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CBC News, Canada (CP): Toronto man among Falun Gong practitioners who spark interest at social forum

January 22, 2004 |  

Jan 21, 2004

MUMBAI, India (AP) - Oblivious to the drumbeats and slogans shouted by anti-globalization activists, two Falun Gong volunteers - their eyes shut and hands raised - triggered curiosity right through the six-day World Social Forum that ended Wednesday.

Peace and human-rights activists from all over the world paused to take a look at the Falun Gong [practitioners], who practised meditation exercises to tunes that crackled from a small music system in a small stall at the forum venue.

"We are trying to create awareness about the persecution in China," said David Tompkins, a Canadian volunteer.

"We are a peaceful people, and looking at the meditation exercise helps others realize this," said Tompkins, who runs a design firm in Toronto.

China outlawed Falun Gong [...] in 1999, after the group attracted millions of practitioners with a mix of slow-motion exercises and teachings [of Master Li Hongzhi].

Falun Gong activists deny the group is a threat and claim hundreds of followers in China have been killed in police custody. [...].

In Mumbai, the group's meditation exercises attracted onlookers such as Helen Omedi, an aid worker from Nairobi, Kenya. "This is the first time I'm seeing this," said Omedi. "They look so peaceful. I definitely want to know more."

She pored through pamphlets with details about the spiritual movement and contact information on volunteers and practice sites.

Surendra Rao, 52, an Indian volunteer, said the most frequent question was how Falun Gong differed from yoga.

"I tell them it helps with health problems and mentally they will find more peace," said Rao, 52, an advertising consultant, who began practising Falun Gong three years ago after meeting Swedish volunteers in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay.