The following “court diary” was received from RY Deshpande, who sent it to Paulette in Auroville. She posted it on the Auroville Compats email list on Wednesday, Jan 20. Since it shows no author, and in the absence of further information, we are left to assume that it was either written by Deshpande or that he was a willing go-between for others who wrote it.
We sent the document to Peter Heehs, who provided important factual clarifications on what actually took place, as well as a copy of the court order (see below). In short, the entire “court diary” is a fabrication. We feel it is important to make this clear, since this “diary” continues the pattern of rumor, misinformation, and outright lies that have been used to smear Peter Heehs, especially in relation to the legal cases brought against his book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo.
Although the “diary” is a fiction, and contains almost no true statements, the fact that it contains specific details (such as who was present) does make clear that whoever wrote it is in close contact with the lawyers. The publication of the “diary” is a further action by the group trying to have The Lives of Sri Aurobindo censored, and now are trying to have Heehs deported.
The comments below are based on the fictional “diary” posted to the Auroville Compats list, clarifications provided by Heehs, and other sources.
Comments and clarifications are highlighted in yellow. After each section, the facts are corrected, followed by comments about what was written.
COURT DIARY INFORMATION RELEASE
The title is already deceptive, giving the appearance that this is some sort of “official” court document or a release of information by the court. In fact, the “diary” is a pure fiction, and bears no relation to the actual proceedings. If the person who wrote it was present, then what follows are outright lies. If the person was not present, then it is simply made up, a fictional account intended to sway public opinion.
Case Regarding Cancellation of Peter Heehs’ Visa and Deportation from India in Chennai High Court
The court is the Madras High Court (there is no “Chennai High Court”). The actual matter heard on December 21st was “MP [Miscellaneous Petition] Nos. 1 & 2 in WP [Writ Petition] 24399 of 2009: Surekha Jain, Petitioner, vs Foreigners Regional Registration Officer and others.”
Note that any private citizen in India can challenge the actions of the government by means of a so-called Public Interest Litigation, by filing a Writ Petition before a high court. In such cases the citizen must present himself or herself as a representative of the community as a whole. This legal device is very often misused, as in the present case. Here an individual with a private grudge (or rather an individual acting as the agent of an unknown group, whose members have a grudge) is challenging the immigration status (the right to remain in the country) of a foreign-born resident of India. Also, Jain has never met Heehs and has no direct knowledge of him.
Briefly, “Surekha Jain” is attempting use the courts to force the Government of India to deport Peter Heehs. In fact, neither the Government of India nor the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the only entities with any actual interest in the matter, have expressed any problem with Heehs’ continued residence in India, a country he has lived in for 38 years.
The use of such a Writ against Peter Heehs by a private citizen is an ominous sign for many in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville. The group arguing against Peter Heehs has often castigated anyone who disagrees with them in vitriolic terms, even on small matters of opinion. If they are now turning to deportation as a way to express their opinion, it is a troubling sign.
Trying to have Heehs deported may also be an attempt to take advantage of the national situation in India, where the government recently tightened rules on tourist visas. “Foreigners holding tourist visas, including ones with multiple entries, are now banned from re-entering the country within two months of their departure.” (New York Times). The government was responding to the news regarding a Pakistani-American suspect in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Parties: Surekha Jain (Petitioner)
The fact that Surekha Jain is the petitioner shows the connection between this Writ Petition and the previous ones. Surekha Jain is the mother of Geetanjali J Bhattacharjee, also known as Geetanjali JB, who is the petitioner in a Writ Petition filed in the Orissa High Court in October 2008. In 2008 Geetanjali JB claimed to be a resident of Balasore, Orissa, although she actually lives with her husband, Jayant Bhattacharjee and her mother Surekha in Chennai.
Jayant Bhattacharjee has long been a friend of Sraddhalu Ranade. Ranade denies knowledge or involvement in the court cases (or such falsifications as this “diary”), but his ongoing denials are questionable. He was one of the first to call for legal action in 2008, had been in direct contact with one of the lawyers, and has been a strong supporter of legal action. Since Ranade’s friends are the persons bringing repeated legal cases, the natural assumption is that they are doing it with his approval, if not participation.
The most disturbing aspect of the current legal case (and this “diary”) is that it appears to be directed at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, as well as Peter Heehs.
1. FRRO, Chennai (first Respondent)
2. FRRO, Pondicherry (second Respondent)
3. Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee Sri Aurobindo Ashram (third Respondent)
4. Superintendent of Police, Pondicherry North(fourth Respondent)
Hearing on 21st December 2009
It is important to note that by listing Manoj Das Gupta as a “respondent” in the Writ, those who are pressing this legal harassment of Heehs are in effect taking legal action against the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, in particular the Managing Trustee. From the beginning, Ranade and others have had a confrontational attitude towards the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, as can be seen by Ranade’s earlier letter (for the text of this letter, see this page). The letter accuses the Trustees of “sheer pettiness and foul politicking” – over who gets to occupy a small office.
