20 Feb 2012

Application for Permission for Silent and Peaceful Protest of January 1-6, 2012

[The following application to the Pondicherry administration for the silent protest of January 1-6, 2012 was made by a few inmates of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Six of these inmates received show-cause notices from the Trustees. Why? Because they were bold enough to sit for a silent and peaceful protest against the inaction of the Trustees with regard to Peter Heehs. So what makes the Trust inactive in one case and super-active in another? That is a million dollar question! In any case, this application, which has a very good summary of events that have led to the present crisis, was attached to the show-cause notices of those inmates who signed it.]

The Superintendent of Police (SP North). N T Sivadasan, PPS.
            (spn.pon@nic.in, 2338756, 9489205005)
            Grand Bazaar Police Station, JN Street, Puducherry.
The Chief Secretary. Tmt M Sathiyavathy, IAS. (cs.pon@nic.in, 2334145)
                        The Chief Secretariat, Beach Road, Puducherry.

The IGP of Police. Shri J K Sharma, IPS. (igp.pon@nic.in, 2334006, 9489205000)
                        No. 4, Dumas Street, Puducherry

The DIG of Police. Shri I D Shukla, IPS. (dig.pon@nic.in, 2224030, 9489205001)
                        No. 4, Dumas Street, Puducherry

The District Collector cum Revenue (Special Secretary). Thiru G Ragesh Chandra.
                        (dcrev.pon@nic.in, 2248691)
                        The Chief Secretariat, Beach Road, Puducherry.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Office. OSD to HE Dr Iqbal Singh (lg.pon@nic.in, 2334051)
                        Raj Nivas, Rangapillai Street, Pondicherry

The Chief Minister’s Office. OSD to CM Thiru N Rangasamy
            (cm.pon@nic.in, 2335530, 2335328, 2335522, 2333399, 96009-99999)
            Legislative Assembly

Sub: Application for Permission for Silent and Peaceful Protest

December 9, 2011

Dear Sir,


Sri Aurobindo is a national and international figure, widely recognised as a freedom fighter, as a yogi, as a philosopher and as a poet. Over the last hundred years, his writings have increasingly inspired people all over the world by their depth and insight, and their inspirational and practical content. His example has stood as an inspiration to millions during the freedom struggle and the following decades of Indian national reconstruction. The Government of India has at various times celebrated his unique and lasting contributions through commemorative publications, stamps, currencies, statues, etc., as well as by creating various institutions, endowments and grants in his name and for studies in his thought. His life-sized statue stands at the Indian Parliament as a mark of respect and honour.

In 2008, Peter Heehs, a US national who is a self-styled “scholar” and writer, published a book called The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, purporting to be a biography of Sri Aurobindo. By his own admission, Peter Heehs has no formal educational qualifications in any discipline, is a school dropout and was formerly a taxi driver in the USA. He managed to convince Columbia Press in the USA (and other publishers of earlier books) to accept his book purely because of his claimed association with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. But his claim is based on false representation. He has declared to the publisher that he is “one of the founders of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives”. This is patently false. With other publishers, he has on other occasions impersonated himself as “curator”, “director” and “director of historical research” of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives. All of these are false representations and amount to impersonation and academic fraudulence.

In this book, he has made defamatory and perverse comments on Sri Aurobindo’s character, life, writings and thought. Among other things, he seeks to show that:
1.      Sri Aurobindo does not hold integrity as a person,
2.      He was morally of loose character,
3.      His claims to spiritual experiences and realisations are questionable and irrelevant,
4.      His spirituality emerges from a streak of inherited madness,
5.      There is nothing new in any of his contributions, spiritual, literary, philosophical or otherwise,
6.      That he was responsible for the partition of India,
7.      His poetry is expressive of sexual frustration, and its style outdated, and
8.      His relationship with the Mother was romantic in nature.

An analysis of the book reveals that the defamatory statements are deliberately intended by the simple fact that in order to support such perverse statements, Peter, the author of this book, deceives the reader by false and cooked-up quotation, misquotations, quoting out of context, and deliberately concealing facts to the contrary. It is very clear that the book is written for the sake of defaming Sri Aurobindo and is intended to hurt the sentiments of the Indian people and of admirers of Sri Aurobindo.

The kinds of deceptions consistently utilised throughout the book include:
a)      Deliberately concealing the much larger body of information contrary to his defamatory thesis;
b)      Presenting as quotations what are Peter Heehs’ imaginations and speculations;
c)      Deliberate misrepresentation and distortion of context;
d)      Defaming Sri Aurobindo’s character by use of innuendo, speculation, exaggeration and outright falsehood;
e)      Bias to quote extensively from people who question Sri Aurobindo’s credibility and sanity; outright rejection of any person or quotation offering appreciation or praise of Sri Aurobindo;
f)        Preferring speculation against Sri Aurobindo’s own affirmations to the contrary;
g)      Academically unsound and perverse attempts at Freudian analysis of Sri Aurobindo’s personality;
h)      Perverse speculations on the sexual and marital life of Sri Aurobindo.

