The curious case of AOL


A month after the alleged shooting at its Bengaluru ashram, the Art of Living Foundation now confronts charges of land grabbing.
The allegation comes a day after AoL stated it had received extortion calls demanding Rs 42 crore (Rs 420 million), failing which the institution would be defamed.

Non-Resident Indian Paul P has alleged that AoL grabbed 15 acres of land on Kanakapura Road near Bengaluru where the AoL ashram is situated. Paul claimed he approached an intermediary, Agni Shridhar, after talks with AoL failed.

Paul said he bought the plot 12 years ago from a farmer named Mohan. However, Mohan’s son Vijay refused to execute the sale deed.

“Even as I approached the court, Vijay handed the land over to AoL. When I met (AoL founder Sri Sri) Ravishankar two years ago, he promised to settle the issue, but now they are threatening me and asking me to forget about the land,” Paul claimed.

Agni Shridhar, who was asked to mediate in the matter, said, “Ravishankar told me he was promoting Hinduism, and I should support him. Today they have cooked up a case of extortion against me.”

The Foundation says it registered the plot in question after buying it legally from the owner, Vijay, on Feburary 5, 2007. ‘The Art of Living has no association with Paul,’ the ashram stated.

“Shridhar had visited the ashram with a proposal for initiating joint social development projects with his organisation as well as with other Dalit organisations. He requested the ashram authorities to review the projects. When senior faculty members visited Shridhar, instead of discussing the projects, he threatened to malign the organisation with the false allegations that he is currently making,” ashram sources alleged.

After a couple of days, AoL faculty members started receiving threatening calls demanding Rs 42 crore to stop him (Shridhar) from defaming the organisation,” the AoL sources claimed.

Sources in the Bengaluru police feel there is a constant effort by the ashram to get its security enhanced. Some members in the ashram, they add, feel if spiritual gurus like Baba Ramdev could be given ‘Z’ category security, why should Sri Sri Ravishankar be left out.

Police sources say there is no threat perception to Sri Sri Ravishankar, and hence the question of providing him ‘Z’ category security does not arise.

After the alleged shooting incident at the ashram on May 30, Ravishankar’s security was enhanced.

A spokesperson for the ashram told Rediff.com that Sri Sri Ravishankar has always maintained that he did not want security as it would prevent him from meeting people.

“We have on many occasions been offered enhanced security, but we have refused it always,” the AoL spokesperson added.

Ravishankar’s take

Sri Sri Ravishankar, the founder of the Art of Living, has broken his silence on allegations of land grabbing against his Bengaluru-based foundation. He said, “We are compassionate but firm in dealing with anti-social elements. We will not budge or fall into the trap of miscreants. These tactics of threat and hiding behind fictitious stories will not work.”

He urged the people to be patient and not to take law into their hands. “The truth will always triumph. An extortionist cannot hide under the garb of helping the downtrodden. This exercise of false propagation and instigation will not work. (Agni) Sridhar has threatened to malign us by using fabricated videos of women and then moved on to a non-existent land issue.”

“The Art of Living foundation has spent crores of rupees on the welfare and relief of the poor and can never think of doing injustice to anyone ever,” he added.

“While emphasising this and adhering to our stand, we also thank Sridhar for giving us an experience which we have never had. Ours is just one incident. There are many others who are reeling under the fear of money and muscle power and our sympathy and solidarity is with all of them.”

“The land in question was bought by the Art of Living after checking all legal documents from M Vijay at the market price in 2004 as we needed land to accommodate the large number of devotees coming in for the silver jubilee of the Art of Living in 2006. Incidentally, the gentleman who we purchased the land from happens to be a Brahmin and not a Dalit as was misinformed by Sridhar in his allegation.”

“The organisation has built toilets in many homes, made community centres in 20 villages around the ashram and is also giving free food along with education to 2,000 children of the neighbouring villages. Direct or indirect employment has been generated for hundreds of villagers around the ashram area.

“We urge the police to take action against forces who try to bring disharmony and thrive on false propagation. Our body of work over the past 30 years is known to all. We will continue to reach out to the masses with our development projects and stress-elimination programmes,” he concluded.

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Govt will not stall Lamhaa’s release: G K Pillai


With Kashmir on the boil, one would think a film with the troubled valley as its theme could run into trouble with the government.

