayed by you and your fellow Trustees.
2. While the letter requesting clarifications by the MPs had been sent to you by Registered Post earlier, and you had adequate time to prepare a reply to the clarifications sought, it was unfortunate that an attempt was made by Shri Matriprasad to prevent me from meeting the Trust Board members. It is only upon my insistence that today’s meeting was arranged.
3. I began the meeting this morning by reiterating that I have come here to meet you in a spirit of goodwill and not of confrontation in order to convey the concern of a large number of Members of Parliament at the state of affairs with regard to the administration of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.
4. Upon being told that you would take two months or more to provide replies to the questions raised by the Hon’ble Parliamentarians, I expressed shock and disappointment at your frivolous approach to a serious and pressing matter. I was then assured by you personally that you would reconvene in the afternoon and provide me with a detailed written reply to the queries of the Hon’ble Members of Parliament as also a signed Minutes statement of the meeting by 5.30 pm today.
5. To my utter shock and dismay, this evening no written reply was provided, and I was handed over an unsigned statement of the Minutes of the meeting full of false statements. It is falsely stated inter alia in the unsigned Minutes that I have agreed that you could take as much time as you wish to reply to the queries of the Hon’ble Members of Parliament. I deny this emphatically and remind you that the matter is extremely serious and an urgent response is due from your end.
6. Your deceitful response and handling of the matter is disrespectful of the Members of Parliament who are elected representatives of the People of India, and your attitude deserves to be condemned.
7. It is more than evident that you do not wish to face the issues at hand and provide the necessary clarifications as requested by Hon’ble Members of Parliament. This is irresponsible and deplorable.
8. I shall convey the above to the Hon’ble Members of Parliament.
Dr Kartikeshwar Patra (Ex MP)
Posted by General Editor at 6/06/2012 09:59:00 PM
Labels: Ashram Trust, Background, Letter, Mother, Sri Aurobindo
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