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Environmentalists lose eco battle to Sri Sri of Art of Living Fame

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Thousands of followers of Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gather for a performance at a three-day festival in New Delhi, India, organized by the guru’s “Art of Living” foundation, March 11, 2016. CBS

(Diya TV) — Over the weekend, thousands of people from 155 countries flocked to New Delhi for a vast cultural festival, which sought to promote the message of unity and peace — Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s “Art of Living” foundation faced staunch opposition, and fines, from India’s National Green Tribunal because of the chosen venue: the banks of the polluted Yamuna River.

The tribunal fined Ravi Shankar 50m rupees for its construction of features that altered the topography and flow of a Delhi river before the festival.

Environmentalists accused the Hindu guru, and his organization, which runs centers around the world and in the U.S., of ignoring strict environmental policies with the construction of the festival’s huge stage and occupying an area which extended nearly 600 yards for the festival’s audience on the riverbank. Additionally, the activists say the festival will cause irreversible damage by compacting the soil and destroying the delicate ecosystem which is in place. Some of the area’s native bird populations have already disappeared as a direct result, the activists claim.

As a result, India’s National Green Tribunal was petitioned by the activists to stop the event, however, India’s environmental court gave the event the go-ahead just hours before the event was set to kickoff. But it ordered the Art of Living Foundation pay the fine, which amounts to more than $746,000 American, and chastized Indian government authorities for allowing such a massive event on the river’s bank.

The court also warned that no such event should be allowed on the river banks in the future.

Faiyaz Khudsar, who is in charge of the Yamuna Biodiversity Park, said the festival would carry “catastrophic” consequences for the wildlife along the river.

“The marshes and wetlands may have been silted or filled up resulting in the disturbance of the ecosystem. It will take some time to find out the exact damage. What it requires now is ecological intervention by humans, which takes a lot of time,” said Khudsar.

Manoj Mishra, who heads the Mission for Yamuna, the group which filed the petition with the court to block the event from happening along the river, said the event was a violation of measures put in place during 2015 aimed at improving the environment. He said a court-approved project, the Revitalization Project of 2017, was being “brazenly violated by clearing of vegetation, dumping of debris and earth, leveling of flood plain, destruction of biodiversity and construction activity.”

The barren landscape left behind after a massive festival on the banks of the Yamuna River in New Delhi, India, March 14, 2016. CBS/ARSHAD ZARGAR

The barren landscape left behind after a massive festival on the banks of the Yamuna River in New Delhi, India, March 14, 2016. CBS/ARSHAD ZARGAR

 

Ravi Shankar, who has an estimated 300 million followers in more than 150 countries worldwide, said he would rather go to jail than pay the fine. However, he ultimately changed his mind, agreeing to pay the amount as “compensation” for restoration work on the river.

Jha, the environmentalist, claims his black-flag protests outside the festival were stopped by police. He told CBS News, that allowing Ravi Shankar to pay the fine and continue with the festival could be compared to “someone who seeks to rape a woman and then compensate her.” He added: “Should we allow him to rape the woman? They are raping a river.”

Ravi Shankar has maintained that the festival could not and would not damage the river in any way. His organization contracted the services of environmentalists that insisted him of such, he said.

“We will make a proper plan and do something for the Yamuna. I have consulted top environmentalists, who have done a study and said that no harm will be done to the floodplains.”

Instead, Ravi Shankar suggested the festival will help the river.

“We have not built any permanent structures. We will ensure that the place is left cleaner and more beautified,” Art of Living spokesperson Dinesh Ghodke said. The event was estimated to attract an attendance of about 3.5 million, according to the foundation. However, due to heavy rain, the numbers were lower.

The festival was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and attended by top ministers in his cabinet. The guru has been observed publicly as a close friend of the prime minister, and in Indian Parliament, opposition parties questioned the reason behind the Modi government’s backing for the controversial event.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses guru Sri Sri Ravishankar's World Culture Festival on the banks of the Yamuna River in New Delhi, India, March 11, 2016. Ravishankar can be seen seated, at right, behind Modi. Reuters

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s World Culture Festival on the banks of the Yamuna River in New Delhi, India, March 11, 2016. Ravi Shankar can be seen seated, at right, behind Modi. Reuters

 

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee was scheduled to be in attendance as well, but pulled out just days before the controversy surrounding the environmental impact of the festival began.