But Union Home Secretary G K Pillai says the government has no plans to stall the release of Lamhaa, which stars Sanjay Dutt, Anupam Kher, Bipasha Basu and Kunal Kapoor. Producer Bunty Walia’s film is slated to release on July 16.

The film, set in Kashmir, tells the story about a soldier played by Dutt and his Kashmiri love interest, played by a de-glamorised Basu. Parzania director Rahul Dholakia had made the film.

Pillai told Rediff.com that there is no plan to ban the movie or stall its release. “Our security forces are in place and capable of handling the situation,” he said.

The homse secretary felt that stalling or banning a movie is not the answer to the problem. “This is a democratic set-up and in a democracy people have the right to speak up and put forth their views. I am confident that the release of such a movie will not add to the existing problem,” he added.

Dholakia told Rediff.com that he is happy with the home secretary’s statement. “This is the right decision. It is the time to create an environment of trust so that the problems are solved. Kashmir is burning today and it is our responsibility to create an environment of trust,” the director said.

His movie, he added, is not reflective of the government’s views, but deals with the plight of resident Kashmiris. The film does not deal with the sentiments of India or Pakistan on this issue, he added. “We are just dealing with the state of the residents of that beautiful place.”

“I am hopeful that the movie will do well,” Dholakia said. His last film, starring Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika, is yet to be released in Gujarat.

‘I am going ahead with my resignation’


Karnataka Lokayukta Justice N Santhosh Hegde, whose resignation was rejected by Governor H R Bhardwaj on Thursday, has refused to reconsider his decision.

Speaking to rediff.com about his telephonic conversation with Home Minister P Chidambaram, Justice Hegde said it was merely a courtesy call.

“He has every right to call me since we have been friends since the past 40 years. He was obviously taken aback by my decision to quit so suddenly. The home minister asked me, ‘is it right for you to resign at a time when there is so much corruption in Karnataka’. He also asked me to reconsider my decision,” said Hegde.

Maintaining his tough stance on the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka which has completed two years in power, Hegde said it was unfortunate that the party had termed the home minister’s call as part of a political game.

“There is no politics involved in this and I can say that with conviction. I have told the home minister that the situation over here is not conducive to work. I also told him the same thing I had said while putting in my papers — it is not right for me to continue in a place where I cannot protect my own officers,” said Hegde.

When asked whether he would reconsider his decision to resign, Justice Hegde said that as of now, the answer was an ’emphatic no’.

“I have been under a lot of pressure not to go ahead with my resignation. Many lawyers came up to me with a memorandum urging me not to go ahead with my resignation. Let’s see what happens,” he said.

But the anti-corruption official added, “As of today, I am going ahead with my resignation.”

It is better to quit, if one feels unwanted: Justice Hegde


Karnataka Lokayukta Justice N Santosh Hegde’s sudden resignation has come as a shock to the state and an embarrassment to the Bharatiya Janata Party government, which is incidentally gearing up for grand celebrations on Friday marking two years in office.

Justice Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge, was appointed Lokayukta — the state’s top anti-corruption body– four years ago by the (then) ruling BJP-Janata Dal-Secular combine. During his tenure, he prepared the controversial report on the mining lobby, which was never discussed or even placed in the Assembly.

With one year remaining in office, Justice Hegde decided to call it quits. In an interview to Vicky Nanjappa, Justice Hegde lists out the reasons behind the resignation and also his four years in office.

Why did you quit suddenly?

I would not call it a sudden decision. There have been certain instances which have led me to take such a decision. It is a well-thought-out decision and I felt that it was necessary.

Could you list out the reasons?

When I am unable to protect my own officers what is the point in me staying over? I am quitting since I myself feel helpless. There were some officers, who we had booked on corruption charges and these officers were brought back to the same position. That was a slap on the face of the Lokayukta. I am pretty upset that several of our requests were overlooked by the government. What is the point in me staying on in the same institution where I happen to be the “only angry face”. The government does not care; what is the deal in me staying over here.

There is a talk that you are upset over the suspension of one of your officers based on the recommendation of a Cabinet minister.

Yes, that is correct. I do not want to pick names, but I would say that this incident has hurt me no end. A Cabinet minister had written to the chief secretary, recommending the suspension of an official from my office. I fail to understand why this was done. When I looked into the issue, I saw that the suspension was ordered on flimsy grounds. It was stated that the officer was missing when the minister visited that location. I felt helpless watching this turn of events. What is the point in me sitting on a chair when I can’t even protect my own officers who were only obeying me and my officers.