(It should also be noted that the lies in this “diary” have already been used to call for action against the Sri Aurobindo Ashram by one N. Nandivarman in his blog. Nandivarman, a Pondicherry politician who has an extremely hostile attitude towards the Ashram, has repeatedly attacked the Ashram in the past. So the negative effects of this fictional “diary” are already being felt).
Peter Heehs was not named as a respondent in the Writ, even though this is an attempt to have him deported. Such an omission is not accidental – the people bringing the Writ do not want him to be heard, or to participate. (It is ironic that they would omit Heehs, since they are trying to have him deported). Through his lawyer Heehs made a petition of “impleadment” so that he could respond. This was the purpose of the hearing on December 21. The judge accepted Heehs’ petition. (Impleadment means to bring someone who may be liable into a suit, so they may participate).
FRRO stands for “Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office”
Lawyers representing all parties were present.
Peter Heehs came with a group of 25 Westerners. However he alone was allowed to enter the Court and his friends were asked to wait outside.
This is completely false and inflammatory. It is another troubling indication of the deeper intent of those who are bringing legal actions. Heehs went to Chennai alone. There were no “Westerners” who accompanied him either to the court or inside.
Why would the author(s) of this fictional “diary” put in a statement that Heehs was accompanied by “25 Westerners”? This is an attempt to stir up tensions between Indian nationals and foreigners, by implying that Heehs took a large group into the court. And the phrase “they were asked to wait outside” implies that this imaginary gang was doing something improper or illegal, and were reprimanded. The truth is that the court is a public building, the public can enter freely, and the officers of the court do not discriminate based on nationality.
This statement by the author(s) of the fictional diary seems to indicate that the motivation behind the attempt to deport Heehs is not simply a disagreement about what he wrote, but a wider and deeper xenophobia toward foreigners in general. Again, this is a troubling sign for many in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville.
Matriprasad came in with Peter Heehs’ counsel and the Ashram’s counsel, and was seen giving them instructions along with Peter Heehs.
This is a lie. Matriprasad (a member of the Ashram) was not present.
Petitioner’s legal counsel highlighted for the court that Peter Heehs has breached all visa conditions in connivance with third Respondent Manoj Das Gupta and should have his visa cancelled by first and second respondents, and immediate action taken by them to deport him. It was also highlighted that the fourth Respondent has failed to execute the live arrest warrant pending against Peter Heehs in Pondicherry.
This is another lie. The only question discussed at any length was Heehs’ request to be able to participate (the “impleadment.”) The discussion of Heehs’ case lasted perhaps a total of five minutes. There were no long arguments about his visa, nor about the Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s actions. There is no arrest warrant pending against Heehs.
Again, this is an attempt by the author of the document to portray the Ashram in a bad light.
The legal counsel representing Peter Heehs expressed to the court that Peter Heehs is a world renowned scholar who has dedicated more than 35 years of the his life in Pondicherry for the Ashram community in order to spread Sri Aurobindo’s teachings. He said Peter Heehs is the foremost scholar and exponent of Sri Aurobindo’s teachings in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and a very important person in the Ashram. He also pointed out that the Managing Trustee of the Ashram has said that the role and contribution of Peter Heehs to the Ashram is invaluable, and that Peter Heehs has the full support of the said Managing Trustee.
The above did not occur. None of the above statements were made.
Putting such statements in this document is emotionally inflammatory. The author is trying to make arguments that put the Managing Trustee of the Ashram (or the Ashram itself) in a difficult position, and force them into some kind of action. This is also a subtle attempt to show Heehs as self-important in his own eyes, and to stir up emotion among his detractors. On the surface this would seem to be supportive of Heehs, but given the ideological fervour with which the group has harassed him over the last year and a half, statements like the above, put in the mouth of his lawyer, are guaranteed to inflame emotion. (And what lawyer would make the claim that Heehs is “a very important person in the Ashram”? This has no relevance to the case – but is an effective method of stirring up emotion.)
The legal counsel representing Manoj Das Gupta and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust said that he was in full agreement with the statements of the legal counsel of Peter Heehs and that the Petitioner was motivated by personal animosity towards Peter Heehs and as such the Petitioner and her complaint have nothing to do with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
This is completely false. Such statements were not made. The lawyer representing the Ashram did not speak.
Once again, the author(s) of this fiction are attempting to force the Ashram into a position. By including the statement about “personal animosity,” they are again trying to inflame emotion among those who have already made up their minds that Heehs is a demon and his biography of Sri Aurobindo should be censored. And now, that he should be deported. A serious question should be asked: who is the next person they will decide to harass and attempt to have deported?
Legal counsel representing Peter Heehs also declared that the book “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” is the most authentic, accurate and academic portrayal of Sri Aurobindo’s life that has emerged from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and its Archives.
False. No such statements were made. As noted above, Heehs’ lawyer only spoke about the “impleadment” (Heehs’ request that he be able to participate).
