Noisy scenes marred Art of Living founder’s peace conference in Srinagar on Saturday. Agitated participants from different parts of the Valley were allegedly ‘tricked’ to take part in the event
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of Art of Living (AOL), had to cut short his speech and a subsequent press conference in Srinagar as several people attending the function stood up and shouted slogans in favour of “Azadi” and militants on Saturday.
Noisy scenes marred an otherwise well attended function organised by AOL at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre as soon as Sri Sri started to speak.
Sri Sri, in his keynote address, said he had been invited by some well-meaning people to speak at the ‘Paigam-e-Mohabbat’ (Message of Love) function.
Claiming that some well-meaning people were working silently to redress the problems of people in Kashmir, he said that his visit was part of that non-political humanitarian initiative. “We want peace everywhere. We want Kashmir to become Switzerland.”
The angry participants, however, said they had been cheated by the organisers who had promised them that their bank loans would be waived at the function. Others said they had been invited for distribution of sewing machines among them.
People had come to participate in the function from as far away as Shopian, Pulwama and Budgam. They were reportedly made to sit since 8 am. The participants alleged that they were not served any food or water by the organisers of the seminar.
“There were participants who claimed to have been told that a Muslim cleric is a speaker and a non-governmental organisation would distribute cricket kits,” said a local reporter who covered the event. “Many viewed it as yet another conspiracy of New Delhi to hoodwink people of Kashmir. Also, there was popular eruption of popular anger as he (Sri Sri) is seen to enjoy proximity to (Prime Minister) Modi and right wingers, who stereotype Kashmiris as bad people.”
“[Sri Sri] has been invited by common people of Kashmir who have formed the J&K Coordination Committee. The idea behind organising this event is to find a lasting solution to the age-old Kashmir conflict,” read a statement issued by AOL, that has been published by many leading dailies of Kashmir Valley in their Saturday editions.
“From separatist leaders to stone-pelters, Sufi saints to intellectuals, Art of Living, led by him, has been in a continuous and sustained dialogue with all the stakeholders,” the statement said, adding that “reconciliation and conflict resolution efforts will continue to bridge religious, ideological and communal divides in the troubled valley”.
Sri Sri was expected to meet people from all walks of life and meet the delegations that had “urged to meet him personally”. He, the statement said, has been engaging with various sections of the society in Jammu & Kashmir since 2000.
Reacting to the incident, independent J&K MLA Sheikh Abdul Rashid, popularly known as Engineer Rashid, said: “Sri Sri rightly deserved it. Can he make security forces stationed here understand Paigam-e-Mohabbat? His sermons on ‘art of living’ to Kashmiris was like rubbing salt to their injuries.”
“What happened at SKICC should open the eyes of New Delhi.”
Sri Sri was in the line of fire over his recent remark, saying if if the court’s decision in the Ayodhya dispute is ‘not in favour of Hindus’, then we will have a ‘Syria-like situation’ in the country.