In order to claim credibility and respect from readers, Peter Heehs impersonated himself on the blurb of the book as “one of the founders” of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives when the sole founder of the Archives was, without dispute, Mr. Jayantilal Parekh. Peter Heehs has falsely represented himself as founder of the Ashram Archives with the calculated motive of lending maximum credibility to a totally mala fide and malicious piece of work based on distortions of one fact after another.

Peter Heehs’ book achieved its goal of creating publicity and controversy by misrepresenting Sri Aurobindo, belittling the achievements of a national hero and freedom fighter, and hurting the sentiments of millions of his admirers, devotees and disciples in India. The Ashram inmates and devotees, disciples of Sri Aurobindo in India and worldwide were most shocked, outraged and offended that one of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s own inmates had undertaken to deface and denigrate Sri Aurobindo, his wisdom and philosophy.

What is unacceptable to the inmates of the Ashram and the devotees of Sri Aurobindo worldwide is that:
a)      The author of the deeply offensive book against Sri Aurobindo is none other than one of the Ashramites, living amongst them and dependent on the Ashram for his livelihood;
b)      An individual who had been allowed to reside, use and benefit from the facilities and resources of the Ashram has instead flagrantly misused the Ashram’s name and its resources to launch a disparaging attack on the soul and foundations of the Ashram, in order to benefit financially;
c)      By claiming that he is one of the “founders of the Ashram Archives”, Peter Heehs, has intentionally tried to mislead the public to believe that the book has been published in consultation/ affiliation with the Ashram;
d)      Peter Heehs wrote the book by extensively misusing the Ashram’s own research database and resources to which he had privileged access, and which has been gathered and developed for over forty years by the Ashram’s inmates, devotees and researchers, and includes rare materials of great historical and spiritual value. This database, which is intended to document the greatness of Sri Aurobindo’s life and work, was abused by Peter Heehs to defame Sri Aurobindo, and misrepresent his teachings and his work.
e)      In the book, Peter Heehs claimed as his own, the research done by large teams of dedicated inmates of the Ashram over forty years.
f)        Some of the rare materials cited by Peter Heehs in his book were reproduced without proper permission from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

Aftermath of the Publication of Offending Book

Publication of this book led to serious civil unrest and protests all over India, and state and central governments had to act swiftly to curb/ prevent potential violence. The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Internal Security Wing of the Government of India issued urgent communications and instructions to various State Governments and Union Territories to stop publication, sales and distribution of the inflammatory book. In particular, an urgent letter was urgently was addressed to the Government of Pondicherry. The High Court of Orissa has proscribed the publication, sales and dissemination of the inflammatory book within the territory of India. Similarly, the Government of Orissa, vide its Gazette Notification No. 1612/C., dated 09.04.2009, has proscribed the book and declared its contents criminal and inflammatory in nature and has ordered that all copies be forfeited with immediate effect in order to avoid inflammation of communal and religious tension.

The Gazette Notification, inter alia, states the following:
a)      the book “contains objectionable matters depicting distorted facts about the life and character of Sri Aurobindo”,
b)      the book “promotes communal disaffection, affecting public peace and tranquility”,
c)      the “publication of the book is punishable under sections 295A and 153A of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (45 of 1860)”,
d)      “the writings portrayed in the book have seriously hurt the sentiments of the apostles of Sri Aurobindo, and the said book, with deliberate and malicious intention, has insulted the religious beliefs of millions”,
e)      the book “contains absurd, irrelevant and self made stories, which do not have any scriptural support and has caused widespread indignation amongst the devotees”,
f)        the book outrages the religious feelings of citizens of India,
g)      the book has materials to hurt the devotional feelings of millions of Indians who idolize Sri Aurobindo as a national hero and incarnation of the Almighty,
h)      therefore “in exercise of the powers conferred by subsection (1) of section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Act 2 of 1974), the State Government do hereby declare that every copy of the book titled ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’ written by Peter Heehs and published by Columbia University Press, New York, U.S.A., its copies, reprints, translations or other documents containing extracts taken therefrom be forfeited to the Government”.

Additionally, there are two criminal cases pending against Peter Heehs in Orissa for impersonation and defamation under the IPC. Arrest warrants had also been issued in respect to the above criminal cases.

Refusal of Ashram Trustees to Respond to Complaints and Public Outcry

The ashram community, comprising of the ashram inmates, department heads, countrywide devotees and disciples has been unanimously urging and pleading with the Trustees of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust to take action to contain and limit the disrepute and damage caused by the publication of the book. Thousands of letters and petitions were addressed to the Trustees, begging and pleading for action. However, to the dismay and deep disappointment of all, the Trustees remained totally non-committal and refrained from taking any action.

