6 Jan 2013

Ashram Trust's Reply of 21 June 2010 to Kittu Reddy, Ranganath Raghavan & Sumita Kandpal

Dear Friends,

Your above letter was placed before the Board of trustees.

Essentially the letter dated 28.05.2010 focuses on the following broad issues:

a.     Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust and the responsibilities of its trustees

b.     The book entitled "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo".

c.     Whether the author of "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" continues to remain an inmate of the Ashram, and if so how and why

d.    Whether the finances of the Ashram are misused and

e.     Disciplinary proceedings regarding some persons who were inmates of the Ashram.

Here are the answers for your satisfaction.

a.  As you are aware, it was The Mother who in Her infinite compassion had taken the responsibility of running the Ashram. It was in the year 1955 that She settled the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust by a Deed in which She has Herself described in detail about the formation of the Trust Board, and the methods to be followed for future additions to it, in the case of her physical absence for any reason whatsoever. The Trust Deed is a sacred document which takes care to define the responsibilities of the trustees, which we are humbly discharging in letter and spirit. The Mother has unambiguously given the responsibility to the Trust to manage all the properties and other assets of the Trust. Amongst other acts for the fulfilment of its objects, the Trust does its best to ensure that at least the minimum facilities which are conducive for Sadhana are made available to the  inmates of the Ashram. In the carrying out of this obligation, the Trust has to undergo many ordeals due to external forces that continuously try to disturb the Ashram's harmony and stability. Though this in itself is a formidable task, it is the Grace that sustains it and the same Grace will never deny the inmates, the peace and the sense of assurance while they are pursuing their sadhana. We sincerely believe that nothing has happened "that could be a disturbing trend which can be disastrous for the Ashram and for the spiritual life of its inmates".

Your statement that "today many Ashramites are confused between loyalty to the The Mother and Sri Aurobindo on one side and the Ashram Trust on the other" besides being factually incorrect,-- for never had the Trust tried to create an impression that it was an alternative to The Mother and the Master -- only begs the question as to whether the Trust or any of its trustees ever stood in the way of anyone fulfiling his or her spiritual aspirations! The answer for this is an emphatic NO. It has always been a tradition of the Ashram -- a tradition that is consistent with the highest spiritual truths -- to leave every individual as free as possible in order that the sadhak may pursue his spiritual aspiration in a manner that he or she feels is best suited for his or her growth and according to the requirements of his or her own nature, unhindered by any dogma or creed, or bound by any catechism. It is therefore natural that the external rules of conduct for all the inmates are very few -- basically only such rules that were in place during the physical lifetime of The Mother -- and each one be left free to devise his own pattern of inner and outer discipline consistent with the requirements of his own nature, and according to his sincerity for spiritual progress. We can assure you that the Trust has not tried in any way to expand those rules of conduct in any unnatural way, so as to act as a barrier for any inmate's spiritual quest. Hence there is no question of any sincere sadhak having to make a choice between loyalty to The Mother or loyalty to the Trust.

The Mother while entrusting the responsibility to the Trust to manage the assets of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, thought fit in Her wisdom, not to include any clause or direction to even remotely suggest that all beneficiaries, be they devotees or inmates, should necessarily be consulted at any stage in the management of things or in the decision making process - if at all it be even logically possible to consult everyone belonging to such an open ended and amorphous body consisting of all the inmates of the Ashram and disciples of Sri Aurobindo. Notwithstanding what is stated above, we would like to point out that the trustees do regularly consult and informally seek advice and suggestions from various persons, who have an inherent interest in the Trust, be they inmates or devotees, some of them well-known in their field of expertise, whenever the benefit of their expertise could be made best use of. However after seeking suggestions from several persons and considering and assembling all the advices given by them, which are very likely to be of various hues, it is finally the trustees themselves who are responsible for taking the ultimate decision. Anything other than this would be an abdication of their responsibility. Constructive suggestions from inmates as well as well-wishers genuinely interested in the Ashram are naturally welcome, and the Trust has always received them and given them careful consideration before any important decision is taken.

