The Disclaimer at the beginning states that their intention is not to smear anyone but to inform and awaken people regarding emergent issues.
The Compere opens the video mentioning that for reforms in the life of society, great people and Gyanis make efforts and establish institutions to enable people to live in accordance with their ideas and ideals. After the lifetime of such savants, it is however doubtful whether those who manage the institutions in subsequent periods have the same sense of dedication to the high ideals or function with the noble idea of service to others.
One such institution which is presented in the present episode is the world renowned Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry (Puducherry) wherein there are allegations of misdeeds by the Ashram Trustees, including horror stories of sex torture meted out to female inmates by addicts and the institution being under the control of a secret mafia.
Sri Aurobindo (whose original name was Aurobindo Ackroyd Ghose) was a great freedom fighter and veritably can be called the Maharishi for the Freedom struggle of the country. He turned to spirituality and said that true freedom is not merely on the political front but in spirituality. The Ashram, which came into existence during his lifetime, became the centre for spreading his message of spiritual ideas to people and to serve the purpose of progress in their spiritual life.
It is a fact that the Ashram in Pondicherry has been in existence for many years now and people from near and far (from within the country and from other countries) have come and settled here after surrendering all their property, wealth and riches to the Ashram. The followers of Sri Aurobindo have no caste differences, no differences on account of religion, no prejudices with regard to gender, no bias towards people hailing from different countries. In a sense, all are followers of Sri Aurobindo without any differentiation. Such a prestigious institution which is renowned all over the world is presently being mentioned as a place where there is sexual harassment of inmates, violation of human rights, embezzlement of financial resources, and alienation of real estate properties of the Ashram by the henchmen and their principals who manage the affairs of the Ashram.
[The video now goes on to show some individuals who are pained by the present state of affairs:]
An elderly lady speaking in Hindi: I found girl students not coming to my classes. I was startled and asked them what had happened. The girl did not want her name to be made public. On my promise of not revealing her identity, she confided about her harassment. I was shocked to know that such a thing could happen at the Ashram. This is not spirituality!
A lady speaking in English (face not revealed): This is not acceptable in a spiritual place like Sri Aurobindo Ashram! I say that this is due to bad management. There is nobody to whom you can complain, because the Dept is under the charge of the Trustee. There is no one to control the Trustees because they enjoy supreme power.
Video Commentator: Five lady inmates of the Ashram preferred a complaint at the same time to the National Council for Women – this created a big furore.
Thiru Anbalagan MLA (Member of Pondicherry Legislative Assembly): The reported misdeeds at the Ashram have been heard for some years now. These include rape, human rights violations, property stealing (alienation to private names). The Ashram has real estate worth Rs 7500 crores in Pondicherry itself, built up on the basis of offerings received from lakhs of devotees from all over the world. It is essential that the Ashram management is proper and there are no untoward instances at the Ashram
Video Commentator: In the complaint by the lady inmates to the National Commission for Women, it was mentioned that they were being sexually harassed, threatened and obscene and vulgar/lewd comments were made at them verbally or in written form. The Chairperson of the National Commission for Women took the matter up with the state unit of Pondicherry for an investigation into the complaints. Side by side, Pondicherry Police also started an investigation on a complaint filed by one Arunashri Prasad, met the secretaries of the Trustees and conducted an enquiry in the Ashram. The police visited the rooms of the complaining ladies and other rooms of lady inmates, talked to other ladies and took videos of their rooms. They found to their shock obscene posters in the rooms and removed them.
In connection with the sexual harassment of the ladies, the Police arrested one Chandramani, Santosh, Sajal Mitra, and another Santosh. But subsequently all were released on personal bail, making people wonder whether the action was just an eyewash.
A male inmate of the Ashram: There are reported instances of rape, murder and crime; there is no remedy since none respond if someone questions them. At this rate, the Ashram, which is a star attraction in Pondicherry for people all over the country, will soon go downhill and get destroyed
Video Commentator: Meanwhile Ashramites have complained on violation of human rights, sex torture to ladies, property alienation, and mismanagement of funds. In addition, the Pondicherry MLAs also spoke about the need for finding the facts of the inappropriate actions of the management. The Pondicherry Govt has to act on these.
A lady inmate of the Ashram: There is a need for appointing an administrative officer from the Govt. side since it would give us an opportunity to take up with him the redressal of our grievances.
