Falgun Shukla 5 Vik Samvat 2069. Yugabda 5114: March 16, 2013

1. FESTIVALS: Baisakhi on 14th of April in 2013, the New Year's Day in Punjab, commemorates the founding of Khalsa Panth in 1699 by the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, and distribution of amrit (nectar) to his first group of followers (Panj Piaras). Typically Baisakhi is celebrated every year on 13 April with the festival date falling on 14 April once every 36 years. It is believed that on this day, i.e. 13th April, the sun makes an entry into Mesh Rashi. Legend also has it that on this day Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment at Bodhgaya, which is why the day holds significance for the Buddhists. Baisakhi holds significance for the farmers as it marks the time for harvest of the rabi crop and on this day farmers express their gratitude to God for good yield. Baisakhi is popular in Assam as Rongali Bihu, and in Kerala it is known as Vishu.
2.  MAHA KUMBHA WAS CRASH COURSE IN HINDUISM: FRENCH FILMMAKER: French documentary maker Diego Bunuel, who spent 21 days at the Maha Kumbha in Allahabad, said it was more like a crash course in Hinduism. Diego, 38, was in the holy city in Uttar Pradesh to shoot an hour-long documentary “Inside The Mahakumbha” that covered the scale, details, quirks and moments of Maha Kumbha. It was aired on National Geographic Channel March 4 and Diego hosted it for the channel.
“Unlike Europe, where religion needs revival, in Bharat it’s very much alive and has diversity that can encompass everyone”, added Diego, who is of Spanish-French origin and grew up in the US harbouring a passion for travel and journalism.
He was also impressed by the logistics of the event, the facilities being provided at the location and the way the authorities managed such huge crowds with promptness. He felt it was “nothing less than a commendable military operation”. The filmmaker also felt that there is no need to revive the religion and culture in Bharat because he saw people “living it as part of their daily life” here. Dubbed in 26 languages, the documentary will be broadcast in 68 countries.  
3.  Yoga & Hinduism? It's all in the mind: The opposition to the introduction of Ashtanga Yoga in schools in California, US, on the grounds that it has religious connotations has flummoxed yoga experts in Bengaluru. "Can you say that Newton's Law of Motion is influenced by Christianity?" wonders H R Nagendra, vice chancellor, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA). "Such comments betray ignorance. Although the Vedic science developed in Bharat, but it does not mean it is inclined towards Hinduism or Buddhism or any other religion." he explains.
'Yoga belongs to all religions' - "I’ve students from all walks of life, all religions and nationalities. I've students who practise Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and many other religions. Yoga is a way to bridge the divide between the religions. It is all about how you connect with your own body, mind, with other people and the universe," says Sawmya Ayyar, an international yoga teacher and therapist.
Zeljka Ciganovic, a yoga teacher from Croatia,    based in Bengaluru, agrees with that view. "I've been practising yoga for 10 years. Yoga does not promote any religion; but it depends on the teacher. There have been instances when priests from various religions have spoken against this science. In our country, yoga was described as demonic by the pope himself. This is because most people do not know much about it,". H Suleman Sait, another yoga practitioner, says, "I disagree that yoga belongs to any particular religion. On the contrary, I believe, it belongs to Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and all other faiths. My wife too practises yoga regularly."
4. AKHIL BHARATIYA PRATINIDHI SABHA (ABPS) was held in Jaipur on 15, 16 and 17 March 2013, in which about 1300 members participated from all over Bharat. The visit of about 6000 of RSS swyamsevaks to border areas of Bharat and participation of lakhs of people in Shobha Yatras on the occasion of birthday of Swami Vivekananda ji and more than 2.5 crore in Surya Namaskar Yajnas on February 18 as part of the celebrations during 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda ji were specially mentioned in the baithak. A resolution on the plight of Hindu refugees and demanding provision of basic necessities to them was passed in the Sabha and a press statement was released on the present scenario of the country including economical, security, terrorism, appeasement and various issues related to the rivers of the country. Text of the resolution and that of the Statement of Sarkaryavah Shri Bhayyaji Joshi on Sufferings of the Sri Lankan Tamils are given below:
Resolution: ADDRESS THE CONCERNS OF THE PERSECUTED HINDUS OF BANGLADESH AND PAKISTAN: The Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha expresses serious concern over endless persecution of Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh resulting in large scale continuous influx of them as refugees into Bharat. It is a matter of great shame and sorrow that these hapless Hindus are being forced to lead pathetic lives both at their respective places as well as in Bharat.           
