Armed with a Master’s in business journalism from New York University, she has written exclusive stories and features on topics that land on the intersection of business and human interest for digital platforms in the US and India. She has also worked with The Economic Times as a financial market correspondent for three years.
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Dara Singh was a simple boy, a farmer’s son, who grew up in the remote village of Khera, Rajasthan. For most children, going to school is a journey towards knowledge and learning. It wasn’t so for Dara Singh. In his pre-teens, he had to leave home to continue with his high school education, an experience that would not be taken so well by the young and impressionable Singh.
Loneliness during a vulnerable stage of life and questionable company is a dangerous combination in itself. Add to it, a newfound curiosity. His situation made worse by peer pressure. Forced into drug addiction by friends and accomplices, there came a time when Dara himself resorted to peddling drugs to support his unrelenting habit. The problem got out of control. He was ready to steal or kill to get the ‘fix.’
Run-in With The Law
Dara Singh could not continue with his activities for too long. He was caught in 2001.
In 2001, Dara Singh was thrown into the jail on charges of peddling 750 grams of heroin into Bihar from Rajasthan. At that point of time, if you were put on a time machine and told that one day this guy would be running a free school for children, you would probably want to jump off the trail and ask yourself – Am I high?
But social reform became the truth of Dara Singh’s life in the following months.
A life of a hardcore criminal was cut short and transformed into a life of a reformer and this is a true story. It all happened because of a spiritual turn of events for Dara Singh.
Dara Singh, Spirituality And The World of Possibilities
At first, life in prison was no different from the life outside for Dara Singh. Fear continued to gnaw at Dara. He was also consumed by a burning desire to escape and avenge those who were responsible for his plight.
But this changed in 2007 when he attended the Art of Living Prison Program in an Udaipur jail. His first Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful rhythmic breathing technique taught in the Art of Living, was a powerful and moving experience for him, as the impact of the practice peeled off layers of anguish and restlessness, giving way to clarity of heart and mind, making him confront his emotional trauma. “I cried,” says Dara, “but as the program progressed, I felt calm. I continued to practice the technique and my thoughts changed, I became more positive.”
It helped that Dara also completed the organization’s Youth Leadership Training Program. Techniques taught by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder of The Art of Living, simple yet profoundly moving, propelled him to making a decision that would alter the course of his life forever. He wanted to make a difference, and he did.
Sentenced To 12 Years, Released After 7
Dara Singh continued with his spiritual practice of Sudarshan Kriya, Yoga, pranayama and meditation for two years regularly. And during these 2 years, he grew more focused and more positive. After completing two years of leading a life of sincerity, service, and introspection, the High Court issued a notice for his release on account of good behavior.
The New Life
Life had never been easy for Dara and now, upon his release from jail, he faced the uphill task of overcoming people’s prejudices against him. The fear and hatred he encountered everywhere had to be transformed into acceptance. The drastic reform in his behavior, the patience, a gift of his regular meditations and spiritual practices enabled him to gain peoples’ confidence. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “You convey a lot more through your presence than your words.” For Singh, his presence and sincerity of purpose won him back the acceptance, slowly and steadily.
Dara began to organize yoga and meditation programs for the villagers. At the end of the program, people experienced the peace themselves which helped loosen up their prejudices against him. They began to trust him, and his genuine concern for another’s well-being.
In 2011, he himself became an Art of Living instructor of Yoga and meditation. “People just came forward and started associating with me. I became their hope for a better life,” said Dara Singh.
Dara was also appointed as Administrator of the free school established by the Art of Living in the region. The school takes care of 450 children, 55% of whom are girls. More than 90% of these children are first generation school goers. Apart from the mainstream curriculum, they are also taught Yoga; served free, nutritious meals; given free uniforms; textbooks; school bags and the daily commute to school. Dara is supported by 12 teachers and another 4 members of staff. The school is approved by the Government, and what is more important, thoroughly approved by the children.
The Middle School is being extended to a High School, general facilities are being upgraded.
Dara Singh’s journey has been an incredible one. From drug addiction to child education; from imprisonment to reform of prisoners. But perhaps the most telling commentary on Dara’s character and work comes from some of the parents who say, they would rather not send their children to any other school but for Dara.
10-year-old Sulochana, Class 4: Is extremely happy. Her brother and sister attend the same school, which makes it fun and she never misses a single day. She loves Maths, Science, Environmental Science and scores well. The teachers agree that she is a bright girl.
11-year-old Sonu, Class 5: Used to attend his previous school only twice a week. But he attends Dara’s school daily.
Jeetmal has 3 children studying in the school: Disregarding Dara’s past, Jeetmal has complete trust in Dara’s capabilities and his genuine concern for the village children’s education. He says, “Children are studying well, they are well taken care of, I do not have to worry about expenses. What more can I ask for?”