Politicians in India made a lot of noise about Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s misquoted statement that sick government schools in Naxal areas are a breeding ground for Naxalism. But this is nothing new!
In September last year, the Jagran Post published an article titled Naxal Patshala in government schools, which said: ‘In a shocking incident, Naxal groups are using government schools in their stronghold as the nursery of Naxal philosophy. Security forces in the state have learnt that the Naxal groups are taking classes in the schools in the heartland and are giving anti-establishment lessons to the schools’ children. This has raised questions about the education system and the functioning of the state government.’
Now the Jagran Post is no mean paper. It is part of the Dainik Jagran group, which has a readership of 5.47 crore, making it, according to the World Association of Newspapers, the largest read daily in the world.
The truth is that parents in India, even from low income groups, prefer sending their kids to private schools because the infrastructure in government schools is very poor. It is also well known that while some government schools lack teaching staff, or teachers rarely show up, some others have non-deserving teachers appointed through bribe. Last year, in Raichur, Karnataka, for example, 69.91% of 9,342 students who appeared in pre-university exams failed. Studies said that this is a result of extremely poor standards of education in rural areas. If some of these students become caught in the web of wrongdoers, it won’t be a surprise.
So basically, Sri Sri did not say anything new or revolutionary. Indeed, he could have added that it’s not only in government schools that breed Naxalism, but also government colleges like the famous Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. In February 2010, Kanpur police arrested Chintan, alias Banshidhar Singh, member of the organisation’s politburo and once tipped to be the future head of its Uttar Bihar, UP and Uttrakhand sub-area committee. Bandshidar has a PhD and MPhil from JNU!
In my 20 years of association with him, I have witnessed that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s whole life is dedicated to service. The impression that he is rich guru, as reported by many papers, is totally misleading: every cent earned by his course fees, goes into seva projects. For instance, the Art of Living Foundation runs 85 free rural and tribal schools that provide education to 23,500 children. It has also trained 61,546 rural youth in Youth Leadership Training Program — mainly in India, Africa, South America. Its 5H program — Health, Hygiene, Homes, Harmony in diversity, Human values — has reached 36,557 villages and it has groomed over 6,000 people in organic farming. Not only that, but Sri Sri came up with a special programme for children and Youth called ART Excel (All Round Training in Excellence.) This unique course, which my wife teaches, promotes the understanding of human values and encourages the overall wellbeing of children and young adults through a variety of empowering techniques that foster mental clarity and focus, physical relaxation and health, and emotional stability.
Sri Sri also understood that jails, where many Naxalites end up, often breed bitterness and anger towards society, rather than bring about change.
In view of this serious drawback, the Art of Living Foundation developed a programme called Prison SMART (Prison Stress Management and Rehabilitation Training). Aside from helping prisoners rehabilitate themselves, the programme teaches them life skills that enable inmates to accept responsibility for their past actions and to handle future conflicts successfully. In India, more than 120,000 prisoners from across the country have undergone Prison SMART with spectacular results. Now, it is being used in many jails around the world.
It pains me to see how in India gurus are treated by the media and politicians. There is much more respect in the West for our Christian clergy. I have also observed that Indians publications will never dare say anything against Muslim mullahs, even if they preach secession, as their newspaper offices are liable to be burnt down by angry mobs as it happened in Bangalore and elsewhere. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a very soft-spoken person. I have never heard him speak ill of anybody, never seen him get angry or even impatient with anyone. As a human being, who has, like many of us, problems controlling anger and impatience, I know it is no mean achievement.
So much for Kapil Sibal’s sanctimonious statements. Sibal was by the way, mostly educated at St Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, and Harvard Law School, and certainly did not send his children to government schools.
— The writer is the author of the Guru of Joy (Hay House), which sold more than 100.000 copies worldwide.