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Sri Sri speaks to us: World Culture Festival, Intolerance, Beef ban and much more

Even as the preparations for Art of Living’s World Culture Festival are going on in full swing, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who was recently named in the Padma awardees list, took out time and spoke to us about various issues. Here is the transcript of the interview: Sir, your organization, Art of Living is hosting this massive event “World Culture Festival” in March this year. What is the purpose of such a grand event? 

Sri Sri: The festival is a platform for bringing together people of different nationality, religion, race, etc to celebrate diversity. It will send the message that we are one world, one family. When people from all over the world come to the festival as a member of one family, it will reinforce the belief that we all can co-exist with our differences. When good people come together in such large number, it will create a ripple effect of positivity in the world. By showcasing rich cultural traditions of dance, music and art from around the world as well as Yoga, this festival will be a unique platform for spiritual and religious gurus, politicians, peacemakers and artists to spread the message of global peace and harmony in diversity. The last time this event was held, it was hosted by Berlin. This year you have chosen Delhi as the venue. Any specific reason for the same?

Sri Sri: India is a land with a long tradition of spirituality and an impeccable track record of uniting people. So it’s apt that India is hosting this festival. But the message of one-ness needs to be taken to every place. We have the chosen the venue of the festival around the river Yamuna to bring public attention to the pollution of Yamuna and ignite the motivation to clean it. In the past year or so, a bogey has been raised by certain sections that India is “intolerant” and thus unsafe for foreigners. Many of your devotees are from other countries. Do you think (a) India is really intolerant? (b) your devotees would be influenced by such media reports?

Sri Sri: No. A sense of belongingness is in our DNA. The mainstream population of this country is very tolerant and we can’t say this country has suddenly become intolerant. I do accept that there are people who are swinging to extremes and that’s a law and order problem and it is nothing new, it has been there from so many years in this country. In a country of 1.2 billion people, such criminal incidents do happen.

I feel that this country has more indifference than intolerance. We are indifferent. Whatever happens, we don’t care, we don’t bother. That should go. It is better to be a little bit intolerant, move away from indifference.

​I can’t speak for everybody and always there could be a mixed reaction. From a distance when people hear such negative things, there is a tendency to trust the media reports and avoid travelling to India. But those who have visited India before or known India wouldn’t give too much credence to such reports. Now there is pressure from activists to legalize homosexual sex in India. There is a demand for scrapping Sec 377. Where do you stand on this and do you feel this is another facet which should not create a problem for Hinduism?

Sri Sri: Homosexuality is not a crime and nobody should face discrimination based on their sexual preferences. Hinduism has never considered homosexuality a crime and to brand a person a criminal based on sexual preference would be absurd. Everyone has male and female elements. According to their dominance, tendencies show up and may change. There is a great debate for modernisation of certain Hindu customs and practices. Do you think the time has come for all religions to do the same? Can all religions do the same with equal open-mindedness? 

Sri Sri: Tradition, technology, trade and truth are the four key factors, which need to be revived time and again. Unless they are revived, the whole meaning for which they were initiated will be lost. Ancient and modern methods should be synergised. This is true of all religions and traditions. When there is no reform in religion, it tends to get dogmatic. Recently the Government of India started the The Gold Monetization Scheme  which is aimed at bringing out the existing stock of gold in India into the open liquid market. Temples, being one of the largest amassers of Gold are expected to take part in the same. This scheme is expected to reduce India’s Gold import bill, thereby strengthening the economy. There has been concern from some quarters that this would be an attempt to loot Hindu temples. Where do you stand on this issue? 

Sri Sri: ​I don’t see a problem as long as the temple managements are transparent and if they maintain accounts properly. At the same time, the ancient jewels and artefacts should not be pledged as gold.​ We at have made it a practice to analyse and document the shortcomings of Indian media and the half-truths and whole lies spread by them. Having interacted with media across the globe, and also having seen the media standards in India, do you think Indian Media needs to stop and reflect on their actions?

Sri Sri: The advent of social media has made it imperative for the traditional media to be more responsible, more authentic. Today there is more trust in social media. Everyone should reflect on their actions from time to time, not just media. In an interview, you recently said in the context of the Beef ban, that bans are not desirable. In the USA, Horse meat is banned in numerous states for many reasons such as religion and the affection the locals have for horses, whom the consider as a companion. Is such a ban on beef, on similar grounds, tenable in India?

​Sri Sri: A ban on beef has become inevitable in India now as the cattle population has gone down from 120 crores to just around 20 crores. Just as horses are considered a part of a family in the US, cows are part of family too and need to be protected. If it happens voluntarily, it’s better. The ideal situation would be if people do it voluntarily. In the same interview, Rajdeep Sardesai compared Art of Living with Missionaries of Charity, and in response you asked him to do his research better. There are many such Christian groups in India who do “charity” and simultaneously are involved in proselytization and other evangelical activities, especially in rural India. On the other hand, there are almost no such organizations from the Hindu side which indulge in conversions. Is this a short-coming of the religion and will this harm Hinduism in the years to come?

Sri Sri: ​Hindu religion is vulnerable to inducements and conversion because there is no authority which holds people to a religion. It is a free religion. The freedom of expression and freedom of worship is ingrained. So, there is no one authority which prevents or holds people from other influences.

Here, religious leaders and the pandits should play a role in explaining all the Tattvas and the spiritual knowledge aspect of the religion! As one of the initiatives of this Government, Yoga was given a global platform and the PM was seen hard-selling Yoga at the UN and also in India. Many so called “secular” journalists and commentators mocked this effort as an attempt to saffronize and Hindutva-ize our culture. You must have seen scores of non-Indians embrace Yoga without any fear of being “saffronized”. Why do you feel such scepticism arise in Indians when we speak about Indian traditions? Is this more political than ideological?

Sri Sri: ​Decades of self-blame and low self-esteem has resulted in this state we are in. We need to shed the low self-esteem we reel in and take more pride in our cultural and spiritual roots. Yoga has been absorbed into mainstream lifestyle by people from all cultures and backgrounds across the globe.


(Note: Special thanks to Mr Ankit Jain for arranging this interview. Questions were sent to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar before the Yamuna Controversy)

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