8 Feb 2013

The Ashram Trust’s reply of 22 July, 2010 to Kittu Reddy, Sumita Kandpal & Ranganath Raghavan

[This is the last letter that the Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram wrote to the group of three senior Ashramites – Kittu Reddy, Sumita Kandpal & Ranganath Raghavan. If there is one characteristic that defines the letter of the Trustees, it is “arrogance” – the arrogance of being unquestioned and unquestionable Trustees in “a Providentially ordained game”.  The very tone and tenor of the letter, the constant denial mode and the counter accusations leveled at the three senior Ashramites, who dared for the first time to question their authority, leave hardly any room for a healthy debate. The correspondence thus abruptly ended here with the Trustees rattling their legal sabres, “Our lawyer will respond” though we are not under any “legal obligation to reply”, and finally, “The futility of continued correspondence is thus obvious.” As there was no scope for further discussion, Kittu Reddy’s group did not reply to the letter. Sumita Kandpal remarked that she had never received such a rude letter during the entire period of her service as a Collector. The Trust thus lost one more golden opportunity to put its house in order and settle matters internally. The attached endnotes contain a few responses by the editor to some of the issues raised by the Ashram Trust.]

                                                                                                     Date: 22.7.2010
Shri Kittu Reddy
Shrimati Sumita Khandpal
Shri Ranganath Raghavan

Dear friends,

The trustees have chosen to reply to the letter under reference not under any obligation to do so, but under the compulsion to prevent a few persons carried away by rumours and distorted facts from becoming vehicles for spread of the same. Notwithstanding our lengthy reply dated 21.06.2010 putting issues in the proper prospective, you have chosen to raise the same issues once again in the letter under reply. The language and threats held out in the letter leave us in no doubt that you are firmly in the grip of preconceived notions and complete prejudice, and that no amount of factual assertions can change your perception. The futility of continued correspondence is thus obvious.

The tenor and contents of your letters not only reflects total lack of bonafide but gives rise to a very reasonable suspicion of ulterior objectives. In this background, we are referring your correspondence to our lawyer for a reply on legal issues raised by you. The trustees, in their official capacity or otherwise, have no difficulty in corresponding or debating on other issues sans legal advice with any inmate or individual raising bonafide issues of concern. We have therefore for convenience segregated the legal issues which will be addressed by our lawyer.

An objection for the sake of objecting is devoid of merit. You must be aware as much as we are that there is nothing wrong in any trustee signing a correspondence reflecting the thinking of the Trust. You have received an answer dated 21.06.2010 and we fail to see as to what could be the purpose or the intention of your objection as to who signed the letter.

In the first place, even though we were under no legal obligation to reply to your accusatory and ill tempered letter dated May 9, 2010, we replied in detail, in order to put at rest the possibility of rumours being perpetuated either by you or your source(s). Facts cannot be obfuscated and distorted to fit into your scheme of belief. As you are possessed by these rumours and distorted facts, your response describing our reply as ‘an exercise in obfuscating facts and in deception’ is not surprising. No amount of correspondence is likely to invoke a better response from you.

You are fully aware that certain persons have in their wisdom chosen to invoke the prerogative of the Courts to adjudicate on certain issues. It is incumbent upon us, once we are aware of the same, to await the outcome on an issue under consideration of the Courts. Your question "Is it the first step to revoke the ban on the book by going on appeal..?" should be addressed to the parties litigating. Anyway there is neither any need nor any scope for us to go on any appeal. [1]  

Our Lawyer will respond to the issue regarding the litigation pending in the High Court of Orissa and other related issues raised by you.

We are sorry that you should take recourse to phrases like "smoke-screen" and "cover-up" etc. You see them in your imagination while our position on the whole issue has been clear and consistent and is known to all. Please do not stray away from pure facts by using such whirling epithets since they serve no purpose. We had done whatever we had to do for the present and any further step can be taken only after issues reach finality in the legal forums.

Use of offensive and defamatory expressions like "double game", and threats like "be prepared for violent reaction from inmates" etc. only expose you to potential legal action and will not in any way cow us into subscribing to your ill informed views and line of action. You have to realise that we, as trustees, are in a Providentially ordained game [2] in our lives where there is no place for fear of or undue favour to anybody, and it is our conviction that one has to go on performing one's duty correctly with a clear conscience and with the Mother in one's thoughts and prayers in one's hearts. We are surprised that living in the Mother's Light you failed to understand the unworthiness of such statements. Be assured that we too are in touch with our fellow Ashramites.

