Through the Jungle of the Mind

(This article is a continuation of the previous article - A Space of Higher Living )

“We would guard through the night, in shifts, 1 hour shifts… after the hour we would go and wake the next comrade for his hourly… that night, I didn’t wake the other comrade up... instead, I ran..I left everything and ran like an animal through the jungle…I ran for almost six hours, stopping for a few seconds only to catch my breath… and then, I saw the town..”

Himan Deori, came out to be a bit strange. He is one of the few whose form you forget, but the voice is imprinted. The only thing I can remember when I think of him is his voice, nothing else. Himan joined the fight of ‘separation of Assam into an independent state’ when he was in the 10th grade. He met some other guys who were already working with the underground movement, “They asked me if I would go with them. I said yes. And I left,” said Himan in his deep haunting voice. “I didn’t even inform my house, not a single note to anyone. I remember writing a letter to them after a year in the jungle. Three years in the jungle, I was especially trained in arms and close combat. We were trained to be physically tough. We always kept moving. There were women too, but in separate groups. I was part of the ENIGMA A group. One night, while giving guard I felt weak. I didn’t know why but I felt very weak, and I wanted to leave,” Himan reminiscences.

After a six hour run through the dense forest of Bhutan bordering Assam, Himan reached the town, early in the morning. He called his friend in Guwhati and through him, surrendered to the officials. This was the year 2002. 

“It has been ten years since I’ve left the way of the jungle and surrendered. Life has been quite ok. I’ve been running a small vehicle for tours and taxi services. I drive for money. We feel neglected. We are referred as the people in the jungles and as terrorists. We are ready to talk, somebody should just reach out. There has to be a middle-path approach. We’re only asking some help. Even with a some loan on small interests we can start our own small business, it is our right. But, it is not happening.

Ashram has been a very different experience. Now my only hope is Gurudev, I know that he will definitely do something about Assam and the north eastern India. One good thing the government did was to send me here in Bangalore with so many of us. I love this place, next time I will come with my family, on my own, not through the government,” he smiles and takes my leave.

 Then came in the maverick, the philosopher. Lean, athletic, deep eyes, poised walk, alert - if I were to imagine him as an animal, it would be a panther - he was in his late forties, his name was Nipun. Slightly impulsive in disposition, I liked him at first glance. I knew I would have an interesting conversation with him. He sat in front of me looking into my eyes.

“You can say anything you’d love to,” I said, looking at him. 

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He kept his eyes closed for few seconds and as if gathering words and images from the windows of his memory, he began, “Assam was not a state of India. It was an independent nation. It has always been, since the time of Mahabharata and Ramayana. It was then called the kingdom of Kamarupa. Later, ‘Asam’, the British put the name ‘Assam’. The kingdom of Assam lost its independence in 1862, and got annexed under the British Rule of India, through an act, that was much to the dissent of the people of Assam. Why? Greed. Assam is a naturally beautiful and abundant region. Assam was robbed from the people,” in careful words Nipun took me to the innermost philosophies of his mind. “It is not how it is shown to the people,” he furthers, “a bunch of green uniformed men in the jungle with automatic weapons slung on shoulders, ready to kill. It is just a photograph, open to many thoughts and opinion, but heavily polarized. The northeast didn’t receive freedom; it was arrested, under the farce of democracy.”

Nipun was 23, and in the final year of college. That was when two of his friends introduced him to ULFA. He joined the group in 1988. He was in the Myanmar jungle for more than 5 years. 

“The barrels of our guns were not pointed to the world; it was pointed to claim justice for ourself. Since the time Japan was bombed the people’s army have lived in the jungles of Myanmar. Our revolution has been supported by many groups, that is how we got the weapons and training.

Life in the jungle is tough. It is like ‘tapasya’. We were all ready to sacrifice our lives for liberation and independence in its true sense,” he spoke in detail, quoting Marx and Lenin, explaining the true nature of the ULFA and other such groups. “Violence and non violence are both in the nature of humans,” Nipun states, “we never picked up arms to abuse. We picked arms for self defense. Even Krishna told Arjuna to pick up his weapon, as it was his duty as a warrior to fight for justice and the destruction of evil. Gandhi picked the Gita for his purpose. A lot of people kill for fun, they don’t have the slightest understanding of our philosophy.”

