London’s burning. Literally. But ISKCON devotees headed by Food For All charity director Parasurama Dasa are hoping to calm the blaze with the cooling spray of God’s Holy Names.
It all began in Tottenham, North London on August 4th, when police shot and killed 29-year-old Mark Duggan, who was allegedly unarmed at the time. Two days later, his family, friends and other locals put on a peaceful demonstration. But local youth became violent and took advantage of the situation to begin kicking in shop windows and looting everything they could find.
The violence and crime spread to different parts of London, then to Birmingham, Manchester, and recently, Edinburgh.
“Five civilians were killed, there are 17,000 policemen on the streets from all over England, and 1,500 people have been arrested, with the courts open day and night,” says Parasurama. “Youth have been coordinating looting sprees by text message, and buildings and police cars are being burned all over the place. It’s pretty heavy.”
Lately, things have been starting to cool down a little. Parasurama, who is well known in London for feeding the homeless with his Food For All charity, and for holding Padayatras, or ‘pilgrimages on foot’ all over England, hopes to contribute with his ‘Walk for Peace.’
“We’re leaving today, with twenty devotees,” he says, speaking to ISKCON News on Friday August 12th just as his team begin their walk. “The march will continue until Monday August 15th. We’ve got a colorful, 14-foot high pedal powered cart with a massive PA system attached, large Gaura Nitai Deities, a murti of Srila Prabhupada, and lots of flags and ‘Walk for Peace’ Signs.”
The devotees will be accompanied throughout by ISKCON guru Maha-Vishnu Swami and members of the Pandava Sena youth group, and will sing kirtan and distribute prasadam packets along their way. They will also hand out leaflets describing Srila Prabhupada’s peace formula that we are all God’s children and that peace comes from spiritual understanding and transcending the bodily concept of life.
“Everyone is already beeping their horns and waving at us as we walk by,” Parasurama says. “We’ve got the support of the general public on this one. People are sick of all the violence and unnecessary destruction of property, so they appreciate our message of solidarity and peace. The other day, 100 people came together in a place called Croydon with brooms, to sweep all the glass and rubbish off the streets… so right now it’s all about the peaceful majority coming together against this.”
On Saturday August 13th, Parasurama’s Walk for Peace will reach Wembley, where the devotees will hold a Rathayatra festival, and the smiling faces of Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra will bring peace and joy.
At 7:30pm that evening, they will reach Ealing, where much of the violence, burning and looting was perpetrated, and where one civilian was killed.
“It is a bit dangerous,” Parasurama admits. “There’s a video going around of these guys helping up a chap who was beaten up and bleeding, just so they could rob him of his bag. People are turning into animals. But we have a couple of big, tough devotees with us, as well as the news team from the Evening Standard newspaper, who will be walking with us through the area.”
Even later that night, at around 9:30pm, the Walk for Peace will reach Southall, another area badly affected by the riots. But this time the devotees will have the best security they could hope for—Sikhs with swords!
“There is a large Sikh community in Southall, and after the place was attacked for the first time and the police couldn’t control it, the Sikhs told them, ‘Don’t worry about Southall, we’re taking care of it,”’ says Parasurama. “Over 200 of them, armed with swords and other weapons, patrolled the city at night and protected it, which many people praised them for. So that same group of Sikhs will be protecting us during our big night-time Harinam in Southall.”
The next day, devotees will put on the Southall Rathayatra festival. Just as large as London Rathayatra, it was graced last year by the Indian, Nepali, South African and Fijian ambassadors, and is attended and supported every year by the entire Sikh community, as well as many other religious communities and the general public.
After the festival, the devotees will spend the night at the local Hindu temple, and then return home to Bhaktivedanta Manor on Monday August 15th.
“Through our Walk for Peace and our Rathayatras, we hope to show that we can put on a massive demonstration where there’s no violence of any kind, and all the participants are completely happy,” Parasurama says. “It will be a community project where everybody gets together, whether they be Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, and shows unity. And that’s what this country needs right now.”