The days of brave investigative journalism of the Ramnath Goenka brand which exposed the darkest days of emergency and the intervening period where A.S.Panneerselvan of Outlook and Sudha G.Tilak of The Telegraph exposed the crimes happening within Aurobindo Ashram is over. Now in India, new breed of journalists, products of globalization, have arrived. For them plight of individual women is not worthy of reporting but if it is about cine actresses or celebrities, they jump into the fray. CNN-IBN which prides as investigative media for two days telecasted the promo about “Divine Trap”, an investigative story done by its own reporters for two days, and few hours before telecast killed the story, and till date not given a public explanation, why it went back after airing the promo. Unlike CNN-IBN of 2008, SUN TV of 2003 did not shelve its report. The link given below is about the SUN TV Report, wherein the story will start with the sexual harassment of Jharkand girls, sisters, living till date as devotees and inmates, due to Court orders.
After viewing the SUN TV report, you would be keen to know the present day plight of the Jharkand sisters. Let me put in a nutshell their current situation.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT CASE :
Initially from May-June 2004, the harassment began in the form of defecation in Jayashree’s and Arunashri’s rooms at Ambabhikshu House on a regular basis. Thereafter the defecation was extended and done in all the five sisters’ rooms along with tampering and damaging of their cycles, passing of vulgar and obscene comments and making vulgar and obscene gestures by some inmates of the Ashram, who were residing at Ambabhiskshu House. From mid June 2004 onwards Arunashri and Nivedita received totally five pornographic obscene chits thrown inside their rooms. The five sisters gave written complaints before various authorities: the Bar Association of Pondicherry and Tamilnadu (because the inmate lawyer Nirmal C. Swain was masterminding the sexual harassment through and with the resident inmates of Ambabhikshu House), the Ashram trustees, the police and National Commission for Women Delhi (NCW) which handed over our sexual harassment case to the State Women Commission, Pondicherry (SWC). The police also collected three other obscene pornographic chits on 13.10.2004 from Ambabhikshu House from the rooms of Rajyashree, Nivedita and Hemlata.
Without conducting an enquiry, SCW allegedly submitted a report to NCW and on 19.01.2005. It came to light that the SCW directed Ashram Trustees to provide separate accommodation in separate buildings to male members and female members to prevent any kind of sexual harassment. The sisters requested SWC to furnish a copy of the alleged report to them but SWC failed to respond.
Subsequently the sisters went to New Delhi and there they were informed by the NCW that no such report existed. Thereafter the sisters requested NCW to reopen their case and also approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for relief against the continuing sexual harassment. NHRC started the enquiry but on coming to know that NCW had reopened the case, NHRC passed an order to that effect.
NCW reopened the case of sexual harassment by appointing the Chairperson of Department of Women and Child Development, Pondicherry (DWCD) as the enquiring officer. Because of the continued sexual harassment that the DWCD reported to the Government of Pondicherry, a GO was issued on 23.02.2007 appointing Mr. Vasant Kumar, I.A.S. to conduct a magisterial enquiry for the complaints of such sexual harassment of the sisters. The enquiry proceedings were thereafter handed over to Mr. Vijay Kumar Bidhuri, I.A.S. by another GO dated 10.12.2007. The sisters as well as the accused inmates have been enquired into and presently the enquiry report is pending submission. We urge the report be made public without delay.
HOUSE GRAB CASE :
In SUN TV you will in end be told about the anticipatory bail obtained by the Managing Trustee of Aurobindo Ashram , who was named in FIR. But the clout ensured that when charge sheet was filed, he is left out. Adding further spice to the crime story, he had been made witness.
The people of India must urge their journalists, to emulate the example of western journalists like Ms.Rachael Wright who did a story in BBC on Auroville.
N. Nandhivarman, General Secretary Dravida Peravai
Category: Politics Permalink
nandivarman.rediffiland.com/ Thursday 18 September, 2008 Write to Nandhi Varman Forward this link
TEHELKA EXPOSE ON AUROVILLE
The End Of A Dream?
Auroville was created as a ‘universal city’ free of discord, but is riven by allegations of paedophelia, dubious land purchases, and racism, discovers PC VINOJ KUMAR
THERE SHOULD be somewhere on earth a place where no nation could claim as its own… a place of peace, concord and harmony… In this ideal place money would no longer be the sovereign lord; individual worth would have a far greater importance than that of material wealth and social standing.”
Such was the dream of Mirra Alfassa, Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual partner and successor, known to her followers as The Mother. In 1968, five years before her death, the dream led to the establishment of Auroville, a “universal town” as it calls itself, currently home to around 2,000 residents from 40 countries. Located 8 km from Puducherry, Auroville is run on government and UNESCO grants and the proceeds of its commercial projects. Best known today as an offbeat tourist attraction, deep rifts with the local community have, however, seen serious charges levelled against the community, ranging from allegations of certain residents sexually abusing children from nearby villages to claims of extortionate land acquisition. Local resentment has now burgeoned into an active campaign to have the town shut down, with some opponents even decrying it as a threat to national security.
Golden dome The paradise of Auroville is caught in the most unseemly controversies
Auroville started out as part of the Puduchery- based Sri Aurobindo Society, under Mirra Alfassa’s direct control. Following her death in 1973, divisions between residents and the Society resulted in almost two decades of wrangling over the town’s administration. Ultimately, in 1991, the Auroville Foundation (AF) was established by Parliament.
