Justice T.L. Viswanatha Iyer, a former Judge of the Kerala High Court, will be the enquiry officer (EO) in the place of Justice P.R. Raman, to look into allegations of sexual harassment of women and children in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry.
By consent, in an order on August 30, Justice K.K. Sasidharan appointed Mr. Justice Raman, also a former Judge of the Kerala High Court, to probe the allegations. Pursuant to the order, Mr. Justice Raman conducted a preliminary enquiry. The next enquiry is scheduled from October 23 to 26.
The EO appeared to have received a representation from 165 persons from Odisha, stated to be ashram devotees, and who had some information regarding the issues under consideration. The original understanding was that the enquiry would be confined to complaints from the inmates of the ashram and the local MLA, and as such, it would take at least three months. The EO was of the view that it would take a minimum six months to complete the process. He, therefore, expressed his difficulty to continue as he had to come from Kochi frequently. He requested that he be relieved from the engagement.
Mr. Justice Sasidharan ordered that the enquiry would be in relation to the complaints received by the District Collector.
The present and former inmates of the ashram were at liberty to approach the EO, if they were aggrieved. It was open to the EO to take a decision with regard to participation of third parties, provided they satisfied that they were inmates of the ashram at a particular point of time. The EO should conclude the enquiry as early as possible and file a report before the High Court preferably by December 31. The matter has been posted for January 2, 2014.
Comment: Retired High Court Judge P.R. Raman, who was the previous Enquiry Officer, had called for the depositions of not only the inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram but of all other disciples and devotees of Sri Aurobindo staying in or outside Pondicherry. The enquiry was to be conducted in several stages and different notifications were to be issued to address the different categories of devotees and disciples of Sri Aurobindo. So how can the enquiry be limited to only the inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram?
The preamble of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust Deed states that “Sri Aurobindo Ashram is the home of persons who are the followers and disciples of Sri Aurobindo having faith in his philosophy and yoga.” That the beneficiaries of the Trust are the “disciples, devotees and inmates” is mentioned no less than half a dozen times in the Trust Deed. This was sufficiently clarified in the last and only meeting of 27th September, 2013 presided by P.R. Raman when the question of a letter from Orissa signed by 165 devotees had come up. The scope of the enquiry had been even written into the minutes of the meeting by the honourable retired High Court Judge. How can the scope of the enquiry be changed now to exclude the non-inmates?
The information provided by the Hindu news reporter seems to be biased and incorrect because it sends the wrong information to the public and paves the way for a quick and sham probe, which is what the Ashram Trustees want to get away with. A large number of devotees and disciples apart from the inmates fully maintained by the Ashram Trust are actually quite eager to depose in front of the Commission in order to set things right in Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Below is a scan of a true copy of the minutes of P.R. Raman’s first meeting at Ananda Inn on the 27th of September 2013.Bireshwar Choudhury