I was once travelling with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar by train from Delhi to Haridwar. Looking at the plastic bags and rubbish on the tracks, Sri Sri said: “Do we have someone in this district who can lead a clean-up?” As far as I remember—I have known him for 25 years—Sri Sri has always been a ‘green’ guru who believes that “throughout history, nature has been adored in India; mountains, rivers, the sun, the moon, the trees have been revered”. He started organic farming long before it became fashionable. Sri Sri, who is very fond of ‘desi’ cows, thus reached out to 1,00,000 farmers in 10,000 villages in 12 states and convinced them by saying, “One cow is sufficient to fertilise 30 acres of land. One gram of cow dung contains 300-500 crores of different bacteria useful for agriculture”. And it worked, although the Frenchman in me was very sceptical!
I recall how he tried to save many of Bangalore’s lakes, which are encroached upon by promoters, or how his Mission Green Earth initiative, in collaboration with the UN, planted 55 million trees in 36 countries and 26 states in India.
I was extremely surprised when I heard that the green tribunal panel has indicted his Art of Living Foundation for damage being caused to the Yamuna flood plains in the preparation of its March 11-13 World Cultural Festival, which will feature yoga and meditation sessions, peace prayers by Sanskrit scholars, cultural performances from around the world and is expected to be attended by over a million people.
My first thought was: “What, the Yamuna, India’s most polluted river!” Statistics speak for themselves. The Yamuna starts being polluted by pesticides and fertilisers as it enters Haryana and by the time it reaches Delhi, a study has found traces of carcinogenic isomers. Nineteen drains from large industrial units (22 in Haryana, 42 in Delhi and 17 in Uttar Pradesh) pour into the river. By the time it leaves Delhi, it is already a sewer; further downstream, it’s Agra’s main drinking water source.
My second thought: “But it can’t be—Sri Sri was the first one to initiate Meri Dilli Meri Yamuna, a ‘Clean Yamuna drive’. I was there in March 2010, along with 20,000 mostly young Delhiites, to clean the ghats of Yamuna.”
I am a lover of India, but I have seen how Indian rivers, including the sacred Ganges, have been polluted beyond redeeming, the Himalayas being deforested and how there is so little civic consciousness. I see Delhi’s Lodhi Garden hopelessly littered with garbage every Sunday. So, when the NGT indicts one of the few people who has actually worked for the environment in the last 30 years, it makes me wonder how gurus are so easily targeted in India. I wish his World Cultural Festival success—an event that showcases India’s past and present greatness and changes the tired, old ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ image.
(Francois Gautier is the author of Guru of Joy, Sri Sri’s biography)
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