Shopian is a district several kilometers away from Srinagar where there had been a bandh since three days because of an encounter where civilians were also affected. But thankfully, on this day, the day of (Paigame-Mohabbat event in Srinagar) the curfew was lifted. Hameeda, and two hundred other women, left their homes at 3:00 am. They wanted to make sure they would be in Srinagar before any new restrictions were imposed.
When they reached the venue, there were thousands of others whom they met. They had also left early not wanting to take any chances on this special day. The buses were stopped several kilometers away from the venue. Hundreds of police officers were busy frisking each and every person who arrived. They did not allow even water bottles to be carried. But that was still okay because several hundred buses from rural districts were not even allowed to enter Srinagar on that day. Hameeda was lucky. She and her group of women took their seats under one of the three temporary tents that were put up facing the stage. The seats were steadily filling up. Kashmir is not known for public gatherings.
People are not keen to collect or be part of any big groups because the chances of someone firing a gun and creating chaos is far too high. They stay away out of fear. But today, the air was different. It was filled with hope. The whispers of the one who was here to bring peace were carried across the mountains into the homes of simple villagers. They listened to their hearts and decided to come. They felt confident that something good was going to happen and they wanted to be a part of it.
Just four months back, in November, about 200 families of victims of militancy and families of ex-militants came all the way to the Bangalore ashram. When the two were faced with each other, the anger and nonacceptance was palpable. Gurudev spoke to them of love, of forgiving, of the way to wash away the pain that was choking their lives.
At one point, a young Kashmiri mother got up - she had first lost her son to militancy, then his life in an encounter. She walked with measured steps and stood face to face with the widowed wife of an army officer. When their eyes met, something happened. “I realized that as women, we were going through the same pain,” shared the late army officer's wife. As tears flowed freely from their eyes, the ice melted and they embraced each other. One spark is enough to kindle the fame of transformation. Almost everyone in the room started taking steps towards each other. The revolution for peace had begun.
“India wants Kashmir. Pakistan wants Kashmir. Only you, Gurudev, want Kashmiris,” shared Munir Ahmed, a young ex-militant who had come with the group. There was so much joy and relief in their hearts for being able to forgive and accept.
When they returned to Kashmir, they formed a co-ordination committee and shared their unprecedented experience with their people and invited Gurudev to Kashmir for another “paigam-e-mohabbat.” Hameeda, Shamima, Tabassum, and Farida from Shopian were part of the group that came to Bangalore and they brought 200 ladies with them to the event in Kashmir. Others like them also brought people from their villages resulting in the gathering of eleven thousand.
I was getting news of the happenings in Srinagar from Neelam and Sanjay. Little video clips from participants gave me glimpses of what was going on.
“Getting ten people together is a big thing in Kashmir. Over ten thousand is unheard of!” Said Hilal Tantrey, another youth who had once taken up arms but is now passionate for peace as he looked around at the eleven thousand Kashmiris, gujjars and other community members who had all gathered of their own accord.
Water and food had been organized by the Art of Living team for them but not one packet or bottle was allowed inside for them. They still had several hours to wait. But no one left. They had borne greater challenges. Today, they were committed to stay.
“It is the call of your heart that has made this day possible,” said Gurudev as he addressed the gathering. When years of suffering veils the love in the hearts of people, a prayer arises in the hearts and minds of all. A prayer - let everyone be happy, let everyone have peace. And that pure intention brings a wave of transformation. There is an ancient saying, “Shreyansi Bahu vignani...”, when you take up something big, many obstacles also come up. That was the case here as well. Gurudev spoke briefly in the gathering and told them, he has come to listen to them, not just address them from the stage. He announced that he would meet them in groups where he was staying. And they flocked there. He met thousands of people in smaller groups, listening to the challenges that each group was faced with and wanted solutions to.
These groups were the key representatives of the larger groups that had come from every district. They discussed issues of labor, militancy, youth being misled, cybercrime, communities being isolated - so many diverse challenges. Gurudev says that when the drop feels connected to the ocean, it feels the strength of the ocean. In the same way, these small groups of people, when they met Gurudev, spoke to him, they felt that they were not alone anymore. “By the will of Allah, I pray that you come here again soon. There will be many many more of us waiting to receive you” said one young Kashmiri youth leader, “There are many forces that tried to stop us from coming. They may try in future too. But we are strong as the mountains and we are with you. You have brought us hope.”
When you are so thirsty for water, nothing else can take your attention. When the heart is thirsty, longing for love, for freedom from fear, and it finds that solace in the presence of the Master, nothing can stop it.
I was one of the thousands of people who were waiting for the media to share the story of what happened. I was also one of the thousands who were taken by shock and surprise at what was being projected. People who wait for hours to see Gurudev walk out of the talk when he is speaking? Youth come out of the venue shouting slogans? The event had to be wound up abruptly? And so many such disappointments. So I really wanted to find out what was going on. I asked the team on the ground what was happening.
“Didi, when Gurudev said he would meet people in groups at his hotel soon after the event, some people got up to rush to meet him there. It is not easy to move around quickly in Kashmir and they wanted to make sure they got the chance. The media chose to report this as people leaving the event upset when Gurudev spoke,” said Neelam. Even in the ashram, when the last Bhajan starts, people rush out of the venue to stand in the path where Gurudev will walk past so they get a closer glimpse. That doesn’t really mean they have walked out of satsang! Neelam continued,“ We were trying for hours to get permission to bring food and water for these people and when the water packets finally came into the venue, the event had already begun. People from the back rows who saw the water, rushed to quench their parched throats and this was also shown as disturbed people running away from the event and shouting.”
Further, to say that people travelled so far, amidst such tight security, without food and water so that they could get free sewing machines and cricket kits and portraying them as greedy commoners is insulting the ideals and values of the Kashmiris. This was unacceptable for me. They have come wanting a better life for their children. They have come seeking a better future for their whole community. They must be spoken of with dignity.
“Almost every group that came to meet Gurudev apologized and felt bad about the way things were being misreported,” said Harshal who was with Gurudev while several Kashmiri groups from the various districts came to meet him. They told him, “Gurudev, we know you have come for us and we have all come only for you. Thousands more would have been here today if so many buses had not been stopped. But we will work per your guidance and reach your message across the valley.”
“Kashmiris normally don’t come in front of the camera to record anything and risk their life. But so many of them stood up and spoke because they wanted the world to know the reality. They were upset with the media,” added Neelam.
It is unfortunate that the media often does not have the courage to share the truth. It is easy game for anyone with vested interests - a far reaching weapon in the wrong hands. But the illusion it creates cannot sustain. For when the sun rises, darkness has no place to stay.
I saw the same thing happening two years ago at the World Cultural Festival, on these same dates where millions had come together to answer the clarion call for peace. Those of you who were there would know what I am saying. But Gurudev is not moved by praise or criticism. I don’t know if anyone else would have been able to face so much baseless criticism and negativity and remain completely unshaken. He says that if it is constructive he will take it. But he will not deter from his commitment to bring peace to people, to the planet. Time and again we have seen that the truth alone prevails. And in this lies the seed for hope in every situation.
- Written by Bhanumathi Narasimhan
First published in Rishimukh in April 2018