An UNWISE embarrassment to VICE

Pallavi Pundir writes an article about the Isha Foundation for VICE News. I was simultaneously appalled and amused at the gall of someone who has not visited the Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore even once but writes something about it for a reputable media like VICE, inviting a bunch of lawsuits potentially for its defamatory content.

https://www.vice.com/en/article/xgy8bw/climate-yoga-celebrity-sadhguru-india-will-smith-trevor-noah

First and foremost, Pallavi should have considered the background of the informer and their credibility first before blindly taking whatever he is saying. Siva, whom Pallavi quotes almost exclusively and extensively throughout her article, is known as a drunkard who often gets into fights with the tribals in the region.

Siva was thrown out of a magazine that he was working with earlier for doing some malpractice. Then he was also arrested by the Police for cheating local tribal people.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Coimbatore/Man-arrested-on-cheating-charge/article16072405.ece

He has been attacking the Isha Foundation, perhaps as a paid initiative through vested interests, on a very regular basis.

For example, in 2021, when an elephant died of electrocution in a farmland a few kilometers away from Isha, Siva was among the first to take to Twitter and spread the fake news that the elephant died because of Isha center.

When the local police investigated, they found that the farmland belonged to a private farmer named Durai, who was arrested for erecting an illegal electrical fence that caused the elephant’s death.

Whereas Siva claimed that the elephant was chased by Isha Foundation members, the District Forest Officer clearly denied that saying that any tracking or chasing of elephants is done by the forest department teams and not by any private parties.

There were a few media outlets that called out the lies spread by Siva at that time.

I wonder how a media outlet like the VICE News believed everything that such a dubious character like Siva was parroting. Let’s now look at some of the obvious flaws and false news in Pallavi’s article.

(1) Then he ventured into the forest by himself for eight months, trying to figure out why elephants were wandering out of their habitat. He witnessed over 50 elephants leave. Some attacked humans, many died in accidents.

Elephants are not the typical household pets that you follow for months and track so easily. These are wild elephants and even seasoned forest guards do not dare go close to them. Saying that Siva tracked 50 elephants and even witnessed elephants attacking humans is a first — no such story has ever come in any Tamil or Indian magazine also. Makes one wonder how he lived during those months — on the trees, under the elephants’ bellies, or inside the lakes where the elephants bathe perhaps! The author can get 4 out of 5 for this original, fictional content.

(2) “The documents showed around 30 institutions built near and on forest lands without any approval, disturbing the critical elephant habitat,” Siva told VICE World News.

There is no such RTI and this same person used to earlier claim that Isha Foundation was blocking an elephant corridor and an elephant migratory path.

The Wildlife Trust Of India (WTI) has published a comprehensive revised edition of a document called ‘Right of Passage: Elephant Corridors of India’ in 2017 that lists all the elephant corridors in India.

https://www.wti.org.in/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/pub_right_of_passage-1.pdf

This document not only details the villages & towns lying on each of the elephant corridors but also lists all the encroachments & buildings that are on the elephant corridors. Isha Foundation does not find any mention whatsoever for being on any of the said elephant corridors not just within the district but also in the entire country.

Once Isha Foundation produced all the land-related documents and government documents on elephant corridors in India as proof that they are nowhere near an elephant corridor, Siva then switched the narrative to them being close to an ‘elephant habitat’.

A common man may not understand the technicalities between an elephant corridor and an elephant habitat. But an investigative journalist like Pallavi should have questioned this change in narrative and should have taken into cognizance these differences between a corridor and a habitat.

In 2020, when some vested groups including Siva tried to stop the Mahashivratri celebrations of Isha Foundation, The National Green Tribunal of India investigated and clearly pronounced that no man-animal conflict has been reported in the area due to Isha Foundation’s presence while dismissing the allegation that the foundation’s buildings are not in any elephant corridor.

In 2021, the Tamilnadu Government had also responded in an RTI that the Isha Foundation is not occupying any forest land nor is it in any elephant corridor.

(3) “The scale of his activities is nothing short of criminal,” said Siva, who claims he survived four attacks for “investigating Sadhguru”. “Many tribal people are facing various kinds of intimidation for speaking up,” said Siva.

This is another false information spread by Siva. Recently, he along with a movie director Gowthaman had tried to spread false news that some tribals had been beaten up by Isha Foundation folks.

