14 Aug 2015

Supreme Court considers probe into Aurobindo ashram harassment allegations

Daily Mail Online India
By Harish V. Nair
Published: 22:39 GMT, 13 August 2015 | Updated: 00:14 GMT, 14 August 2015

At a time when several self-proclaimed godmen, godwomen and ashrams are making news for wrong reasons, the Supreme Court has hinted that it might set up a commission headed by a retired high court judge to probe complaints of sexual harassment filed by women and child inmates of the famous Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry against its members. 

The panel may also probe several other irregularities, including misappropriation of funds.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu said this on Thursday after hearing suggestions made by Gopal Subramaniam, counsel for the ashram. 

The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) that Gayatri Satpathy, who sought a judicial probe into the ashram’s affairs, had filed. 

The Supreme Court has hinted that it might set up a commission to probe complaints of sexual harassment filed by women and child inmates of famous the Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry

Subramaniam said: “We have never shied away from any inquiry. We have no problem if a former judge is appointed to probe it. At the same time we will like to make it clear that we are not admitting a single allegation. It is just that we want to put an end to the whole episode and come out clean”. 

To this, CJI Dattu responded: “A reasonable suggestion has been made by Subramaniam. We have no problem in appointing a former judge looking into it. We going into facts may not be possible or permissible.” 

Though the issue had been boiling since 2001, matters came to light for the first time when the Centre informed the Supreme Court that it “favoured an independent inquiry into the affairs of the Ashram”. 

 “In view of the serious allegations about sexual harassment of women and children in the ashram, misappropriation of funds, illegal sale and lease of ashram properties for personal gain by the managing trustee and the trustees of Shri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, through a number of complaints by inmates and local MLA, it is necessary to get a fair inquiry conducted by an independent authority,” the affidavit filed on January 13, 2015 by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who represented the Centre stated. 

The Centre’s stand is significant as several committees, government agencies and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had probed the allegations and given the ashram a clean chit. 

The NHRC had even concluded that “there appeared to be malicious planning behind the complaints”. 

The row dates back to 2001, when a female member and four of her sisters were expelled from the ashram for allegedly violating the rules, following which they levelled the allegations. 

The members moved the Supreme Court, which on December 18, 2014 ruled that they be evicted. A day later, two of them and their mother committed suicide by jumping into the sea. 

The other three sisters and their father, who also tried to end their lives, were pulled out of the sea by fishermen. Violent protests had erupted against the ashram in the wake of the incident. 

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