Devotee claims religious movement left him destitute
Durban - Two devotees from a religious movement who gave their “life” to its cause, claimed after many years of devotion they were kicked out and shunned because they questioned the organisation’s governance.
Both men turned to courts, alleging that the Divine Life Society of South Africa used unjust and unlawful methods to eject them.
Avinash Parshotam, 37, who is represented by attorney Anand Nepaul, was expelled from the organisation in August after a disciplinary hearing convened by the society’s board of management dealt with six misconduct allegations brought against him.
He filed an application with the Durban High Court, last week, to have the society’s disciplinary hearing decision against him reviewed because of its alleged non-compliance with the rules of natural justice.
Cape Town-based Amrish Bissoon, represented by law firm K Makhanya Incorporated, made a similar application in December to oppose his removal from the society, which occurred in November 2019.
Bissoon, a lifelong devotee, was the chairman of the society’s Cape Town branch since 2012.
He took up senior positions in their projects committee from February 2018.
In the course of his duties, Bissoon claimed he noticed various “irregularities and incidences of maladministration”, some of them committed by the board.
However, Sunday Tribune is aware that late on Friday, the society lifted the ban against him.
The society and its nine board members were listed as the respondents in both matters.
Parshotam resided at the society’s La Mercy centre and served as a renunciant for more than 19 years.
Renunciants uphold the rules of chastity, give up their family commitments and worldly possessions and devote their life to work for the society.
When Parshotam completed his schooling in 2001, he finished as the fourth-top matriculant in KZN and had gained countrywide acceptance from tertiary institutions to study medicine.
Inspired by Swami Sahajananda, the society’s spiritual head and leader, Parshotam chose to join the society full-time in January 2002.
Sahajananda formulated the organisation’s constitution before he died in December 2007.
Since then, Parshotam claims, “the board ran the organisation flat” and had no democratic, oversight or governance structures to hold it accountable.
One of the clauses in the constitution that Parshotam accused the board of not upholding was that the board must comprise renunciants and householders. He said it had no renunciants.
He also accused the board of taking disciplinary steps against him without giving him prior notice or a chance to make representation on the decisions taken. In addition the proceedings were not conducted by independent and impartial people.
Parshotam asked that a declaration be made that all future disciplinary decisions made by the board should comply with the principles on natural justice so that everyone receives a fair hearing.
He was informed in March last year that the board was going to investigate some of his “actions”.
The allegations against him include his alleged failure to disclose a computer password, grant access to a computer, obstructive behaviour, unauthorised travel and collusion with Bissoon.
Parshotam has denied that his conduct was inappropriate, saying he did not believe his travel was unauthorised as it related to the activities of the projects team of which he was a part. He denied colluding with Bissoon. Parshotam welcomed the investigation, provided it was “fair and lawful”.
He attended the March 21 hearing in spite of the fact that his request for legal representation and that the hearing be chaired by an independent person was refused.
He accused the board of being the “complainant, investigator and disciplinary panel”, because everyone involved in the investigation was present.
They led no evidence at the inquiry, but to show there was no substance to the allegations, Parshotam provided detailed responses to each.
He viewed the board as being biased against them and claimed they acted as “judge and jury”.
In August he was informed that his membership was revoked and he had to leave their premises −“my home, the institution to which I devoted my life to the exclusion of everything else”.
Parshotam said the board’s failure to lead evidence at the enquiry confirmed “it was a sham, it was pre-judged and they were simply going through the motions”.
He said the ruling had a “catastrophic” impact on his life. “It deprives me of my home, livelihood and leaves me destitute,” he said.
Bisoon’s allegations included that the organisation illegally repudiated a tender awarded to a contractor, and some construction work hadn’t met National Building Regulation Council standards.
He also complained about the organisation's management of its finances, and singled out improper conduct on the part of some board members.
Based on the allegations he raised, in November 2019 he was informed that his he was no longer welcome to their meetings, events and premises.
He was told that he was not “fit” to lead Cape Town or hold other positions, had an “ulterior motive” and was bent on causing “chaos”.
Bissoon continued to challenge the board’s decisions and shared his findings with the society’s members.
To his “surprise”, he received a letter in October stating that he was removed from office due to their bi-annual rotation of chairpersons.
Bissoon said it was “false” because he had not been informed of this. The next rotation was due in 2020 as the previous rotation occurred in 2018 and the previous one was in 2016.
He also received confirmation that the company auditing the society’s books resigned in October over compliance issues and the mounting impropriety allegations against their management.
Bissoon claimed that this development was not shared with the society’s general membership.
Randhir Naicker, from law firm Cox Yeats, the society’s legal representative, said: “As advised in the past by their Spiritual Head, His Holiness Sri Swami Sahajananda, the stance they are to adopt in these situations is one of silence.
“The matter will be dealt with through the appropriate legal channels in terms of the processes already under way.“