We have no doubt, as much as you have none, that everyone including the SAAT are bound by the laws of the land and the consequences arising thereof. The SAA T is alive to its duties and obligations as a public charitable trust and the question of the Trust or its office-bearers trying to avoid or by-pass the laws of the land does not arise.

b.  As regards the book "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo", the issue as to whether the content of the book is offensive, warranting a ban on the book, is the subject matter of adjudication by the High Court of Orissa, in a litigation initiated in their wisdom by some devotees there. It is therefore inappropriate for the Trust, whatever be the perceptions of the trustees, to pronounce itself on an issue seized of by the Court from as early as October 2008 or so. We are informed that the Writ Petition lists out and quotes a very large number of specific citations from the book "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" with a prayer to issue a Writ of Mandamus to ban the printing, publication and distribution of the impugned book. In June 2009 or so, a newspaper report from Orissa claimed that a group of persons have filed a contempt application in that particular Writ Petition in the High Court of Orissa against the trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust for interfering with the orders of the Court. It is besides the point that the claim was apparently false. However the news report serves as a reminder that we should be prudent not to make any pronouncement on an issue being adjudicated upon by the High Court. Hence our comments on this topic can necessarily be only very general, not in any way impinging into the prohibited domain.

A number of persons, both inmates and devotees outside, have either written or spoken to us expressing their displeasure with the content and style of the book entitled "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo". If we are enclosing only one sample of such a communication (Annexure 1), it is because this sample is one of the most elaborate and complete, as also because you are surely aware of similar communications. However, communications expressing diagonally opposite views have quite possibly never come to your notice.
The reactions to the book "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" have been very varied, reflecting different types of temperaments, and quite a few of them of course, claiming to draw their inspiration exclusively from Sri Aurobindo Himself. As explained above, I am enclosing for your benefit a copy of a communication (Annexure 1) from someone who has intensely disliked the book, as also a copy of a letter (Annexure 2) from an ex-student of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education who found nothing worth agitating about regarding this book, as also of two other persons who have expressed their appreciation for the book (Annexures 3 and 4).

In this context let me also enclose a lengthy analysis of this book (Annexure 5) by one long time resident here, who is also on the faculty of Sri Aurobindo Center for Advanced Research (SACAR), an Institution where one of you regularly goes for lecturing on various aspects of Sri Aurobindo's thought. As per this analysis, its author comes to the conclusion that though the tone of the book is sometimes provocative, as such the criticisms generally levelled against it, when properly analyzed, are actually unfounded. Similarly a Retired Judge of the High Court at Madras, who is a long time resident of Pondicherry, has gone public in an article published recently (Annexure 6) wherein he wonders why people are disturbed by this book which he calls a model of a biography and goes so far as to recommend this book to the members of the larger public.

The above instances have been cited to show varied shades of opinion the Trust has been receiving, and not for the purpose of taking any side. No one has an exclusive privilege as regards the capacity to know the Truth.

We would also like to point out that even amongst those who have not liked the book, the solutions that they have proposed have not always come through as coherent or cogent. It became even more bewildering when the same person put forth variant views, one for public dissemination and another for the trustees in his private communication. Kindly consider the views expressed in a letter dated 14.10.2008 (a copy of which I am attaching as Annexure 7) written by the same person who has unequivocally and militantly condemned the book in public in his other note (copy attached earlier as Annexure 1). In this private communication to the trustees dated 14.10.2008 (Annexure 7), this person says: "...removal of Peter from the Ashram would be a most unfortunate extreme, and might even lead to more harm than his continuance. Ideally he should be able to continue in the Ashram, and perhaps even keep contact with the Archives and related work, but with his access….curtailed... There are no set standards for action or inaction. All rests in the consciousness in which we choose to act..." etc. You will notice thus that the author of this note is also the same person who has publicly distributed his notes and views (including what has been attached as Annexure 1) in which the tone and the conclusions drawn are very different.