When the Trustees refused to take action in spite of the unanimous request of the Ashram community, on 10.10.2008 a senior inmate, late Shri Pranab Bhattacharya, the then Head of the Physical Education department (the Ashram’s most cardinal department), proposed to the Board of Trustees that the following corrective steps be taken:
                            i.   To stop distribution and sale of books
                            ii.  To procure and destroy all existing copies of the book
                            iii. To ensure Peter Heehs returns all materials belonging to Ashram Archives in his possession
                            iv.   To sever all contact with Peter Heehs.

However, when the Trustees paid no heed to this proposal by Shri Pranab Bhattacharya, he exercised his administrative privilege as Head of Physical Education Department and expelled Peter Heehs from the Ashram’s Physical Education Department. The expulsion notice dated 30.10.2008 was displayed on the Ashram’s public notice board along with his earlier Proposal. Both, the proposal and the expulsion notice, remain there until his recent demise.

In response to protests, the Trustees, in their letter dated 11.11.2008 and other letters:
(i)     Expressed and admitted their own displeasure over the contents of Peter Heehs’ book,

(ii)   Claimed that they had instituted disciplinary action against him, and

(iii  Clarified that it was not Peter Heehs who was the founder of the Ashram Archives but, unambiguously, Shri Jayantilal Parekh.

Even after the Central and State Government authorities had intervened and acted in order to stop the circulation of such an offensive book, the Trustees, who had been entrusted by the Settler of the Trust, The Mother, to protect the Trust, refrained from taking any steps to protect the interests of the Ashram community and the Ashram Trust, in gross dereliction of their duty.

Betrayal by the Trustees

The betrayal by the present Trustees of the Ashram Trust hit a new low in December 2009 when the Trust came out in brazen support of Peter Heehs and his anti-Ashram activities, by standing as the Financial Guarantor for him when his visa came up for renewal. Additionally on two subsequent occasions, in March and June 2010, they renewed the Ashram Trust’s guarantee for Peter Heehs to the Government of India and recommended that his visa be renewed for a fresh period of five years. On all three occasions, the Trustees misused their powers, making the Ashram Trust itself (as an institution) stand as guarantor for Peter Heehs, the man who had openly ridiculed and denigrated the very soul and foundation of the Ashram.

On account of this action by the Trustees in providing financial guarantee and recommendations for the visa extension of Peter Heehs, the devotees of Sri Aurobindo and beneficiaries of the Trust were left in no doubt that the Trustees have betrayed the interests of the Ashram community and of the Trust, and were acting against all accepted norms of behaviour in such a situation. It was clear to all that by supporting an individual who had launched an open attack against the Ashram, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the Trustees have betrayed the teachings and interests of Sri Aurobindo, in whose name and for whose philosophical and spiritual and educational work the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust was instituted.

In sharp contrast to the wilful and mala fide inaction of the Trustees, other world-famous institutions have behaved with responsibility, abiding by the law to take cognizance of the offensive nature of the book and stop its sales and circulation in the country. These include Google, Flipkart, and A1Books, to name a few, who made the book permanently unavailable on their website and sales channels in India.
In fact the Government of India in recognition of the gravity of Peter Heehs’ crime and the pain he has caused to the people of India has withdrawn the visa permissions granted to the Peter Heehs from September 2010. Since them Peter Heehs has been illegally residing in Pondicherry at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram because of the active connivance and support of the present Trustees of the Ashram Trust. In effect these Trustees are protecting and sheltering an illegal immigrant and criminal in spite of protests from the Ashram community!

Danger to the Ashram Community

The malafide actions of the present Trustees of the Ashram Trust has put the Ashram at grave risk and opened it to sharp criticism from the Public. In particular the use of Ashram funds by the Trustees to protect Peter Heehs and to promote abuse of Sri Aurobindo goes contrary to the ideals and objects for which the Sri Aurobindo Ashram community was formed in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo and for which the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust was registered in 1955 by the Mother. Since the Trust Deed does not define the method of selection of the Trustees nor the method of their removal, the present Trustees have taken full advantage of this lacuna and have formed a self-selected coterie of vested interests who are freely and openly misusing their position to:
a)      impose their personal  vested interests upon the entire Ashram community in spite of repeated requests, pleas, and public and private petitions,
b)      cause serious harm to the reputation of Sri Aurobindo and his Ashram,
c)      use funds of the Ashram to finance, support and encourage such grave harm to the reputation of Sri Aurobindo and his Ashram,
d)      and take other such decisions which are detrimental to the entire Ashram community simply to serve their personal and vested interests and priorities,
e)      victimise all those who stepped forward to publicly criticise and expose distortions in the defamatory and insulting book.

