“The most important journey you will take in your life will usually be the one of self-transformation. Often, this is the scariest because it requires the greatest changes, in your life.”

― Shannon L. Alder

A drug addict, who was sentenced to 12 years in jail for drug pedaling today shines as a role model for his village, running a free school for its children. His is a classic case of the adage ‘behind every culprit, there is victim crying for help’. Dara Singh got a chance to turn to a new leaf, thanks to the Art of Living program conducted in Udaipur jail. The son of a farmer, Dara spent his childhood in a village, living a simple life. His parents sent him to study to a place far away from his village. Peer pressure led the young Dara to experiment with drugs, and then there was no turning back. “In the beginning, they provide me the drugs (smack) free of cost, but once I got addicted, they started telling me that I need to pay for it as these drugs are costly. Neither could I manage such money, nor could not leave the addiction. So I got involved in pedaling of drugs,” he recounts.

Then he paid the price. He discontinued his studies and started pedaling drugs in a big way. In 2001, the Rajasthan Police arrested him with 750 grams of smack while smuggling it into Bihar from Rajasthan. He was convicted and imprisoned.  “I did not want to commit any crime but addiction is a dangerous thing. When I felt the need for intoxication, I was prepared to do anything. I had to steal and I was ready to even kill just to get the money to buy drugs,” he explains.

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In the world of crime, he lived a life full of fear. “I could neither eat well nor could rest. Yet in that dreadful fear, the plan to commit crimes would continue in my mind,” he recalls. The same pattern continued inside the jail too. “I had decided how to live my life. I had decided to lead a life of a criminal. I was plotting how I will take revenge on those who sent me to jail,” he confesses. All that changed one day when he did the Sudarshan Kriya, a breathing technique taught in the Art of Living Prison Program. “From the first time I did the Sudarshan Kriya, my thought process changed and I became more and more positive. I experienced that all the criminal thoughts were disappearing from my mind, and began to strongly dislike the criminal world,” he recollects.

Sharing that the kriya was a new lifeline for him, Dara says: “Yoga, meditation and Sudarshan Kriya is very important because prisoners are full of fear and revengeful. That’s why they commit more crimes. Such techniques give one the courage and confidence to keep away from criminal activities and lead a good life in the society. If I would not have attended the Art of Living Program, I would have been involved in theft, murder, drugs, kidnapping and other criminal acts after being released from jail. It was only the Art of Living Program which brought me back to the mainstream. The inclination to do something positive for society and the strength to implement the good ideas for society is because of my practices of the Art of Living techniques.”

That transformation made a big difference to his life outside the jail. “When I came out of jail after seven and half years, no one wanted to talk to me. But I would still go to the village and talk about the tremendous reform I experienced in jail because of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the rehabilitation program I did. People were frightened of me due to my past life, but the transformation in me changed people’s perception about me. I left the company of substance abusers. I made a decision to stop talking to them and joined the company of other people. The Art of Living circles provided me with good company and they started believing in me. They were able to remove the stigma,” he narrates.

At this crucial phase of his life, The Art of Living provided the much needed support. He was given to run a free school for the poor village children under the aegis of the Art of Living. It is financed by Sri Sri Ved Vigyan Mahavidyalaya Bangalore.  This school is located in Sarangkhera village near Kota. With the dedicated efforts of Dara Singh, this school is doing better than the government school there. This project has not only helped improve his reputation, but also raise his self-esteem. “I run the free school with about 500 children from poor families, mostly children of daily wagers. Most are first generation school goers. The school bears all the expenditure of children including a meal uniforms, school bag and books, shoes, socks, etc. Around 150 children are provided free transportation also, which has encouraged people from about a dozen neighboring villages to send their children to school.” he explains with pride. A solar project which has been set up in the school, at an estimated cost of Rs 28 lakhs, has proved to be a boon for about 800 villagers of Sarangkhera. Belying his checkered past, he now talks philosophically: “Life is short and there is lots of service to do.”