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Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji, Malala Yousafzai is an international icon of resistance
I'm a practicing Muslim without the extra burden of being a proselytizing zeal of a preacher or the dogmatic mindset of a fanatic crusader. I believe in giving due respect to all religions and ideologies that may be diametrically opposite to my own views. However, I'm profoundly disturbed with the latest statement of high-tech-commercial-self-appointed (SWAMBU Guru) Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of Art of Living. The spiritual guru says that he would never accept the Nobel Peace Prize. That girl (Malala) has done nothing to get the Nobel prize?

Malala Yousafzai is an international icon of resistance, women's empowerment and right to education. She was shot by militants in October 2012 in the Swat Valley of Pakistan's restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack and said in a statement that Malala had been attacked for promoting "secularism" in the country. After receiving initial medical treatment in Pakistan, Malala was flown to the United Kingdom where she is presently residing with her family.

Before being shot, the teenager had been campaigning for girls' right to education in Swat and was a vocal critic of Islamic extremists. She was praised internationally for writing about the Taliban atrocities in a BBC Urdu service blog. The international recognition for Malala was important because it would strengthen the progressive forces in Pakistan and the world.

Ghazala Naqvi, a Karachi-based writer, said that although national and international lobbies played a big role in nominations for international awards, Malala's nomination projected the soft and liberal image of Pakistan to the rest of the world.

Sri Sri was also quoted by the Deccan Chronicle saying, "I was in the past offered the Nobel Peace Prize, but I had rejected it as I only believe in working and not in being honoured for my work. We should always honour only to those who deserve it and I am totally against honouring Malala Yousafzai with the prize and it is of no use."

Guruji was on a visit to Latur and other drought-hit areas in Maharashtra. He was speaking about the Nobel Peace Prize. The readers know that Malala Yousafzai is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize award. She, who was working on girls' right to go to school, was targeted in an assassination attempt by the Taliban in Swat who opposed education of girls.

This CJ is not resourceful enough to check or contradict the claim made by Sri Sri about the Nobel Prize. If it is true and verifiable, he would be the next individual to refuse this offer after Le Duc Tho. During the Vietnam War, Le and U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger negotiated the '73 Peace Accords. The two won the Nobel Peace Prize that same year. Le Duc Tho had declined to accept his award, with the Nobel Committee stating that he saw treaty agreements as having been violated.

Out of the 8 hundred something Nobel laureates that have been awarded the prizes since their inception in 1901, just six people have refused them. Three Germans were barred by Hitler from accepting prizes in the run-up to the Second World War. Boris Pasternak, the famous Soviet writer had refused the 1958 Literature prize for fear of reprisals from the Soviet government. His son collected the medal on his behalf in 1989. After Le du, the only other refusal of a Nobel prize came from French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who turned down the literature prize in 1964. He believed that accepting the award would compromise his status as a writer. "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner."

Now, coming back to Guruji, it is now obligatory to delve into his past with whatever material is available to a investigating journalist. According to Sri Sri himself, "I was into studying the Vedas and he used to conduct these Vedic Science conferences around the country. So many scientists and scholars would come and I attended one of the meetings. He just picked me up from one of these and said, 'You come with me.' He asked me to come to Switzerland for a month or so and then he kept extending. That one month became almost a year. But I was still interested in doing my formal degree. So that is how it started. I was organising various things: yagya, conferences on Vedic Science, Ayurveda."

According to Shri MN Chakravarti, a former teacher of Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation, in 1975, when Sri Sri was around twenty years old, he had attended a TM class in Melkote (in district Mandya, Karnataka) of which he was the coordinator. He initiated the young man into Maharishi's programme after which the two got to know each other well. "We would go to his home in Jayanagar (in Bengaluru; now the Sri Sri Media Centre) and his mother would feed us," recalled Chakravarti.