Thiru Anbalagan MLA: The continued criminal activities in the Ashram is an area of concern. We have given an authentic factual CD on the misdeeds in the Ashram to the Hon’ble Speaker of the Legislature. The Hon’ble Chief Minister is likely to take appropriate action to save the properties of the Ashram and to ensure justice to the inmate victims and to appoint an Administrative Committee for the purpose.
Compere: To look into the complaints of human rights violations, sexual abuse, embezzlements of funds, unlawful property transfers, etc, the Madras High Court Justice Sasidharan appointed Retd Judge Thiru P.R. Raman to find out the facts. The background to this development is brought out in the narration.
Thiru Ashok Anand MLA: The Ashram ladies, at least 10-15 of them, and other inmates had complained about the misdeeds in the Ashram. They said that they were under tremendous mental pressure and wanted help to sort out these problems and take remedial action. Hence the Govt. of Pondicherry ordered an Enquiry to find out the facts by an upright officer – the Collector. The purpose was not to take sides with a section of people but to find out the truth about the allegations, since these allegations, serious in nature, if true, would bring bad name to the Ashram and to the Pondicherry State as well. The Notice for the Enquiry by the Collector was pasted for public information. Seeing this, many inmates / Ashramites came to the Collector and 40-50 complaints were received in a short time on sexual abuse of females, violation of human and basic rights of individuals. Many more complaints had started coming in.
The Managing Trustee of the Ashram perceived this to be taking a direction not in his favour and preferred an appeal in the High Court at Madras, maintaining that the Collector was not qualified or eligible to look into the complaints. He obtained a stay on the Enquiry by the Collector.
Video Commentator: Since a few years it is common knowledge to all that several complaints had been filed against the group of five Trustees.
When the matter was in the High Court, the Judge (Thiru Sasidharan) did not negative the need for an enquiry. The Ashram management did not want the Collector to enquire into the allegations. The Judge therefore ascertained whether the Ashram management and the complainants were agreeable for a fact finding enquiry by a retired judge of the Kerala High Court. As both parties agreed to it, he named Justice P.R. Raman to head the fact finding Enquiry to look into the complaints on violation of human rights, denial of basic individual rights, sexual abuse of ladies and children, financial misappropriation, and alienation of Ashram properties. Since the complaints also related to sexual abuse of lady inmates, he named Mrs. Satya Sri Priya Eswaran, Advocate, to assist Justice Raman in the enquiry. He mentioned that the Enquiring Judge would evolve his own procedure for carrying out the Enquiry. Justice Sasidharan also stressed that the Aurobindo Ashram was world renowned and its reputation and sanctity was essential. He emphasised to the complainants and the Ashram authorities the need for a full cooperation in the Enquiry. Those who have a grievance should not be stopped from approaching the Enquiry officer and the Collector should hand over all the complaints and documents received by him to Justice Raman. Further the report should be finalised expeditiously and the next hearing in the matter was posted for November 4, 2013.
Elderly lady inmate: The Managing Trustee Sri Manoj Das Gupta, and his secretaries Sri Matri Prasad and Sri Nirmal Swain have been using their positions to threaten and misuse the girls for wrong purposes. If such things happen even in the outside world, our conscience will be upset; but if such things happen in a spiritual setup like Sri Aurobindo Ashram, it is horrendous. The lives of the victims (girls / ladies) staying here have been jeopardized. They have no protection and they are robbed of all respect.
Compere: Opposition MLAs raised the issue that unlawful activities were happening in the Ashram; they suggested that the Govt. may itself take over the Ashram and manage it, without leaving room for complaints. The Chief Minister in his reply mentioned that the Govt. was considering the appointment of an Administrator for the purpose. What happened subsequently is traced out now.
Video Commentator: Young female students are sexually tortured and harassed. They are unable to come out openly due to the fear of social stigma and have been suffering due to this stress from a long time.
Another elderly lady inmate of the Ashram: A known case is the molestation attempt on a girl by one Mukesh. As the girl could not complain outside, she complained to the Managing Trustee (Manoj Dasgupta). The result was that she (the victim) was asked to leave the Ashram and was thrown out. On the other hand, the culprit Mukesh Shah was protected! A serious question arises regarding the role of the Trustees: if victims are not protected, what is then the duty of the Trustees?
Video Commentator: It is noted that there are human rights violations and those who complain against the misdeeds of the management are denied basic necessities like food, accommodation, medical facilities. They are thrown out for bringing up complaints.
