New Delhi: The controversial three-day ‘World Culture Festival’ being organised by the Art of Living Foundation of godman Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on the banks of the Yamuna from March 11 is aimed at “Making Life a Celebration”, but for many farmers who own or till land at the site, the event has made their life a misery.
A number of them have been displaced from their land, their standing crops have been bulldozed and three of them have been arrested and sent to jail on “trumped up charges” – the farmers say – for resisting forcible eviction from their properties.
All of this has happened in the past week on the stretch of land abutting the Noida road in East Delhi and extending from opposite Mayur Vihar Phase 1 Extension metro station to the Mayur Vihar metro station where the proposed parking for the event is coming up.
One of the affected farmers, Mohammad Ibram, narrated how the event has caused immense hardship to his family.
Ibram, who resides on the side of an unpaved road that descends from Noida Road into Chilla Khadar bang opposite the Star City Mall in Mayur Vihar Phase I Extension, said his family’s life were turned upside down on February 23, the day a police team arrived with some event organisers to ask them to vacate their land.
“My brother Salman, who is a Delhi University student, opposed the move along with his friend, Yameen, who resides near the toll plaza, and Shiv Kumar, who lives near Hanuman Mandir in Chilla Khadar itself. This was not liked by the Mayur Vihar police personnel who booked all three of them on non-bailable charges and arrested them. The three were subsequently sent to judicial custody and are lodged in Tihar Jail.”
Since the arrest, Ibram said he has spent nearly Rs 10,000 on lawyers’ fees and court charges. “I did not study beyond Class 3 because I was the eldest of five siblings and had to support my family. I ensured that my brothers studied well. But see what is being done to Salman, who also takes training at an industrial training institute. They are ruining his career – his examinations are due later this month.”
The three have been charged with four sections of the IPC: 341 (wrongful restraint), 392 (robbery), 411 (dishonestly receiving stolen property), and 506 (criminal intimidation if threat is to cause death or grievous hurt).
The lawyer of Salman, H. Rehman, said the complaint on the basis of which the three were arrested was registered by a maintenance engineer, Anand Kumar Yadav, a resident of New Ashok Nagar, who claimed that he was robbed of Rs 300 in cash and a Casio watch by the three accused.
While the case of the three young men is to come up in the Karkardooma courts on March 9, Ibram has not been able to rest easy. “Just as we were busy engaging lawyers and fighting Salman’s case, a number of senior police officers descended on our farmland two days ago and razed it with bulldozers. There were standing crops of cauliflower, radish, onion, mustard and spinach over two bighas and of wheat on another two bighas, which was destroyed by them.”
“I had invested nearly Rs 20,000 on seeds, manure and water for the crops and it is all gone,” said Salman, who also pays an annual rent of 6,000 per bigha to his landlord, a resident of Chilla village.
The family only managed to pull out some spring onions from the fields before they were razed. “See what has been left of our crops,” said Ibram’s anguished mother, Haleema, as she pointed to a bundle of spring onions.
Though his crop is gone and his brother is in jail, Ibram is even more worried about the police carrying out their threat of dislodging him from the land parcel. “They said, ‘So what if your crop is going this time, you are illegal occupants of this land. So if you will not give up your land for parking, we will book you’.”
Among the luminaries listed as members of the ‘reception committee’ for the Art of Living event are senior BJP leader LK Advani, Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma, senior Congress leader Karan Singh and the Delhi culture minister, Kapil Mishra of the Aam Aadmi Party.
Ibram’s family is not the only one in the area to have faced such strong-arm tactics. About 500 metres away, towards Mayur Vihar Phase I on the Noida road, another slip road leading into the fields below has been widened for creation of a second parking lot. Here, a large number of Dalit residents of Chilla village are holding a protest against the organisers who have destroyed their crops, flattened their land and have not paid any compensation either.
One of them, Raj Kumar, said that when the villagers, who had gone for a wedding to Ghaziabad, returned on February 20 morning, they found four bulldozers levelling their fields. “Our crops were standing when these Art of Living people came in and flattened them. When we protested, the police personnel accompanying them threatened us to comply or face action. They said the parking for the function will be made at all cost here.”
Another farmer, Mahender Singh, said that when they asked the organisers who gave them permission to destroy the land, they just showed an organisation letter and no government document. “The issue is also that this land comes under the Irrigation Department of the Uttar Pradesh Government, so how is the Delhi Police assisting these organisers in forcibly occupying it?” he asked.
The farmers said that though they had since been promises of some compensation, it never came. “We learnt that four families which were tilling some of the land had been paid Rs 4,000 per bigha compensation but the same was not offered to any of the nearly 200 other affected farmers here. In all, the protesters said about 200 acres of land had been flattened without permission.”
Incidentally, the Dalit farmers, who have filed a case in court against the incident, said “Sri Ravi Shankar also made a surprise visit to us on February 28. He said he was not aware about the crops being damaged and noted that the same could have been bought for the event. He also promised to compensate us but no one from his organisation has approached us so far,” said Babu Ram, the eldest of the farmers.
Another young farmer, Hira Lal, said he had a recording of Ravi Shankar. He played it. The spiritual leader could be heard saying, “Aap logon kay saath anyay nahin hona chahiye. Mehnat bekaar nahin honi chahiye (Injustice should not be done to you. Your efforts should not go waste).”
Unfortunately that is what had precisely happened.