Programme at SKICC ends in embarrassing debacle as people leave, chanting Azadi slogans; many say they were duped by organisers
Srinagar: The “peace event” of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living (AOL), turned out to be a completely damp squib at the SKICC here on Saturday, with people in the audience rising up and chanting pro-freedom slogans before leaving the venue.
Several participants in the event also alleged that the organisers duped them by bringing them to the venue on various pretexts like waiving off loans, that resistance leader Syed Ali Geelani was going to address the gathering, and that relatives of victims will be given monetary compensation by Sri Sri’s AOL.
The programme, titled Paigam-e-Mohabbat, began with Sri Sri addressing the participants who had come from various places in Kashmir. He said that he loved the Kashmiri language and that he had come to Kashmir to heal the wounds of Kashmiris.
“Together we will build peace in Kashmir,” Sri Sri said. “Let us forget the pains of the past and work towards peace. We will all work together to bring peace in Kashmir.”
Within no time, several people in the audience rose up and started raising slogans in favour of Azadi. The outrage was such that people started leaving the venue while accusing the organisers of having deceived them.
Sri Sri stopped his speech mid-way and left the venue. He went to a local hotel to address a press conference there.
At the SKICC event, an old man wearing a skull cap said that he was told by the organisers that his farmer’s loan will be waived off if he attends the event.
“That is why I came,” he said.
Another man, sporting a beard, said he came from Kupwara because he was told that a Gujjar leader would address the conference and listen to people’s complaints.
“When we came here, we realised he (Sri Sri) is asking us to leave our religious faith,” he said. “We will not leave our faith. This programme is completely wrong.”
A woman said that she was the relative of a man who had died in conflict. She said she was told by the organisers that if she attends the event, she will get monetary compensation.
A group of young men from Budgam said they had come to the event because they were told that Syed Ali Geelani will address it.
A large number of people, from various parts of Kashmir, had assembled in Srinagar to attend the event a day before as well. They said they were not given breakfast and lunch and were compelled to wait for many hours.
Earlier, the AOL in a press note said that the event by Sri Sri would have a far-reaching impact on the process of peace and trust building.
At the hotel where he addressed the press conference, Sri Sri dodged most of the questions. He was asked if he was suggesting Kashmir to “forget the past” then how come he advocates for the construction of a “Ram Mandir” to replace the Babri Masjid constructed centuries ago. He dodged the question.
While speaking to the press, Sri Sri said he wants to build peace in Kashmir “along with the people of Kashmir”.
“People should speak against injustice,” he said. He also said civilian killings were not acceptable, and so were killings of government forces’ personnel.
In reply to a question that he was close to the BJP, Sri Sri said he was “neither close, nor far” from them.
He also did not comment on the debacle at the SKICC. Instead, he said people from across Kashmir had come to meet him. “I will meet various delegations during the two days of my stay,” he said.
Sri Sri has also attracted condemnation from various political and civil society groups in India, most recently for inciting people for violence. In a statement, Sri Sri had said that “any delay in resolving the Ram Temple issue could result in a Syria-like situation in India and the courts have to respect the majority opinion.”