Upon investigation, it was found that those people were beaten up by the tribals themselves for misbehaving with a tribal girl. The tribals had reported this incident to the Police requesting to keep such miscreants away from causing unrest in their villages.

(4) Earlier this month, Sadhguru ordered his team to cut a BBC Tamil interview when the journalist asked him if his foundation violated laws

Anyone who has seen the BBC Tamil interview with Sadhguru can clearly identify that Sadhguru was not trying to escape the allegations, but despite clarifying it multiple times when the interviewer kept harping on the same point, Sadhguru asked the interview be stopped. The only thing the BBC folks seemed to be interested was in heckling Sadhguru to which he did not budge.

a. 74 nations have signed up an MOU with the #SaveSoil team.

b. Over 2 billion people have been touched through the movement.

c. Sadhguru spoke at the COP-15 and WEF events.

The BBC interviewers did not ask about any of that.

All they were interested in was to somehow pin the environment-related allegations on Isha Foundation. And this comes after the TN Government clearly spelled out in an RTI that Isha center is not occupying any forest land nor is it an elephant corridor.

The issue of environmental clearance not being there has been contended in the court of law itself, and it was in the news media itself.

So, this BBC Tamil interview was nothing but a planned hit-job to malign Sadhguru.

(5) In 2018, Sadhguru told a student who questioned him about these allegations, “If I want, I can file a hundred cases against you. It’s up to you if you want to spend the next 20 years in [courts],” he said. “This is the country you are living in, I want you to know.”

This is yet another misdirection of facts. This so-called questioning by a student happened at NALSAR in Hyderabad, India. Here is the full video link to this conversation ..

At around 2:37:05 in the video, a student stands up from the crowd and questions Sadhguru alleging that the Isha Foundation is on an elephant corridor.

While answering her, Sadhguru clarifies that Isha Foundation is not in an elephant corridor. When asked about the court cases on Isha, he said that in a democratic country like India, anyone can file a court case against anybody for the most frivolous of reasons and that he can also file a hundred cases against that girl student. His point was in the context of explaining how some people are using court cases as a tool or weapon to harass someone.

Only people with devious minds and who deliberately want to spread misinformation can interpret his statements as threatening a student.

(6) One of the earliest allegations against Sadhguru goes back to 1997, when his wife, Vijaykumari, mysteriously died. Sadhguru described it as a spiritual departure, but a news report cited her father’s allegations of foul play. The case was closed soon after.

There is no mystery regarding Sadhguru’s wife’s death. She attained to what is called as Mahasamadhi in Yoga, and in presence of many people. The facts regarding Sadhguru’s wife’s death have been explained by both Sadhguru and Isha Foundation in many interviews.

- The Mahasamadhi happened in the presence of many people and a doctor certified the death stating there was nothing malicious involved.

- The police case itself was filed seven months after Vijayakumari’s (Vijji) death. If her father had indeed suspected foul play, he would have immediately filed the police case. It is suspected that the case was the result of instigation from someone else.

- The police investigated and noted that all eye-witnesses said that the couple were very close and had no fights among them

- Vijji and her father had communicated via letters on 30/01/1997 and even at that time, there was no evidence of any misunderstanding between the couple

- Vijji’s behavior had not changed in any way even on the day she passed away, as per all eyewitnesses

- The doctor who handled her and issued the death certificate ruled out injuries or poison. When the bones were sent for forensics by the police, there was no trace of poison found in them

Since there is nothing to prove any foul play in multiple angles, the police dismissed the case. This is the background behind the death of Sadhguru’s wife.

This phenomenon of Mahasamadhi is not unique to Isha Foundation alone. Hundreds of Hindu and Buddhist monks work towards their Samadhi state consciously and this has been part of the country’s culture for millennia. As recently as July 2021, another yogi from Coimbatore (where Isha center is also present), His Holiness Srimadh Vidhyadhiraja Theertha Sreepada Swamy, attained Mahasamadhi in sitting posture. This was widely covered in the news media also.

(7) Sadhguru’s speeches reflected the ideology and rising Islamophobia in the country.

This lie of linking Islamophobia with Sadhguru has been thoroughly debunked with the wonderful reception he had while traveling through the most conservative Muslim countries in the Middle East as part of his Save Soil journey recently.