What about Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa? What has been his take?

I had spoken earlier about two officers being posted in the same position after we had initiated a probe against them for corruption. He had assured me that these officers would not be brought back. But that was not to be. They were brought back to the same position.

You have been working without a deputy for six months now.

Yes, it is a worry that the government has failed to fill in that post for the last six months. I had made a plea to the chief minister, but nothing has been done.

When we spoke to you, when you took over as the Lokayukta four years back, you said that you had lot of hope from the government. How has the government’s approach towards the institution that is meant to fight corruption?

The government has been indifferent, I would say. We sought additional allowances to the Lokayukta police exactly on the lines of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. We made a requisition to the government not to revoke the suspension orders against some officials. The government has deliberately ignored our recommendations.

Let us talk about the famous mining report which your office had prepared. The same was not tabled by the same government which had asked you to prepare it. Was that another major reason behind your decision?

This is not one of the main reasons. The report was submitted long time back and it was not tabled. I could have resigned then. It was my duty to prepare a report and in that we have not targeted a particular lobby. We have spoken in general about illegal mining. There have been several worrying instances though. On one occasion, we had seized trucks carrying 5 lakh tonne of iron ore. We had registered an FIR on the same. However, these vehicles disappeared and were found in Goa. We once again sought permission of the court and re-seized these vehicles. How do you expect us to function in such a set-up? I had submitted the first report in December last and will submit one more before demitting office.

Does that mean that you will not demit office now?

No. I will be here till the end of August since I still have some unfinished business. Moreover, this organization will die if I walk out immediately. The government does not have an Upa Lokayukta and if I too walk out right away, then what remains? I am giving the government time to fill up these posts so that the institution survives.

Any regrets?

No regrets at all. The decision is final and this not a tool to blackmail someone. I don’t want to continue in an office where I feel like an unwanted person. I could have been indifferent to everything and continued enjoying the protocol. But that is not what I have come here for.

Your resignation is very much like your father Justice K S Hegde who stepped down following the Emergency as he was superceded to the post of Chief Justice of India by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi .

I don’t know about that.But my father told me that it is better to quit, if one feels not wanted.

Karnataka: Justice Hegde resigns

Justice N Santosh Hegde, the Lokayukta of Karnataka, is scheduled to meet the state governor on Wednesday evening to tender his resignation. The news has shocked many as Justice Hegde has decided to resign an year before the end of his term.

“I will not like to spell out the reasons for my resignation as of now, but I will tell you more later,” Justice Hegde told rediff.com.

According to sources, he was upset with the manner in which the government had treated some of his reports, including a high-profile report he had prepared on the mining lobby operating in the state.

The Lokayukta had repeatedly sought additional powers to deal with corrupt members of legislative assembly, but was not granted any. It was becoming extremely difficult for him to function, pointed out the sources, as the government had not acted on almost any of his reports.

The delay in the appointment of a deputy Lokayukta had also slowed down work in the office and also made his functioning difficult, said sources.

Justice Hegde was appointed Lokayukta for a term of five years in 2006.

Sri Sri attack case solved: B’lore Police


The Bangalore police on Saturday claimed to have solved the mysterious attack on spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

On May 30, it was reported that an unidentified gunman had fired at the convoy of the spiritual leader while he was on his way to attend a programme near his ashram. One of his devotes had been injured in the incident.

The police claimed that one Dr Mahadev Prasad fired the bullet to chase away a stray dog.

Dr Mahadev Prasad, chairman of the Dr B R Ambedkar Medical College, owns a farm house 2,000 feet away from Sri Sri’s ashram. He fired three rounds of bullets to chase away a stray dog, and one of the bullets landed at the ashram, said the police.

The police, who had retrieved the bullet at the site, tracked it back to Prasad.

Prasad has a licensed firearm, said the police, adding that he hadn’t reported the incident fearing the repercussions.

Bangalore police baffled by attack on Sri Sri


Is there more than what meets the eye is something that Bengaluru police officers investigating Sunday’s incident at Sri Sri Ravishankar’s ashram near the city are trying to ascertain.
Investigations into the alleged shooting that occurred at the ashram, 25 km from Bengaluru, have so far not yielded any definitive information about the incident or its motive.

