New Delhi: A padayatra led by social reformer Sri M to promote inter-faith harmony concluded in Srinagar amid a renewed call for peaceful coexistence.
Ending a 7,500-km journey by foot, the veteran spiritual guide undertook with his pan-India team from Kanyakumari almost 16 months ago.
The 474-day ‘Walk of Hope’, which covered 11 states of the country since its start from the southern tip on January 12, 2015, was received with festive fervor in the Jammu and Kashmir capital, where the 67-year-old peacemaker addressed a gathering by the Dal Lake on Friday evening, reiterating the need for working in unison for the development of India, which has people from across a range of religions, race, socio-economic background among others.
“The padayatra has been a significant success. We have been able to convey the message of peace and harmony to millions along the route,” said Kerala-born Sri M (born as Mumtaz Ali Khan), who led 65-plus core-group volunteers in the journey during which he met people from various walks of life, besides leaders across the political spectrum and influential figures from different fields.
“We have experienced an underlying spirit of oneness in people and their interest in maintaining an atmosphere of togetherness for the progress of the country,” he added.
The Walk of Hope, he announced, will have a second edition.
The 2015-16 march may have ended, but my walk will continue. The one we now completed did not include the eastern and northeastern parts of our nation. The next edition is envisaged to start from Kanyakumari and proceed along those areas,” added the yogi-educationist, whose autobiography ‘Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master’ is a best-seller and lives in Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh.
“Whenever there are disruptions of peace in the country, I will walk there along with the local populace to address issues and restore peace and oneness,” he said.
Sri M and his volunteers, later in the day, took a walk around the Dal Lake.
The march by Sri M’s Manav Ekta Mission, which advocates that humanity is one transcending religious, racial, geographical, cultural and ideological differences, covered the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, and Punjab before reaching Jammu & Kashmir.
Overall, it reached out to 11 million fellow Indians by interacting with local people and holding inter-faith prayers, besides eating together and occasionally, resting overnight at their homes.
‘Walk of Hope’ had its Delhi leg in February reaching out personally to eminent figures such as President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice-President Hamid Ansari (who presented Sri M with the first Interfaith Harmony Award at the Silver Jubilee celebration of the Temple of Understanding India), a host of union ministers, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his cabinet colleagues.
In an earlier leg to the national capital in autumn 2015, Sri M had (taking a break from the walk at Bhopal) met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and the party’s vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Sri M addressed members of the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha on February 29 at the Parliament House in a meeting that was attended by union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad, Venkaiah Naidu, Suresh Prabhu, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, P. Kurien and Oscar Fernandez.
On April 13, taking another break, the spiritual leader also met with His Holiness Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome to inform him about Walk of Hope 2015-16 and its mission of peace and harmony in India.
At the states, the yatra received greetings from the chief ministers – of Kerala (Oommen Chandy), Karnataka (Siddaramaiah), Maharashtra (Devendra Fadnavis), Gujarat (Anandiben Patel), Madhya Pradesh (Shivraj Singh Chouhand), Uttar Pradesh (Akhilesh Yadav), Delhi (Arvind Kejriwal) and Haryana (Manohar Lal Khattar).
The main objectives of Walk of Hope have been interfaith harmony, equality for all, sustainable living, women empowerment, community health, education and youth development. The padayatra covered 15-20 km a day and halted in the evenings at a pre-determined village or town en route.
Sri M spoke extensively for the cause of peace and interfaith harmony during the Walk.
The padayatra visited places of worship of Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Jews, Sikhs and Zoroastrians along the route.
The Walk passed through sensitive areas like Malappuram, Kerala; Hubli, Karnataka; Ahmednagar, Maharashtra; Godhra, Gujarat; and Pathankot, Punjab and spread the message of peace and communal harmony.
“In the course of the padayatra, we have humbly sown the seeds of Manav Ekta amongst the people, especially the youth of this country who are its future,” he noted in Srinagar.
“One day, these seeds will grow into huge trees of oneness under whose shade our future generations will rest in togetherness. Each of us has a responsibility to spread the message of oneness – in our homes, neighbourhood, and elsewhere. We must evolve beyond selfishness and ensure a better future for the generations to come,” he added.
The Walk of Hope was organized by the Nirahar Satyagraha – a proclamation against terrorism and communal violence – at Pune (July 5, 2015), Ahmedabad (September 6), Bhopal (October 20), Varanasi (December 18) and the fifth at Jantar Mantar in Delhi (February 24, 25).