This is an attempt to put words into the mouth of Heehs’ lawyer, and to frame statements in a way that Heehs has never done. The author(s) of this fiction are trying to paint a picture of Heehs and his lawyer that will anger those who already have a negative opinion.
At this point the Chief Justice was keen to have a copy of the book. To which the legal counsel of Peter Heehs submitted that neither he nor his client Peter Heehs (who was present in court) were allowed to carry a copy of the book as the book has been proscribed within the territory of India. On hearing this the Chief Justice sarcastically remarked that in that case the book could not be as wonderful as portrayed by the legal counsel.
No such statement was made.
This is an attempt to make people believe that it is illegal to even own a copy of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, in order to scare people away from reading it. It is also an attempt to show that a person of authority (the Chief Justice) looks down upon the book, by “sarcastically remarking” about it.
The truth is that The Lives of Sri Aurobindo has not been “proscribed” anywhere in India except perhaps (and even this is legally doubtful) in the state of Orissa. The order blocking publication is a legal manoeuvre. It mentions only that the book cannot be published until the publisher obtains a “no-objection” from the central Home Ministry. Heehs’ lawyer has asked that this order be lifted. So far the High Court of Orissa has passed no further order on the matter, and this case is pending. There is no “proscription” against it, and certainly not from owning or carrying a copy. In fact many people in Pondicherry and Auroville have a copy, and have read it. (The Lives is available from several online Indian bookstores, which obtain it from abroad).
After some arguments and presentations by various sides, the legal counsel of the Petitioner conveyed strongly that this case was not about the book in any way but was about the breach of visa conditions by Peter Heehs and by Manoj Das Gupta.
Once again, this is false.
The author(s) of this “diary” are trying to force the Ashram and the Managing Trustee into a corner. It should be obvious by this point in the document that the author(s) are not merely trying to have Heehs deported, but have designs against the Sri Aurobindo Ashram itself.
The Chief Justice then asked the legal counsel of the visa authorities their views regarding visa extension and deportation of Peter Heehs. The counsel for FRRO then declared that based on documents available to them they were of the view that no further extension of visa of Peter Heehs was possible. But they could not take a decision regarding his immediate deportation as there were several criminal cases pending against Peter Heehs in Orissa, and as such they would have to take that into account before taking action for deportation or cancellation. They prayed for time to study and revert to the court on the matter.
False. The FRRO (Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office) was represented, as prescribed by law, by a state solicitor. He spoke, but made no such declarations.
Again, this is an attempt to portray Heehs in a bad light, by mentioning criminal cases. In fact, the criminal cases are merely one more action supported by the same group that dislikes his biography, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, is trying to punish him for writing it – and trying to impose an atmosphere of ideological purity and conformity in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
After some more discussions the case was posted for hearing on 18th January on which date the respondents were ordered to submit written replies to the Petitioner’s complaints.
Jain’s lawyer did object orally to Heehs’ impleadment petition (M.P. No. 2) but as his objections were not accepted, Justice Gokhale wrote in his order below that Jain’s lawyer “has no objection.”
The judge did not accept Jain’s application (M.P. no. 1) “to grant an interim injunction restraining the correspondents from extending the visa of the said Peter Heehs (in M.P. 1/2009)”. Instead he left the matter to the central government.
The order actually issued by Justice Gokhale reads as follows:
“2. The applicant [Heehs] seeks to join as party respondent in W.P. No. 24599 of 2009. Learned petitioner counsel appearing for the writ petitioner [Jain] has no objection for the applicant being joined as respondent. According the above petition [i.e. Heehs’ impleadment petition] is ordered.
3. The main matter to be posted on 18th January 2010, by that time, Mr. Kalaiselvan, learned senior counsel appears for respondent Nos. 1 and 2 [the Regional Registration Officers] will come to know about the decision of the Central Government on the application of respondent No. 5 for extension of visa. The Central Government will take decision on the application on merits and in accordance with law without being influenced by the pendency of the writ petition.”
Hearing on 19th January 2010
The case originally scheduled for hearing on 18th came up for hearing on the 19th.
Not true. The case did not come up for hearing either on January 18 or 19. Before the court rose on the 19th, Heehs’ lawyer asked for an adjournment of Heehs’ matter, and this was granted. This was the only business transacted on the 19th, and it lasted less than a minute.
Legal counsel representing Petitioner pointed out to the Court in the strongest terms that the four Respondents have failed thus far to give written depositions/submissions to the court regarding the specific plaints made by the Petitioner. He conveyed to the court that the four Respondents are delaying/avoiding written submissions as their failures are indefensible in the matter. He pleaded to the court that no further arguments should take place till written submissions are made by the Respondents.
All of this is false. Again, this is an attempt to make an argument through this fictional “court diary.”
The Chief Justice ordered the respondents to give written submissions on the next date of hearing which was posted as 2nd February 2010.
The judge made no order. It is true that the next hearing is scheduled for February 2nd.