Last month, SRI M concluded his 7,500-km Walk of Hope across India in Kashmir. On his return, he spoke to REENA SINGH in the Capital on what can be done to bring peace in the troubled Valley where Hindus and Muslims once lived harmoniously
Your year-long Walk of Hope from Kanyakumari to Kashmir has now concluded. Did you achieve your goal?
■ We have planted the seeds.One walk cannot solve all problems, I know — when you plant a seed, it does not become a tree in one day.You have to watch, wait, nourish, pour water, look after it….But we need help, follow-up action; then something will come out of it. In November, I will call all those who have coordinated with us, for a brainstorming session. Many problems stem from lack of education.We hope to start mobile classrooms,especially for children of construction workers, also in Delhi.There simply aren’t enough schools.We will begin the experiment first in Bangalore. We want to set up mobile classrooms. We need educationists to come together to establish single-teacher mobile schools with help from locals.My wife will work on the project, as she is principal of a school.We will send these children to the National Open School. We hope to set up small labs with microscopes, telescopes — it won’t just be about putting information into their heads.We will pitch tents and hold classes outside where children can sit around and talk. They will learn about the environment; how to care for it. And for employment, they must at least complete Higher Secondary. The Walk has also engendered communal harmony. Local groups will organise little padyatras and whenever a communal problem comes up,we will talk to people of all religions. We’ve been invited to Berlin, Berne and Zurich to take the Walk of Hope there. We had participants from these places; they want to use this to help solve their refugee problem.We will figure out how to go about it.
You have a Muslim background, and are active in interfaith engagements. How will you address the jihadis?
■ Kashmir was a relevant experience. We wound up our walk in Srinagar. I met many young, local Kashmiris including journalists. It is not a problem of religion but of wrong interpretation of religion and religion being used by vested interests there.They want peace. We need to give their dignity back to them.I asked them what happens to the money that the government of India has pumped into Kashmir? They said it is pocketed by our politicians.
I met a displaced Kashmiri Pandit, who said that Hindus and Muslims had always lived together in Kashmir for centuries in total harmony.…
■ That’s precisely it…it has been manipulation of so-called political forces under the guise of religious forces. No Kashmiri wants to be a part of Pakistan; there may be a few fringe elements, certainly, but largely they just want to be free and will lean towards anyone who will provide them jobs,look after them and treat them with dignity.I think the Pandits should go back to Kashmir. I think there will be no problem now.
What about their lost property?
■ That has gone now and there is no point in trying to claim that back. A peace move has to be made for people to come together.Bollywood actor,Raj Zutshi,joined us on the walk there.He told them, “Mein khali gale milne ke liya aaya hoon. My parents were from here, but they moved to Mumbai.But I have been hearing about Kashmir from them and I have come back to hug you all.” After Raj had finished his talk,there was a long line of Muslims waiting to hug him. It wasn’t because he was a Bollywood star — he isn’t Amitabh Bachchan.That was how we ended our walk, with Srinagar. I see hope.This was called the Walk of Hope.We now need to water and nourish the seeds we planted.
Are you suggesting the army should move out?
■ You can’t just suddenly pull out the army.That will be a wrong signal to our neighbour who is always waiting. But eventually all this has to go.We have to improve Indo-Pak relations.The CRPF IG was telling me that instead of making them out to be some kind of killers, we need to talk to them,to take off our uniforms for a while. If the majority of young educated people in Kashmir, wake up to it, nobody can do any harm.The positive thing is that these young people are all educated; they talk, they want to do something.They are suffering. I had an advantage. I was born with a Muslim name and I could touch their hearts. I told them about my guru — who was from a Nath sampradaya — but that is a different matter. Kashmir has a history of Sufi-Shaivite unity from the beginning, and that has now disappeared.All the old, Sufi shrines were sacred to Kashmir Shaivites like Abhinava Gupta. Ali Mansoor Al Hallaj, the great Sufi saint from Persia, spent a year in Kashmir with the Kashmir Shaivites centuries ago.The Kashmir Shaivites say, “Sada Shiva,and what is inside us is Shiva.” It is the same thing that Ali Mansoor said….“I am the Truth”.
But isn’t time running out to realise our hopes for peace?
■ Yes, time is running out;also for me. I am 67.We walked 7,500 km through sunshine, rain and cold.People warned me not to go; they said you will be shot at in Godhra,but we went ahead.Nothing happened. I think when one has a good idea, it is bound to work. Universal Consciousness also cooperates.
How can everyone here overcome intolerance for minorities?
■ Social work can be done to some extent, but politicians too have to change. People don’t look at me as a Hindu, Christian or Muslim, but as a neutral person — as someone who respects Christian values,Islamic values — who stands for peace.The Guru Granth Sahib believes,Awal Allah nur upaya kudrat ke sab bande.We give too much importance to organsational setups and to political interference than to the essence of religions. If that can be restored, extremism will disappear. It’s not easy,but I want to sow the seeds.Youngsters in future will pick it up and do a good job. I’ve had wonderful interactions with young people.They are intelligent, but if you give them wrong information, what do you expect? So I go and have a heart-to-heart conversation with them.
Are you against materialism?
■ I won’t say that — we need materialism. We cannot live like sanyasis. But when that becomes more important than humanity, it becomes a dangerous trend. Ritual is not religion.You may celebrate festivals,go to temples,but you don’t change internally.All religions have this form. Prophet Muhammad would break his fast with half a loaf of bread, but look at iftars today — they are just showpieces for politicians.They serve people food on one occasion that would have been enough for a thousand poor people for 100 days. What kind of breaking of fast is this? This is just materialism in the name of religion.