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ill-will fills Auroville WC, spills into BN

by on May 11, 2012

Recently Sraddhalu Ranade of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram was prevented from engaging in open dialogue and debate with members of Auroville: LINK

Not all exact details are available but a reasonably accurate picture of the basic story can be constructed using available facts. A group in Auroville  invited Sraddhalu to speak as per the following announcement:

An Open Talk by Sraddhalu

At SAWCHU on Friday 11th of May, 2012 – 5 to 7 pm

Sraddhalu will speak on the controversial book and its consequent events. A Q&A session will follow. This is a chance for all in Auroville to know of the controversy first-hand, and to clear the air of all the speculations and rumours.

All are welcome!

Immediately one notices that there is no attempt to restrict the event only to those that are opposed to the TLOSA book. Truly an opportunity had manifested for an across-the-board exercise in freedom of speech. Those defending the controversial book and its author, the freedom of speech absolutists, should have seized this opportunity to speak up themselves and hear out those who they disagreed with, to basically put their money where their mouths love to be all the time. They could have taken the opportunity to haul Sraddhalu over the coals of pointed questions and incontrovertible facts. Even Peter Heehs, had he the requisite amount of integrity or courage (the lack of which is attested to by his long history of weaseling out of open discussions using the sub judice ploy), could have participated, in spite of the absence of major national news media in front of which to pose and preen, but still ringed by a defensive perimeter of fanatical supporters and well-schooled spokespersons.

However, the proposed interaction was scuttled by the intervention of the WC and Bharat Nivas (BN).  Part of the statement from the WC reads [emphasis added]:

We have never given any permission and the tactic is to try to ask people who do not know the controversy (in the case of SAWCHU a newcomer). The immediate response of the BN was to say that this wasn’t going to happen and that the gate would be locked on that day, if necessary with a police presence.

With this action the WC and BN have provided a stark demonstration of exactly the same kind of behavior they decry and condemn in others, behavior that looks far worse for the wear on those who like to make a showy display of their absolute devotion to free speech and open expression:

1) Freedom of speech is NOT an absolute right. They have demonstrated that freedom of speech has its limits and can be curtailed either at one’s own sweet will or based on motives of revenge/retaliation i.e. the emotion of anger or fear based on threat perception. It’s all very well and good to self-righteously pontificate to others Voltaire-isms like “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” . But when it came to practicing what they incessantly preached and professed, the WC proved to be no different.

Let us also take careful note of the distinction between this case and that of Peter Heehs. While Sraddhalu was offering up his views for examination, investigation and open scrutity Heehs did nothing of the kind either before or after unilaterally publishing his controversial views throughout the world. His fellow-Ashramites were blind-sided by his prurient caricature of their Guru’s beloved image and their own private lives by one whom they had admitted into their circle of trust. It is an undeniable fact that Jeffrey Kripal, the character assassin of Sri Ramakrishna, was given the manuscript of the TLOSA book, before it was published, to review (which appears on the back of the jacket/cover of the book) and to utilize for his own nefarious sexual degradation of Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual realizations in his book on Michael Murphy’s Esalen. Even after the controversy broke and assumed global proportions Heehs refused to engage in open discussions or debates with his fellow Ashramites, whose trust he had betrayed, using the insincere excuse that talking about the book could legally incriminate him or put him in contempt of court. Subsequently he has appeared on nearly every major media outlet, both in print and on television, giving interviews and openly talking about his book without a care in the world.

Sraddhalu’s approach is in marked contrast to that of this pathological dissimulator and obsfuscator and even then the only response from the backward and blustering reactionaries in the WC and BN is to put up impregnable walls of  absolute refusal to engage.

2) Membership of or association with organizations is NOT an absolute right. While they oppose the eviction of Peter Heehs from the Ashram they have now themselves demonstrated that a group or an organization can rightfully demand that an individual whose words and actions do not conform to expected norms can be silenced, failing which he can be kept outside of the boundaries of the group or organization.