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Upcoming filmmaker Divyansh Sharma aims to reinvent cinema

From Street Play performer in remote rural India to turning heads in Los Angeles Divyansh Sharma has come a long way in a short time and hes only getting started.

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LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — “Reinventing the cinematic standard” one story at a time might sound like a ambitious undertaking for some but for Divyansh Sharma it’s only the beginning.

Sharma’s roots stem from New Delhi where he discovered his fascination for storytelling. At 16, he began performing street plays in remote rural India, educating people on social issues such as equal rights, education for all, and child marriage. He finished High School and went on to take a scholarship offered by the American Musical and Dramatic Academy where upon he graduated from their BFA Program which focused on acting and directing.

Studded from the AMDA degree in Acting for Film, Theatre and Telvision, Divyansh Sharma went on to shoot award-winning commercials from Apple and Google each amassing thousands to millions of views globally. Still feeling the urge to create more he decided he wanted to “re-invent the cinematic standard one film at a time” and began writing his own short film that would use techniques unseen in short-film storytelling such as Breaking fourth wall, plot jumps, interconnecting plot-lines.

The result was “Graffiti” which made a world premiere at the Chinese Theaters in March 2019 for the Golden State Film Festival. The story revolves around Michael Dawson, played by Divyansh Sharma, a grieving spoken word artist trying to come to terms with the loss of a loved one. The 30-minute short which Sharma wrote, directed, acted, and edited went on to amass more than 30 awards across the world at film festivals like New York Film Awards, Los Angeles Film Awards, Delhi International Film Festival and more.

Without skipping a beat, Sharma wrote, co-directed, starred and edited his next project “Cigarettes in December”. In this upcoming film Divyansh Sharma portrays Russ, a sexual assault survivor who attends court ordered support group therapy and enters a graduation isolation from the world. Sharma is currently in the final stages of Post Production and will be the first project to be completely done in-house by his own Production Company “Origins Productions”. Sharma is looking forward to a successful run in the festival circuit for Cigarettes in December as he begins to shift his gaze on Pre-Production for next his project he co-wrote called “a Dream in Frames” whose script has already gone to win a Screenwriting award at Los Angeles Film Festival.

From performing Street Plays in rural India to turning heads with his debut in Los Angeles Divyansh Sharma is on a path that continues to deliver. From starring in Award- winning commercials to creating his own Award- winning features his footprint is firm and felt and his message is clear: “Re-invent the cinematic standard one film at a time”.

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Arts & Culture

Tulsi, Kamala tussle on night 2 of Detroit Democratic debate

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Tulsi Kamala Dem Debate

DETROIT (Diya TV) — In another otherwise straightforward affair, night two of the Democratic debate in Detroit, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Senator Kamala Harris took jabs at one another, as they both aim to capture attention and move up in the polls.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues to tout the U.S.-India relationship, saying on a tour to the Indo-Pacific region that America is “working hard with the Indian government to provide them with opportunities to grow their economy.”

A 60-year-old Sikh priest was attacked at his home near a Sikh gurdwara in Hughson, California. Amarjit Singh says the suspect broke several windows, punched him in the back of his neck, and then yelled ‘go back to your country,’ before fleeing.

Indian rapper Badshah broke the record for most views of a YouTube video within 24 hours of its premiere. His new video “Paagal” received a staggering 75 million views, topping a mark set by Korean boy band BTS.

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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US India trade talks resume after G20 summit, in New Delhi

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US-India Trade Talks

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — India and the U.S. will resume bilateral trade talks in New Delhi next week. These talks continue the dialog established by Indian Prime Minister Modi and President Trump at the Osaka G20 Summit last week.

Sikh activists launched a petition asking Presidential candidate and California Senator Kamala Harris to apologize for supporting employment discrimination against a Sikh job applicant in 2011 during her tenure as California’s attorney general.

A report by Bloomberg says Boeing turned to Indian-based subcontractors who were paid as little $9 per hour for work on the U.S. planemaker’s beleaguered 737 Max aircraft.

Mahmud Jamal is now a Justice of Appeal of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, becoming the 4th ever South Asian federal appellate judge in Canada.

A group of South Asian filmmakers including Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap and actors like Anupam Kher and Archie Panjabi are among the 842 people invited to become members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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