Sunday, April 1, 2012

I understand and sympathise with the feelings of devotees and regret

Historian Peter Heehs asked to leave India for his latest book on Aurobindo. The scholar has spent four decades studying Aurobindo. Curious. Why should a historian and scholar be asked to leave India after four decades because "certain groups” are offended?
Nandita Saikia  @nsaikia Historian Peter Heehs, who's spent 40 yrs studying Aurobindo, asked to leave India for his latest book on Aurobindo.

US historian may leave UT  Debjani Dutta Express News Service Last Updated: 01 Apr 2012 08:29:05 AM IST PUDUCHERRY:
American Historian Peter Heehs whose book ‘Lives of Sri Aurobindo’ raked up controversy is keeping his fingers crossed after Union home minister P Chidambaram said that he would review the Ministry’s decision not to renew his visa, by Monday.
Heehs, a member of the team that digitised and archived the works of freedom fighter and spiritual leader Sri Aurobindo during the last 40 years, was abruptly told by the Regional Registration Office (RRO) at Puducherry on March 29 that his visa would not be extended further.
His visa was in suspension for one-and-half years following controversy over his book. Now the RRO has stated that his visa will be valid only till April 15 and no new visa application would be accepted from him after that. “If the decision to renew is not granted then I would have to leave the country to get a new entry visa,” Heehs told Express on Saturday.
“I have lived in Puducherry for the last 41 years as a guest of the Indian government and am grateful to have been given this opportunity. I look forward to stay and continue to work as a historian, study and do ‘sadhana’ as an inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram,” said Heehs who came here at the age of 22 in 1971.
The controversy over the book, published by Columbia University Press in 2008, has been particularly severe over the portion dealing with Sri Aurobindo’s relationship with his spiritual collaborator, Mirra Alfassa, popularly known as The Mother.
Besides, the book has been stated to be “probably blasphemous” according to a notification issued by the Orissa Government in 2009. The Indian publication of the book by Penguin India was frozen following orders of the High Court of Orissa.
The appeal against the ‘blasphemous notification’ as well the freezing of the publication are pending in Court and is slated to come up for hearing on April 4, said Heehs. Since the controversy erupted, a section of Ashramites along with some devotees had been seeking the expulsion of Peter Heehs from the Ashram and the cancellation of visa through protests and agitations as they felt that it had hurt the sentiments of the inmates and devotees. It had also created law and order problems in the area leading to registration of cases.
Heehs expressed that his book was based on research for which he had travelled to various archives in New Delhi, Kolkata and Baroda“It has always been my view that we have to make use of many different approaches when we try to appreciate the greatness of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
I understand and sympathise with the feelings of devotees and regret any hurt they may have felt while reading my book or hearing reports of what I have written. I ask from them the same sort of understanding in regard to an approach that may seem strange to them,” said Peter Heehs. On the other hand, several people including inmates and devotees who have read the book have found nothing objectionable.
Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh as well as some historian and scholars who commended the book have protested against the move to cancel his visa. They had sent separate petitions to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram for reconsideration of the decision. New Indian Express  @NewIndianXpress US historian may leave UT: http://bit.ly/HtQS04

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