Police officers maintain it is a stray incident, not aimed at hurting anyone at the ashram.

Bengaluru Forensics Sciences officials say they have discovered nothing during their investigation to indicate that it was an attempt on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s life.

FSL officials say the bullet, which hit devotee Vinay Kollumath, was shot from a distance of about 800 feet and bears no trajectory mark. This, they say, indicates it is stray in nature and not targeted at anyone.

“Although we are still ascertaining the velocity with which it was fired, all leads take us to the fact that it is a stray bullet,” an FSL official told this correspondent.

A city police officer said that information from within the ashram is not forthcoming. “We have absolutely nothing left to investigate,” he added, speaking on condition that he would not be identified by name for this report.

The Art of Living organisation, which Sri Sri Ravi Shankar heads, has claimed that it was an attack on the guru who turned 54 on May 13. Sri Sri Ravishankar himself told the media on Monday that it may have been an attempt on his life, but added that he did not wish to enhance the security around his presence.

The police are intrigued that the complaint about the incident was lodged three hours after the alleged firing occurred. The incident occurred at 6.30 pm, but a police complaint was registered only at 9.30 pm.

A puzzled police officer added, “he is such an important person and if there was an attempt on his life, then it is very natural that they would want police protection and a proper investigation conducted as soon as possible.”

The police are also surprised that despite many people being present at the site of the incident, not one person spotted the alleged assailant. No attempt was made to apprehend the individual who allegedly fired the bullet either.

Kollumath’s trousers bear an L shape tear, FSL officials say. Had the bullet hit him as is being claimed by Art of Living officials, he would have suffered a deep injury.

Also, the bullet was fired five minutes after Sri Sri Ravi Shankar left the venue, indicating that the attack may have not been directed against the high-profile guru.

The AOL continues to maintain that the attack was directed at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but refuse to comment further on the case, saying it is the job of the police to find out more.

Sri Sri Ravishankar attacked


Sri Sri wants the gunman to attend ‘satsang’

The day after an unidentified gunman fired at his convoy and injured a devotee, spiritual leader Shri Shri Ravishankar ruled out enhancing his security, saying it will block communications between him and the common man.

Addressing a press conference in Bengaluru, Shri Shri claimed that the ‘divine intervention of a supernatural force and the vision of his driver’ saved him on Sunday.

The spiritual leader was on his way to attend a programme near his ashram on Sunday evening when an unidentified gunman fired at his convoy. The shot accidentally grazed the thigh of a devotee who sustained very minor injuries.

Shri Shri added that he wanted to invite the gunman to attend a satsang (spiritual discourse) with him. “If he meets me, he will correct himself. Those who indulge in such acts do so with the sole objective of spreading terror,” he said.

Shri Shri urged his followers to put the incident behind them and move on, adding that he had forgiven his attacker.
Shri Shri claimed that he had no enemies and didn’t understand why such an incident took place. “I am unhurt and safe. We need to look at this incident from a spiritual level. I have no enemies at all,” he said.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that the bullet was fired from a pistol.

While the devotees at the ashram suspect that it could be a terror attack, the police have ruled out such a possibility. A senior police officer said that they are probing the matter and the unidentified gunman was still at large. “We have some clues as of now, but it will not be right to reveal all that right now as it may hamper the probe,” he said.

The police were informed about the incident nearly three hours later, he said.

At the spiritual leader’s ashram at Kanakapura, the day started with the regular rudra puja.

“All activities at the ashram will go on as usual. There will be no change in any of the programmes,” a spokesperson of the ashram told rediff.com.

Scores of policemen, security personnel and investigators probing the case have been deployed at the ashram.

——————

An unidentified gunman opened fire on the convoy of spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravishankar on Sunday. The spirtual leader was on his way to meet some delegates after a satsang at the ashram, which is 25 km Benguluru city.

A release from the ashram stated that one devotee sustained minor injuries when the bullet brushed past him. The incident took place at 1830 hrs on Sunday.

The police are investigating the matter but are still unsure about the motive.

Bharathi Urs Acquitted of Murder


Bharathi Urs, daughter of former chief minister of Karnataka Devraj Urs, was on Thursday acquitted of murder charges by a fast track court in Bengaluru.

