On the 5th of October, 2012 the Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram filed a writ petition in the High Court of Chennai and got a temporary stay on the probe/enquiry initiated against them by the Collector of Puducherry. The allegations against the Trustees submitted in a memorandum to the Collector on the 13th of August, 2012 by a group of Ashramites and devotees accompanied by MLA Ashok Anand, ranged from “denial of basic constitutional rights of Ashramites, financial mismanagement” to “denial of security for women inmates who have spoken against sexual harassment and victimization” and “illegal sale and lease of Ashram properties”. Shocking, isn’t it, for those who don’t know what is happening at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram!
The few and dwindling supporters and sycophants of the Trustees of course pooh-poohed the matter and even challenged the maintainability of the probe out of fear or concern for their vested interests! But then why did the Trustees themselves rush to Chennai High Court and hastily file a writ against the Puducherry Govt, which has always been so supportive of them? Why did they not simply allow the probe to continue and let the truth unravel itself, if truth was on their side? Why this inordinate fear of being investigated unless they thought that the probe would cause skeletons to tumble out from their closets?
The first reaction to these allegations from the side of the Trustees was that they were “wild and baseless allegations”, especially the allegation of “sexual harassment and victimisation”. A few of them even thoughtlessly proclaimed that they didn’t know of any such incidents. When they were reminded of the irrefutable cases involving the police and the Court, they quickly changed their statement to, “Oh, these things happen! We should not take these things seriously! We should not reveal these matters to the public outside, least of all to the Govt!” Would they have said the same if they themselves or their near kith and kin had been victims of molestation or driven to despair or death – there have been indeed such cases not only in the past but even recently, which the Managing Trustee has dealt in his classic style of “leave the culprit free and punish the victim”!
The desperate Trustees and their paid spokesmen have also been asking “Why have not these “freedom fighters” (meaning those who have gone to the Collector) stuck to the issue of Peter Heehs’s book, where their objections have some legitimacy? Why have they brought up all these dirty issues to the forefront?” The response to this lame duck argument is, “All the more reason to bring them to the forefront if the issues are dirty and condemnable, for how long will this dirt remain hidden from the public, which has such high expectations from the inmates of the Ashram! Moreover, how long will you pretend that this dirt does not exist in the life of the Ashram? Is it not time therefore to clean up the house?”
Finally, with regard to Peter Heehs, who said that the issue has been forgotten? The justification and defence of Peter Heehs is the ultimate nadir of corruption that the Ashram authorities have stooped down to! There could not have been anything worse than going against Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in an Ashram which has been founded by them, exists for the practice of their Yoga and survives by their Grace. The allegations of sexual harassment, financial misappropriation, denial of basic rights, etc have been serious issues for a while now, but they blew up in the face of the Trustees when Peter Heehs lighted the fuse. The defence of Peter Heehs by the Trustees is the final result, the logical outcome of a long process of deterioration and malfunctioning of the Ashram Trust over the last 15 years. Condoning financial irregularities and sexual harassment or abetting corruption prepared the downfall but the fall itself was caused by the unpardonable stand taken on the issue of Peter Heehs! Thus Peter Heehs's book still remains the core issue despite the surrounding allegations of corruption, financial mismanagement, sexual harassment and denial of constitutional rights.
The Trustees are now nervously holding on to their positions of authority despite their moral collapse. It is a question of time before the erosion of moral authority leads to the erosion of legal authority, paving the way eventually for a better system of self-governance! The Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust will be no exception to this oft-repeated historical truth! We are all waiting to usher in that new dawn!