First of all, he didn’t say what they said he said. He never said that all government schools produce naxalites. Check the footage. That’s how the media spun it. Even Mr. Sibal's initial reaction to the media was, "I'm sure the individual you're naming could not have said this." But when one, two, five channels say something, it becomes true. There are many people who got upset and hurt because they had studied in government schools or worked in them. Look at his track record. He would never say anything to hurt anybody, let alone sincere, hardworking people. He said it is found generally that naxalites have come from government schools. It is only people who have seen government schools in naxalite areas themselves who can gauge if this is true.
Second, the kind of efforts Sri Sri has made to reach out to insurgent groups from all parts of the country, to engage with them and have them forsake violence and join the mainstream is nothing short of phenomenal. When this controversy broke out, 200 people who have now dissociated with naxal activity signed up in a flash in his support, some of them putting themselves at risk, saying they really did study in government schools. When he says something like this, there is a huge body of work and experience behind it.
Mahatma Gandhi shares in his autobiography that, as a lawyer, he settled more than half the cases that came to him outside the courts. It took little time for both parties to be convinced of his noble intentions. All over the world, in areas of conflict, so many talks and negotiations fail because they are tainted by motives. Both sides want something from the other but they are not able to trust each other. Wherever there is a conflict Sri Sri offers to mediate. What is behind this confidence? He knows how to generate trust in people.
Following his example, his volunteers also venture out unarmed into dangerous conflict areas with negligible regard for personal safety. What is the idea? Of course, there is ground work involved but principally, it’s just “Go and say hello with a smile or even give them a hug.” There are no calculated moves, just a genuine intention to reach out and be friendly. You’ll be surprised how favorably and how strongly people respond to such a gesture, whatever their past or background. So many deadlocks have been broken like this. Yes, they are suspicious in the beginning but they soon realize that these volunteers have nothing to gain for themselves and just want peace in those areas.
When a crime happens, its impact is evident. But when a criminal gives up crime, the impact is not so apparent. The PrisonSMART program has eliminated violent and vengeful tendencies from thousands of prisoners all over the world. How much crime was dealt with before it could even happen!
A friend of mine, Shivaprasad, was once assisting a PrisonSMART program in a jail in Mumbai. The first day, an inmate walks up to him and says, “Go back where you came from or else I’ll find out where you live. I’ll hunt you down and I’ll hunt your family down.” Just pause and think for a moment how you would react if you were threatened like this by a convict in a jail. Never short on intensity himself, this guy took out his card and said, “Sure, this is where I live. Drop in anytime.” Can you imagine what fire it takes to come up with this reply at that instant? The inmate came on the last day of the course and apologized.
A few years ago, Rita Singh, a teacher shared her life experience in front of a large assembly at the ashram. Her husband had been brutally killed in front of her eyes by a group of naxalites. The trauma was too overwhelming for her. Over several months, Sri Sri offered her solace and encouraged her to start teaching. She did. One day, she finds herself about to begin a course with her husband’s assassins sitting in front of her in the class. “I could look at them without a feeling of revenge or malice”, she shared. Those people who were already not able to see eye to eye with her through the course, just broke down and fell at her feet on the last day. They had irreparably altered her life and she had come back with a gift of smile for them.
What does it take to prepare people like this? Whatever it is, it is not ordinary. It is not a trick or a gimmick. It is the real thing. We are in gross error if we overlook their sincerity and selflessness. Dismissing this effort with frivolous sarcasm is unbecoming of the truly educated. You can continue finding faults but Sri Sri and the Art of Living have been able to inspire people by the thousands to go out of their comfort and do something to build India. And it’s beginning to show!
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