23 May 2014

The Supreme Court Verdict on the Five Sisters – Bireshwar Choudhury

Three newspapers (Times of India, New Indian Express & Deccan Chronicle) have recently reported the adverse judgement delivered on the Five Prasad Sisters by the Supreme Court of India on the 29th of April 2014. The sisters have been ordered to vacate their present quarters in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, by July 31st. What is however strange is that none of the newspaper reports mention that the Ashram Trust will have to bear the expenditure of the Five Sisters staying outside the Ashram premises! The Ashram Trust will have to pay them a minimum of Rs 29000/ every month (subject to fair review and appeal on account of inflation and other factors as this amount was fixed by the High Court a long while ago) for accommodation, food and other basic necessities of life until the original suit pending in the Pondicherry Court since 2005 has been disposed of.

Additionally, the Honorable Supreme Court has not commented on the merits of the original case and upheld the stand of the Trustees or exonerated them from the allegations of sexual harassment as is being made out in these deliberately misleading newspaper articles! This is but an interim order on the limited issue of the five sisters staying in Ashram accommodation during the pendency of their case in the Pondicherry Court. They might well be granted the right to stay in the Ashram premises once the original case has been disposed of in Pondicherry if the Honorable Judiciary were to find merit in their stand. This crucial information has been deliberately left out by the Ashram Trust in its briefing of the Press in order to spread fear among other recent complainants of sexual harassment in the Ashram. The clear threat to them behind this deliberate omission is, “You too will meet the same fate as the Five Sisters. You too will be thrown on the pavements of Pondicherry without food and shelter!” This is the petty and belligerent attitude of the Ashram Trustees behind all their pretentious spiritual talk!

Secondly, what was the original intent of the Ashram Trustees in the earliest case against the sisters, which set the ball rolling in the wrong direction? Whatever be the merits of the actual case, the intention of the Ashram Trustees was to create fear among Ashramites by "making an example" out of the five sisters, as declared then by Dilip Datta (Trustee). First, one of the sisters was accused of pregnancy in the year 2001, so that the Trustees could evict her from the Ashram on grounds that sex is forbidden in the Ashram. This led to a defamation suit filed by her against the Ashram Trust, the filing of multiple complaints of sexual harassment by the sisters, and a prolonged bitter legal battle raging from the last 13 years till date. But has the intention of the Ashram Trust to stop the inmates from indulging in SEX been fulfilled?  NOT AT ALL! In fact, Sex has allegedly increased tenfold in the Ashram and entrenched itself more firmly than ever before in Ashram life, if we go by the complaints received by the Honorable Investigating Officer in the Judicial Enquiry against the Trustees!  The Trustees know that too well, though they would vehemently deny it in public. They themselves are not above it, as has been alleged by many inmates in their depositions filed with the Enquiry Committee! After all, who can tame the natural instincts of man, especially when the yogic motivation has practically evaporated in the majority of the inmates of the Ashram?

So if the original purpose of the litigation against the Five Sisters has not been served, what are the Trustees fighting for? As it often happens in long drawn out legal battles, the contestants after a time forget what they are fighting for, and why they are fighting at all! They fight only for the sake of winning, because they fear defeat and the challenge to their power and position it might ignite! And who is to bear the financial cost of this fear? The Ashram, naturally, and all the well meaning devotees who donate crores of Rupees every year in the hope that their offerings would serve in a small way to give shape to the vision of the Gurus.

If after a long and bitter legal battle against five helpless ladies, all the way up to the Honorable Supreme Court spanning 13 years and costing the Ashram crores of rupees in legal expenses and irreparable loss of Public Goodwill, all that has been gained is an interim order evicting temporarily the five sisters from Ashram Accommodation in lieu of rented accommodation, the expenses of which are to be borne by the Ashram, and the original case is to continue in Pondicherry, then what has been gained? And at what cost? The answer is an unambiguous indictment of the hypocrisy, self-serving and corrupt rule of the present Trustees of the Ashram!

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