It is also pertinent to note that the Managing Trustee had received a letter dated 13.10.2008 in which one of the instant signatories was also a co-signatory. That letter, inter alia, stated “we do not have the necessary documents to verify the most serious allegations and distortions since these documents are part of the Ashram's Archives records which till now Peter alone had been allowed access to so far…Allow us access to the same and related documents that Peter has freely had access to in preparation of his book, so that we can verify them and either confirm or refute his allegations about Sri Aurobindo. Since the work is large, we have formed a small team of academically minded devotees who can work simultaneously on different sections/themes of the book...."

There was never any question of denying access to the Archival material to them, or to any other serious student of Sri Aurobindo, since the very purpose of preservation of archival material is that it may be consulted. Apart from the misrepresentation that Peter alone had access to the documents, more than one and half years have passed since they have written the above mentioned letter, but these scholar-devotees have so far not got back to the Trust after having examined those documents which they wrongly claimed had not been available to them earlier.

It has sometimes been alleged that the author of "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" has violated laws relating to copyright. From the initial discussion on this issue with our lawyers, it was felt that prima facie it would be difficult for the Trust to sustain that a law relating to copyright has been violated. At one point in the month of September 2009 or so, Pranab-da offered to get the opinion of some lawyer on this issue. Thereafter he sent an unsigned note on a plain paper regarding the points relating to alleged violation of copyright. He was requested to get that note authenticated by the lawyer who had drafted it so that the regular lawyers of the Ashram could at least engage him in dialogue in order to arrive at a possible consensus. That particular note was never returned to Trust under the signature or on the letter-head of the lawyer who had drafted it. Our enquiries however revealed that the unsigned note was drafted by a lawyer who since 1999 has been unsuccessfully litigating or helping in the litigation against the Ashram by advancing the argument that the Ashram Trust cannot claim to have the copyright even over Sri Aurobindo's works! Similarly if according to that lawyer, Ashram does not have the copyright over the Works of Sri Aurobindo because of the lack of any written assignment by Sri Aurobindo himself in favour of the Trust, it would be an anomaly if now the Trust were to claim copyright over an unpublished diary of a sadhak in the absence of any such written assignment. However, you may rest assured that the Ashram can very safely claim to have the copyright over the works of Sri Aurobindo at least, on very solid legal grounds. There is an intermediary state in our holding of copyright over Sri Aurobindo's works which that lawyer has deliberately chosen to ignore. As for the diaries of Purani-ji, they continue to remain in the safe custody of the Ashram as a valuable source material, even though Ashram will find it hard to claim a copyright over them. We also stand by the fact that "no theft has been committed" as the diaries of Purani-ji are still safe in our custody as a valuable reference material. But whether we can claim copyright over them is a different matter altogether.
In any event once the matter has been admitted by a Court of Law, it would be impudent for us to pronounce ourselves on these issues until the final verdict has been delivered. We will take a decision on the issue after the final outcome of the Court proceedings.

c.  Regarding the question as to who could or should be allowed to become or remain an inmate of the Ashram, it is a very complex matter. All of us would surely not dispute that Sri Aurobindo Ashram is primarily a spiritual institution. That is a self-evident truth. In this context it would be pertinent to quote from the Human Cycle as to how Sri Aurobindo described the character of a spiritual society:

The spiritual aim will recognise that man as he grows in his being must have as much free space as possible for all his members to grow in their own strength, to find out themselves and their potentialities….. Thus true spirituality will not lay a yoke upon science and philosophy or compel them to square their conclusions with any statement of dogmatic religious or even of assured spiritual truth (emphasis added), as some of the old religions attempted, vainly, ignorantly, with an unspiritual obstinacy and arrogance….. But meanwhile they (Science and philosophy) must be left free even to deny God and Good and Beauty if they will, if their sincere observation of things so points them…Often we find atheism both in the individual and society a necessary passage to deeper religious and spiritual truth; one has to sometimes deny God in order to find him”  

(The Human Cycle - pages 214 / 215,  SABCL)

We are sure you will agree that this passage from Sri Aurobindo apart from laying down the very raison d’etre of the Ashram, is an answer to all the various propositions put forth by you.