The ABPS condemns the recent attacks on Hindus including Buddhists in Bangladesh and their places of worship by the fundamentalist groups like the notoriously anti-Hindu and anti-Bharat Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh etc. This has become a phenomenon in Bangladesh for the last several decades. The Hindus and other minorities have been facing the brunt of Islamic fury for no fault of theirs time and again. The persecution and helplessness is forcing thousands to flee for their lives and dignity into Bharat. Such Bangladeshi Hindus and Chakmas have been staying in West Bengal and Assam as refugees for decades on and newer ones are joining them everytime there is fresh violence in Bangladesh.
The ABPS draws the attention of the nation towards the plight of the Hindus in Pakistan too. All available reports suggest that the Hindus in Pakistan lead most wretched lives deprived of security, dignity and human rights. Constant attacks on Hindus including Sikhs have become the order of the day. Forced conversions, abductions, forced marriages, rapes, killings and destruction of places of worship have become a part of the persecuted lives of the Hindus there. No constitutional entity of Pakistan comes to their rescue. As a result the Hindus of Pakistan too are forced to flee to Bharat seeking refuge.
The ABPS wishes to remind the government, political, intellectual and social leadership of Bharat that these hapless Hindus of Bangladesh and Pakistan have not become victims of Islamic persecution out of their own volition. It is a consequence of the utterly tragic and irrational partition of our motherland in 1947. The Partition of Bharat was thrust upon the innocent Hindus of Pakistan and Bangladesh by the political leadership. Overnight their motherland became foreign to them. It is a travesty that these unfortunate Hindus are paying the price of their lives for the omissions and commissions of their past political masters.           
The ABPS calls upon the Government of Bharat to revisit the entire issue of Hindu refugees and Hindu citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh. The government can't shy away stating that it is an internal matter of the respective governments. The Nehru-Liaqat pact of 1950 had expressly stated that the minorities on both sides would be accorded full protection and citizenship rights. In Bharat every Constitutional measure was invoked to accord not only protection and security but also many special provisions amounting to appeasement in favour of the so-called minorities. They are well-placed in our country today in terms of their demographic, economic, educational and social status.         
On the contrary the Hindus of Bangladesh and Pakistan have been subjected to continuous persecution resulting in severe depletion of numbers, absolute poverty, human rights abuse and migration. The Hindu population of East and West Pakistan at the time of the Partition was 28% and 11% respectively where as the Muslim population of what became truncated Bharat was 8%. Today while the Muslim population in Bharat has risen to 14% the Hindu population in Bangladesh has come down to less than 10% and in Pakistan to less than 2%.         
The ABPS insists that it is the responsibility of the Government of Bharat to challenge Pakistan and Bangladesh on the issue of violation of Nehru-Liaqat Pact conditions. Disappearence of millions of Hindus can't simply be brushed aside by invoking sovereignty principle. These two countries need to be questioned on the continuous influx of Hindu refugees into Bharat. While not a single member of the so-called minority community has ever gone over to these countries from Bharat as a refugee, millions have crossed over to this side and are continuing to do so.           
In view of this heart-wrenching scenario the ABPS urges the Government of Bharat to initiate new discourse on the question of Hindus living in these two countries, which is markedly different from Hindus living in other countries. The Government must:           
1. exert pressure on the governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan to ensure security of the Hindus there;  
2. draft a National Refugee Relief & Rehabilitation Policy ensuring dignified living conditions for all Hindu refugees from these two countries pending their return with safety and honour to their respective countries;     
3. demand compensation in appropriate form from Bangladesh and Pakistan for the Hindus displaced from their respective countries; and
4. demand international institutions like the UNHCR, UNHRC etc to play a role in ensuring safety and honour of the Hindus and other minorities in these countries.   
The ABPS is compelled to state that the apathy of our Government to the plight of these people is only due to the fact that they are Hindus. The countrymen should come out strongly against this callous and cavalier attitude. The entire nation needs to stand by the right of security, honour and livelihood of each and every Hindu living in Pakistan and Bangladesh including those who have been pushed out of those countries and become refugees.