Taking Sadhguru’s words out of context with respect to the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) has been again a mischievous act by some vested interests. There was widespread fake news when the CAA was proposed, that Muslims will be chased out of India. Sadhguru was among the first to say that the act did not seem to have anything like that in its provision.

And when there were widespread protests against CAA that turned violent, Sadhguru empathized with both the people whose lives were impacted and the police who were attacked. So, some people took his statements totally out of context and spread false news that Sadhguru spoke against Muslims.

Here is his video regarding CAA and anyone can see the truth for themselves.

Sadhguru also scolded the Indian media for not clarifying enough about CAA to the Muslim minorities that feel threatened because of the fake news.

Every head of the state of Islamic countries that Sadhguru visited in 2022 had received him with utmost admiration and affection.

H.E. Dr. Al-Issa, the Secretary General of the Muslim World League embraces Sadhguru and the SaveSoil Movement. He goes on to say

“We already love you a lot. We loved you even before seeing you and when we saw you, we fell in love even more.”

This simple statement coming from the head of the Muslim World League shows how much the Islamic world loves Sadhguru. All the talk about Sadhguru spreading Islamophobia is just nonsense.

(8) There are no public records of the foundation’s revenue and expenses in India.

Isha Foundation, Isha Outreach, Isha Education, etc. are all registered NGOs with the Government of India. In India, every NGO undergoes annual tax audits with the Income Tax Department of India. Every year hundreds of NGOs get banned for tax irregularities and not once have such complaints come about any of Isha’s NGO units.

The NGOs are not obliged to publish their revenue and expense details in public in India. Most NGOs do not but some may choose to. But people who may simply claim of irregularities have so far produced no incriminating proof for that.

(9) Most recently, the foundation came under Indian government scrutiny for allegations that they profited off their environmental campaign.

This is once again completely incorrect. There was a Public Interest Litigation filed by a private party (not the Indian Government) against the Cauvery Calling project. This case was taken up by the Karnataka State High Court and over the next few months, it was thoroughly investigated.

At the end of the investigation, the High Court of Karnataka found no foul play by the Isha Foundation and in fact, praised the foundation for its environmental rejuvenation efforts.

(10) In 2018, the Comptroller Auditor General of India tabled a report in the state assembly listing how the foundation flouted norms, which the foundation denied, saying they got all clearances.

The Comptroller Auditor General has no purview to talk about Isha, as it is just an auditing body to inspect the case of financial fraud or violations in government projects and that too by state entities.

The CAG had alleged encroachment of forest area and Isha Foundation’s presence in an elephant corridor, which have been debunked by the Tamilnadu Government itself in an RTI response.

As for the issue of building approvals that the CAG had raised, Isha Foundation has published all proofs and their official response to CAG observations on their website itself.

Isha Foundation had published on their website, detailed records with proofs of their lands being private patta lands.

(11) Siva, however, differs from that version, adding that the foundation didn’t just grab land, but also fenced off chunks of the forest

The Tamilnadu Forest Department declared in 2013 itself that Isha Foundation does not occupy any forest land. In a recent RTI, the Tamilnadu Government has also confirmed that there is no occupation or encroachment of forest by Isha. Siva is obviously lying through his teeth here.

Coming to the encroachment of tribal lands, the lady whose face was shown in the fore by Siva, Muthammal has no lands actually. Her own daughter Gayathri confirmed this to media outlets many times.

In 2021, When some miscreants came to the local villages trying to incite people against the Isha Foundation, the local tribal people themselves chased them away and even launched a police complaint of such people trying to cause unrest in the area. People living in the vicinity of Isha Center in Coimbatore know the truth that there is no encroachment of forest or tribal land by the Foundation and that this is a story repeated many times, merely attempting to cement a lie as a truth.

As a matter of fact, the Isha Foundation employs many tribals and provides free education to many of the tribal children/youth. Many local tribals have claimed that Isha has transformed their lives significantly through its spiritual and social outreach programs.

Isha is the only place in the area where the local tribals are allowed to Pooja. In 2021, the local tribals thanked Sadhguru on the occasion of Deepavali for all the benefits Isha bestows on them.

In conclusion, almost all the allegations that Pallavi has put forth in her article have been debunked already in public media itself. We sincerely wish she had done some basic research about these before buoyantly publishing them and making an embarrassment of herself and the VICE.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store