Firing incident puts spotlight on Art of Living Foundation

Bangalore, May 31 (Calcutta Tube) The Art of Living was founded as a non-profit organization 28 years back by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but it has never had virtually non-stop media coverage like now in the wake of Sunday evening’s firing incident at its ashram here.

Almost 24 hours of the single .32 bullet grazing the right thigh of a devotee causing abrasion, there was no clear picture of what happened as none of the around 5,000 devotees at the time of the incident noticed anybody firing or running away to escape.

The first information to the media came around 10 p.m. Sunday, about four hours after the firing at the complex on Kanakapura Road, about 25 km from Bangalore city centre.

It was a bland email: ‘While leaving from public satsang this evening in Bangalore, an unidentified gunman shot at Sri Sri’s convoy. It hit one of the devotee’s thigh causing a minor injury.’

The same statement also came as SMS, about half an hour later.

Almost immediately the 54-year-old, ever smiling Ravi Shankar was responding to telephone calls from various media organisations explaining the sequence of events, possible misunderstanding of the communication between his devotees and the state police and appealing for calm.

Since this morning he met the press twice, one as early as around 8 a.m., and also has been busy giving interviews in person to media persons based in Bangalore and on phone to those calling from other parts of India and abroad.

The injured devotee, Vinay Kumar Kollurmath, hailing form Belgaum in north Karnataka and working as software professional in Bangalore, also met the press formally apart from separate interviews to print and electronic media, to give his version of the event.

The Art of Living founder had fielded several questions on the sequence of the event Monday as the Director General of Police Ajay Kumar Singh told reporters after a visit to the complex that the firing was not being treated as an attack on the life of the spiritual guru.

Reports in a section of the electronic media that the incident could be the result of enmity between devotees further confounded the already unclear episode.

Ravi Shankar flatly dismissed the reports as speculation and also expressed disappointment that the police were treating the episode as a mere incident.

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s comments in New Delhi on the incident did not clear the confusion.

He took care to stress that he only had received an oral report and waiting for a written one.

‘Our reports say that the incident took place after Sri Sri Ravi Shankar left the place in his car and, therefore, it may not be correct, I underline, may not be correct to say that the firing was aimed at him,’ he said.

‘It seems to be a dispute or a brawl between two of his followers. One of them has been injured in his thigh but is not in danger,’ he said.

The sequence of the events as given by Ravi Shankar, his devotees and state police chief:

Ravi Shankar: ‘Heard loud noise as I was getting into car after completing satsang (discourse) just after 6 p.m. The devotee was standing about 50ft or 50 metres away from me’.

Vinay Kumar Kollurmath: I was standing away from guruji (as Ravi Shankar is popularly known) after the satsang. Suddenly I felt severe pain in my right thigh. I was not in a state to know whether Guruji had left or not.’

Police chief: ‘The injured devotee says the incident occurred between 6.05 p.m. and 6.10 p.m., that is about five minutes after guruji had left the place in his car.’

Ravi Shankar: ‘When my devotees told police five minutes after I left, they meant I had left the dais and not the complex. It takes me more than five minutes to leave dais as I greet people and talk to devotees. I heard the noise when I was in the car and the door was to be closed.’

Police chief: ‘The trajectory of the bullet etc shows that it must have been fired from about 700 metres away. Hence as of now we are not treating it as an attack on the life of guruji. We are treating it as in incident.’

Ravi Shankar: ‘I am disappointed. The incident should be not be brushed aside. Intelligence Bureau and police should conduct a thorough probe.’

Police chief: ‘We were informed three hours after the incident.’

Ravi Shankar: ‘There was no delay. We took time to ascertain as none knew what happened. We did not want to create panic. Ashram is 45 minutes away from the nearest police station. It was raining heavily. Police also needed time to reach.’

Ravi Shankar’s spokesperson: ‘By 7.30 p.m. our report was ready. We could not get through to the police station. We could do so only around 8.20 p.m. Police came about an hour later.

Ravi Shankar: ‘Police thought it was a small incident. They even asked whether they can come in the morning to take the complaint.’

Police chief: ‘He is provided with Y-category security. Arrangements will be reviewed.’

Ravi Shankar: ‘I do not want Z-category security (the highest). But will request for more security as I expect around 1,000 American devotees to visit here in October/November and February.’

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