Statement of Sarkaryavah Shri Bhayyaji Joshi on SUFFERINGS OF THE SRI LANKAN TAMILS: Around this time last year, just before the last meeting of the UNHRC at Geneva, we had issued a statement calling upon the Government of Sri Lanka to proactively take steps to alleviate the sufferings of the Tamils of that country and also to ensure proper rehabilitation, security and political rights to them. I am constrained to observe that one year down the line there has not been much improvement in the ground situation. If anything, the suspicions of the world community over the intentions of the Government of Sri Lanka have further deepened.      
I take this opportunity to once again remind the Government of Sri Lanka that it can't continue to turn a blind eye to the plight of the Tamils in the Northern Province who had suffered immensely during the 30 year-long war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Forces losing lives, livelihood, homes and temples. Tens of thousands of them had to flee the country and more than a lakh had arrived on the shores of Tamilnadu as refugees.
It is our considered opinion that lasting peace will return to Sri Lanka only when the Government of that country sincerely and amply addresses the grievances of the Tamils of the North and East as well as those refugees living in Bharat. We urge the Government of Bharat to ensure that the Sri Lankan Government acts in a responsible manner in rehabilitating and providing full civil and political rights to the displaced Tamils.   
It must also be borne in mind that this neighbourhood Indian Ocean island with millennia-old linkages with Bharat shouldn't be allowed to become a pawn in the great geo-strategic power game being played out by the global powers with the Indian Ocean as the battle-ground. Attempts to widen the gulf between the Sinhala and Tamil population of that country must not be allowed to succeed. Therein lies the key to lasting solution to the Sri Lankan crisis.
RSS Sarkaryavah Bhaiyyaji Joshi’s Statement on CURRENT SITUATION IN THE COUNTRY: The economic crisis aggravated by the myopic policies of the Government and neglect of the Agriculture, SSIs and such other employment oriented sectors is emerging as a serious cause of concern for the country. The growth rate of manufacturing sector has nose – dived to the lowest ever level since Independence. Growing unemployment due to this decline, unabated price rise, widening deficit in foreign trade and growing dominance of the foreign companies over the country’s industry, trade and commerce are pushing us to a grave economic crises and foreign dependence.
Besides, the growing scarcity of resources for Agriculture, Defence and Public Welfare on account of fiscal crisis is also a matter of serious concern.
Growing incidents of suicides by the farmers due to neglect of agriculture, dependence of increasing number of farmers on Contract Farming and the irrational obduracy of the Government in Land Acquisition matters, etc. are pushing the life of crores of farmers into grave crisis, besides, affecting Food Security of the country.
It is a matter of grave concern that multi-lateral trade agreements and free trade agreements have been restricting the Government in taking decision in all areas in national interest and leaving it without option. In the given circumstances urgent initiative is needed for restructuring the economy for self reliant development.
Rivers like Ganga and Yamuna on the one hand are held as centres of profound reverence, and on the other hand they sustain the livelihood of crores of people besides sustaining ecological order of a large part of the country. The Government’s attempts to obstruct flow of these rivers, its neglect of keeping them pollution free and its apathy towards the popular river protection movements by ignoring their sentiments are also matters of grave concern. The RSS welcomes all these popular movements.
On the other hand, river water disputes, like that of Cauvery, are also a matter of grave concern. Sharing of river water amongst the States must be done in a judicious and harmonious manner in the context of larger public good.
Likewise, the Ram Setu, besides being an object of faith for crores of Hindus, is effectively safeguarding the rare Thorium reserves, abundantly available in the region. The people in the country will never accept the obstinate attempt of the Government to go ahead with the Setu Samudram project by destroying the Ram Setu.
In the past as well, the Government had to give up before the wrath of the Ram Bhaktas, its attempt to start the work to build a shipping canal by destroying the Ram Setu. The affidavit filed by the Government in the Supreme Court, declining to adopt the alternative alignment, suggested by the Pachouri Committee raises the questions about its intentions.
We urge the Government to respect the popular sentiments and dare not touch the Ram Setu, else it will once again become a target of massive public fury. On all such issues, the Government should act in national interest, keeping in view the public sentiments.
