The Court Cases

 

I.A. no. 474 of 2010 in O.S. no … of 2010

Filed under section 92 and section 151 of C.P.C. on 23 August 2010

 

Petitioners/Plaintiffs

1. Mr. S. Ramanathan

2. Mr. Niranjan Naik

3. Ms. Sudha Singha

4. Mr. Raman Reddy

5. Mr. Sraddhalu Ranade

All give their address as “Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry 605002”

 

Respondents/Defendents

1. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust

2. Mr. Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee

3. Mr. [should be Dr.] Dilip Kumar Dutta, Trustee

4. Mr. Dilip Mehtani, Trustee

5. Mr. R. Prabhakar, Trustee

6. Mr. Albert Patel, Trustee

Remarks: 2-6 are the five trustees of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. With their petition the plaintiffs, who are members of the Ashram, seek the leave of the court to institute a suit against the Ashram Trust and its Trustees.

Paragraphs 1-3: Reddy introduces himself as petitioner 4 and as an inmate of the Ashram since 1978. He notes that the other four petitioners have been inmates since 2003, 1968, 1996, and 1968.

Remark: the average year of admission to the ashram of the five petitioners is 1982. Four of the five Trustees have been inmates of the ashram since the 1940s or 1950s.

 

Paragraph 4: Reddy claims that the Trustees, “instead of promoting Sri Aurobindo’s tenets and philosophy … have and continue to harbour, defend and openly extend support to one Mr. Peter Heehs, who authored ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’, a sacrilegious book…” etc. He then gives a dramatized account of a movement against Heehs and his book. He claims that the Trustees refusal to expel Heehs from the Ashram on the advice of himself and various co-conspirators constitutes breach of trust.

Remark: Reddy’s opinion of the book in question is biased and without support. The movement against Heehs was organized by Reddy, Sraddhalu Ranade, and a few others for reasons that are personal and malicious. The book in question has in fact been favourably received by critics and readers, many of whom credit it with having increased their knowledge of and devotion for Sri Aurobindo.

Sacrilege is a Christian concept, and has no equivalent in Indian religion, nor any place in Indian law.

On August 23, 2010, five Ashram inmates (Sraddhalu Ranade, Raman Reddy, Niranjan Naik, Sudha Sinha, S. Ramanathan) filed an affidavit at the Puducherry District Court against the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust and its five Trustees (Manoj Das Gupta, Dilip Kumar Dutta, Dilip Mehtani, R. Prabhakar, Albert Patel).

Sraddhalu Ranade, Raman Reddy and their fellow petitioners claim in their affidavit that the Trustees committed a gross breach of trust by allowing a non-believer [Peter Heehs] to reside in Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram….” Based on this premise, the petitioners conclude: ”Due to the misconduct and breach of trust committed by the Trustees, the beneficiaries of the Trust have lost total confidence in the Trustees’ ability and willingness to execute the trust and its properties as per the Trust’s objects…. In the circumstances, the present Trustees have to be removed and new trustees who will protect the interest of the trust have to be appointed….” In other words, the petitioners are seeking the court’s intervention in the management of the Ashram because the Trustees have not expelled Peter Heehs (author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo) from the Ashram. This action not only publicly challenges the integrity and authority of the Trustees, but opens the Ashram to further division and negative publicity in India and the world.

Most of the affidavit is devoted to a repetition of the unfounded charges made over the last two years by Ranade, Reddy and others against The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. The book is described in the wildest and most irresponsible terms which do not correspond to anything Heehs has written. The effect of this rhetoric is to draw attention away from the real motive of the petition. The legal action brought against the current trustees attempts to replace the balanced and judicious men who are longtime direct disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with ambitious figures who have made use of the Heehs affair for their dubious purposes .

A year ago, on September 11, 2009, remembering the body blow inaugurating global fundamentalism in our times, we organized a conference on Fundamentalism and the Future. The overlapping of politics and fundamentalism, so characteristic of these times, has now declared itself unmistakably at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram exactly two years after its emergence in that community.

The die was cast on September 11, 2008 through the incitement of mass hysteria by the distribution of a letter that contained out-of-context and distorted quotes from Peter Heehs’ biography The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. This letter was followed by a signature campaign in which a petition was circulated calling for the author’s removal from the Ashram Archives. The author was further threatened and legally harassed. In the latest twist, those fomenting discord have now revealed their true intentions by targeting the Ashram Trustees.

In keeping with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s directives that allow ashramites the freedom to follow a path that is unique to each individual, the Trustees of the ashram have taken no action against the author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo; nor have they taken to task those using the trumped-up Heehs “controversy” as a way to undermine and usurp their authority.

