Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living Foundation and also the alleged cause of the sarvanash of the Yamuna floodplains, was asked a bunch of awkward questions by students at JNU yesterday, and his responses were a bit of an intriguing hit-and-miss.
When asked by a student how he should deal with his family ill-treating him because he was gay, Sri Sri replied, “You treat yourself better, doesn’t matter how others treat you. You don’t think you are sick or something’s wrong with you. If you stand up, nobody can insult you… But if you feel weak and meek, and if you feel bad about yourself, nobody can make you feel better.” It gets a little murkier as he explicates, “This is your tendency now. Just acknowledge it and accept it, and know that this tendency is not a permanent thing. It may change. I’ve seen many men who were gay, later on turn into heterosexuals, and there are those who are normal — what are called straight people — end up being gay later in life.”
His terminology and idea of normalcy aren’t the best, and you definitely don’t need to comfort a gay man by telling him he might be attracted to women in the future. Still, Sri Sri’s response isn’t all bad, perhaps inadvertently: while not everyone would call a sexuality a tendency, you feel like there could be something helpful to learn from regarding sexuality in that more malleable and shifting way, instead of the rigid set of categories we restrict ourselves to now.
But when one student asked how to change the anti-national tag that JNU now had due to “some students” (bet he’s the most popular kid in his class there), it all went off the rails. Sri Sri started strong (or as strongly as you could expect from someone with his known politics) saying, “Rebelliousness is part of youthfulness. Some youths have a tendency to rebel. Just because they’re talking different, don’t think they’re anti-national. Don’t brand them.” But he trailed off on an unexpectedly malignant note saying, “Nobody can be disloyal to the nation they are in. If they are really so, they need counselling.”
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, of course, provides counselling services himself, like his nation-wide Living Well De-Addiction Program, which rehabilitates alcoholics and smokers. This service is generally better received than his recent attempt to “bring together a multitude of cultures from across the globe” (to celebrate 35 years of the Art of Living) in a 3-day cultural extravaganza that led to what the National Green Tribunal is saying is damage to the Yamuna floodplains that will cost over Rs 42 crore, and take at least 10 years, to fix.