Friday, January 8, 2016

SC drops enough hints as to dereliction of duty by Trustees

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.

A critique of "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" by Peter Heehs and its ... › dismi...
Ashram Trust has taken advantage of the pending case in the High Court of Orissa to absolve itself of the guilt of not taking the appropriate action against Peter Heehs. It is as if the Ashram Trust has passed the buck to the Orissa High Court, saying that the latter was in a better position to judge the distortions in the book, while it pretended to have no intelligence of its own, because it did not want to take a quick and independent decision in its own internal matters! The Trust has also been very clever to take the bare minimum of administrative measures against Peter Heehs by dissociating itself from his book in an internal circular dated 11th of November 2008, and by removing him from the Archives Dept. of the Ashram, so that it cannot be accused of gross dereliction of duty. Thus the half-hearted and meagre punishment that it finally meted out to Peter Heehs is what actually saved it from adverse judgment! [...]
The decision of the Supreme Court has been technically correct, and the Ashram Trust has managed to free itself legally by a combination of clever court strategy, covert support to Peter Heehs and a reluctant dissociation from his book within the Ashram community. But the blot of shame on the Ashram Trust for not coming out forthwith and publicly condemning the book, such as the Sri Aurobindo Society has rightly done, will perhaps remain forever in the collective conscience of the disciples and followers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Manoj Das Gupta, the Managing Trustee of the Ashram, who is at the centre of the controversy, will certainly go down in history as the man who betrayed Sri Aurobindo and the Mother after staying for 70 years in their Ashram. From a larger national perspective, he will be remembered as a classic example of the weak and servile Indian prostrating himself in front of impudent foreigners who want to become famous overnight by vilifying the great spiritual Masters of India.

Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo & The Mother.

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