Ashutosh Maharaj Case: Dubious Petitioners, Media Attacks & the Lesser Known Facts

For the last three years, the case of Hindu religious leader Ashutosh Maharaj, who has his Ashrams in Punjab and all over Bharat,  has been watched and treated with animus criticism, derision and extreme skepticism. It has been made out to be a case of tussle between a Hindu institution, its followers and law. But whether the claim of his disciples that he has gone into a long Samadhi (Transcendental Meditative State) is actually a matter that invites such an intense scrutiny has never been discussed.  

The reason for ridiculing the institution on TV channels and newspapers can easily be understood, as a policy and practice of mainstream media; now largely perceived as media activism against Hindu practices, to manipulate specifics for creating controversies and ignore facts to best suit their agenda. Without understanding the core of the issue, they are quick to question— ‘The Nation wants to know’. Nonetheless, we tried to dig out some facts in the case after the regular arguments started in Division Bench of Punjab & Haryana High Court.

Ashutosh Maharaj was claimed to be in Samadhi, by his disciples, since January 2014. Since February 2014, numbers of cases were filed against Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan (DJJS), an institution established by Ashutosh Maharaj. It is interesting to note that even left leaning separatist journalists filed quite a few litigations against the Ashram. Among these lawsuits were cases filed by the alleged son and the alleged driver seeking order for cremation and postmortem of Maharaj’s body respectively, citing him to be clinically dead. The Single Bench of Punjab & Haryana High Court which was dealing with the petitions of the alleged son and alleged driver ordered for Maharaj’s cremation in December 2014, issuing an order to State to conduct the cremation. The judgment is being challenged by the DJJS, the State of Punjab, disciples and alleged son. The alleged driver is not a party to the case anymore.

It is very important to elaborate here that Ashutosh Maharaj has been on the target of pro-Khalistan fundamentalists for he has been a vital figure in lessening the gap of Hindu-Sikh divide in Punjab. Puran Singh, who actually was a rickshaw puller, is found to be a habitual offender against Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan. He has been filing frivolous complaints against the institution since late 90s. In the year 2000, he submitted an affidavit of apology with the Executive Magistrate of Nakodar saying that he was leveling false allegations against the Sansthan for the greed of money and under pressure from people he cannot name as he fears they would kill him.  The so-called driver, who during cross-examination by Punjab Police in the year 2014, after he approached the court for getting autopsy conducted on Ashutosh Maharaj, told that the last time he went to the Ashram was 22 years back and that he did not even have a driving license. It’s strange he claims to be a driver without holding a driving license, and asserts to be in knowledge of what goes on inside the Ashram despite not having been there for more than 22 years.

Since December 2014, when the judgment ordering cremation was challenged in the Division Bench, the roster of the court has changed thrice. When Justice S. K. Mittal was hearing the case, he observed that this case should not be in the court at all, and asked the State and DJJS to sit and resolve the matter amicably. The State government constituted a committee that held rounds of meetings with the Sansthan. By the time the committee submitted the report the roster was changed and the case came up to be heard by Division Bench comprising Justice Mahesh Grover and Justice Shekhar Dhavan. The current bench remarked that the report submitted by the State, offering solution to resolve the matter, was a ‘Certificate of Good Behavior to the Sansthan.’ The bench seemingly rejected the report and asked the parties to advance their arguments.

The regular hearing of the case started on 5th December, 2016 with the court pulling up the alleged son Dalip Jha. It is important to note that the Single Bench in its order has found that both the petitioners, the alleged son and the driver, do not have ‘Locus Standi’ (the right or capacity to bring an action or to appear in a court) in this case. The Single Bench has recorded in its judgement that the alleged son Dalip Jha had submitted forged papers in the court in his attempt to establish his relationship with Ashutosh Maharaj. His acts were termed by the court as ‘Crude Piece of Forgery’.