Among the few strictures laid down by the Mother for all ashramites is an injunction against politics, yet the motivation of those who initiated the Heehs controversy seems to have been political from the start. These hidden motives have now publicly surfaced in the lawsuit demanding the dismissal of the Trustees. This lawsuit is a direct attack upon the rules, structure and functioning of the Ashram itself. It is an open attempt to take over the Ashram.

Sraddhalu Ranade and others have claimed all along that they were not involved in lawsuits, despite their documented correspondence with lawyers involved in various cases against Heehs. During that time they have hidden behind other plaintiffs, notably Geetanjali Bhattacharya, who is the wife of a close friend of Ranade. This latest lawsuit makes it clear that their intention from the beginning has been to seize power in the Ashram.

These efforts of the last two years to destabilize the Ashram have been openly assisted by others, including Alok Pandey, Ranganath Raghavan, Ananda Reddy, Kittu Reddy, and Kumud Patel. The Pondicherry Ashram has been under siege for two years now, by a small coterie of individuals who have manufactured a crisis in an attempt to seize control of the institution. The results of their actions have brought instability, fear, and religious persecution to the Ashram for the first time in its history.

Asking the courts to interfere in the administration and structure of the Ashram itself is a serious matter, and could lead to a number of grave consequences. The current lawsuit and the issues that have sparked this controversy are of the utmost urgency. We hope that you will agree that the recent legal actions undermine Sri Aurobindo’s ideals and the principles enshrined in the Ashram, and allow your voice to be heard.

For detailed commentary on the contents of the lawsuit, see this post.

Debashish Banerji

Rich Carlson

David Hutchinson

An excellent summary of the various court cases has been published in the October 2010 issue of Auroville Today, in an article by Carel titled "Affidavit against the Trustees of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram."

First Writ Petition

4 November 2008: Writ Petition filed by Mrs. Geetanjali JB accepted by the additional government advocate, High Court of Orissa. The court orders that the petitioner “may make representation” before the Secretary of Home Affairs, the Secretary, Internal Security, and the Secretary, Information and Broadcasting, adding that these agencies “may ensure that there should be no publication of the book ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’ by Peter Heehs without obtaining no objection from them during the pendancy of the representation”.

Keonjhar Criminal Complaint

16 March 2009: The Judicial Magistrate, First Class (JMFC), of Barbil, Keonjhar District, summons Peter Heehs or his lawyer to answer criminal charges in the Barbil Magistrate’s court. Heehs subsequently appears through lawyer. The “occurrence” is stated as follows: “When the Complainant received a copy of the offending publication called ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’ written by the above named accused Mr. Peter Heehs through courrier [sic]”. The sender of the book is not named.

Cuttack Criminal Complaint

15 April 2009: The Judicial Magistrate, First Class (JMFC), of Cuttack summons Peter Heehs or his lawyer to answer criminal charges in the Cuttack Magistrate’s court. The “occurrence” is stated as follows: “When the Complainant received a copy of the offending publication called ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’ written by Peter Heehs, the accused herein through online purchase.” Sender of the book not named.

Note: The Cuttack summons is virtually identical to the Barbil summons, indicating an identical origin.

Second Writ Petition

23 November 2009. Writ Petition filed at the Madras High Court by Surekha Jain, the mother of Geetanjali JB (aka Geetanjali Jain aka Geetanjali Bhattacharjee), the petitioner in the First Writ Petition case. The Writ names the Regional Registration Officers, Department of Immigration, Chennai and Puducherry; the Managing Trustee of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram; and the Superintendent of Police, Pondicherry North as deponents. Jain demands that the court order the Immigration Department to take action "against the said Peter Heehs to forthwith deport him from the country."

In his letters, Sraddhalu Ranade has repeatedly denied that he is in any way involved in any of the legal cases seeking to ban The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, in particular the Writ Petition to Stay Publication of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo in India. He makes this claim because initiating legal action against a fellow member of the Ashram is against the rules of the Ashram itself.

His claims of non-involvement in legal actions are untrue. The comparison between the Writ and Ranade’s letter shows that much of the Petition was written by Ranade. He has been involved with the legal case from the planning stages; was in correspondence with the lawyers involved in the case; and personally drafted the material that forms the basis for the case. Though his name is not on the legal document, he has been deeply involved in every other sense of the word.

In a recent post, Alok Pandey shows that he and Sraddhalu Ranade are in fact involved in the court cases.

More than that, Pandey's letter indicates that their intent in urging and drafting material for court cases was never a matter of “hurt sentiments,” but rather deliberate political maneuvering. They have been trying to change leadership at the Ashram through petition campaigns and court cases: “If [Peter] chooses to move out... the court cases might be dropped.”