Later, Sri Sri did a stint in Rishikesh, where Maharishi's ashram (famously inhabited by the Beatles for a space) was located. He was "sweet-looking", said M N Chakravarti, the kind of boy whose cheeks people have an irresistible urge to pinch. Despite the flowing hair and beard, he has more than a touch of the effeminate, which leads one to ask whether spiritual leaders have a strong feminine side."

He loved cinema though and in Rishikesh, "He used to take the boatman along with him, to cross the Ganga to town and see a film… otherwise, there would be no boat on the way back. He would tap on the window of our hostel and I would let him in. So far, the lad showed no sign of extraordinary powers, until one day when he arrived in Kalady, Adi Shankara's birthplace in Kerala. Here, I was given an advanced technique by Maharishi (Mahesh Yogi). Ravi (Sri Sri) was not, although he was there. Maharishi was to leave from a small airstrip 20 kms away. Then Ravi made a prediction. He said Maharishi's plane would stop, the door would open and an emissary would come and ask for me."

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was right, but only partly. The Maharishi's plane did stop and his secretary did come out. But the chosen one was Ravi, not MN Chakravarti.

The next thing he knew, he was whisked off to Switzerland and found himself travelling the world with his guru. Sri Sri was given charge of Maharishi's Institute of Vedic & Management Sciences, in Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh). He shadowed his guru day and night, flew with him to every destination and was soon regarded his successor. Then suddenly one day, Ravi left - according to him, out of his own volition. Yet another story which did the rounds was that Ravi had, albeit inadvertently, leaked sensitive information to a foreigner who turned out to be an intelligence operative and was then sent out of the institute on some trumped up charge involving voucher payments.

Now the rest of the story in Sri Sri's own words: "It (relationship with Maharishi) was very good, nice, loving and cordial. I am sure they had a lot of expectations from me, but then I went into silence and I started teaching Sudarshan Kriya (SKY). He knew I could not stay. It was like a golden cage for me. I needed to connect to grassroots level people. At that time (with Maharishi), I met Mrs (Indira) Gandhi, Jagjivan Ram, all the top people of the country but suddenly, I took leave from all that and changed to village-level persons. I travelled to small and remote villages. My heart was more with them. The sewa (service) aspect was not part of that (the TM) movement. That movement was more intellectual, based on meditation. I was more interested in sewa."

By the time Sri Sri joined Maharishi, his most spectacular disciples, the Beatles, had already broken up.

The famous author Francois Gautier writes in his book 'In Guru of Joy'.

"That very little is known about Guruji's time with Maharishi, largely because Sri Sri himself appears reluctant to dwell on it in any detail. What seems clear is that he was a favourite with Maharishi who saw him as a trusted aide and a possible heir. But one particularly unfortunate event appeared to have started his fall from grace. In 1980, a massive yagya, featuring 6,000 pandits, was to be organised at Maharishi Nagar, a vast ashram in NOIDA, in UP. In Sri Sri's words: "Maharishi had his own style of celebrating and did everything with a lot of pomp and show. For this particular ceremony, he wanted everything to be in yellow as far as the eye could see, as this was the colour of goddess Laxmi. So all the sweets were to be yellow, decorations in yellow and gold coins from different countries were brought for this yagya."

Despite all the preparation, the yagya degenerated into chaos, with the pandits running riot and protesting against Ravi Shankar. The disastrous event is also described by Michael Fischman in his book, 'Stumbling Into Infinity'

The tipping point came when Maharishi, with the objective of starting Vedic schools all over India, sent Ravi Shankar to establish the Ved Vigyan Vidya Peeth in Bengaluru, in 1985. Not only was a trust set up with Sri Sri, the late Justice V R Krishna Iyer, Lakshman Rao (then Mayor of Bengaluru) and Justice P N Bhagawati, sixty acres of land had been allotted by the Karnataka government in the outskirts of the city on a thirty-year lease, with a plan to admit 200 children to the school.