After this you will agree that as to who should be permitted to remain an inmate of the Ashram and who should not is not so simple a matter as it appears to be at first sight. The trustees, took all the factors into consideration, including the fact that the author of "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" had been taken to The Mother in the year 1971 by Jayantilal-da who was the moving force behind the setting up and the work of the Archives.

There are many inmates who write books on their own initiative and Ashram gets nowhere into the picture, unless Ashram itself be the publisher of those books, or unless the Ashram would have specifically assigned to that inmate the writing of that book as a work-responsibility. Only then can the Ashram take the responsibility of whatever may be the content of the book. Otherwise it is the author alone who is solely responsible for what is said.

Given the unfortunate controversy, the Trust may consider refining the process and insist that in future, no inmate of the Ashram who would like to write any book should describe himself as an inmate or a resident of the Ashram, foreclosing the apprehension of any possible misunderstanding by the public at large that the view of the author are either views of the Ashram or in any way endorsed by the Ashram. This rule could be applied in future across the spectrum to prevent any possible mix-up or misapprehension.

As regards the financial guarantee, be it noted that such a guarantee was given in the year 1971 or so. For every extension of Residence Permit, the guarantor has only to confirm that the guarantee which had been given by him earlier is still there. Whether a foreign national may reside in India or not is a decision taken by the Govt. of India. In case the Govt. of India does not renew the residence permit and in spite of such a denial if the foreign national refuses to leave, the Govt. reserves the right to invoke the guarantee for defraying the cost of his journey and other incidental expenses. No guarantor is ever asked to give any certificate of good conduct or to step into the shoes of the regulatory authority.

As regards the offering of Rs 90000/- by Peter Heehs to the Ashram, it was a voluntary contribution to The Mother of his own money with no tag attached, and as such it is not proper for the Trust to refuse a contribution to The Mother from anyone who wishes to offer of his own free-will.

d.  As regards Raghavan House and other similar matters, this is how rumors are born and nurtured till a point when they seem to acquire an independent existence on their own. Much of the so-called information that you are communicating about Raghavan House originates from a so-called Section 161 statement given to the police alongwith other fabricated material by a disgruntled and mischievous element who, for ulterior reasons began working against the interests of the Trust. He also perversely tried to lend credibility to that statement by describing himself as an ex-lawyer of the Ashram. A complaint to the Bar Council against this lawyer PP Raghavachary abated on his untimely demise and could not be pursued to nail the lie. The complaint to the Bar Council having abated, we are much more at liberty to talk about the matters stated therein in order to give a lie to the rumors that he had spawned and which a few others have blindly accepted as a fact. This is a good example of how a misinformation disguising itself as so-called information is disseminated:

To begin with, the so-called statement to the police is a perfect example of manufacturing something that looks to be an important official document to a layman, but to anyone who is knowledgeable about the format of Section 161 statements that are recorded by the police, it is clear that the copy of the signed statement circulated by this lawyer is not a true 161 statement. This same lawyer had in the year 2002 written to us that he knew nothing about Raghavan House, while suddenly in the year 2004 he claimed to have gone to the police in order to describe in detail what he alleged were privileged communications to which he was privy to. It would be pointless to specify here as to why and what prompted him to act in such a manner. Be that as it may, once the process of Law has been set in motion, it has to follow a rigorously laid down procedure. It is in this context, as a logical consequence of this mischief, that an anticipatory bail had to be taken which is precisely a part of the process that needs to be followed in the circumstances. It is significant that after full investigation, the police did not find any material to prosecute the Managing Trustee. There is no "miracle" in this, unless facts are construed as miracles.

Furthermore, we would like to add something which relates precisely to the process of how rumors are created and how they get embellished at each successive stage of transmission: kindly refer to your letter wherein you state that a sum of Rs. 50000/- was paid as anticipatory bail by a devotee. In a bail, be it anticipatory or regular, it is a normal condition that someone has to execute a bond as a security. In this case it was stipulated that the bond be for Rs 5000/-. A simple legal procedure has been deliberately twisted and distorted to spice up negative imagination by adding a simple zero and using the word "paid".

