Sri Ravi Shankar says land grab charge as false
Agni Sridhar alleges land encroachment by ashram
Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on Thursday asserted that there was no land grab by his group as alleged by a don-turned-journalist and said extortion demands by him was true.
"An extortionist cannot hide under the garb of helping the downtrodden," Ravi Shankar said in a statement, a day after don-turned-tabloid publisher Sridhar claimed that Art of Living had grabbed 15 acres of land adjacent to its complex, about 20 km from the Bangalore city centre.
In an unusually strong statement, Ravi Shankar said: "We are compassionate but are very 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 said.
He urged people to be patient and not to take law into their hands. "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. Sridhar has threatened to malign us by using fabricated video of women and then moved on to a non-existent land issue," Ravi Shankar said.
The Art of Living has spent crores of rupees for the welfare and relief of the poor and can never think of doing injustice to anyone, he said. "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."
On the 15 acres of land, Ravi Shankar said it was bought after checking all legal documents from M. Vijay at the market price in 2004 as it was needed to accommodate the large number of devotees coming in for the Art of Living Silver Jubilee
"Incidentally, the gentleman who we purchased the land from happens to be a Brahmin and not a Dalit as was stated by Sridhar in his allegation," the Art of Living founder said.
Ravi Shankar urged police "to take action against forces who try to bring disharmony and who 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".
The Art of Living "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 neighbouring villages. Direct or indirect employment has been generated for hundreds of villagers around the ashram area," he said.
Art of Living said Tuesday that it had lodged a complaint with police that it was receiving calls demanding Rs.42 crore (Rs.420 million). The callers said if the amount was not paid, Art of Living would be defamed. Though the complaint did not name Sridhar, the publisher of Kannada tabloid 'Agni' (Fire) told reporters here Wednesday that his telephone numbers had been mentioned and accused Art of Living of grabbing 15 acres of land acquired from a farmer by Paul Fernandes, a builder.
Sridhar claimed that Fernandes had sought his mediation after efforts for return of the land or compensation was turned down by Art of Living.