Bharathi was facing the charge of murdering her cousin Chitralekha Urs, who was the daughter of a former judge of the Karnataka High Court.

This was considered one of the most high profile cases in the state as it involved the daughters of a former chief minister and former high court judge. The case of the prosecution was that Bharathi, along with her two accomplices, had murdered Chitralekha Urs over some financial disputes.

The murder is said to have occurred on January 19 2002, but the body was found at the Shiradi Ghats in Karnataka almost two months later.

Judge, K Amaranarayan, while observing the witness said in a 105-page judgment that the evidence does not remotely indicate that Bharathi committed the offence.

While acquitting her two other accomplices, Chandrakanth and Madhukar, who had allegedly helped her out with the disposal of the body, the judge observed that the witnesses too had claimed that they had never seen the accused.

Moreover, the conduct of the accused was not unnatural in nature. She had been very close to the deceased and she would often frequent her house. It shows that the two were very close to each other and they were more like friends.

The prosecution had raised the ground that Bharathi had told the family of the deceased not to file a complaint after she went missing.

The defence, however, stated that she said so keeping in mind the social status of the family and also taking into consideration that being a single woman, it would affect the status of the family. The court while taking this into consideration held the three accused not guilty.

Photo courtesy: Daijiworld

Are fatwas strangling Muslim women?


The Dar ul-Uloom Deoband fatwa which prevents Muslim women from working has angered many. The members of the seminary who issued the fatwa say that it has been misinterpreted and it was aimed at offering protection to working women.

Moulana Khalid Saifullah Rehamani, member of the All India Muslim Personal Board who holds the authority to issue fatwas in Andhra Pradesh, Moulana Abdul Rahim Qureshi, assistant secretary general of the board, and Dr Rafath Seema, general secretary, Nisa Research and Resource Centre for Women, Hyderabad, spoke with rediff.com about this fatwa and its implications.

Moulana Khalid Saifullah Rehamani: Islam places a lot of importance on family values. There is a lot of concern about the well being of women and hence it is important that they are safeguarded from the prying eyes of men. Nowhere does this fatwa say that Muslim women should not work and it has largely been misinterpreted by the media.

The fatwa clearly states that a Muslim woman should work in a clean environment and I support this. Muslim women should ensure that they are not close to strangers at work and must dress properly. What is wrong in that? Values are important in Islam and the fatwa just tells them to keep it up.

We are also against women working in night shifts but there is a rule which permits them to work in the night. We are not wrong while opposing this. Crime statistics from across the country show that our stand is justified.

When the fatwa speaks of a dress code for women, it does not mandate that women wear a burqa to work. A purdah must be worn by women and it would be good if they can wear a burqa too, but there is no compulsion. Women would be more secure if they wore a purdah to work. There is a tendency among men to stare at the women and pass remarks when they are dressed in skirts and jeans. When in a purdah, men usually tend to leave such women alone.

Such fatwas cannot be made compulsory though. A woman who loves her community and respects her religion would follow the fatwa. We do not have any laws to forcibly implement such a fatwa.

Moulana Abdul Rahim Qureshi: There is absolutely no objection to a Muslim woman working. Please don’t misinterpret the fatwa. I don’t have an objection to the fatwa since it states exactly what Islam already states — that . mingling with strange men at work is not permissible as per the religion

A dress code for a working woman is very important. I don’t think there should be any objection to anyone suggesting that a Muslim woman should dress properly to work. There also should be no objection if there is a fatwa which says that Muslim women should not mingle with strange men at work. We are all concerned about the safety of women hence issuing such a fatwa is important.

Fatwas are basically answers to questions sought by individuals. It is mainly applicable to the person who has asked that question, but also generally applicable to all members of the community. There have been over a 1,000 fatwas issued, but only a few get such publicity. Fatwas are important in our community since they help solve problems within the family.

Complying with a fatwa has never been a problem for a a large majority of Muslims. However, there is no rule which forces anyone to follow a fatwa.

Dr Rafath Seema: The fatwa has been misinterpreted. Islam permits a woman to stand on her feet and there is no rule which says that a Muslim woman should not work.

As a woman, I don’t think there was anything wrong in suggesting that women dress properly at work. Women enjoy equal rights, but that does not mean that they should be unsafe in the outside world.

The dress code at work is a very important aspect. It only says that there should be no skin show when a Muslim woman is at work.