Nipun got arrested in 2003, in the mountains. The CBI and the police had an eye on him for some time.He was taken to jail. Fourteen days in lock up and then three months in the central jail of Jorhat. After coming out of prison, he wanted to go back to the jungle, but somehow couldn’t.

“I'm not a violent person by personality. All that everyone needs is a peaceful and a happy life. It is no different with me. How we achieve it is important. I believe what we get is because of our karma,” he spoke in a composed manner. “I’ve always worked for human rights. This has not changed. But now I will work in a different way. With the same enthusiasm, vigour and passion, but without weapons. Even though I’ve never picked up a weapon for violence. Because of Gurudev, I’ve realized inner peace. The most important thing in life is inner peace. The practical learning imparted to us in the ashram is of immense knowledge and sustainability. 

I’ve dropped arms, so did a lot of people. But sadly hardly anybody appreciates this action! We are still neglected  and are treated like outsiders, but everything is expected from our land. I hope that changes. I believe that Gurudev will bring that change through the people. A revolution is waiting to happen, and I want to be a part of it,” he resigns with a sense of pride in his poise. 

‘Hate the deed, not the doer’ is clichéd. ‘Hate the deed, brand the doer’ is in.

Let us please open our eyes to the deeper layers of humanity, its mechanisms and the mind. It can only come as a cause of a churning of our mind. It can only happen when we open the doors of perception. It involves in nourishing the spirit and cleansing the mind of all conditioning, thus the process has to be spiritual. Sooner the people realize sooner they experience harmony, both within and without.

It is remarkable that after the 40 days of the training program, facilitated by Sanjay Kumar, the Art of Living teacher, along with other volunteers, the youth are ready to return to the mainstream society and are clear about what they want to do. Many of them, who own land back home, want to practice organic farming and dairy farming others want to be entrepreneurs. A few are looking forward to be yoga teachers to spread the inner peace they have experienced for the first time in their own life. They reported a transformational positive outlook towards life as they prepare to return to their state as ambassadors of peace.

“It’s a new life for me. I find a lot of enthusiasm and determination to lead a new life,” these simple words coming straight from the heart of Shyamanta Handique, 45, met with instant applause and nods of approval from the group of former insurgents during an exclusive session with Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji at the Art of Living International Centre, Bangalore. The words echoed the sentiments of almost everyone present. 

Former ULFA members Maqbool Hussain and Monuj Roy have made a common promise, “We will change our society for the better.” Well they have already started walking the talk. In a heart rending gesture, the group of surrendered militants donated the proceeds from their first sale of paper products to the victims of the riots in Assam.

The quick and definite transformation of these men, whose major expression of life was laced with violence, into higher versions of themselves — happy, sensitive, respectful and responsible has been quite dramatic. Surely, the group hadn’t anticipated this kind of turnaround when the government sent them to the Art of Living Ashram for training. A senior officer, accompanying them, was quite touched by the change in former rebels.

After the program when they left Bangalore, the Art of Living International Centre it was quite an emotional parting, all of them had tears in their eyes. Unbelievably, the stern faces that arrived on 3rd July 2012 were full of emotions and gratitude!

When they went back, they were very helpful during the 2012 Assam floods. All of them all are doing social work. Many of them had taken the indigeneous seeds from the ashram, with which they are doing organic farming. They have conducted The Art of Living Nav Chetana Shivirs and organised rural Part 1 courses in some of the districts like Sonitpur, Darrang, Nalbari and Kamrup. A group of them from Darrang have opened a small paper bag making industry. They are also actively participating in Panchayat elections to be held from Feb 2013. Some of them also want to come back to the ashram and do seva.

Written by Eben Felix

*Names changed

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Founded in 1981 by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar,The Art of Living is an educational and humanitarian movement engaged in stress-management and service initiatives. Read More