What Does Sri Sri Smoke?: Mitali Saran’s Column For Those Who Missed it

Mitali Saran | Courtesy Business Standard

The “biggest ever festival of dance and music” being held on the Yamuna floodplains this weekend has gotten away with environmental murder. To destroy a thousand hectares of sensitive wetland; to fill the river with debris; to construct a 7-acre stage for 35,000 dancers; to clear trees and reeds; to compact the spongy floodplains that naturally recharge the river; to invite unlimited visitors; to do all this, and to claim that it is all to draw attention to the Yamuna—well, one can only ask Ravi Shankar, who calls himself Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: What are you smoking? And how stupid do you think we are? The single purpose of the World Culture Festival is to celebrate 35 years of the Art of Living telling people to breathe from the tummy. There will be many important guests. There will be many stakeholders in the idea of Hindu culture. The river can go to hell.

People who still give a toss about the environment have been yelling about the irreparable damage to an already pitiful river ecosystem. The National Green Tribunal rightly got mad, asked some hard questions, and said some severe things to the organisers, so in the end its order to go ahead, with conditions, has come as an enormous disappointment.

How is a teeny-tiny Rs 5 crore fine — which Ravi Shankar has refused to pay — going to help the Yamuna’s regenerative capacity? How do Delhi’s development and pollution authorities get away with jokey fines of Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh for not certifying rules compliance in time? Who wants to bet that the bio-diversity park they’re supposed to build by way of penance, will comprise of a few hedges around some horrible water fountain?

Delhi’s river — that mangy, smelly, desperate thing — has once more been thrown under the bus by a happy godman backed by a godman-happy government. The World Culture Festival has managed this in the same way that many large projects do: by being politically connected, by quietly becoming too big to fail, and in the end by brazening out the public relations.

Amazingly, the citizens who petitioned the court have been accused of lazily speaking up at the last minute. As they rightly point out, they spoke up when it came to their attention; government agencies, on the other hand, exist to fulfil this function in a timely way. It is their job. Where was the Aam Aadmi Party government through this mess?

And what is Mr Kejriwal smoking? How does he defend flouting law and common sense with a tweet that can be roughly interpreted to mean: “Now that the NGT has given the go-ahead, please don’t make a scene the President has already backed out of attending it’s still unclear if the Prime Minister will come guest of honour Robert Mugabe has discovered he’s busy so just shhhhh please please please”?

N.B.: Robert Mugabe, that homophobic, autocratic thug, figured this show would reflect badly on him.

Supporters of the World Culture Festival say that musician Yanni has performed on the river bank, the Akshardham temple is on the river bank, and criticism of this event is just anti-Hindu. Apparently they think that treating unforgiveable errors as role models is a good idea.

The Indian army, which holds pride of place in the nationalist narrative, was made to build bridges across the river. Supporters of the World Culture Festival consider it to be such a wonderfully large and famous and fancy international event that it requires national support. I am what these people would call an antinational, but even I bridle at the idea of soldiers being ordered into the service of a private citizen’s ego party. Frankly, the phrase “How dare you criticise the country when our jawans are building pontoon bridges for a private event” just doesn’t have the same ring.

The bottom line is that environmentalists have always had a hard fight against state and corporation, but the going is now a whole lot tougher. The new nationalism openly twins state and religion, makes a virtue out of loudly worshipping India even as it tramples all over it, and sees environmental concern as a nuisance. It wants to guard India, but is disinterested in protecting and nurturing it. It takes a staggering inversion of democratic and ethical values to think that public criticism tarnishes the image of India, but that publicly inciting one community to hate another, or publicly holding our environment in contempt, is a step towards greatness.

The government should have put a cap on the allowable number of visitors, or picked another venue.

But as they say, that’s water under the bridge. The real spectacle this weekend is the marriage of politics, religion, money, and pride, on the rich vote banks of the Yamuna.

  • guest

    The “biggest ever festival of dance and music” being held on the Yamuna floodplains this weekend has gotten away with environmental murder.

    http://indiafacts.org/art-of-living-and-vultures-around-it/

    It started in 2010. Five thousand volunteers daily came together and worked hard for rejuvenating the forgotten river Yamuna. No one came to help them. They named that movement as “Meri Dilli, Meri Yamuna”. They removed 512 tonnes of garbage from the same river. No one was in the picture that time. Now in 2016, in that same place Art Of Living announced that it will be organising “World Culture Festival” on March 11th, 12th and 13th and that too for 4 hours a day.