A little later, Maharishi took a random decision to not only shut down the school but transfer all the kids to Delhi. Ravi rebelled and insisted he would continue to care for the children in Bengaluru. The battle lines were now clearly drawn between the guru and his favourite shishya.

According to Sri Sri, "It was very tough. On the one hand, I had a vision. There were so many people waiting for me. On the other hand, I felt I could not leave because there was no reason. I had all my comforts, I had everything. At that age, I had seen almost everything in the world. It was tough to take an adventurous step of starting something from the very beginning and following my own vision, my passion of really connecting with grassroots people. From that platform, I could not do it. I have heard that they were not very happy that I embarked on something different."

Excerpts from 'The forthcoming Gurus: Stories of India's Leading Babas,' Bhavdeep Kang, Westland Books.

On October 1, 2015 at Chikmagalur, Karnataka, the Art of Living and Spiritual Leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar inaugurated a 'Smart Village' project in Sadarahalli village, Chikmagalur district.

Speaking on the qualities of an ideal village, Sri Sri said, "A village should be free of casteism and alcohol while maintaining cleanliness in its surroundings. Villagers are moving to cities for economic reasons. We should make our villages smarter and bring back our people. Everybody should work for our villages. Farmers have been facing problems as the rivers are dried up due to lack of rainfall. We are working on methods that will supply water to the villagers with the same amount of rainfall."

On other occasion, Sri Sri Ravi Shanker is on record as having said:

"You know rivers are considered very sacred. Rivers are very sacred in our culture… Whenever you consider something sacred you preserve it, you honor it, and you see that you don't pollute it. We have always used the water of holy rivers like Ganga and Yamuna to purify ourselves, but today we have reached a point where we have to purify this water. So we are waging a war against the pollution in the Yamuna."

So, he organized the great festival within the sacred Flood Plain of Yamuna at Delhi. The festival was resisted many ground-based Yamuna Loving Outfits from different walks of life. After protracted hearings, the India's National Green Tribunal had allowed a controversial festival to go ahead despite the fact that organizers had violated environmental laws and damaged fragile floodplains on the banks of the Yamuna. The sandy soil of the river bed was compacted that is going to prevent the water from percolating underground. It is bound to threat the future water supplies for Delhi in future if not immediately.

Like all rivers in South Asia, the Yamuna water flows in a few channels among extensive sandy floodplains. But these floodplains are essential to carry water during the monsoons, and to let any excess water percolate underground. The creation of Games Village, Bus Stop and magnificent Temple was never a great idea as the concrete embankments disturb the natural flow of river stream also.

According to various inspection committees, comprising professors from Indian Institute of Technology and scientists and officials and former officials from the ministry of forests and environment, Sri Sri's Art of Living Foundation's three day festival from March 11 to 13 had already caused large-scale damage to flood plains by the construction and preparations for the event.

The new flattened areas were, until recently, beautiful riverine habitat. In these reed beds and riverbanks, previously, we would see river lapwings strutting, their long, yellow legs on display. We would often enjoy the exhilarating sight of beautiful red avadavats, or munias, swinging on the grass, while assorted flitting warblers were heard in the background, identified by their songs. It was very much the kind of riverside that buzzed with birdsong and life. Right next door, this very ecology was certified as valuable enough to be protected as the Okhla Bird Sanctuary.

The flat, sterile mud flooring that has been created now is devoid of such life - and it's going to get worse. The many chemical and bio toilets that will be installed will add to the despoilment of the area, unless the Art of Living team decides - or is made - to take the processed human waste and its remains with them after the event. The sheer noise and human presence is bound to have a devastating effect on the habitat.

The Art of Living supporters have countered by claiming to have already taken environment-friendly measures.

Decrying Malala's Nobel Prize won't add any inch to the stature of Sri Sri. I don't know if Baba Ramdev and Guru Ram Raheem would bother to make any such claims about awards. We are in for Babagiri!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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