1 Nov 2013

Sridharan Replies to Arpit Agarwal of SAICE forum

I have picked out this particular passage of Arpit Agarwal in a never-ending competition in insulting Alok Pandey that took place on the SAICE forum, because there is in it a modicum of decency, and the argument (whatever be its worth) is well stated. This is truly exceptional in a forum which is usually busy with mud-slinging at the lowest level of verbal exchange. I wonder how Arpit Agarwal, who happens to be the site’s moderator, bears with all the sound and fury that rages therein. I can only compare his attitude with that of parents who leave their five year old wards in a closed room and let them fight, shout, laugh and weep to their hearts’ content while ensuring that they don’t beat each other black and blue by occasionally peeping into  the room and exercising a word of caution. Arpit Agarwal has done the same; he has peeped in at the right time when things were going out of control in the forum and raised a point which is very pertinent, though I certainly will not agree with it. The point that he has made is with regard to the reason (or rather lack of reason) for not going against the Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram even if they are in the wrong. I quote passages from his letter dated 21.10.2013 to Ashit Kumar Mitra (of Kasser Trust, or is it "Cusser" Trust?) regarding Alok Pandey; these are followed by my answers:

Arpit Agarwal: The Trust has been instituted by Her for this and if anyone has a problem while living in the Ashram – go talk to them. They listen to you – good. They don’t listen to you and it bothers you still – shut up and leave the institution. Whether the problem is genuine or not genuine is BESIDES the point. It’s really as simple as that. This entire business of writing open letters, agitating in the streets, distributing pamphlets, talking to the media, seeking validation of a ‘point of view’ from external bodies and individuals – all of this has no place in THIS institution.

Sridharan: Arpit Agarwal does not have any real stake in the Ashram – that is why he comments like a “wise” and smug bystander, who is not personally affected by events in the Ashram. This attitude is common among many of the ex-students of the Ashram School, who would only like to preserve the fond memories of those glorious years they have spent as students in the Ashram. Even these “glorious days” are limited to memories of trivial incidents in School and Group and skirmishes with other Ashramites, which they find amusing in retrospect. They have after all left the Ashram because they did not want to be part of the Ashram life. They have deliberately chosen the outside life in order to fulfil their own ambitions and desires, which is absolutely fine as long as they don’t pretend to be really affected parties in the present conflict. How are they concerned at all with the Ashram, apart from the empty verbiage they constantly spout on how Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s ideals have guided them in their lives? Even this much advertised spiritual talk is okay with me provided they don’t pretend to be flag-bearers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and think themselves to be the “sun-eyed children of a marvellous Dawn”! For I would give  more importance to genuine seekers coming from outside or even locally from the town of Pondicherry, who are drawn by the sheer force of the Divine Mother and are ready to leave everything to come and practise Yoga at the Ashram. It is high time that the alumni realises that the Mother’s work extends far beyond the scope of the Ashram School and far beyond the jurisdiction of the Ashram Trust!

Arpit Agarwal: I have met and spoken to people who were (and still are) unhappy with decisions that SHE took when She was here in her Physical. It hurts them even today. They feel that She ‘wronged’ them. But did they do anything about it at that time or ever thereafter? No. They quietly accepted it even though they did not agree with it. It killed a something inside them that day but they accepted it. Now, in Her Infinite wisdom, She constituted a Trust to run the affairs of the Ashram in Her physical absence. Is it not incumbent on us therefore to SHUT UP and obey everything this Trust says? Yes it is I say. Blindly I’d say. Yes, the Trust is not Her, yes, it is made up of individuals and individuals err. We know all this. But if we believe in the sanctity of this place, if we believe that this place is ultimately a place of Good and a place of God, and if we believe that it should last beyond us – we have to respect the Trust AS IT IS. If we feel that the Trust has made a mistake – accept it. Forgive it. If it bothers us still – leave the institution. But do not attack it.