With Reference to para 8 of your letter, we wish to point out that you cannot get the right answer to a wrongly formulated question. You incorrectly summarise the issue by contrasting the principle of freedom of speech with loyalty to Sri Aurobindo. Every inmate of the Ashram enjoys a freedom of speech to an unimaginable degree; a freedom which we believe is a very precious privilege of our life in the Ashram. However, it would be dangerous if someone erroneously expands the scope of this freedom into the self appointed task of determining if others who may be different from him in their perceptions are also loyal to Sri Aurobindo or not. It is possible that someone claiming to be as well-intentioned as you, questions your loyalty to Sri Aurobindo. You would be better advised not to start evaluating others' devotion or loyalty to Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. [3]

We cannot agree with your surmise and your conclusions expressed in this passage and would point out that it is utterly false to state that "the trustees are cuddling and promoting him and his book". May we point out that these types of cheaply provocative remarks do not help anybody and are unlikely to fetch you any worthwhile benefit or credit. The relevant point is that a process of law has been set in motion and everyone, you and we included, has an obligation to await the outcome.

With reference to para 10 of your letter, it is difficult for us to accept your comment that some of the enclosures ‘are written by persons who have nothing to do with spiritual matters or communities’. We are unable to measure their level of spiritual attainment, as we are unable to measure yours, and as you are unable to measure ours. One enclosure is from one of our former students, the other rather long one is from a member of the faculty of Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research (SACAR), teaching Sri Aurobindo's works in Pondicherry, and the third is from the President of a University in the USA and the author introduces himself as an ardent devotee very well versed in Sri Aurobindo's works. As stated in our previous response, these were just to show to you that multiple view-points exist; we have not said we subscribe to any of them. Be that as it may, we accept that such differences of views may exist in any community and on any issue, and so long as it does not lead any group into the path of blatant and aggressive running down of others, we take no issue with any viewpoint. [4]

Please understand that the court case over Raghavan House is essentially between the father and son. We had already informed you that we had purchased the property after taking due care about its marketability. We had also informed you that until the case reaches its finality, it would not be prudent for us to release into public space all the material that justifies our position. Be that as it may, the issue regarding Raghavan house will be dealt with by our lawyer.[5]

With reference to Para 4 of your letter, as stated in our earlier reply the Ashram has its own internal mechanisms to detect irregularities, if any, and to deal with them adequately. We have no doubt that the internal mechanisms have been efficient and are adequate to deal with any issues that may arise. We recognise also that there is always scope to improve and are constantly endeavouring to do so. The other allegations made in the said paragraph, apart from being cheap and in bad taste, are unwarranted.

With reference to para 5 of your letter, may we humbly point out to you that it is in bad taste to mention by name inmates discharging their responsibilities in all sincerity as having enjoyed "free food sometimes and keeping ill-earned money for dubious use" etc. Use of such baseless, unverified charges and terms picked up from careless gossip fall in the category of cheap and deliberate defamation, and are unbecoming of people in our community.

With reference to para 6 of your letter, there is a statutory restraint that needs to be exercised by the trustees when dealing with the issues raised by you. Therefore, we would not be in a position to exchange any information on this matter with any third party. Suffice to state that necessary steps contemplated by law governing such issues had been initiated.[6]

With reference to para 14 of your letter, as stated above we are not in a position to discuss the issue with any third party.

With reference to para 7 of your letter, as you are surely aware there are laws governing Trusts. Any beneficiary is entitled to certain reliefs as contemplated in law provided he follows the required procedure for obtaining such reliefs. The Right to Information Act has nothing to do in this matter.

With reference to para 9 of your letter, We take note of your contention that the quotation from the "Human Cycle is ludicrously out of context". You are entitled to your opinion. However, it is also true that a number of people who have a good and recognised standing in, and knowledge of, Sri Aurobindo's writings have appreciated the appropriateness of the passage in this context. We too are aware that Sri Aurobindo Ashram is the "home of persons who are the followers of Sri Aurobindo..." but as elaborated above, it cannot be the self-anointed prerogative of any inmate to pronounce unilaterally whether anyone else is also a follower of Sri Aurobindo or not. That passage from Sri Aurobindo was precisely meant to bring home this truth, and to remind ourselves that everyone needs to be much more humble when passing judgments regarding the spiritual development and life of others.

With reference to para 11 of your letter, we reiterate that it is left to the discretion of the trustees to decide whom to consult on a matter and when and how to do so. Every management has its own way to communicate with others and ascertain and evaluate different views. The Ashram has evolved over the decades its own way to do so whenever an occasion so demands. Such consultations happen frequently.

With reference to para 12 of your letter, Shri Ranganath's case is no different from that of all the others who had been falsely accused. As you know very well, the false claims regarding Savitri have been litigated and have been duly adjudicated and the decisions have long since been settled and have become final.

With reference to para 13 of your letter, it is not very honest to change the stress of an expression. It is absolutely true that Dada told Manoj-da that if 'Peter has expressed his regret he may continue to stay in the Ashram but not join any PED activities'. There were not "persons" but only one person present in the room at that time and she must have heard the conversation. We believe this to be fully true without any shadow of doubt.

