30 Jun 2019

Peter Heehs Reinstated as Head of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives – Anirjeet

Is the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust in Pondicherry bent upon destroying the spiritual legacy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother? If not, how do you explain the sudden reinstatement of Peter Heehs as the head of its Archives & Research Department on the 29th of June?

Peter Heehs wrote the most derogatory book that was ever written on Sri Aurobindo – Lives of Sri Aurobindo. His book caused such resentment among the disciples and admirers of Sri Aurobindo that a number of cases were filed against him and the Ashram Trust, which has been protecting him from the last eleven years. In December 2008 the Ministry of Home Affairs took cognisance of the highly volatile situation and directed the Orissa Govt. to conduct an investigation. This led to the banning of the book through a Gazette notification dated 9 April 2009 which said that

“the objectionable book contained matters  which  were deliberately and maliciously intended to insult  the  religious  beliefs  of the  devotees  of  Sri  Aurobindo  thereby affecting  public  peace and tranquility making the publication of  the objectionable book an  offence punishable under Sections 295-A and  153-A  of  the  Indian  Penal  Code.”

(Quoted from the Supreme Court Judgment dated 12 January 2016 in the Scheme Suit)

In this massive campaign to defend Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual image in the public domain, lakhs of signatures were collected by aggrieved devotees who marched in processions through the streets of Orissa; silent dharnas were held in front of the office of the Ashram Trust in Pondicherry; thousands of petitions and letters were written to Manoj Das Gupta, the Managing Trustee; thousands more met him personally and pleaded with him to “do something about it”. But all that he did in September 2008 was to request Peter Heehs to temporarily stay away from the Archives for some time. It was this mild action taken more out of caution than as a disciplinary measure that finally saved the Ashram Trust in the Supreme Court in a Scheme Suit filed against it in August 2010 for breach of trust – for not being able to protect the spiritual reputation of Sri Aurobindo who founded the Ashram in Pondicherry.

I should also mention other notable events: the 68 Members of Parliament who asked for clarifications on the issue of Peter Heehs in May 2012; the consequent Enquiry in September 2012 instituted by the Pondicherry Govt. into the financial irregularities and sexual harassment cases of the Ashram – in August 2014 this Enquiry became a Writ Petition filed by three lady inmates in the Supreme Court of India; the visa violations of Peter Heehs who would have been evicted out of the country in April 2012 had not his Leftist supporters come to his rescue; the Sri Aurobindo Society’s unequivocal condemnation of the book around the same time, and, what is still more amazing, the Ashram Trust’s own public notice saying that “it does not approve” of the book.

I could continue in this manner, but the above information is sufficient to understand the gravity of the matter to readers who are not familiar with the issue. The Ashram Trust should therefore seriously rethink about the dangers that may arise by the reinstatement of Peter Heehs in its most sensitive department, which is the repository of the spiritual treasures that Sri Aurobindo has left for posterity. The keys of the sacred rooms have been grossly misused in 2008; do we want them to be misused again and give Peter Heehs a second chance to write an equally derogatory sequel to his Lives of Sri Aurobindo ? If the Trust does not pay heed to this warning, as it is most likely to do given the arrogance of its own position and power, then do not blame us tomorrow for not pointing out the dangers of this reckless action well in advance.

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