    And this caught everyone’s attention. Suddenly Environmentalists, Environment Lovers, savers, worshippers appeared from all the directions and started their chest beating program in national media saying “Sri Sri Ravishankar Guruji is spoiling Yamuna river and that whole art of living is spoiling the environment near Yamuna river” etc.. etc.

    I really don’t know where these rats were hiding from 2010? And why this outrage now? To know this secret you’ve to see this – The pride of World Culture Festival is:

    One stage = 7 acres, whole program in 1000 acres, estimated participation = 35lakh and plus so many elites from all over the world and crores on money spent on this program. In this 3 days worldwide Art Of Living centres will be celebrating, International media cover up, and literally whole world will be looking curiously at India.

    And as far as I know there is no such cultural happened anywhere in any part of the world. As they say “A big thing has thousand hindrances” now some vultures are waiting to stop this at any cost.

    Yamuna and cutting off hundreds of trees” is itself a lame argument by NGT (National Green Tribunal). You just won’t believe if I say this – NGT was started by Sonia Gandhi led congress in 2010. And its main objective is to save environment. But unfortunately we don’t get much work from them. More than a river, Yamuna was a place of garbage dumping and a heaven for unlawful activities. Where were this NGT at that time? Until Art Of Living took over the responsibility of Yamuna cleaning, these buggers weren’t aware that there is something called Yamuna River in that garbage area.

    • Harish

      Ravishankar and his foundation has lot of money. If he wants to organize something on this scale, why doesnt he buy some land somewhere and conduct the function using his own money? Doing it on public land using even the Army, and destroying the ecosystem is the act of an anti-national. And before you start claiming that there was nothing on that land, read up a bit of ecoology

      • Dhrupad Gupta

        look it feels little bad but he paid for military, its very common to use military to use in such events, ya its public land but wait did namo used his own land for while doing campaing for elections, or did kejru…

  • guest

    I am what these people would call an antinational, but even I bridle at the idea of soldiers being ordered into the service of a private citizen’s ego party.

    Not private citizen’s ego party—coming together or people from all over the world, under and organisation that has brought light to their lives, given direction to many young people—

    AOL has already planted million of trees…

    http://projects.artofliving.org/project/planting-trees-across-india-via-the-mission-green-earth-campaign/

  • guest

    Seriously, your articles are full of fluff—-in two days visiting, I am already bored, such unintelligent writing, obviously spewing venom, India hating folks, who cannot take the fact that Sanatan Dharma has an appeal–that brings people from around the world together…….btw, let us not forget, that these events are always good for economy. As for the baseless criticism of environmental damage—-check your facts, do some research, Yamuna was cleaned by AOL folks —under the Meri Dilli Meri Yamuna campaign. A little google search would have helped you with that. That is if you had any idea about writing objectively—

    http://www.artofliving.org/meri-dilli-meri-yamuna

    • Harish

      And is your comment is not- full of Fluff? Where did you come up with the Gem that AOL has been cleaning the Yamuna? Cleaning up the land and the money certainly.

  • bhim

    I agree the power of Sanatan Dharam and respect Sri Sri Ji a lot, but the concerns raised are very important. Having observed minute details of the episode from close quarters, I am in a fix whether to celebrate the WCF or decry over brazen attack on Mother Yamuna floodplain. Truly our act cannot defy nature and we must also include the science of sustainable lifestyles in art of living with nature.

    The bottom line is that environmentalists have always had a hard fight against state and corporation, but the going is now a whole lot tougher. The new nationalism openly twins state and religion, makes a virtue out of loudly worshipping India even as it tramples all over it, and sees environmental concern as a nuisance. It wants to guard India, but is disinterested in protecting and nurturing it. It takes a staggering inversion of democratic and ethical values to think that public criticism tarnishes the image of India, but that publicly inciting one community to hate another, or publicly holding our environment in contempt, is a step towards greatness.

    The government should have put a cap on the allowable number of visitors, or picked another venue.

    • guest

      The new nationalism openly twins state and religion, makes a virtue out of loudly worshipping India even as it tramples all over it, and sees environmental concern as a nuisance.

      poor bleeding heart…what happened when under the congress government use of clay Kullars was switched to thin plastic littering all the country? and taking away livelihood from thousands of families?

      The government should have put a cap on the allowable number of visitors, or picked another venue.

      Would you say the same about common wealth games, and other such international events?

