Kashmiri Pandit Leads ‘Hug Campaign’ to Spread Tolerance, Brotherhood

Amin Masoodi

2015-12-04
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151204-hugs-620 Sandeep Mawa (center), flanked by Sikh Satpal Singh, Muslim Ghulam Nabi Khan and other members of the Jammu & Kashmir Reconciliation Front, join hands in a show of solidarity and brotherhood.
Courtesy of Qazi Irshad

A Pandit from Kashmir has started a first-of-its-kind “hug campaign” to spread a message of tolerance and universal brotherhood across India.

Sandeep Mawa says he is hoping to dispel inter-communal tensions that have arisen since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power last year.

“Politicians are exploiting ordinary people for their material interests. They pit people of different faiths against each other, leading to a prevailing atmosphere of intolerance and hatred,” Mawa, a 38-year-old doctor, told BenarNews.

Members of India’s Sikh and Muslim minorities have joined him in his campaign to spread brotherly love among people from different faiths.

Mawa is a Pandit, or member of the Hindu community that is a minority in the northern state of Jammu & Kashmir, where Muslims form the religious majority. As many as 200,000 Pandits were displaced from the Kashmir Valley because of the region’s long-running separatist conflict.

In August, Mawa founded the Jammu & Kashmir Reconciliation Front, which conceived the idea of the hug campaign. Mawa and others in the group plan to venture beyond Kashmir’s borders in a quest to share hugs with the head imam of the Jamia mosque in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, opposition leader Rahul Gandhi and other politicians.

The campaign kicked off in Srinagar on Monday.

“More people are joining the campaign aimed at spreading the message of love, peace and universal brotherhood. I love my Muslim, Christian, Hindu brothers and sisters and want to demonstrate my love for them blindfolded,” Mawa said.

“In the near future, I will go to Imam Shah Bukhari and ask him to hug me as I am his brother. I will ask other politicians to hug people, if they care for them. Our group will hold a hug campaign in front of police chief’s office in Srinagar and invite policemen to hug people of all faiths,” he added.

Participants stand blindfolded in front of signs that identify their religion and state that they trust and respect others and ask for hugs.

Growing intolerance led to campaign

Muslim shopkeeper Mohammad Ibrahim Patnam 30, said people from different faiths embraced him and others at a recent event in Lal Chowk, Srinagar.

“Through the ‘hug campaign’ we want to tell people that discrimination whatsoever on the basis of religion, caste, creed or color shall not be tolerated,” Patnam told BenarNews.

“We are getting a good response from people and more people, especially youths from different faiths, are joining our campaign. We will take the campaign to every part of the country and spread the message people should live like brothers in all situations,” he added.

Satpal Singh, 24, a business management student at Jammu University and a Sikh member of the group, told BenarNews that, apart from fighting intolerance, the group would seek to fight corruption and injustice.

“By roping in more people from all faiths, the group will strive to end corruption prevailing in Jammu & Kashmir,” Singh said.

During a recent demonstration, members stood in the commercial hub of Srinagar, inviting people to hug them.

Mawa voluntarily resigned from the medical profession in 2009 and has been living in Srinagar with his Muslim and Sikh friends. “My parents, wife and children are living in Delhi and I visit them almost every year, when winter season sets in Kashmir,” he said.

Mawa calls the fight against injustice, intolerance and discrimination a jihad in its true spirit.

“An atmosphere of intolerance and mistrust is prevailing in the country and people of different faiths are looking with suspicion and even fighting against each other. All human beings are the creation of God, then why should they fight amongst themselves?” he said.

Locals are hailing the hug campaign.

“Due to the provocative statements of politicians over beef, Jammu & Kashmir witnessed violence in the recent past,” Imtiyaz Ahmad Malik 27, chemist and Srinagar resident told BenarNews, referring to bans on beef consumption and slaughter of cows pushed by Hindu politicians.

“In such circumstances, a hug campaign urging people and politicians to maintain brotherhood is indeed a good move,” he added.

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