Building national character – in a lab

Peeved at the rising cases of corruption in India, a Pune-based NGO has come up with the idea of a laboratory to help build character in the next generation. Sarhad, an organization working for children in the strife-torn areas of Kashmir and northeastern states, is initially coming up with a national character laboratory (NCL) in a school run by it for militancy-affected children in Pune. “Today nearly everyone defines and interprets character in his own way,” Sarhad's founder president Sanjay Nahar told the sources on telephone. “Since the names (in regard to teachings) of great national personalities, religious saints and leaders are being exploited shamelessly for individual, political and sectarian purposes, ordinary people and, more so, young schoolchildren are either getting confused about or developing undesirable images of these great souls,” Nahar said. At the NCL, the children would get an opportunity to explore, understand and gather the essence of religion and the life and works of great leaders through books, biographies, videos and movies. “The material would be compiled and kept in NCL and would be made available to school children daily and compulsorily, every day for half an hour. The idea behind NCL is to expose children to the facts and examples about what constitutes good character, as part of their school syllabus,” Nahar said. The laboratory is scheduled to open March 23, coinciding with the martyrdom of freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. The organization plans to launch a study and research centre, estimated to cost Rs.1 crore, on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Nahar says he got the idea of setting up NCL from a similar initiative being run in Baba Aaya Singh Riarki College, a residential school in Gurdaspur, Punjab. “I was amazed to see a character building laboratory in a school. It was on a small scale, so I decided to replicate the model at national level,” he said. Swarn Singh Virk, who runs the college which started a “Charitrashala (character laboratory)” in 1976, said every school should have one. “We have 3,500 students and from cooking to cleaning, everything is done by them. Our students have topped in several competitive exams in the state. Here we help them build their character by analyzing things themselves,” said Virk. Nahar said corruption is prevalent in all government offices and recent cases of corruption in the allocation of 2G spectrum and preparations for the Commonwealth Games made him feel the need for a character laboratory akin to a science laboratory. The term laboratory in this context makes the place akin to the science laboratory, where researchers and scholars of all hues and ideologies would be invited. There would also be lectures, seminars and conferences on the subject conducted by eminent people in the field on an ongoing basis, he said. The NCL will have as its principal advisors M. Rahman, a former bureaucrat and vice chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), renowned scientist R.A. Mashelkar and social activist Anna Hazare.