Once known for its spiritual atmosphere, the Aurobindo Ashram today faces internal dissent and charges of sexual excesses
By A.S. PANNEERSELVAN in Pondicherry
The spiritual curtain has lifted on the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. With its net assets over Rs 500 crore, a flourishing business in leather goods, computers and hand-made paper, and a premium on its brand equity, the ashram's spiritual concerns seem to have been abandoned in favour of more materialist pursuits. And now the internal discontent is threatening to spill over outside as a section of its inmates have decided to settle matters in court.
The legal battle has been joined by political parties and human rights organisations who are demanding a full-fledged probe into the activities of the ashram. The PMK, the Samata Party, the Samajwadi Party, both factions of the DK, the BSP, the Dravida Peravai, the CPI(ML) and the People's Union of Civil Liberties have called for accountability and democratisation of the insular institution. While the political parties are interested in the ashram because of its growing economic clout (it employs about 3,000 people in its various divisions) and its huge real estate holdings (more than 70 per cent of the old French buildings near the beach), the discontent within has emerged over the spiritual deviation that has taken place in the ashram over the last two decades. Labour exploitation, tax evasion, sexual excesses, sexual violence, paedophilia and laundering of public funds are some of the crimes the ashram has been accused of perpetrating.