Saturday, January 23, 2010

We are keen to debate what Peter Heehs wrote, and why it is banned in India

 It is needless to state that ashrams in India are always in the habit of landing themselves in controversies, especially when the founders are no more, those who step into their footsteps cannot win battles within their minds to earthly temptations for power, money and women. In some places more than woman children are at receiving end. This general trend in India is mostly unreported in media, which finds only politicians as villains in real life and exonerate heads of ashrams from their sins on earth as if they have divine license to indulge in such crimes. […]
 Mr. Peter Heehs is an American historian living in Pondicherry for more than 35 years and is in charge of Aurobindo Ashram Archives. One bold lady Ms. Sureka Jain had filed a Writ Petition [W.P.24599 of 09] in the High Court of Madras seeking cancellation of his Visa and Deportation to USA. The petitioner’s petition had the Foreigner Regional Registration Officer Chennai and Foreigner Regional Registration Officer Pudducherry as first and second respondent. The third Respondent is the Managing Trustee of Aurobindo Ashram Mr. Manoj Das Gupta and the fourth respondent is Superintendent of Police North Puducherry. Now let us go in the Court and look what happened on 21 st December when the case was heard by the Chief Justice of High Court of Madras. As all reporters of High Court are aware , when the case was taken up lawyers of all parties were present. 
Mr. Peter Heehs in true style of politicians came with 25 or so supporters of him, all being foreigners who had come to express solidarity with him. He alone was allowed to enter the Court room while others were asked by the watch and ward to wait outside. The Secretary of Aurobindo Ashram, Mr. Matriprasad, a Machiavellian manipulator of inside affairs came along with Mr. Peter Heeh’s counsel and Ashram Counsel.
 The counsel of the petitioner, highlighted in the High Court that Mr. Peter Heehs has breached all visa conditions in connivance with the third respondent, namely Managing Trustee of Aurobindo Ashram. The petitioner through her counsel demanded that the first and second respondents should cancel the visa and initiate immediate steps to deport him. The notable plea before the High Court was that the fourth respondent, namely Superintendent of Police North of Puducherry has failed to execute the live arrest warrant pending against Mr.Peter Heehs in Puducherry.
 The counsel representing Mr. Peter Heehs expressed before the Court that Peter Heehs is a world renowned scholar and historian. He further added that for 35 years he had been in Ashram spreading the teachings of Aurobindo Ghosh.
 [The readers of this blog can visit to know about this scholar and his works ]
 The counsel of Peter Heehs pointed out that the Managing Trustee of Ashram had praised the invaluable contribution of Mr.Peter Heehs and that he enjoys the total support of the Managing Trustee of Aurobindo Ashram.
 The legal counsel representing Manoj Das Gupta and Aurobindo Ashram Trust said that he was in full agreement with what had been said by the counsel of Mr. Peter Heehs, and the petitioner was motivated by personal animosity towards Peter Heehs as such the petitioner and her complaint had nothing to do with Aurobindo Ashram.
Legal Counsel representing Mr. Peter Heehs declared that the book “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” is most authentic and academic portrayal of the life of Aurobindo Ghosh that has emerged out of the Ashram and its Archives headed by Mr.Peter Heehs. At this point the Chief Justice was keen to have a copy of the book. To which the legal counsel for Peter Heehs submitted that neither he nor his client were allowed to carry the copy of the book as the book has been proscribed within the territory of India. On hearing this, the Chief Justice sarcastically remarked in that case the book could not be as wonderful as portrayed by the counsel.
 After arguments by both sides the legal counsel for petitioner conveyed strongly that this case was not about the book in any way but was about the breach of visa conditions by Peter Heehs and Manoj Das Gupta.
 The Chief Justice asked the legal counsel of the FRRO authorities their views regarding visa extension and deportation of Peter Heehs. The counsel for FRRO declared that based on documents available to them they were of the view that no further extension of visa of Peter Heehs was possible. But they could not take a decision  his immediate deportation as there were several criminal cases pending against Peter Heehs in Orissa, and as such they would have to take into account before taking action for deportation or cancellation. They prayed for time to study and revert to the court on the matter.
 Then the case was adjourned to January 18th of 2010, on which date respondents were asked to submit written replies.
 Case instead of 18th was taken up on 19th. The legal counsel for petitioner pointed out in strongest terms, that the four respondents have failed so far to give written depositions/submissions to the court regarding specific plaints made by the petitioner. He conveyed to the Court that the four respondents are delaying/avoiding written submissions as their failures are indefensible in the matter. He pleaded to the Court that no further arguments should take place till written are made by the respondents.
 The Chief Justice of Madras High Court ordered that the respondents to give written submissions on next date and posted to 2nd February 2010.
 This is a case about an American historian before High Court of Madras . Do you think that only cases involving politicians or film stars are news worthy, and this case should not be reported ?
 The scholar wrote a book which is sold throughout the world, yet in India through Court orders it is banned. DMK, the parent party of Dravida Peravai launched the Right To Free Expression Agitation soon after it was founded by Aringnar Anna. We wanted ban lifted on all of our banned books. In emergency under dynamic leadership of Dr. Kalaignar M. Karunanithi, me and few writers fought in official organs of DMK defending free speech. So we are keen to debate what Peter Heehs wrote, and why it is banned in India.
 At the same time what is happening within Aurobindo Ashram must be reported in media. Ashram has no Guru, hence it is not an Ashram as defined by Philosopher Aurobindo Ghosh. It is a Trust without a President, chair vacant for decades, and with no rules. My petition in local courts to frame proper rules for ashram trust was unnumbered but came up for nearly a decade before local court to die a natural death, hence one cannot pursue an unnumbered case for decade with 4 lawyers getting changed in mid way. The rule of law as it applies to Indian Prime Minister must apply to Trustees of Aurobindo Ashram. If Dr. Karan Singh thinks his clout can cover up, we say that democracy is strong, and everything should be debated in public domain, be it what happens in Courts or closed door meetings.
 Journalists of India, assert your rights as you are custodians of free society.
 N. Nandhivarman General Secretary Dravida Peravai 53 B Calve Subburayar Street  Puducherry 605001

