‘Militants’ – today, this word has a commercial value. It has also got a pictorial representation in most of our minds, most of them polarized. Not only has it got politicized, it has also got religion tainted all over its letters. Believe it or not, a country’s ‘meritocracy’ depends on how good they justify the word.
A diverse group comprising of guerrilla fighters arrived at the Art of Living International Centre in July 2012, out of which 231 belonged to the dreaded outfit United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). With the initiative of the Art of Living and in mutual co-ordination with the Assam government, they came for a 40 day rehabilitation program. The aim of this program was to prepare them not just to become a part of the process of sustainable and peaceful social transformation, but also to guide and train them to take up suitable economic activities.
The biggest challenge initially in this program was to build trust and to make them follow the discipline of the program, as most of them had many physical and attitudinal problems. In Assam, the people are divided on the basis of area, caste, class, ethnicity, affiliation community, etc. Hence, there is no integral feeling, and same was the case with this group. As most of them were commanders or sergeants in ULFA, it was not easy to win their trust. But as the program progressed, the task was rendered easy by their participation due to well evident healing and transforming impact of breathing techniques taught in the program.
I had an opportunity to meet and talk to four of them, which after half a day’s conversation, turned out to be an honour. Himanshu Deori walked in the room wearing neatly ironed clothes and a large smile. What hit me were his eyes. Brown, deep, intense, exuberating peace, “Your eyes are intense,” I gazed at him with a smile. He smiled at me and nodded his head as he sat down on the divan. He looked a bit tired. “It’s been a long day,” he says in a very soft voice. I knew they were meeting a lot of people since the morning and the days before, and in spite of the smiling calm eyes, were a bit tired. I would have to be patient, and listen to how ever much they were going to share.
“I’ve been here for more than a month. I feel really good,” Himanshu spoke in his soft tone, “I was twenty, studying Arts in college, and like most of the other youth, who wanted a better Assam. This is why such an insurgence of extremism took place in the north east. I too, left everything in 1999, and went to the jungle in Bhutan. I was the only one from my village. Life in the jungle was difficult, but amusingly justified. Uniforms, arms and philosophy. Our day would start at 4 am, physical and mental exercises, trainings, close and far combat lessons, study of weapons and its effects, living off the jungle, we were the militia of the jungle, and our fight was against the system. Four years into this life in the jungle, I realized that it was not my fight, I didn’t want to fight like this, and I told myself that it was wrong. I would do it in a different way. I surrendered, in 2004. Back to my family, I started few small businesses and was living a life — although always under the radar — a simple and a happy life, taking care of my family.
These 40 days in the ashram have been the most different and beautiful days of my life. Sudarshan Kriya and Ram Dhyan took me to a different space, of absolute peace. Meeting Guruji has been inspiring. He’s special, his love is immense, his vision intact. After meeting him I realized that violence can’t lead to a peaceful environment. I have decided to join his vision and will work with my community. The training of organic farming was priceless. I’ve got some land in Assam which I will use for organic farming, its effects are unfathomable. I’m also going to go back and work for the riot victims. It’s unfortunate what happened. There is a lot of work to be done in Assam; I’m going to work tirelessly for it.” Himanshu was short and clear in his conversation. Most of the time I listened, to whatever little he had to say. His body language was composed. I felt a sense of peace sitting next to him. How ‘deadly’ can this man be, I wondered as he smiled and said bye, and left the room.
Dhruv Das was short, and had brown oily hair, he had an electrifying smile. I couldn’t help but smile all the while looking at him. He spoke even less. “I went to the jungles in 1994. I wanted to develop Assam. I didn’t feel good later; when I realized that the means were not nice. A voice in me kept telling me that. So, in 2000 April, I surrendered.” He looked at me listening to him with all my attention, sneaked in a smile and said, “Life in the jungle was interesting though. I have learnt to live within means, using minimum resources. The jungle has brought a lot of discipline in my life.” If not lived and learned, then what lived!
A man, in his darkest of hours, outcast from all he was attached to, with a label of a militant, has learnt two of the most pragmatic ways of sustainable living. How easily people are branded. More easily people believe! “As soon as I entered the ashram,” says Dhruv toying with his copper ring, “I felt peaceful. Just like a blanket. Sudarshan Kriya was the answer to my many years of severe back pain. It is gone, disappeared. You have no idea how much it has troubled me, and now it’s gone. I have found a wonderful thing. Pranayama brings so much relief to the body and the mind. It is so different from the exercises we did in the jungle. I’ve learned a lot here. Especially agriculture, a simple and an effective way of farming, the importance of desi cows, these are all practical approaches for a good and healthy living. I am going to implement all of these in my home and society. There has been a shift in my mindset regarding the fight in our land,” he said.
They were under various physical problems that ranged from back pain, pain in legs and arms due to torture, pain in old wounds (of gun shots), physical problems due to staying in difficult terrain. Mental problems included partial loss of memory due to torture, indecisiveness guilt, doubts.
They also had fruitful and candid interactions, with H.H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who also conducted few meditations for them Himself. They could easily relate to Sri Sri and recounted their lives and hardships faced and expressed keen desire to start a new life. Almost everybody thanked him for taking this initiative to heal their lives. They even offered to take part in His initiative to help the victims of Assam riots. According to H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living, “Most rebels are good human beings with a lot of dedication and commitment for the country. If they could do a little bit of understanding of spirituality, they could do what others cannot.” Many shared with Him that had they been in Assam during the recent riots, they might have taken to violence again, but since they are in this program they got the inner strength in trying times. (Their families back had been affected by the riots, some even got displaced).
“I'm going to work for the society and my community, bring a change in the lifestyle of my neighbours. I have a different perspective now. First, I will go to Assam and work with the Art of Living volunteers and teachers who are working in the riot hit places,” he says looking gravely at his fingers. Suddenly he looks up and says, “I’d never heard of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji before. He’s a wonderful person, a ‘satguru’. He really cares about us; he has a bigger vision for the world. I want to be a part of his vision. My friends are still there, in the jungle. In time, they will come out too, I have faith. They’ve not yet realized the true nature of the fight.”
We sat quietly for a minute. He looked at me, we shook our hands, gently, and he walked out of the room.
In the present challenging world scenario where agitations and violence is way of life, frustration and stress level is very high. It is even more challenging and skillful task to create inner peace and inspire people towards collective, constructive action. Role of inner peace in nation building cannot be denied. These programs are such a contribution to build violence free and stress free society!
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Writer: Eben Felix, Graphics: Gurudatt Anvekar