22 Apr 2013

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram Inmates’ Association – by Bireshwhar Choudhury

It all started in November 1996 when Bailochan Parida and Narayan Swain formed the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Inmates’ Association in order to protect the interest of the inmates of the Ashram. Things had sufficiently gone wrong by then to warrant the formation of an association within a spiritual community. Harikant Patel was the Managing Trustee, Manoj Das Gupta was next in command though he was the driving force from behind even then. Parou Patil had died in 1996 making way for Dr Dilip Datta to become a Trustee and make a mess of the future administration of the Ashram – the legal harassment of the inmates of the Ashram began with Dr. Dilip Datta.

When the Inmates Association wanted to register their association, the Puducherry Registrar told them to get a No Objection certificate from the Ashram Trust. Meanwhile, the Ashram Trust acted with extreme high-handedness. Four members of the Association, Bailochan Parida, Srikant Jivarajini, Dilip Agarwal and Kamal Dora, were expelled from the Ashram in January 1997 because they had dared to form an association. They were immediately debarred from taking food in the Ashram Dining Room. The henchmen of the Trust then swung into punitive action. Dilip Agarwal’s room in the Laundry was locked from outside while he was sleeping inside – he had to escape through the window. Kamal Dora’s room at the Lake Estate was literally ransacked and his personal belongings thrown out – a criminal case was filed against those who had raided his room. Srikant Jivarajani was threatened at his residence and told to vacate the house. Only Bailochan was spared because he stayed in his own house.

The expelled inmates had no other recourse but to file a case in the Puducherry Court against the Ashram Trustees to get back their basic facilities. The Judge listened to both sides in the 3rd ADM, and after forty days pronounced his judgement in favour of the expelled inmates on the principles of natural justice. When the Trustees still refused to restore their food and shelter, a case of contempt of Court was filed against Harikant Patel, the then Managing Trustee. The Judge then admonished the senior counsel of the Ashram Trust and told him to convey to the Managing Trustee that he should immediately allow the expelled inmates to take food in the Ashram Dining Room and give them back their respective accommodation and other basic facilities. This time, under the threat of an imminent arrest, the Managing Trustee relented and abided by the court order.

Meanwhile the Registrar, who had been made a party to the case, agreed to register the Association. This is how the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Inmates Association stood up bravely on its own feet. The restoration of the basic facilities of the four members of the Inmates’ Association was a very important precedent set by the Pondicherry Court. Now no Ashram member can be summarily thrown out by the Trust without giving sufficient justification. How simple it would have been for the Trustees to accept the Association without creating such a big rumpus! A little humility and common sense was all that was needed to see the writing on the wall and avoid the path of conflict!

It should be mentioned here that a few senior sadhaks of the Ashram did try to persuade the Trustees not to expel the four inmates and avoid the path of  confrontation. Shyam Sundar Jhunjhunwala was one of those who strongly disapproved of the expulsion. He prepared a memorandum of understanding based on Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya’s suggestions. But this fell through except in the case of Srikant Jivarajini, who negotiated a settlement with the Trustees by which he got back his earlier responsibilities. At one point of time, the Ashram Trust itself arranged a meeting of senior Ashramites and sought their opinion on the same issue. In this meeting, Kittu Reddy, Gautam Chawala and Chitra Sen disapproved of the expulsion. But no amount of sober advice and persuasion made the Ashram Trust reconsider its rigid stand. Indeed, as its legal history shows, the Ashram Trust never learnt the lesson from this first big confrontation with its own inmates in the court of law!
Starting from the year 1996 (prior to 1996 there were no major court cases) to the year 2008, fourteen inmates /residents of the Ashram had to fight 25 court cases against the Ashram Trust when it deprived them of food, shelter and other basic necessities of life. In all, the Ashram Trust was involved in more than 130 cases during the same period, not to mention those cases where it was indirectly involved by providing full financial and legal assistance to its goons. From 2008 to 2013, a new series of court cases have been filed against the Ashram Trust due to its utterly inept handling of the Peter Heehs issue. Further, fresh appeals have been filed on old cases which have been rebounding back and forth like tennis balls between the courts of Puducherry, Chennai and Delhi.

In most of these cases, there have been only three men at the helm of the legal affairs of the Ashram Trust: Manoj Das Gupta (the present Managing Trustee), Dr Dilip Datta (Trustee and head of the Ashram medical services), and Matriprasad Satyamurthy (the secretary of the Trust). The best lawyers are engaged by them to fight lengthy battles in the courts of Puducherry, Chennai High Court and the Supreme Court in Delhi. The best legal brains are used to protract the proceedings and repeatedly harass the inmates with fresh cases so that they run out of sheer wherewithal and patience. The policy of the Trustees has always been to counter attack, threaten, subdue and take revenge on those inmates who have dared to defy them. So far this war room policy (which hardly reflects a spiritual institution) has worked, because the Ashram Trust is rich and influential, and the inmates are poor and practically have no influence on higher officials. It is only a few honest lawyers and upright judges who have been able to protect the inmates from being thrown out on the streets of Pondicherry to starve unto death. (Kamal Dora, an inmate of the Ashram who was successfully expelled by the Ashram Trust, had to take refuge in a Christian institution for his survival!) This is the supremely arrogant and cruel, to the point of being sadistic, attitude of the present Ashram Trustees towards the inmates of the Ashram.

Three things stand out starkly in this never ending conflict:

1.   The Ashram Trust’s relentless exercise of power in order to take revenge on a few bold inmates who have defied it, so that it has now become a personal battle of the Trustees rather than a fight for justice or a defence of spiritual values.

2.   Most of the court cases could have been avoided by the Ashram Trustees if they had only condescended to talk it out with the inmates and devotees instead of obstinately sticking to their stand. It is true that mostly the inmates have first gone to the Court, but it is because they were pushed against the wall and had no other alternative.

3. Whose money the Ashram Trust is finally spending and to what purpose? It is the hard-earned offerings of millions of devotees and disciples who expect their money to be used to fulfil the spiritual aims of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. They certainly would not be pleased to know that their precious money is being frittered away by the Ashram Trust in revengeful confrontation in courts with its own beneficiaries.

1 comment:

  1. Are the trustees (Three persons described above) forgotten The Mother & Sri Aurobindo and their philosophy and caring to the human being? How can a man snatch one's basic needs like Food, Shelter and other things? They are simply blind, brutal, supreme egoistic and totally inhuman. It is sure, Mother will not spare them. My full support to the victims and pray to the Mother for their Good in all respect.

    Mother's Child

    Sri Aurobindo Smiriti Tirtha, Chandernagore, W.B.