Anti-Aurubindo book action: SC frowns upon litigation involving public trusts, indirectly bats for freedom of expression
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 Heehs 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. [...]
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.