A male inmate: The highhandedness of the Trustees owes to the fact that there is no fixed tenure for them. While in other organisations there are fixed terms of, say, 2 or 5 years, here the Trustees are permanent and well entrenched. There is no way that they can be removed for their misdeeds. If the inmates dare to question them, then they are harassed by denial of food, lodging and other essential needs of life. They are also harassed by the filing of frivolous police complaints against them. For old sadhaks, this repression effectively prevents any protest from them. For those who have relinquished all their belongings to join the Ashram, and having been there for 40 to 50 years, there is no way they can face the rigours of living outside, with nothing to fall back upon, and with no house or resources. If they are all of a sudden thrown out of the Ashram, their life during their old age becomes a big question mark!
Lady (face covered): Since I did not cooperate with them, they started harassing me. They wantonly started finding fault with my prescriptions for medicines. To whom do you complain then, because the in-charge is the Trustee himself?
Since I dared to question their wrong actions and fought injustice, I and my patient got penalized. My patient, Shanti Sinha was an Ashramite since many years. He was an elderly heart patient. All the doctors knew of his condition. The Trustees refused to dispense the medicine prescribed by me and created lot of problems. The refusal to give medicine in turn led to the patient’s death. This was due to medical negligence and was unethical. There are many such instances which do not come out since people are afraid to oppose the Trustees.
Video Commentator: Even when hundreds of complaints are made to the Govt., neither the Pondicherry Govt. officials nor the Police are allowed to enter the Ashram for investigation. Further, it is shocking to note that since the Trustees have the backing of high-ups in society, high officials in the Central Govt and political bigwigs, this Gang of Five (Trustees) is well entrenched in its position.
It is further horrifying that this group of five uses young girls in the Ashram’s holy precincts as a prey to satisfy the lusty desires of high-ups so that their own selfish interests are ensured.
There are also allegations that, in this place meant for spiritual practice, the members, who are expected to live solely on the facilities provided by the management, indulge in share market speculations and on-line trading, and this is condoned by the management.
Furthermore, there are complaints that young people, who study here and settle down in the Ashram, develop wrong relationships within themselves.
Elderly lady inmate: It is a pity that such things happen contrary to the high ideals originally envisaged for Ashram life, especially at a time when ideally the reins of management should go to the hands of younger disciples and sadhaks. It is also painful to note that such moral degeneration and corrupt unethical practices by the younger generation are encouraged and condoned and thrust on the others by the management. This is contrary to the ideals enjoined by Sri Aurobindo and one wonders whether this moral decline in the environment encouraged by the Trustees will not ruin the entire edifice of the Ashram
Video Commentator: It is a practice in the Ashram that whenever problems arise, they try to sort these out internally; this is taken up with the Trustees and their decision is the final word. No one outside is privy to this. However this time, the complaints by the inmates have come out in the open and have been taken to the Govt. But in the absence of any tangible remedy, the hapless Ashramites face acute mental stress, ill health due to denial of food and medical facilities leading even to the prospect of death.
Elderly male inmate: A few months back, I was working in the laundry. All of a sudden one henchman of the Trustees by the name of Ajit Neogi came and hit me violently on my back. I did not know what to do. Others who were witness to this kept quiet because they were afraid that the Trustees would deny them food, medical facilities etc if anything was complained in this regard. In my own case, medical facilities are denied to me.
Video Commentator: Despite the terror, there are still Ashram members who continue to ask for justice and are fighting for the redressal of their grievances.
Another elderly lady inmate: We who live in this Ashram are also citizens of India. How can Fundamental Rights be denied to us? Why is there a ban on our approaching the police or media to seek redressal?
Video Commentator: Ashram life is supposed to be in the nature of sacrifice of attachments in order to serve society with pure minds. However, in the Ashram here, since all the necessities of life are provided, many have joined it to lead a life of enjoyment and luxury, and in the process bring a bad name to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. This is not acceptable to anyone.
Male inmate: Manoj Dasgupta is not only unspiritual, but he is also not at all fit to be the Managing Trustee.
Lady inmate: Our major issue was that our Guru for whom we came here, in whose name we are taking food and whose air we breathe, is being insulted and abused. The Trustees are supporting this. We cannot tolerate this. They have to go. The Trustees are Guru Drohis (betrayers of the Guru), Desha Drohis (betrayers of the nation), and they have to quit.
Compere: The members of organisations and institutions, who do selfless social service and contribute to the welfare of society through spiritual effort, are praiseworthy. Nobody can accept wrongdoings at such places. There can be no place for wrongdoers at such places meant for serving humanity. It is therefore essential that on an urgent basis the Govt steps in, eliminates these aberrations, books the culprits and punishes them. This would be the expectation of all with regard to Sri Aurobindo Ashram.