Sridharan: This shows that Arpit is hardly in touch with the present state of affairs at the Ashram. If the Ashram is a “Place of God”, then why are such horrendous things happening, such as molestation of women and children? Or is it that he does not at all believe that these things have happened? Moreover, according to his argument, a raped victim should not report the matter to the Police or file a court case but simply go back to her native place. This is superb spirituality! This is what actually happened in the case of Mamata Satpathy. She was molested by the manager of the Guest House where she was working, and, when she went weeping and wailing to the authorities of the Ashram, she was told by Manoj Das Gupta, the Managing Trustee, “Go back to your native place because your life is in danger here.”  What sort of administration is this? Does Arpit want the victims of the Ashram to obediently submit themselves to this kind of utter maladministration and justify it with the argument that the Ashram is a “Place of God” and is above the laws of the land? I hear that Arpit was working in one the national News channels of India. He should have first tested out this argument with his own colleagues, who would have immediately reacted to it with common sense.

Arpit Agarwal: I feel that this (above) is something that most here consciously / unconsciously know and live by. I feel that those who have come in late – may not have internalised this to the extent required / expected. This is what I feel Alok Bhai is guilty of. I feel that Alok bhai and some others thought that they should “speak up” against what they thought is wrong in the Ashram.. that it is the noble thing to do… that not speaking-up against ‘falsehood’ is a sign of cowardice … that it is a sign of tamas etc etc . Not perhaps realising that THIS institution does not require this approach. Glasnost was good in Russia but it cannot be copy pasted here. To this extent, and in this context, I feel Alok Bhai does not have that broad encompassing vision. His ilk have mistaken the Ashram for a Community Housing Society.

Sridharan: The Ashram is indeed now or will soon be a “Community Housing Society” with all its drawbacks and limitations. Arpit should have a first-hand look at the New Creation complex where hundreds of inmates presently reside. He should even stay there for a few days to gauge for himself the extent of deterioration in Ashram life. Many of the present inmates residing at New Creation can hardly represent the Old Creation (by which I mean normal society), leave alone embodying the New Creation of the Mother! In fact, it is commonly accepted that life at the Ashram has gone beyond the point of recovery from the point of view of sadhana. Nowadays you have to remind inmates of the original purpose of the Ashram, as if you are reminding them of their past lives! For example, one inmate, who had been admitted with his family, was hauled up by the authorities for fathering another child after joining the Ashram. He remarked that he did not even know that it was against the rules of Ashram life and that he had never been told so! I hope that the ex-students at least know that the sadhaks are bound by the rule of brahmacharya. Actually speaking, the Trustees have long ago given up trying to reform the Ashram, because it would entail first their own reformation, which they were not prepared to do, for whatever reasons, justifiable or unjustifiable. Thus you face in the Ashram the proverbial situation of who among the mice is going to bell the cat!

Does this mean that it is now impossible to save the Ashram from further degeneration? No, because there is still a sincere group of disciples composed of old-timers as well as newcomers, who can steer the community out of the doldrums. But for doing that, the present authoritarian rule of the Trustees will have to go and be replaced by the more accountable administration of a larger body, which enjoys the support of the community and at the same time is not hamstrung by the cords of nepotism. It is the last requirement that is actually the most difficult problem in Ashram life. Fifty years of staying together have not produced a spiritual family but an ordinary family and a coterie, making just and fair administration impossible. There have been cases of sexual misconduct in which the boy has been pardoned because he happened to be well-connected, and the girl expelled because she was not! There have been cases of financial misappropriation where the big fish have escaped, because they happened to be in the good books of the Trustees, while the small fish have been badly trapped because they were not. Therefore the acute necessity of a third party which is brand new, unrelated and unconnected with those whom it is supposed to administer. Hence the need of an outside  administrator, be it an I.A.S. officer, a retired judge or an eminent person from outside, a No Nonsense man who will not speak of the Witness Consciousness when he is dealing with sexual offences and financial embezzlement, but who will call a spade a spade and punish the guilty regardless of their connections. 

The community has to therefore sit together and get into the habit of solving collective problems – has the Ashram community sat together even once in all these decades for serious discussions? No! Right now the only things it seems to take seriously are annual outings and Second December physical education programmes! When shall the community think collectively of its own spiritual or moral future?  When will it reassess the current situation in the light of the ideals of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother? It is precisely because the authorities have always avoided this exercise of collective introspection with the excuse of leaving things to the Mother, that there has been such a rapid slide downwards. But this collective reckoning has to be done fast before it is too late and before the Ashram falls into an irretrievable hole!

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