With reference to para 15 & 16 of your letter, the Trust Board has been faithfully following the Trust Deed in letter and spirit over the years, and has never deviated from the laid down path. The Trust Board in its management is being overseen by different statutes and has given no cause for complaint from the authorities prescribed therein. The well-meaning members of the community have always been appreciative and supportive of the way the Ashram has run over the years till today, in the physical absence of The Mother for 37 long years. We are very well aware of the duties cast on the trustees and the consequences of default. The repeated reference by you to 'possible government intervention' can, in the context used, reflect nothing but an attempt to intimidate the trustees to accept your dictates. Such attempts will not succeed. We have to remind ourselves again and again that, in the ultimate analysis, the future of the Ashram will depend on us, the individuals constituting the Ashram. We believe that it is at least our primary responsibility to keep ourselves free from the vicious effects of gossips, jealousy and false rumours. One must scrutinise oneself more and be less prone to criticising others.

Political elements outside with help of a few disgruntled persons from within the Ashram sought to change, in the past, the Trust Deed and infuse conditions according to their will; the last such attempt, however, was rightly dismissed by the Chief Judge of Pondicherry in the early part of this decade. We cannot vow that our unique organisation, so much different from other Ashrams where divergence of natures in practice is an accepted reality, will be totally free of all such disaffected elements. They may raise their heads with their ambitious motives and demand altering the Trust Deed executed by the Divine Mother to serve their own purpose. We shall live with the faith that such attempts borne out of personal ambitions of a few will duly meet the fruits of their actions.

You would appreciate we have got other more important work to address than repeatedly keep replying to the same issues. We would therefore be under no obligation to reply to you henceforth on the same matters

For The Board of Trustees

 Dilip Datta

[1] The case in reference is the one which resulted in the banning of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs in April 2009 by the High Court of Odisha.  When the Trustees did not issue a single statement publicly condemning the book, despite having disassociated themselves from it through an internal circular to all the Ashram departments, the devotees of Sri Aurobindo had no other recourse but to approach the courts to intervene in the matter. When a few well-wishers brought the good news of the ban on the book, they were shocked to see that the Trustees were not at all happy about it, but were actually in league with Peter Heehs in the denigration of Sri Aurobindo in his own Ashram. Though granting “freedom of speech” has been the public explanation of the Trustees, the truth is that they always have been hand in glove with Peter Heehs. The whole issue would have fizzled out with one public condemnation of the book by the Ashram Trustees in any of the national dailies. In the beginning of the controversy, the Ashramites did not demand anything else, not even the eviction of Peter Heehs from the Ashram. It is only when matters became worse with the highhandedness of Manoj Das Gupta that they started demanding his resignation and a change of the present system of administration of the Ashram Trust.

[2] Refer to the following link to know how much the present Trustees are providentially ordained: http://www.thelivesofsriaurobindo.com/search?q=Trust+deed
See also http://www.thelivesofsriaurobindo.com/2012/07/two-comments-by-inmate-on.html

[3] Is there any doubt or incertitude about Peter Heehs’s loyalty or devotion towards Sri Aurobindo and the Mother? In fact, he himself will be ashamed if other people claimed it for him, as is the case now – the Trustees seem to be claiming it more than he himself would claim. According to people who worked at the Archives with Peter Heehs, his hostility towards the Mother was open and well-known. In fact, the whole tenor of his book is anti-devotional and anti-hagiographic, and there is no question of loyalty to neither Sri Aurobindo and the Mother nor the Ashram as an institution, which has given him shelter and material support for the last forty years. Even this would not have been objectionable to the Ashramites had he not claimed himself to be the founder of the Archives, which (in the absence of any clarification of the Ashram Trust) would have led to an unquestioning acceptance of the distortions and misrepresentations of Sri Aurobindo’s life and works in his book. What is incredible is that this is perhaps the first case in the spiritual traditions of the world where the Trustees of an Ashram have openly supported the denigration of their own Guru for the sake of supporting “multiple viewpoints” from the Guru’s disciples. (Even the members of a criminal gang, I think, have a greater sense of loyalty to their group than the Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram!) As for justifying this position of disloyalty to the Guru in the most devious ways possible, Manoj Das Gupta, the Managing Trustee, scores over them all, and should be nominated for the Nobel Prize in the Art of Deception.

