The recent meeting between spiritual guru and Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq brings a new ray of hope to the Peace Brigade.
Sri Sri has walked the proverbial extra mile for peace by going to Mirwaiz's residence during his visit to the border state to attend a series of events that seeks to reinforce the multiculturalism of Kashmir.
Undoubtedly, it was a move fraught with the risk of provoking the Nationalist elements on the Indian side of border. Sri Sri must have had solid reasons to put his own reputation on stake.
For real peace to prevail in Kashmir, all stakeholders have to start talking -- among themselves, with one another and with each other. And practically, such talks don't have to start with how and where to redraw the LoC!
The news that a high-level delegation of Kashmiri Pandits also called on the Hurriyat Chairman the following day only adds to the optimism. The mere signs of Mirwaiz opening up to unconditional dialogues are a breakthrough in themselves!
And going by the picture of Sri Sri and Mirwaiz breaking the ice by talking apparently about something as extraneous as the artifacts on the corner table of the meeting room, Sri Sri seems to have achieved a major breakthrough. He has successfully lightened up the narrative by shifting it away from the air of conflict!
That is what makes Sri Sri a seasoned warhorse in the art of mediation (not just meditation). His knack of connecting heart-to-heart coupled a deep understanding of the dynamics of conflicts is critical.
"No matter who strikes first, eventually both sides are wounded in a conflict. Conflict arises when both sides rigidly stick to their stands. Breakdown of communication leads to escalation of the conflict," he explains.
Being a neutral personality, Sri Sri can be very effective in building bridges and bringing a semblance to public agitations and posturing, by fostering communication and understanding. And that is what he has set out for by meeting Mirwaiz.
"...heard his perspective of the situation in Kashmir," Sri Sri tweeted after the meeting.
On his part, Mirwaiz is reported to have empathized with dignified return of Kashmiri Pandits.
A firm believer in the power of dialogue, Sri Sri believes that even people who take to violent means can be engaged if approached the right way.
And he has shown how it can happen by meeting not just the government but also the leaders of the Columbian rebel group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and getting them to the negotiating table last year.
The rebel group which has been waging a guerrilla war for five decades that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and displaced over 7 million people was eventually convinced to announce a unilateral ceasefire, which was soon reciprocated by the government.
Such success stories and Sri Sri's pragmatic approach brings the hope that initiatives by a spiritual leader is likely to be more successful than the rational tools of legal, economic or military interventions.
In Kashmir, he has combined confidence-building and goodwill initiatives ranging from training local youth including former militants in peacemaking, to providing flood relief and ensuring electricity and drinking water, setting a sustainable agenda for peacemaking.
Over the years, the Art of Living has been working to heal the trauma of militancy, facilitate dialogue, reform those who are lodge in prisons, de-stress Army and police personnel and channelise misguided youth towards constructive pursuits.
It has also run campaigns to build trust among surrendered militants and enlist the locals in initiatives like the Indian Army's Sadbhavna Program.
The idea is to create an atmosphere of trust and reconciliation in which all stakeholders can come to dialogue in the spirit of spiritual ideals like fairness, shared values and social equity, etc.
"Most conflicts are based on identity crisis. We have forgotten that first and foremost we are all human beings; then other identifications such as religion, nationality and gender follow. If people get stuck with their limited identity, they are ready to die for it. We need to move beyond our narrow identities to overcome rigidity, fear, mistrust, conflict and differences," he avers.
Nothing stops, and must stop, Sri Sri from hoping for doing an encore of Columbia in Kashmir by meeting Mirwaiz. To paraphrase Oregon State University professor and conflict resolution expert Aaron Wolf, if the spiritual approach does not work, there is little hope that anything else will! Thank you, Sri Sri for giving peace a chance in Kashmir!
(A former business journalist, the author is now on a journey to find the depth of the matter. His writings focus on adding spiritual aspects to things worldly. He is also a full-time volunteer of the Art of Living and teaches its spiritual workshops)