Explainer: Allegations of irregularities and malpractice haunt Theosophical Society

Explainer:  Allegations of irregularities and malpractice haunt Theosophical Society
Explainer: Allegations of irregularities and malpractice haunt Theosophical Society
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For the first time in its 140-year history, the world-renowned Theosophical Society is entangled in a legal dispute involving the appointment of the top leadership of the institution.In a significant ruling on July 29, the Madras High Court dismissed the Theosophical Society’s International President, Tim Boyd’s application. Boyd’s appointment had been challenged by other members of the TS legally, and he approached the court seeking a quashing of those proceedings.Stating that “the application (of Tim Boyd) deserves no merit”, Justice K Ravichandrabaabu of the Madras HC ruled that even one member of a Society/Association had the right to challenge elections if there was no such provisions in the said society.Founded in 1875 and headquarted in a sprawling 260-acre campus on the southern bank of the Adyar river in Chennai, the TS is a worldwide body aiming to create a “Universal Brotherhood without distinction”. Started by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and others, it has over 25,000 members worldwide.However, in the last one year, a number of issues have plagued this famous institution. From alleged irregularities in the society’s elections to forced sacking of employees, it all began with Tim Boyd’s appointment in 2014 after the death of former president, Radha Burnier in October 2013.The court caseTwo members of the society who had questioned the manner of Boyd’s appointment went to court after failing to obtain an adequate response from the officials concerned.In his petition to the Madras High Court, senior TS member Kesiraju Krishna Phani alleged that Tim Boyd’s nomination for the presidential election was illegal as due procedure was not followed. Candidates for the International President can contest for elections only after he/she is endorsed by at least 12 nominations from the General Council.The Theosophical Society is in layman terms a large umbrella. At the lowest level, seven members form a “Lodge”. In addition to Federations existing at the higher level, "Sections" exist at the national level.To elect the International President, National Sections from across the world vote and make a nomination usually.However, the ripple began in the Indian Section’s General Council meeting in December 2013.Krishna Phani and others alleged that Tim Boyd’s name was abruptly nominated by S Sundaram, the Indian Section’s General Secretary without consulting the Council. They also alleged that the nomination for a second candidate, CVK Maithreya, a fifth generation theosophist was made only after significant calls for inclusion from others.Irregularities in votingAnother allegation was that the in many places there were voting irregularities.Of the society’s total membership of 25,000 (not all are eligible to vote), between 12,000 to 15,000 members reside in India, but Krishna Phani and others alleged that around 1,500 to 2,000 extra ballot papers were printed while eligible voters were not considered.Voting procedures too were allegedly flouted, they said. Usually ballot papers are sent by private mail to the intended location. But according to the complaint, in violation of the bye-laws, elections were conducted using ballot boxes.When he persisted with his objections to the alleged irregularities, Krishna Phani, claims that his membership of the society was revoked. Boyd then filed a counter-application in the High Court a few months ago against Krishna Phani stating that he had no locus standi to file a civil suit contending Boyd’s election.Rejecting Boyd’s contention, the High Court observed:“Since the first plaintiff raised his voice against the illegalities committed in the management and administration of the first defendant-Society, specifically seen during the conduct of the election, the sixth defendant cancelled the first plaintiff's Membership Diploma and alive membership of the first defendant-Society after filing of the suit”No legal right?Boyd’s counsel also contended that the plaintiffs – Krishna Phani and others – had no legal right to file a suit challenging Boyd’s election. However, hearing the case earlier this week, the Madras High Court rejected this argument outright.The court rejected this statement made by the defendent's counsel: “The plaintiffs are not having any legal right to file the suit, as they did not suffer any legal injury. It is not a representative suit. Therefore, the plaintiffs cannot maintain the suit.(d) The right to challenge the election is not a common law right; on the other hand, such a right should be made available under the statute.Therefore, the present suit is not maintainable”Boyd also argued submitted the actual aggrieved person in the case, CVK Maithreya, had not challenged the case himself.Other allegationsOther aggrieved members too claim that they have been dealt a rough hand. President of the Madras Theosophical federation, member of the Indian Section Governing Council, S Ramu claims that he too was removed from his positions after he began to point out alleged instances of malpractice in the Society.Following this, Ramu obtained a court order preventing his eviction from his residential quarters inside the campus. However, he has alleged that despite court orders to provide “all amenities” to him, he has been discriminated against and basic facilities like food have been denied. He has lodged a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission.With this judgement the Madras HC has thrown open the doors for aggrieved parties in the case to resolve the issue in court and to contest the appointment of the incumbent president.

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