The Rediff Special/ George Iype
There came one day to Drona a dark young boy. He came near the Acharya when no one was about and fell at the feet of the great Brahmin.
"He said, 'My Lord, I have come to you to learn archery. Please accept me as your pupil.'
"Drona liked his manners. He looked at him kindly and said: 'Who are you?'
"The youngster replied: 'I am Ekalavya. I am the son of Hiranyadhanus, king of the Nishadas.'"
THE class listen raptly to Ekalavya's story. Then, to stories from the Bible, the Koran, and the Ramayan.
This is not a religious discourse. Instead, the gentlemen in the class belong to the Indian Navy and are being trained at the Centre for Leadership and Behavioural Studies at the Southern Naval Command, Kochi.
Along with lessons on weaponry, tactics and strategy, the Navy's training centre echoes with episodes from the Bible, Ramayan, Mahabharat and Koran.
The rationale behind introducing religious scriptures and classics in the Navy's curriculum is simple. The Navy strongly believes character is the foundation of leadership, and that it can only be developed by imbibing the right values.
Thus, to underline moral and ethical obligations, the Navy has turned to the great epics and scriptures. What better sources can we have than the Mahabharat, Ramayan, Koran and Bible, ask naval instructors.
Lieutenant Bhavana Sharma, an instructor at C-LABS, distributes a six-page story on Job from the Old Testament. As her class finishes reading it, she says:
"Job's clear conscience and ability to stand his ground impressed God who finally restored to him all his belongings. Now discuss the applicability of this situation in our day-to-day life."
Her pupils come up with this conclusion: "The path of righteousness is very difficult to tread and the visible benefits of the path of evil are very tempting. It is the strength of faith in an established code that will help you to hold your head high. Believe in what is right."
The session then moves on to the Ramayan, to the concept of honour, as can be seen in the death of Dasharath and Bharat's attempt to recall Ram.
"The stories in our epics and other classics are replete with incidents which embody military ethos. Lessons of courage, sacrifice, honour, duty and integrity can be drawn from these stories," says C-LABS Director Captain K Sivakumar. "This is what we need among our men. There is a qualitative change in our officers after we introduced these lessons in our curriculum."
The Navy is experimenting with structured training, aimed at ingraining moral values, for the first time in Indian miltary history.
"We adopt the case study method. Our team of officers prepare excerpts from epics and other books which depict aspects of astute leadership. The trainees are given these to read. They are made to discuss the stories, and the instructors steer the class towards imbibing the core military ethos," explains Captain Sivakumar.
Though the Navy set up C-LABS in 1994, capsules on morality and ethics were introduced only this year. Rear Admiral Vijay Shankar, then chief of staff, Southern Naval Command, is said to be the guiding spirit behind this innovative exercise.
"We are not propagating religious teachings here," clarifies Captain Sivakumar. "We use a story from the Bible or an incident from the Mahabharat to drive home a certain point to our officers. Religion per se is not discussed at all in the classrooms."
Adds an instructor: "The stories from the scriptures teach us many things. It helps your inner voice gain strength, because ultimately honour is that distinction which is conferred on you in your own eyes. It is this inner voice that will help you steer on the correct path."
Says another officer: "It stirs our thought process."
Design: Uttam Ghosh
The Rediff Specials