  • Raj

    Mitali Saran – have you studied biology ? you have the state Delhi drowning is smog and people getting sick like a dying dog and you write about 7 acres of land in a rural patch of the nation for a temporary arrangement where the land will regenerate its vegetation naturally out of environmental concerns ? are you blind or are you stupid ?

  • Sage Ham

    Great article. Factual, with passion and a fine balance of reporting and storytelling

    • Raj

      But fails to understand basic biology 😛

      • Raktim Ghosal

        I wonder how ‘Sri Sri’ keeps his hair and beard black all the time! How can a spiritual person be so conscious about his looks!

        • Arun Attupurath

          Because of superficial people like you who keep looking at those only perhaps…!

    • Raj

      killing some weeds in a 7 acre land is environmentally hazardous… where do you live buddy… try travelling to Delhi you will know what environmentally hazardous means you will literally feel it in the back of your throat… Good article my ass… its an attack for political purpose not genuine thoughts for Environment…

      • Harish

        Dont comment on things that you are clueless about. Not everything that your guru ravi (who shamelessly calls himelf Sri Sri) tells you is correct. If you are educated, do check the facts.

        • Arun Attupurath

          and where are you getting your facts from buddy ? I can give you one a many links and snapshots of activities , govt recognition given to AOL for the work they do ? What do you have ? except for some newspaper articles and awful publicity stunts by journos ?!

          • Harish

            And my dear buddy, does it surprise you much that a government working on the dictates of RSS is giving recognition to organizations like AOL?

          • Arun Attupurath

            Its not only the government dude ; there are people too. and let me tell recognition have come when the Congress was in power too. But what surprises me is your attitude ; however and whoever runs the goverment ; a basic tendency of any statesman ( and I mean statesman not politician ) is support anything force or factor that is conducive to the well being of the country. The Government must support such organizations and any such organization for the work they do. So instead of applauding the government; you people cry foul play ; and it seems like any good work is just isnt good enough for you. Shame on you Sir .. Shame on YOU!

          • Harish

            There is a reason why government organizations (and government finances) need to be seen differently from finances of private firms and from that of NGOs. The purpose of the government has to be able to incorporate both the other sectors as well, but not at the cost of favouritism or investments being swayed by other considerations. If you cannot understand this, well, I can say Shame on you, but what will it solve?

          • Arun Attupurath

            People like you just love crying favouritism to hide your inability and wretched existence, swayed by the consensus of the so called moral journos who cant tell apart from civic apathy and intolerance , People like you just jump the bandwagon that goes with the whatever suits bulging your meagre existence. I understand more than I say and do Sir; while you are just biased , blinded by your own shortcomings.

          • Harish

            Were you trying to make some point or merely trying to vent out some of your pent up frustrations?

          • Arun Attupurath

            haha ! .. Sorry …You misunderstood my Contempt for frustration. But enough said. I guess some people are just wired to see the negative side of just about anything. Never mind..

        • Raj

          hey Harish – if you have this ‘Facts’ that you are talking about please share that or just shut the fuck up. what I wrote does not need proof its common sense. Or are you saying the 7 acres weed killing has the biggest carbon foot print than other agents of pollution? if you are grow up and realize this article is a political circus. And he is not my Guru you moron I am not Sri Sri follower I am a person who sees through bullshit… you must be the other guy.

          • Harish

            First shut the fuck up and get educated. Weeds, wet lands etc have an ecological purpose.

          • Raj

            “Weeds, wet lands etc have an ecological purpose.” right this 7 acres is going solve all the environmental problems in India… Bravo!!!!

          • Harish

            You speak as if this land is your ancestral land that you are willing to give away for this noble purpose.

    • gcrv

      The whole of Southern Florida is such a wet land. Try to grow some brains. What looks like a waste land with weeds and some trees is a complex rich ecosystem. I didn’t know that AOL thought that past deeds can be cashed in a few years time. Even the soil quality with bacteria and other small critters is important for Natural grasslands. These do filter impurities in air and water. Read about such a project which uses such a wetland to turn fecal sewerage into clean water in the sunderbans in West Bengal.

  • Narinder Sharma

    I live in Mayur Vihar and I cross this area twice daily while going to my office. I wonder people who are criticizing Sri Sri for holding this event for which a temporary structure was made.

    The land where it is being held is definitely flood plans, some portion of it was used to illegally occupied land for farming but not even a single tree was there.

