How simple it is, to characterize an event as black, or white. This is exactly how the sordid Assam riots have been viewed, or made to be viewed. ‘Communal, anti-national and violent,’ have been the common sentiments, printed or verbal. But the truth lies beyond these sentiments.
More than 300,000 ethnic families have been displaced. People have died in clashes and cross fires. Yet, amidst this gloom, good—in the form of love, belongingness and perseverance—has stood its ground, giving us a glimmer of hope.
In Udalguri— the centre of Bodo land and the riots— Borlao, Bongaigaon, and Golpara where The Art of Living with its teachers and volunteers have been closely working, the story has been different. When the rioters hit the streets and burnt homes, the people of these villages, Bodos, Muslims, Christians and tribals, along with the yuvacharyas stood up as a group to all those spreading violence. They didn’t let rioters enter their villages and guarded their villages closely. In the midst of this mayhem they were no less than role models. They showed unity, belongingness, perseverance and solidarity, nothing less than a miracle amongst chaos. Spirituality translated into action was what we saw.
When the riots hit, The Art of Living was the first organization that the All Bodo Students Union contacted. A conversation with Deepak Sharma Jorhat— teacher of the Art of Living and a trustee of Sri Sri Rural Development Program, working in the north east since many years—tells us why.
“People hardly came out after 6 in the evening. They wouldn’t open doors to knocks in the night. Fear was very high. The Art of Living has been working closely with the Bodos since the last decade. After organizing our workshops, satsangs, meditations, they started to come out of their closed walls, they started to interact socially. Trust was gradually instilled. This was never seen in this demographic,” explains Deepak ji. “The north east has very powerful unions, especially of the students. We have been working very closely with such student unions and underground organizations in Bodo land, Assam. Most of these young minds have undergone the Yes!+, Youth Leadership Training Program, Rural DSN (Divya Samaj ka Nirman), Nav Chetna Shibir, and several such Art of Living workshops and holistic training programs which has transformed hundreds of lives that had gone a bit astray.
The Art of Living is extensively working to build training and development centers - centers which will have a blend of behavioral and vocational training. Meditation, pranayama, yoga, Sudarshan Kriya with a blend of skills and livelihood trainings like electrical, welding, mechanics, sanitary, organic farming, construction and education are going to be imparted. There are six zero budget farming experts who are already working with the people for sustainable farming. We have already tied up with Schneider Electric India and L&T to initiate programs on electrical mechanics and construction. In a recent development, the Rural Development Trust of the Art of Living will be setting up a rural development and vocational centre in Kokrajhar—the most riot effected area—in association with the All Bodo Students Union and the Government,” says Deepak ji, who met with the Students Union.
The north easterners have a lot of energy, but fermented. The youth are unemployed. Empty minds falling prey to militancy, fighting for trivial matters. This negative energy has to be channelized into positivity. The youth instead of wiling away precious time in frivolous indulgence need to be educated about the culture and tradition of their land. They need to interact with each other to change their surroundings and their lifestyles. They need direction and guidance, and have to be instilled with purpose. And this is precisely what The Art of Living is doing through its interactions and training programs. Hundreds of militants have been rehabilitated, and are now supporting their families and working in their communities.
“I have conducted workshops for one of the biggest militant outfits. The chairman transformed, and he with his people have started four tribal schools with us,” explains Deepak ji. “No more hiding in jungles. It has happened only through the interventions of our workshops. The government has also realized it. 240 militants from Assam were sent to the Bangalore Ashram for 35 days of rehabilitation and training processes. Wonderful and powerful were their experiences.”
This transformation has not come just by giving them money or motivational talks or clicking pictures with guns slung on shoulders. This transformation has come subtly, through Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji’s vision of a violence free society and the Art of Living workshops, meditations and through spiritual practices. Intimate processes such as ‘eye gazing’ has invoked so much love inside these people. The possibility of a peaceful life is what they see and experience. They are genuinely happy because they have experienced genuine love.
The Art of Living is bridging the gap between the Northeast and the mainstream India by sending teachers and skilled instructors to work amongst them. Deepak ji has urged people from other cities of India, especially the youth to come and spend time in Assam and the neighboring states, to interact with the communities, groom them, educate them in hygiene, music, and vocational skills.
‘Love your neighbors as yourself,’ but often we limit the ‘neighbors’ to our immediate right and left. We are a part of a glorious nation, which is part of a glorious planet. We are all one big family. The effects of such mayhem may not be immediate and evident in our lives, but it surely effects the consciousness that we are all a part of. Life is not black and white. It is colorful and spiritual. What color would you paint it with?
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Writer: Eben Felix, Graphics: Niladri Dutta