Prawesh Mahajan was a software engineer in the US and his wife Nidhi running a business until a few years ago, when they got to know of the Manviya Shiksha Shodh Sansathan, whose curriculum will now be taught in Delhi government schools.
Along with their daughter Iha who is a US citizen, the couple left everything behind and settled on farmland in Achhoti village of Chhattisgarh’s Durg district. They now rear cows and grow grains and vegetables for a living. Iha attends the institute’s Abhibhavak School, learning what the family says are values that will make her a “fearless” being.
“My daughter was studying in the US, but when I visited here, I had no second thoughts,” says Nidhi, who is setting up her new home, a sprawling farmhouse with touches of American architecture.
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Balmukund is an IIT Kanpur graduate, Vidhi an architect. They left their jobs, married and now live on the farmland with cows and farming as their sources of income.
They are among nearly 300 families who have adopted this alternative life since 2000, driven by the belief that humans have few needs. “When we came here, we had apprehensions about medical and monetary needs. Soon we found we had so few requirements. We were wasting our lives outside,” says Poonam Sahu. “Many of our ailments disappeared here,” says her husband, Basant.
This lifestyle has drawn visits from Chief Minister Raman Singh’s son Abhishek Singh, Rahul Gandhi and recently Delhi’s Education Minister Manish Sisodia, who has prepared a programme for the state’s schools.
The institute was set up in 2000 by A Nagraj, who was born in Karnataka. Today it has branches in Kanpur, Indore, Bijnor and Amarkantak, where 95-year-old Nagraj lives with some of his disciples.
The Durg centre is the largest with 50 acres farmland and 12 families. Abhibhavak Vidyalaya is 40 km away, in Raipur.
“Our education model stresses development of consciousness and values. We inculcate family values and Swaraj Vyavastha in individuals,” says the institute’s senior practitioner, Som Tyagi, who left his Ghaziabad home and lives with his wife on the farm.
UP Technical University, Punjab Technical University and IIIT Hyderabad have adopted the Sansathan’s courses. Institute members have also been invited by the governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and MP for special programmes for officers. No fee is charged. “Gyan bikao nahi hai,” Tyagi says.