Govt extends Heehs’s visa by one year

After much deliberation, the government has finally decided to let American historian Peter Heehs — the author of a controversial biography of Sri Aurobindo — to continue to stay in India and extended his visa by one year.

Home Minister P Chidambaram approved the one-year extension to Heehs' visa Thursday evening and an order in this regard was issued Friday morning, Home Ministry sources said. The Home Ministry's decision overrules the decision of the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) of Puducherry which had turned down Heehs's request for an extension of his visa.

Heehs, a chronicler of modern Indian history, has been living in Puducherry for nearly 40 years, mostly in the Aurobindo ashram. His 2008 book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, published by the Columbia University Press, has run into trouble with a section of people claiming to be followers of Sri Aurobindo demanding that he be deported.

But a number of prominent scholars had come out in support of Heehs and defended his scholarly work on Sri Aurobindo. A few days ago, Chidambaram had said that he had asked for a suo motu review of the FRRO's order. "The decision to cancel the visa was noticed by me and I understand that the FRRO Puducherry passed the order. I have asked for a suo motu review and I am told that the file would be submitted to me," he had said.

Heehs's book acknowledges Sri Aurobindo's deep impact on India's freedom struggle and his remarkable contribution to Indian spirituality but is skeptical of claims that he was an avatar and possessed supernatural powers. The book is currently not available in India because of an injunction on its sale granted by the Orissa High Court on a petition filed by those protesting against the book.

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