Rakesh Dwivedi, Senior Advocate of Supreme Court, arguing for the Sansthan, placed the Law of Maintainability in the court and contended that after the alleged son and driver had lost their Locus Standi in the matter it was inappropriate for the bench to have dealt it like a Public Interest Litigation without adopting the laid procedure for courts for taking Suo-Motu cognizance of any case. According to ‘Maintainability of Public Interest Litigation Rules 2010 – all the Suo-Motu Petitions initiated by the High Court shall be put up before the Chief Justice for enlisting the same before an appropriate bench as per roster within three days.’ The Single Bench, which is a Writ Court, has nowhere mentioned in its judgement that it was treating Ashutosh Maharaj’s case as a PIL.  

Advocate Dwivedi further added that in a separate PIL filed in the case of Ashutosh Maharaj, Chief Justice of the Punjab & Haryana High Court has already observed that this matter is not an issue of Public Interest and no further PIL will be entertained in this case. Since it is a purely private matter, the Single Bench should not have dealt with it like a PIL after this order of Chief Justice had come. Writ Courts are not entitled to listen to PIL and Ashutosh Maharaj’s case was not maintainable in the court after the petitioners lost their Locus Standi. Single Bench has actually violated the roster by adjudicating the case in such a scenario, argued the lawyer. To this, the division bench agreed saying that, ‘Courts also have a Lakshman Rekha.’

From the above argument, it appears that Ashutosh Maharaj’s case wasn’t maintainable as a private petition and it did not entail any public interest to be a PIL.  The question arises now that what is the basis for this case to be in the court, at all?

Those who dragged the institution into the court and the media have been creating suspicion around the institution and the followers that the claim of ‘Samadhi’ is an attempt to usurp the property by followers. Contrary to this narrative, during one of the hearings, the Judge in fact blamed the greed on the alleged son saying that, “Lot of people acknowledge relationships because of property.” The Sansthan’s lawyer mentioned categorically that Dalip Jha never ventured to learn about his father for more than 30 years and now suddenly he asserts to be a son. This apparently appears to be an attempt to become a claimant to the property. However, it is to be noted that Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan has earlier clarified that Ashutosh Maharaj never kept any property in his name, nor do his disciples have any legal claim to it.

Ashutosh Maharaj has always been specific about keeping all property entitlements only in the name of the Sansthan, which is a registered society. Sansthan stands firm on its operational system where nobody is the Head of DJJS, apart from Ashutosh Maharaj. Sansthan is being run by a governing body which regularly submits its financial reports to the competent authority. Also, Article 26 of the Constitution, which gives freedom to manage religious affairs, says, “Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right (a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; (b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; (c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law.” In view of this, when religious institutions have the right to acquire and manage their properties in accordance with law, why should anybody have any problem? It’s noteworthy that no discrepancies or irregularities have been found against the Sansthan ever since the media and law started scrutinizing them.

However, it is interesting to see that the relation between the alleged son and the alleged driver, who could never prove their bonafide in the court, was never questioned. Dalip Jha has been widely unknown before he was approached by Puran Singh, the alleged driver, and was brought from Bihar to file cases against the Sansthan. After both the petitioners lost their locus in the High Court and only the son came to challenge the judgement, it is seldom that the son comes to the court during the hearings; it is always Puran Singh who comes to the court and oversees the proceedings in the court despite not being a party to the ongoing litigations. Puran Singh is also seen speaking on behalf of the son to the media and giving statements.

It has never been highlighted in the public domain that Puran Singh has been filing false complaints against the Sansthan since late 90s and has been booked under section 180 of the Indian Penal Code for the same. Puran Singh, whose original name was Puran Chand, changed his surname to create the image of a radical Sikh. He found an easy way to big money, to fulfill his need for intoxication, by becoming an aide to those against Ashutosh Maharaj & His institution.  Puran Singh has been recording and posting speeches online, asking money from Sikhs living abroad for fighting Ashutosh Maharaj. A CD containing Puran Singh’s videos seeking money from NRI hardliners has also been submitted to court as evidence.

How do we justify chains of petitions being filed by such dubious persons against an institution of repute, which is widely acclaimed for its social reform works in spheres ranging from education, prisoner correction, welfare of disabled and conservation of nature? The nation is watching how the law will take its course to ensure justice in such a scenario.

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