Raghavan House was purchased only after a proper due diligence on the marketability of the property. The inter se dispute now between the father and the son - each asserting his ownership to the title - regarding the validity of the document does not involve the Trust which is effectively defending itself as a bonafide purchaser. The Court is seized of the matter and the Trust will necessarily have to await the outcome. It is prudent that at this point of time we do not comment on an issue that is subjudice, or put the documents that justify our stand in public space.

The irresponsible statement that we bribe our way through is once again not just a leaf, but perhaps a chapter out of PP Raghavachary's fiction. When he had found that the false complaints that he had filed against the trustees and many other inmates of the Ashram were making no headway and he was being confronted in the box with documents that were proving to be embarrassing for him, he conjured up this tale in order to manufacture a ground for attempting to shift the trial of his complaint out of Pondicherry. Well, he tried and did file suits in the High Court of Madras in order to wriggle out of the situation, but after examining his pleading, the High Court found it fit to dismiss his case. PP Raghavachary tried to take this further and filed a petition in the Supreme Court, which also dismissed the same. Ultimately after full trial the complaint filed by PP Raghavachary was also dismissed.

e. Coming to the disciplinary matters and other related issues, we can go into the details of one of the disciplinary proceedings since it has already reached finality in the courts. As you are aware, one Kamal Dora had challenged in a Court of Law the necessary disciplinary action taken against him. The entire hierarchy of Courts have declined to give any relief to him. In fact he has gone up not once but twice to the Supreme Court with his grievances, but all the courts have rejected his claim. Notwithstanding this, as we have always maintained, should he be genuinely repentant and willing to reform himself, we could take a very liberal and compassionate view even in this matter to help Kamal Dora in whatever way, so that he may reform himself. Of course, as we do not claim to have the spiritual insight and wisdom of The Mother, we cannot throw practical and worldly wisdom entirely to the winds, and we would have to take our necessary precautions to prevent any potential mischief on his part, or any possible insincerity in his purpose. Disciplinary actions are very rare and adopted only as a last resort when all other reasonable and persuasive methods have failed. Although most of the other disciplinary cases that you have mentioned are still being adjudicated, in the same spirit of goodwill as stated above regarding Kamal Dora, anyone of them may approach the Trust in order to find a solution subject to the Trust being satisfied that the person is sincere in his/her approach and is truly regretting his/her act of indiscipline. Generally speaking this is the consistent position of the Trust. However, it would not be proper to discuss someone else's personal case and grievance with anyone else. Should any of these persons mentioned by you give you a clear mandate to discuss each one's case, we shall consider that possibility also.

Regarding Abala, we would like to mention to you that notwithstanding the fact that she had become a regular nuisance for a very long time to others at the Samadhi and in the Dining Room, nothing has been done which would cause her any real hardship. She has only been asked not to report for work as long as she chooses to behave in a disturbing manner. Nothing more was done in this case taking into consideration the inherent limitations of her personality because of which she is herself hardly in a position to realize that she is being used as a tool which she is herself hardly in a position to realize that she is being used as a tool by some others.

As you are aware, every department including New Guest House is also audited by the internal auditors and any deficiency or discrepancy is attended to promptly.

It is a little ironical that you have complained that funds from the Ashram were utilized to defend criminal cases against the trustees. Ironical, since one of the signatories of your letter was himself an accused in Alipore (in the same court in which Sri Aurobindo himself stood as an accused about a century ago) along with the trustees and some other inmates, with the only cause of action against him being that he was looking after the Press as part of the work responsibility assigned to him by the Ashram. Obviously, the Trust took care to provide him with an adequate legal defense and bore all the consequential costs. Do you think it would have been fair to simply leave him in the lurch? His only fault appears to have been that he was discharging the work responsibility of an Ashram inmate. Incidentally, all those false complaints have been dismissed since long, and the trustees have taken care to defend the position of the Trust, and to protect the inmates of the Ashram.


We believe we have answered you satisfactorily.
For The Board of Trustees
       
Signed:   Dilip Datta

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