"Mr Heehs' biography of Sri Aurobindo, justifiably commended by Shri Jairam Ramesh (as well as by scholars around the world), is among the finest ever written of a major Indian nationalist and spiritualist. [read the article at The Times of India]
...For years, religious fundamentalists have been harassing Heehs over his non-hagiographic and more academic treatment of Sri Aurobindo's well-received biography.
"I understand that the FRO has passed the order," Chidambaram said. "I have asked for a review. I am told that the file will be submitted to me on Monday, I will take a decision then."
The FRO, who signs as Aruna, could not be contacted. Repeated calls and SMSes to joint secretary (foreigners) GVV Sarma too went unanswered.
"I am very grateful to the home minister for consenting to review my case," Heehs said.
On Friday, 30 intellectuals - including historian Romila Thapar, academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta and poet and literary critic Arvind Krishna Mehrotra - had petitioned the PM and Chidambaram, asking them to review the decision....
Former Karnataka governor and ex-home secretary TN Chaturvedi added his voice of support. "I do hope that Heehs is not hounded out like this."...
...The appeal against the 'blasphemous notification' as well the freezing of the publication are pending in Court and is slated to come up for hearing on April 4, said Heehs.
Since the controversy erupted, a section of Ashramites along with some devotees had been seeking the expulsion of Peter Heehs from the Ashram and the cancellation of visa through protests and agitations as they felt that it had hurt the sentiments of the inmates and devotees. It had also created law and order problems in the area leading to registration of cases. Heehs expressed that his book was based on research for which he had travelled to various archives in New Delhi, Kolkata and Baroda.
"It has always been my view that we have to make use of many different approaches when we try to appreciate the greatness of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I understand and sympathise with the feelings of devotees and regret any hurt they may have felt while reading my book or hearing reports of what I have written. I ask from them the same sort of understanding in regard to an approach that may seem strange to them," said Peter Heehs.
On the other hand, several people including inmates and devotees who have read the book have found nothing objectionable...
... Heehs was recently in the news, for the fact that after staying in India for nearly 40 years he finds his visa status in peril. In his decades in this country Heehs has won a considerable reputation as a historian and biographer. His books The Bomb in Bengal and The Lives of Sri Aurobindo are superb works of historical scholarship. The latter book, first published to wide acclaim by Columbia University Press, is not yet available in India, owing to a court case filed by motivated (and perhaps ignorant) people. As one who has read the book I can say that it's unlikely ever to be surpassed. It deals with all facets of Aurobindo's life - student, teacher, revolutionary, ascetic, spiritualist, poet, philosopher - with scrupulous sympathy combined with scrupulous honesty.
No one knows more than Heehs about the life of Sri Aurobindo. And no one has done more, either, to preserve Sri Aurobindo's works for posterity. Heehs and his colleagues - some western, some Indian - were instrumental in setting up the archives of the Aurobindo Ashram; and in publishing 16 volumes of Aurobindo's writings, these painstakingly transcribed over very many years of selfless service. Yet this is the man, and scholar, now threatened with deportation from India due to the intrigues of petty and motivated men.
As I write this, news comes that the home ministry is 'reviewing' Heehs' visa extension. One trusts that the review is favourable; that would be the right thing for (and by) Heehs, for Sri Aurobindo, and for India. — Ramachandra Guha
After a furore over his controversial biography on spiritual leader and nationalist Sri Aurobindo, well-known American historian Peter Heehs faces the prospect of being asked to leave India. Even as the government mulls the extension of his visa, we debate if this incident is yet another example of a serious threat to the freedom of speech and expression in the country.
What an irony. A country that is governed by the Rule Of Law with natural justice as its fundamental edifice, is plagued by the syndrome of intolerance ever so often. Prejudging content, often without even viewing or reading it, has become a national pastime. Whether it is a movie or a book or an innocuous statement, the devil truly lies out of the context! And this is a dangerous trend because it makes a mockery of the most precious fundamental right of free speech under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. Fundamental Rights are not merely granted but guaranteed to citizens. Yet, not just fringe groups but even State Governments sometimes tend to play to the gallery by banning books or films.
After the Salman Rushdie saga in Jaipur, Peter Heehs is the latest author to come under fire for a biography of Sri [A]urobindo.... What I find odd is that instead of challenging the author on facts and even interpretation, his opponents are merely harping on some rule that inmates of the ashram have no right to write about the guru.... And passports and visas are separate issues. It's the call of the authorities; the Home Ministry and the External Affairs Ministry. There are rules governing their extension or rejection, which are completely extraneous to what one writes in a book!...