As a result the Ashram community has found its interests hijacked by a small coterie of people who want to harm Sri Aurobindo’s name and his Work. (It is pertinent to note that none of the present trustees of the Ashram Trust were nominated by the Mother.) Senior members of the Ashram community, who have worked closely with the Mother, felt that they had to take suitable action to defend the reputation of Sri Aurobindo and to protect the long-term interests of the Ashram community for which the Mother created the Trust. The senior members held several rounds of discussions with representatives of various groups of devotees and the members of the Ashram community sharing their pain and deep distress. Many attempts were made by them and by various independent groups to resolve the problem internally by dialogue, mediation, discussion, pleas, etc, with the Trustees. All these attempts failed as the Trustees declared that they were answerable to nobody in the Ashram, and refused to explain or justify their misuse of Ashram funds and the Ashram’s name to harm Sri Aurobindo.

All these attempts have failed and the Trust Board has instead launched a widespread campaign of intimidation and rule by fear and threat. The campaign includes but is not limited to:
a)      Victimisation of inmates of the Ashram by arbitrarily denying them food from the Dining Room community kitchen.
b)     Victimisation of inmates of the Ashram by arbitrarily terminating their work in the community life.
c)      Victimisation of inmates of the Ashram and devotees by arbitrarily denying basic and necessary facilities of the community including medical facilities.
d)     Threatening inmates of the Ashram and devotees to gain their support or cooperation, including threat of bodily harm and injury, and threat of denial of facilities including food, shelter and medical care.
e)     Rewarding visitors who join their ranks in justifying abuse of Sri Aurobindo’s name with special favours and facilities in the Ashram at the expense of the Community and its life.
f)      Diversion of Trust funds to personal benefit and to the benefit those who support them in their sponsorship of Peter Heehs and his abuse of Sri Aurobindo.
g)    Diversion of Trust funds to finance their campaign of victimisation and defamation through the media.

Under the circumstances, and following their sustained refusal to dialogue and discuss things to resolve the matter internally, we the inmates and residents of the Ashram and devotees of Sri Aurobindo find ourselves compelled to resort to a silent public protest to express our displeasure and frustration at the abuse of power and funds by the present group of Trustees of the Ashram as an expression of the our fundamental right.

Application and Demand of the Inmates and Devotees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram

In view of the above and having exhausted all means and measures of an internal amicable and peaceful settlement, the inmates of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and devotes of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother seek the permission and sanction of the Police and local authorities concerned to press for their legal grievances and demands, namely:

1.      Dismissal of the present group of Trustees of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

2.      Unconditional reinstatement of all who have been victimised by denial of food, work, and other facilities of the Ashram community life.

3.      Cessation and withdrawal of all threats and coercive measures initiated against the inmates and residents of the Ashram community and devotees.

4.      Immediate expulsion of Peter Heehs from the Ashram community.

5.      Recovery of all documents belonging to the Ashram which are still kept in the exclusive possession of Peter Heehs.

6.      Public declaration by the Trust that the book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo authored by Peter Heehs is factually incorrect and does not represent the views of the Ashram community and the Ashram Trust and that Peter Heehs has abused his position at the Archives and indulged in criminal impersonation as the Founder of the Ashram’s Archives Department.

7.      Withdrawal of copyright permission to Columbia University Press which has published the offending book without suitable copyright permissions.

8.      Public apology by the present members of the Board of Trustees for having promoted abuse and insult of Sri Aurobindo’s name, and for causing so much pain and distress to the inmates and residents of the Ashram community and to all devotees at large.

Timing and Location of Silent and Peaceful Protest

The inmates and residents of the Ashram and devotees of Sri Aurobindo would like to engage in a peaceful and silent protest beginning from the 1st of January 2012 for a period of one month in the morning from 7.30am to 12.30pm in front of the office of the trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust located at No. 14 Rue Saint Gilles.

The gathering of people will be entirely silent, and sitting in prayer and meditation. There will be no sloganeering, shouting, disruption or any kind of disordered expression. There is very little traffic on this road, and there will be no disturbance to the existing flow of traffic.

For your convenient reference the following documents are attached:
·       1.  Letter of Central Government to the Government of Puducherry dated December 2008.
·        2. Gazette Notification of the Government of Orissa dated 9.4.2009.
·        3. Letter from the Central Government regarding cancellation of Peter Heehs’ visa.

Contact and Coordination
For purposes of liaison, coordination and communication with you and other statutory authorities the following persons will be available on the contact numbers indicated: Prof Kittu Reddy (cell: 9345455906) and Varun Pabrai (cell: 9944206997).

Signed (on behalf of residents of the Ashram and devotees):

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