IT’S IMPORTANT that freedom of speech be honoured at all costs. Everyone has freedom of expression. But sedition and saying things like ‘Bharat ko barbaad karke rahenge’ will not be tolerated by any democracy and any civilised society,” said spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the Express Adda in Delhi on Monday.
A Padma Vibushan awardee, Sri Sri spoke on a range of subjects, from freedom of speech to gay rights, and moderating in times of conflict to the arrest of JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest on sedition charges.
“We can’t leave such seeds further unattended, which will further grow and criminalise the whole atmosphere. We need to nip criminal tendencies in the very beginning. It’s not done with vengeance, it is only done with more compassion. If a child is going with a criminal tendency, what will the parent do?” he asked.
“Action needs to be taken and we cannot tolerate such provocative things,” said Sri Sri. However, he added that the government could have handled the situation “with compassion”.
“They (government) could have done much more. They could have included some mediators, people who can give them some sense,” he said.
Responding to a question on Section 377 that deals with criminalisation of homosexuality, Sri Sri called it an obsolete law. “Politicians want to play safe. They are more concerned about the vote bank in their constituency. We should not be blind to the progressive thinking that is happening around the world. We cannot hold on to the law which is obsolete, which belongs to the colonial era, which was not even found in this country,” he said.
The Art of Living founder was in conversation with Vandita Mishra, National Opinion Editor, The Indian Express, and Prasoon Joshi, lyricist and chairman, Asia Pacific, CEO and COO, India, McCann Worldgroup.
Known for his political interventions across the world, Sri Sri also spoke about his recent attempts to mediate the issue of gender discrimination at Maharashtra’s Shani Shingnapur temple. Earlier this month, he had suggested allowing men and women to have “darshan” of the deity by citing the models practised at the Kashi Vishwanath and Tirupati Balaji temples.
“I had a detailed conversation with both the groups. When it comes to religion, there is a lot of fear among people. To change, fear is a big obstacle. Some custom which has been followed for the last so many years, if they want to change suddenly, intellectually they say, okay I will do it, but emotionally, there is a block… I gave them the assurance that nowhere in the scriptures there is discrimination… The solutions are not difficult to find, but if there are vested interests or political motives, then things become difficult,” he said.
Previously, Sri Sri has mediated in Nepal, held talks with insurgent groups in the North-east and with Naxal leaders. Last year, he engaged in talks with leaders of the Colombian guerrilla movement FARC last year.
“I reached out to FARC and that was very interesting. After they gave me the highest civilian award in Colombia, I had a formal meeting with the President. But that formal meeting turned out to be something else… It was a 60-year-old insurgency…So I went there and spent three days to talk to them. First they were very reluctant because, of course, I am from an alien culture speaking an alien language and alien religion. But the last day, they came along with me for a press conference and accepted my proposal of non-violent way of pursuing their pursuit. They declared unilateral ceasefire,” he said.
He also spoke about his unsuccessful attempt at reaching out to the Islamic State for a possible dialogue last year. “I sent a message to them. They sent me instead death threats, showing some pictures of beheaded bodies. ‘You want to talk to us, this is how you can talk to us’, they told me. I said there is no point in having a discussion if they think that people with other point of views and those who are different have no right to exist. So I left it at that,” he said.