In the background of the provisions of the constitution and the light shed by judicial precedent, it can at best be said that religion is a matter of faith. It is a matter of belief and doctrine. It concerns the conscience i.e. the spirit of man. It must be capable of overt expressions in work and deed, such as worship or ritual. So religion is a matter of belief and doctrine concerning the human spirit expressed overtly in the form of ritual and worship. Some religions are easily identifiable as religious; some are easily identifiable as not religious. There are many in the penumbral region which instinctively appear to some as religion and to others as not religions. There is no formula of general application. There is no knife-edge test.

Primarily, it is a question of the consciousness of the community, how does the fraternity or sodality (if it is permissible to use the word without confining it to Roman Catholic Groups) regard itself, how do others regard the fraternity or sodality. A host of other circumstances may have to be considered, such as, the origin and the history of the community, the rituals observed by the community, what the founder, if any, taught, what the founder was understood by his followers to have taught, etc. In origin, the founder may not have intended to found any religion at all. He may have merely protested against some rituals and observances, he may have disagreed with the interpretation of some earlier religious tenets. What he said, what he preached and what he taught, his protest, his distant, his disagreement might have developed into a religion in the course of time, even during his life-time.

He may be against religion itself, yet, history and the perception of the community may make a religion out of what was not intended to be a religion and he may be hailed as the founder of a new religion. And, whatever the ordinary features of a religious denomination may be considered to be, all are not of equal importance and surely the common faith of the religious body is more important than the other features… Religious denomination has not to owe allegiance to any parent religion. The entire following of a religion may be no more than the religious denomination. This may particularly be so in the case of small religious groups or 'developing' religions, that is, religions in the formative stage… So Aurobindoism can be termed as a religious denomination. The world and India treated and respected Sri Aurobindo as a religious teacher and the founder of a new religion.

Shri Aurobindo truly was a religious teacher and taught and was understood to have taught new religious doctrine and practice. Therefore, Aurobindoism, can certainly be classified if not as a new religion, as a new sect of Hinduism and the followers of Sri Aurobindo can be termed a religious denomination. Sri Aurobindo of course, disclaimed that he was founding a religion. No great religious teacher ever claimed that he was founding a new religion or a new school of religious thought. The question is not whether Sri Aurobindo refused to claim or denied that he was founding a new religion or a new school of religious thought but whether his disciples and the community thought so. There is no doubt that they did not only his disciples and followers, but religious leaders all the world over and of all faiths. Therefore, Aurobindo Society is a sect of a religious determination within the meaning of the expression in Article 26 of the Constitution… [From Auroville Case: Chinnappa Reddy, J. (Dissenting)]

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