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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.

Arts & Culture

India’s mega blockbuster ‘RRR’ vies for the Oscars

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LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — Legendary Indian director S.S. Rajamouli, of the Baahubali fame is back with yet another box office mega hit. ‘RRR’ (Rise,Roar, Revolt), the Telugu language epic, is set in 1920’s colonial India and has already broken many box-office records internationally. With nearly 300 days of shooting, thousands of hours in post production and an international team of VFX team, RRR is now making the waves among film critics in the United States.

Grossing over $175m worldwide, with nearly $2.5m from Japan alone, this film has garnered global appeal with its Bollywood style dance numbers, epic action sequences and high-end visual effects. 

As the film is gaining momentum in the film critics society, after winning the Atlanta & New York Film Critics Circle awards, ahead of the Oscars, we sat down with the key team members behind the scenes. Check out what they had to say:

With an astounding level of commitment and an inherent pride, the team worked tirelessly to bring the director’s vision to life.

While many expected this to be India’s official entry into the Oscars, that didn’t happen, but RRR will likely compete with films such as Avatar 2 and Top Gun Maverick in the VFX category. If it were to win, it would be the first ever film made in India to win that category at the Oscars. 

We, at Diya TV will be paying close attention, so like, follow & subscribe to get all your diaspora news as it happens.

UPDATE 12/12/22 : RRR has been nominated for Best Picture: Non-English Language & Best Original Song ‘Naatu Naatu’ for the Golden Globes.

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IFFLA celebrates 20 years with a focus to mentor the next generation

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IFFLA celebrates 20 years with a trip down memory lane

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — IFFLA celebrated their 20th anniversary with familiar faces, overwhelming excitement and new additions to Southern California’s largest Indian and South Asian focused film festival.

Pan Nalin opened the festival with his film Last Film Show, a love letter to cinema and loosely based on his childhood.

“I think IFFLA over the years, it has been like a home in Hollywood. So I was always able to come here and invite people from the industry to see these movies,” said Nalin. “There are producers who usually don’t go to see Indian cinema. So I feel that it’s really important.”

Director Anurag Kashyap returned to host a MasterClass — a way to give back to the festival and fellow filmmakers.

“It is always good to be back here because for me this is where it all started from. And it’s amazing to see that this festival has grown so much and has been sustaining for so long,” said Kashyap.

New filmmakers were honored to be part of the lineup this year, especially after no in-person IFFLA for the last two years.

Hena Asraf, Director of The Return, shares “it feels a little unreal. It feels great! I think especially to be at a festival in person, after over two years.” 

“The community is amazing. The welcome is very warm. It feels just so honoring to be a part of this festival and amongst these filmmakers. I can’t wait to see all the other films,” said The Return Editor Esther Shubinski.

It’s that family feeling that makes IFFLA special and keeps filmmakers, attendees, and staff keep coming back.

Actor and director Ravi Kapoor is “just so grateful for this festival. It has been such a supporter of me. And they’ve helped bring the South Asian diasporic community here in LA together as well. Thank god they’ve lasted 20 years.”

Actor & musician Monica Dogra points out “what’s wonderful about IFFLA [is] it’s super niche, South Asians in LA of all places. [And] it’s small enough so you actually see people anyway.”

Actor Pooja Batra added, “I think they’ve always been eclectic with their mix of selection that they bring around here — smaller budget, smaller sort of productions also need a shout out.”

One of the new additions this year is the Spotlight on South Asia.

Festival founder Christina Marouda added this vertical to present films from different countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal. “We’re putting a spotlight on projects we want to support,” said Marouda.

The other major new change this year was a live table read of IFFLA alum Kahlil Maskati’s feature script, Alim Uncle, rather than a closing night film. Fawzia Mirza directed the piece.

These changes reflect IFFLA’s commitment to supporting filmmakers while giving audiences more than a viewing experience. In fact, they are able to be part of the filmmaking process.

Marouda says after 20 years, this is IFFLA’s direction moving forward — a full effort to mentor budding filmmakers, while showcasing new films.

Ravi Kapur and Deepti Dawar contributed to this report.

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Garcetti’s ambassadorship to India in limbo

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Garcetti's ambassadorship to India in limbo | Diya TV News

WASHINGTON DC (Diya TV) — Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has lifted the “hold” on the Senate confirmation of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been nominated by US President Joe Biden as the country’s next ambassador to India. Initially, Grassley planned to object to the nomination, saying Garcetti failed to properly investigate sexual assault allegations and harassment by a close advisor.

Protesters in Sri Lanka have burned down homes belonging to 38 politicians as the crisis-hit country plunged further into chaos, with the government ordering troops to shoot anyone caught destroying property. Even the former Prime Minister had to be evacuated from his home. Angry Sri Lankans continue to defy a nationwide curfew to protest against what they say is the government’s mishandling of the country’s worst economic crisis since 1948.

Internationally recognized Indian American energy expert Arun Majumdar will head the new Stanford University Doerr School of Sustainability, which aims to tackle urgent climate and sustainability challenges,

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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