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Happy Birthday Sri Sri, Writing About You Has Been Bittersweet

For Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s birthday, we talk about the controversies that have surrounded Art of Living for months. 

Published
India
4 min read
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar celebrates his birthday today. (Photo: Getty Images/Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

Dear Sir,

Let’s clear the air. I’ve been covering your Art of Living Foundation and the controversial World Culture Festival for over two months now, and the coverage hasn’t always been flattering. Based on my articles, you may think that I’m out to get you, but I can assure you that’s not the case. I didn’t hold anything against you or Art of Living when I started, and I still don’t now.

The fact is, I’m just doing my job. As an environmental journalist, I write a lot about human development damaging ecosystems, so when environmentalists became concerned about the location of your big event, I started to pay attention.

Also Read: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art Of Destroying Nature

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This is me, reporting the first day of your World Culture Festival. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
This is me, reporting the first day of your World Culture Festival. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)

I was there when Justice Swatanter Kumar announced that your foundation would have to pay Rs 5 crore as compensation for damage caused by clearing land for the event. But you haven’t paid it yet.

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The National Green Tribunal has become a bit of a second home to me as I’ve followed your case. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)
The National Green Tribunal has become a bit of a second home to me as I’ve followed your case. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb)

Then there was the event, where more than 3 lakh people came to celebrate for three days (a far cry from the 35 lakh people you said would be there, I might add). I was there for part of that too. Since then, I’ve periodically returned to the site to check on clean-up progress.

Also Read: Festival Stage Down, But Payment Still Pending From Art of Living

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Throughout this whole process, I’ve observed you and your foundation making many unsubstantiated claims. Skepticism is an important part of what I do, so when you say you will do something, it’s my job to follow up and see whether it has been done or not. The same goes for checking to see if what you say is true.

It’s not just that you said you would pay the Delhi Development Authority and then went back on your word the day before the payment was due. There was also that Times of India interview, where you said the Yamuna flood plain was in better shape than before the event, but there is no evidence that this is the case. In fact, there are still bits of plastic and decorations from the event scattered across the plain.

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The land has since been returned to the DDA, but there is still some waste left over. I know because I’ve been back at least seven times since the event ended. (Photo: Siddharth Safaya)
The land has since been returned to the DDA, but there is still some waste left over. I know because I’ve been back at least seven times since the event ended. (Photo: Siddharth Safaya)

Probably of most concern, though, was your so-called “enzyme.” You and your organisation decided that you would dump fermented kitchen waste into the Yamuna to clean it up. Your site claims that more than 10,000 litres of this “enzyme” were dumped and that there were observable changes in water quality. Your “evidence”? That buffaloes were swimming in the river. And there was those two bottles you put side by side showing clearer water.

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This is the image Art of Living uses as evidence that the Yamuna is cleaner because of the “enzyme,” <a href="http://srisriravishankar.org/yamuna-and-the-world-culture-festival/">taken from</a> their blog.
This is the image Art of Living uses as evidence that the Yamuna is cleaner because of the “enzyme,” taken from their blog.

Leaving aside scientific evidence (I will get to that a bit later, mainly to point out that there is none), let’s use some logic. If you put anything in a river, the currents sweep it downstream. So if there were any benefits from this “enzyme” (and that’s a big “if” because, again, there is no scientific evidence), you wouldn’t be able to observe them in the spot where you dumped it. Have you ever heard the expression that one cannot step into the same river twice? The same applies to the Yamuna, even though it looks and smells dead.

When we turn to scientific evidence, it doesn’t look good either. Apart from the fact that there are no peer reviewed studies showing that the “enzyme” works, the creator of this concept, an alternative medicine practitioner from Thailand, claims that ebola can be cured through deep breathing and tea. When I learned the origins of the enzyme concept, my skeptical journalistic senses went into over-drive.

There’s a reason these things are regulated and the National Green Tribunal even asked you to stop. People can’t just decide to dump things into rivers.

Also Read: Art of Living Wants to Clean the Yamuna With Kitchen Waste

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A buffalo takes a dip in the polluted Yamuna about a month after the World Culture Festival. (Photo: Siddharth Safaya)
A buffalo takes a dip in the polluted Yamuna about a month after the World Culture Festival. (Photo: Siddharth Safaya)

While I bear you no ill will, the same cannot be said of your followers’ sentiments towards me. I’ve been called a “presstitute” and worse. People have suggested that I have an agenda and question my journalistic integrity. But my agenda is and will only ever be this: to report on important environmental issues in the most balanced way possible, and to point out discrepancies if and when I see them.

In a few weeks, the National Green Tribunal will reconvene to decide whether your actions have been in contempt of court. I will be there on that day, and I will continue to report until the case is rested and the Yamuna flood plain is restored.

If you turn the zone into a biodiversity park, like you originally promised, I will report on it. If you don’t pay compensation and the area is not cleaned to a level deemed fit by experts and the National Green Tribunal, you can be sure I will be there to report on that too.

Perhaps we will get the chance to meet at the National Green Tribunal one of these days.

Best wishes,

Manon

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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