Burudi, like most of the villages in interior Jharkhand existed between the currents of Naxalism and alcohol, the later being more distasteful as it fails to achieve anything other than self destruction, brain damage, slow death and a bad hit to olfaction. 'Hariya,' as the poisoned and oddly famous beverage is known in the local dialect, was part of every family, society, gender, celebration and mourning. In fact, it predated any kind of events and interactions in the village. It was a cultural and a traditional inclusion. Varun Singh, a tribal boy in his teens since a kid, was party to all the 'Hariya' induced interactions and celebrations, both social and familial. It was always distasteful, he was averse to it, he knew that 'Hariya' killed; not only the body, but everything related to the one that consumed it. He swore to eradicate the habit of 'Hariya,' from the minds and lives of the people. And that was the first thing he did, when he became the youngest 'Mukhiya' of his Panchayat in 2011.
Why did the villagers vote a 26 year old to be the leader of their Panchayat? He smiles his big smile to this question and says, "Since a child I was very loving and everyone loved me. This is the only quality I think they must've seen to vote me, even though doing service for the people was my only dream while growing up." After 32 years of 'Neta Raj' (political/feudal reign) Jharkhand witnessed Panchayat and Gram Sabha elections, which the people welcomed with open arms and hearts. Finally the tribals had the right to choose their leader who would operate at their level, who they could always go to, who they grew up with and trusted. "Becoming a Mukhiya at such a young age is nothing less than the grace of my guru," believes Varun, who did the Youth Leadership Training Program of The Art of Living, right after he was elected as Leader of the people. It was in the course that he found the magic ingredient that would remove the seeds of alcohol from his land. 'Sudarshan Kriya.' That was it, that was the solution.
Dressed with a new outfit of zeal, purpose, conviction and authority, he swarmed the villages like locusts on a farm, and started his drive to burn the seeds of this disease called alcoholism. On the streets, in homes, at the market place, and public corners, Varun with a few other ward members spoke about the ill effects of alcohol and its slow killing spread. He articulated it in ways that would connect with the people. Through plays, songs, messages, public gatherings, and people listened to him although hesitantly, but they did, he was their leader. His message was simple, 'Leave alcohol, get addicted to ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ instead. It is a high beyond comprehension and without side effects. A high that keeps the body and mind healthy, a high that transforms you from within.' People started doing the course and experienced what their Mukhiya was talking about, the word spread and more and more people started experiencing ‘Sudarshan Kriya’. "It is almost negligible now, the habit of alcohol in my Panchayat of some 17 small settlements," smiles Varun with a positive sense of pride, "I think it is very difficult to get back to alcohol after experiencing ‘Sudarshan Kriya’."
Next, he targeted the sitting-on-roadsides-playing-cards-smoking-chiroots-and-whiling-away-time youth, and urged them to use these hours they wasted into something constructive. The biggest enemy of youth is inertia. It was not easy to get a shift in their mind. Varun had to try something different. As a child he was very active in cultural programs and was a master in a local dance form. He had formed a dance group with his friends as kids, which is still active and dancing. He found a solution. He introduced them to this group. He introduced these inert youth to dance, music and bhajans. He told them to make groups and go to different villages and do satsangs. He brought them to do the YLTP, and after that there was no looking behind. These young minds who had temporarily lost their way found the spunk in their lives.
It was sad to see these young boys and girls who grew up with Varun go astray, many of them who found themselves joining the Naxalites. What was more disheartening was the reason. Most of them didn't know why the Naxal movement started at the first place. Rebellion, guns and a false sense of pride were the only elements that attracted these kids. Varun kept thinking on how to reach them and guide them out of it. They were his friends. It was a sensitive and dangerous desire, to approach the ones who had lost their way. Just desire wouldn't help. He needed something else, that was when he had an opportunity to visit the Bangalore Ashram of The Art of Living. His stay in the Ashram led to a paradigm shift. He met his guru Sri Sri, and that shift only strengthened. He came back with a renewed sense of conviction. Right after he reached his village, he went to the jungle and met the Comrades. He met his friends who were now living in the jungle with the rest of the rebel outfit and told them, "It is you who have elected me to be the Mukhiya. If you continue on this path, how will I do my work? How can I be fair and work for the good of the people if you continue to be a threat? If you don’t quit your ways there's no point of me being the Mukhiya. I'll quit too." There were power in his words and conviction in his emotions. And what happened next even he doesn't know how. Varun arranged a meeting of 12 Naxals and the police. The 12 of them gave up all their arms, gave an account of the money they had looted (most of which went for a girl's hostel, and the rest for food) and surrendered. All of this happened peacefully. And Varun was the architect of the whole process. That's what the papers said. He knows and believes that it was his guru who made it happen. "This," articulates Varun, "is one of the most amazing events of my life." News spread like wild fire, and people from all around the place came to meet this Mukhiya, only to find out that he was just a lad of 26. The wonder and amazement only led to love and faith in this young leader.
Fearless, young, responsible, loving and most importantly always smiling, Varun Kumar Singh has only begun his work. He realized that politics is the medium through which he could serve his people. Through the authority given to him by the people and the State he could do wonders in the villages, which he is. And with the love of his guru Sri Sri and the power of ‘Sudarshan Kriya’, his vision only becomes stronger. "Now that I've entered politics, I might as well work. I want to become an MLA and do great service for my people. I'm sure Gurudev will make it happen," he smiles.
Active in all the activities in his Panchayat, Varun never fails to share the message of his guru. Like little 'sutras' he imprints it in the minds of the people, and in times of trouble he closes his eyes and remembers his Master, and everything gets alright.
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Writer: Eben Felix, Graphics: Niladri Dutta