In Sraddhalu’s defense it needs to be stated categorically that, unlike Heehs, he was not going to go there to make any controversial statements or derogatory remarks about Auroville, it’s Founder, or its present membership/leadership. In Sraddhalu’s case he has been barred solely because his stand on this controversy is diametrically opposite to the purely personal views of the powers-that-be in Auroville, who therefore find it unpalatable and intolerable, in a near-mirror reflection of the utter discomfiture of the bosses in the Ashram. Whatever my disagreements or differences with Sraddhalu on certain points of detail, I can only salute and applaud his indefatigable courage for persevering in his quest to speak truth to power and stand up to the big bosses of not just one but of both organizations with whom his whole life is associated in Pondicherry and for bravely facing the consequences of doing so. It seems that even their combined and coordinated “blows cannot bend that victor head”.

3) Approaching the law to seek justice for wrongs committed or protection from future trespasses IS a legitimate right. In threatening to call the police they have also gone a step ahead of the opponents of the immaculate book of books, who after all only approached a court of law to air their grievances when the commander-in-chief of the Ashram turned a deaf ear and even worked against them. Or is there a rule in Auroville barring entry to civilians who have gone to court but, at the same time, inviting law enforcement officers to lay down the law with laathi in hand, in essence threatening violence if necessary to get their way?? What an amazing contradiction and what self-serving hypocrisy!

Furthermore, the same Paulette who went along with the Filio/Hartz-led Western chauvinist bigots mocking Sri Krishna as “a native taxi-driver” (LINK) tried, in this case, to characterize the decision to cancel Sraddhalu’s talk as a “unanimous” response from Aurovilians. This is obviously a blatant lie since it was only a group of Aurovilians that was trying to put the talk together in the first place. Not only is this an instance of bold-face lying, but also points to something much more disturbing… enforced “unanimity” or fascism at the organizational level and group-think in intellectual terms. This parallels the fascistic approach of the Ashram boss who has not only never taken the trouble to find out whether Ashramites themselves were in agreement with his personal viewpoint and autocratic decisions, but has also shut the door in the face of any discussions, punishing dissent and even promoting the falsehood in his last letter on the issue that Ashramites opposed to the book were religious fundamentalists.

With this we can safely say that the very first founding principle of Auroville enshrined in it’s charter is in serious jeopardy: “Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.” Auroville may yet not belong to just one “body” in particular but it is still something that can fall prey to petty chieftains attempting to carve out little kingdoms of influence and fiefdoms of patronage for themselves within the place. If so, then to go there or speak there or live there one must at least be a willing servitor of their consciousness. The Divine can come a few lifetimes later, if at all.

An illustration of all these issues and the kind of thought-control that is being enforced in Auroville by “free thinkers” is the following set of statements from one Dharmesh [comments in brackets and emphasis/underlining added]:

Bharat nivas categorically states that we have cancelled the booking for sawchu and spoken to Tine about this not to insist or try again….! (insist or try again = test patience)

Booking seems to have been done through a newcomer not fully aware of this situation (i.e. newbie not yet toeing the official / senior line with a brain to call her own  that has not been force-fitted into place). All due information has been communicated to the same.

We strongly oppose this move by aurovilians involved and stand by the working committe.

Hence all should be clear that shradddhalu supporters have no space in bharat nivas campus.

I have taken due cognizance of this apartheid policy and shall take scrupulous care to stay away from Bharat(??) Nivas for the time being. To be in Bharat, and that too Pondi, is more than enough Divine Grace for me. I would also have asked back the amount I seem to have donated to this nivas a while back (an instance of “You are not good enough for the place but your money sure is!”) if not for my firm belief that Auroville belongs to the Divine and that the commandments of such big-shots have only temporary sway there, however long their stay may have been in the place.

The one graceful way out for the WC (and the BN), to justify the cancellation of this talk without necessarily having to make a brazen display of its double-standards and hypocrisy, would have been to state in no uncertain terms that it has chosen to stay above the fray and out of the controversy, in other words maintained “dignified silence”, even if only for show as in the case of the Great Leader or suryong of the Ashram. However, the malfunctioning WC, which has already splattered out statements detailing painfully its thoroughly partisan stand, leaves Auroville no room to save face. One can only pray that the Divine Plumber will take pity on us mere mortals and unclog the WC before all Aurovilians, including the many that are truly free-spirited and yet loyal to and in love with Mother, find themselves in “it” up to their noses.

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