    I pity such overnight activists who wants to gather limelight by writing non-factual things by hearing stories.
    Where they were sleeping when Sand mafia takes more than 1000 trucks illegally daily from Yamuna flood plains?

    Where they were when Commonwealth Games Village built and Akshardham temple like structure built permanently ?

    There are lot of polluting factory waste which goes into Yamuna daily , why they are silent on such serious issues?

    Think? Above article looks vicious agenda, nothing more

  • Hisham Kabir

    If any one go for a reality check. On Yamuna and visit outskirts of taj Mahal and how deplorable that has been maintained we being a citizen of India will feel pained.

    This is a classic example of politicizing an issue. Making a mountain out of a mould.

  • Tribhu MRatta

    Shame on all connected with the event for getting even Indian Army be a part of scandal!

    • Arun Attupurath

      Shame on you for being sooo gullible !

  • Miki

    Mitali Saran you seem to be quite interested in what others are smoking. I found that quite funny says alot about you for sure. That’s one question you have repeated twice and thrice including the title. What’s Sri Sri smoking ? What’s Kejriwal smoking ? Hahaha damn. Pointing fingers is quite easy. Maybe its time to look within and ask yourself some serious questions about ones contribution to others and self. Lack research for sure and quite imaturely written. My question to you is – what have you been smoking ??

  • Indian

    Question to all Indians specially Hindus.. Was it the only place in Delhi for performance ? Yamuna river is in a very bad phase and as per our mythology its clearly mentioned Yamunaji is sister of Yamraj and it flows through hell and whosoever harms it will suffer. The destruction has been done on a great extent cleaning green patches to dumping waste in River yamuna .. Now check the weather of Delhi heavy rains we forget when humans take wrong decisions nature knows how to fix it. Another basic fact mentioned in our holy books humans cant attain peace by paying for it 🙂 Its always inside and human tries to find peace by material and money. I just wish the program would have been conducted to improve the condition and all the people had gathered to take steps .. Jai Hind

    • Dhrupad Gupta

      he is not paying anything to nature he done enough in previous 5 year from “meri dilli meri yamuna” that he is better deserve to be there…and you ND me talking about pollution tell me what we done to Yamuna…

  • rahul nirvana

    Leftists are sick minded….here is a man who for 35 years has been healing people n giving happiness and resolving world conflicts….he asked for area for holding a festival n was given this land …. Now if this land was not fit then what was he given by authorities ??? This place was stinking n filthy before they came in so if you idiots were so passionate abt this place why don’t u clean it ??? This whole thing stinks of political conspiracy against Hindu saints….sorry pimps of Congress….u have no credibility….

    • Harish

      Then why doesnt he complete the circle of greatness and conduct it on his own land and using his own money.

  • Ajay Jugran

    What was MS of BS smoking when other religious congregations (non traditional) took place on river banks? Enough of BS from MS! AOL has cleaned up the Yamuna banks like no other agency could have.

  • Blimping

    Presume this author doesnt know the meaning of ‘what is he smoking….’and the context which it is to be used!! Does he/she have a frigging clue as to what ‘AOL and breathing from the tummy’ mean for millions globally.? Obviously doesnt know what that means! As for env lesser said the better, these clowns havent visited the site but sitting in the comforts of an AC room parrot what the NGT says…these clowns right,y started talking three days before the event desmonstarting their prejudices..

  • guest

    This is the most ignorant, ridiculous, irresponsible and stupid piece of writing I have seen. People and dignitaries from a 155 countries came together celebrating diversity and peace, applauding India for such an festival. Find the private Hindu event in this for me please.
    Moreover, all adequate permissions were taken. No environmental damage was done. The money is for the purpose of restoration for which AOL has and is already working. Instead of being so biased and judgmental, open your eyes, use your own intelligence, know the facts and then write.

  • San Jose

    ‘Unified Centre for Rejuvenation of River Yamuna’ is a project set up in 2014. I would like to know what the Kejriwal govt has done for Yamuna till date. As for this event, without the direct support of Kejriwal, this would not have been allowed in Delhi.The PM cleverly steered out of this, perhaps leaving many red faces. This article is opening up a Pandora’s box, without making specific points. “Marriage of politics, religion, money, and pride, on the rich vote banks of the Yamuna” is a nice way to end the article, but the dialogue doesn’t end there. People are demanding action for cleaning up the place after the event. Wonder if anyone will follow up with an article about the Yamuna floodplains site “after the Sri Sri event”