[4] A word on “multiple viewpoints” which sounds so fashionable to pronounce nowadays. First of all, what is the feasibility of “multiple viewpoints” within an organisation which serves a very definite purpose, in this case, the practice of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga? What if one of the multiple viewpoints goes against the central purpose of the organisation? No institute in this wide world will accept this principle in practice. Multiple viewpoints are tolerated within certain limits, but when the individual viewpoints tend to disintegrate the very character by which the institute identifies itself, they are normally discouraged, neglected, edited or modified, and even proscribed. For example, a basic discipline is imposed on the inmates of the Ashram for the practice of the Integral Yoga. Will the Trustees tomorrow say that in order to engage multiple viewpoints, let each Ashramite do what he likes? Common sense thus dictates a minimum of collective discipline and a framework of ideas within which to operate, if the organisation is to survive.

Moreover, when Peter Heehs criticises Sri Aurobindo left, right and centre, it is not merely one of the multiple viewpoints which can be legitimately expressed within the Ashram. His hostile viewpoint not only destroys collective harmony but is incompatible with his stay in the Ashram. He is of course free to express his hostile opinions against Sri Aurobindo outside the Ashram, to which very few Ashramites would have objected. Also, the view of those who have criticised him cannot be considered as one of the multiple viewpoints which can be tolerated within the Ashram along with his hostile viewpoint of Sri Aurobindo. The former has attacked Sri Aurobindo in his own Ashram, which is certainly not good for the collectivity. The latter have criticised Peter Heehs because he attacked Sri Aurobindo in his own Ashram; later they went on to criticise the Trustees for having allowed such an attack and not doing anything about it! The argument of multiple viewpoints is merely an excuse for irresponsibility and inaction or a cover-up of a secret deal with Peter Heehs!

[5] It is true that the court case over Raghavan House was essentially between the father and son, who were owners of the property. But the Ashram Trust (which was tenant of the house) bought the property from the son (who was willing to sell the house) without informing the father (who was not willing to sell it) while the Trust continued to pay him rent. The Trust did this in order to give the impression to the father that the house still belonged to him, when it had already bought it surreptitiously from the son. The father then filed a case of forgery and cheating against the son and an arrest warrant was not only issued against the son but also against Manoj Das Gupta, the Managing Trustee of the Ashram Trust, for colluding with his son. A bail petition had to be filed in order to prevent Manoj Das Gupta’s arrest.

[6] What a nice cover-up for this shameful event in the New Guest House which belongs to the Ashram Trust! Mamata Satpathy was molested by the manager of the guest house. She went weeping to the authorities of the Ashram, only to be turned down, rebuffed, threatened and finally told to pack her bags and go back home. The guest house manager was left scot free and finally removed from there because of a financial scandal which could not be concealed anymore, much to the embarrassment of the Trustees. If the Ashram Trust cannot even protect women, how can it protect the spiritual legacy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother?


  1. Comment by Tusar Mohapatra (Savitri Era Forum):

    Saturday, February 09, 2013

    Trustees ruin the Sri Aurobindo Ashram

    The Trustees have demonstrated that they respect only the fiats of the Administration and the Courts and not any voice from the general public. Legality is not the only attribute to be valued in a civil society, but then there is no dearth of alibis to justify any argument they forward. But their rigid stand, to give devil the due, has brought many theoretical questions with regard to The Mother & Sri Aurobindo out in the open. The aura of white dresses and black beards have been exposed and demystified. Heehs imbroglio has proved that Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry is nothing more than a hostel and to call the inmates Sadhaks is just a pleasantry. Pretence is the first thing which needs to be evicted from the precincts of the Ashram.

    Heehs’ new book blurb mentions blogs but the Ashram is yet to understand its value in communicating the teachings of The Mother & Sri Aurobindo. Although it has marshaled many sites to fight its detractors, the idea of using blogs in a positive way has not enamoured the old guard. The public in general and the devotees in particular, however, never give up hope for due accountability and transparency.

  2. Comment by Ritwik Banerji:

    Dear editors,

    We have seen the fate of many instances that were and are sub judice in the human measure of reality. A curious phenomenon usually occurs in the day-to-day life of the Ashram. Quotations from the Mother & Sri Aurobindo come to the view of the inmates of the Ashram as well as visitors from outside by way of messages on Darshan and other special days. They are also regularly and frequently displayed on Notice Boards of the Ashram. These (quotations) were always written or given in certain contexts by our Gurus and they cannot apply pointblank in every case to any person in any situation anywhere in the world. But a layman (inmate or visitor) will always be prone to take them for granted in all cases in life. Thus M/S Manoj Das Gupta & Company Private Limited will always be exonerated for any of their actions or positions taken as representatives of the Ashram before the world. They apparently and practically continue to enjoy a sort of an absolute sovereignty in dismissing or admitting anybody for anything whatsoever with their roles played from the platform of the Ashram in the name of spirituality taught by the Mother & Sri Aurobindo! The outcome of judicial results in the course of these phenomena will always hang in the tardy womb of time.