Not all who live in Auroville agree that this has worked. Some are frustrated and feel that the community’s original ideals and freedoms are fading. The AF is optimistic, though, and its Master Plan predicts Auroville’s population will reach 50,000 by 2025. In its design, however, the plan included several acres of yet-to-beacquired land belonging to nearby villages. While expansion of the 20 km campus has been sluggish, current AF secretary M. Ramaswamy, a senior IAS officer, has made land acquisition a priority, and, by January 2007, as reported then in community bulletin Auroville Today, purchased around nine acres for the town. This more than tripled in the following year, with the creation of the Auroville Land Fund, whose April-June newsletter states that 31.97 acres had been bought during 2007-08.
Villagers, however, allege that not all these purchases have been conducted on an entirely principled basis, and accuse the AF of using strong-arm tactics. S. Mathialagan of Edayanchavadi village says he ran foul of the AF after he refused to sell his land and accuses Ramaswamy of behaving like a property broker. “Ramaswamy uses the police to intimidate villagers who don’t want to sell,” Mathialagan told TEHELKA. “When I turned them down, they lodged a complaint against me and I was taken to the police station. I was only freed after the villagers protested.” Villupuram SP A Amal Raj, however, denied any villager had lodged any complaint on the issue.
Villagers are also unhappy with Auroville’s attempts to regulate land transactions in the area. In 2002, the late LM Singhvi, then an MP and a member of the AF governing board, wrote to the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa, proposing an order that would bar land development or sale of areas that fell within the Auroville Master Plan, unless under AF approval. The order did not come through, but Ramaswamy is said to be pursuing the matter.
Lifestyle contrast The poor on the edge of the city.
While a land tussle could be said to be a purely local issue, far more serious are the charges of abuse. M. Kandavel, who leads a ‘Ban Auroville’ movement, alleges the place has become a haven for paedophiles. To back his claim, he quotes an August 2001 issue of Auroville News, in which a resident writes: “How many of us know, that there are Aurovillians who have sexually abused their maids, that Aurovilians have sexually abused village children; that Aurovilians have funded political gangs and allegedly incited violence in the villages?”
The child abuse charges got additional attention following a BBC report in May, which, while acknowledging Auroville’s endeavours in education and reforestation, reported the community authorities as admitting that it “did in the mid-90s include a convicted paedophile”. Talking to TEHELKA, Auroville Working Committee member Carel Thieme placed the number of Aurovillians asked to leave because of suspected involvement in paedophilia at three.
As Aurovillians themselves ruefully admit, not all who come here in pursuit of the ‘ideal’ life are themselves ideal. Residents and visitors have been known to overstep the bounds of decency, as evidence of which Kandavel cites a 2002 incident involving the wife of Tathagata Satpathy, a Biju Janata Dal MP from Orissa’s Dhenkanal constituency. When contacted, Satpathy, a devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, told TEHELKA he had planned to spend New Year’s Eve in Auroville but was repulsed by the atmosphere. “I had gone there hoping for a spiritual experience. What I encountered was the opposite. People were drunk. Many were high on drugs. My wife wanted us to leave, but as we were doing so, some foreigners misbehaved with us.”
Lifestyle contrast Aurovillians at the beach
Adding to local animus are the state benefits Auroville receives, including a fairly sizeable grant, with Rs 5 crore allotted for 2008-09. Its commercial units also enjoy tax exemptions. The Chief Income Tax Commissioner has reportedly argued for having these enterprises taxed, but Auroville has managed to retain the exemption. The arrangement requires owners of commercial units to pay 33 percent of their profits to the AF while keeping the rest. AF members, however, claim that these profits ultimately return to the community.
All Aurovillians work in one or the other of the town’s commercial units or in its administration offices. A maintenance stipend is available, though not all Aurovillians avail of it, particularly Westerners. Of those who do live on the stipend, some maintain that the stipend of Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000 is insufficient. “The cost of living is quite high in Auroville,” rues resident Ramachandra Mohanta. Other Indian Aurovillians echoed his views, saying life here is difficult if one does not have sound financial backing. AF member Sanjeev, however, points out that residents and their families get several facilities free, such as education and healthcare. When asked about the economic disparities among Aurovillians, he wryly remarked, “Auroville is not an egalitarian society.” The realisation of the equality the Mother envisioned is still some way off.
WHEN TEHELKA visited Auroville, this reporter stayed four days in ‘Aspiration’, one of the community’s oldest settlements, and also one of its poorer ones. Members share food expenses and have a common kitchen and dining hall. Though it is claimed that Auroville fosters human unity, complaints of racial discrimination persist and rarely did we see people of different nationalities interact.
Critics also disapprove of Auroville’s financial handling, which, in keeping with the way the rest of the community runs, is relatively unstructured. The Auroville internal audit of 2004-05 practically concedes this — while bringing no charges of funds mishandled, it made reference to several irregularities and systemic deficiencies in financial management. “There is no centralised accounting of income reflecting the totality of income and expenditure,” it said. “There is no overall budget for Auroville. The Foundation has no system to ensure that all money received through various channels is properly accounted for and utilised.”
Aurovillians will tell you their community is a “living human laboratory” and should be looked at with sympathy, not critically or analytically. However, while local antagonism toward the town and the resultant criticism of its practices and philosophy does not abate, it is perhaps time Auroville took heed and looked to ways of reaching greater accord. •
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 37, Dated Sept 20, 2008 Category: Politics Permalink