5. New Dimensions of Youth Activism needed: Dattaji: RSS Akhil Bhartiya Sah-sarkaryawah, Dattatreya Hosabale in his address to a gathering of more than 150 alumni and other audience in Convention Center of JNU on ‘Glorious Traditions of Nationalist Movement in JNU’ mentioned three crises – those of character, of leadership and of consensus are affecting our overall development. The solution propounded by him to overcome these crises was to have character, intellectual honesty and intellectualism combined with action in our life.
Suresh Jain, former Delhi Sah Prant Pracharak, Umesh Upadhyay, Pro Vice Chancellor of a university in Raipur, Dr. Sunil Mohanty, also attended the program.
6. 'BHARAT FIRST': MODI: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Bharatiya diaspora in Edison, New Jersey, Chicago and Illinois, on March 9 at 8.00 pm, US local time saying his idea of secularism is "Bharat First".  Modi stated that Gujarat has become a symbol of development and no one can stop Bharat from becoming a world leader. "I don't want to criticise any government. My definition of secularism is simple - Bharat first." "Gujarat has become a symbol of development. Even during the worst times of recession, Gujarat was always developing in this competitive world. Gujarat always has been praised for its good governance, efficiency and cheap labour. Our focus is on skill development,” he added. "More and more Non-Resident Bharatiya youth are coming to Bharat for development of Bharat, which is a good sign. 19th century belonged to Europe, 20th to the USA and now 21st century is for Asia. Bharat and China are the main competitors," said Modi.
The event was organised by the OFBJP. Modi's address at Wharton Business School was cancelled under pressure from the school's management and alumni. In a Wall Street Journal poll on the Wharton snub issue, 92.5 per cent of nearly 5000 votes cast from around the world said the university had made a mistake in Modi's case.
7. Bharat Vikas 2013, KUWAIT: Swami Vivekanand’s speech delivered in Chicago was highlighted at ‘Bharat Vikas 2013’ programme organized by Seva Darshan, Kuwait at Marina Hall, Abbasiya on 25th February, 2013. Mohana Warrier, Vikas Project Trustee & Akhil Bharatiya Secretary, 150th Swami Vivekananda Jayanthi Celebrations Committee in his keynote address said that Swamiji emphasized the need for upholding our tradition and culture in front of the whole world. Subrahmanyan Viswananda Dy. General Manager, Karoor Vaisya Bank was also present on the occasion.
8.  Waytha begins hunger strike for Hindraf blueprint: in a drastic move, Hindraf chairperson P Waythamoorthy has embarked on a solo hunger strike to press BN and Pakatan Rakyat to endorse Hindraf’s five-year blueprint to solve the problems of the marginalised Bharatiya community. “The purpose (of the hunger strike) is for them (BN and Pakatan) to acknowledge that the human rights of Bharatiya Malaysians have been violated,” Waythamoorthy told reporters after prayers at the Rawang Hindu temple on March 10.
9.  All knowledge to us has come from BHARAT: Dalai Lama - Delivering the first convocation address at the Kushabhau Thakre University of Journalism and Mass Communication in Raipur, the Nobel laureate said he had learnt a lot from Bharat and its ancient traditions which stress compassion based on non-violence and religious harmony. "Bharat is our guru and we are her 'chelas' (disciples). All the knowledge to us has come from Bharat. he added. Speaking on the occasion, Chhattisgarh Governor Shekhar Dutt said Dalai Lama's teachings can help the students to touch great heights in their lives. Twenty-four gold medals and 425 degrees were conferred during the convocation ceremony.
10. World's largest magnet, weighing 50,000 tonnes, is being designed at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Trombay these days. It will be several times bigger than the one in the Compact Muan Solenoid detector at CERN in Geneva. The magnet will play a major role in the Rs 1,500-crore Bharat-based Neutrino Observatory coming up 4,300 ft below a cave in a mountain not far from Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
Vivek Datar, head of BARC's nuclear physics division, said the current plan envisaged the magnet having three modules and work on the engineering model was expected to be completed in about three years.
11.  US AND CHINESE Universities leARN human values from Ramayana: Students at many Chinese universities are getting lessons on human values from the great Hindu epic - Ramayana. Wise sayings from Valmiki's text are being adapted by the universities teaching Hindi in China and are being made relevant to the current world situations. At least six leading universities as well as colleges in different parts of China are teaching Hindi, which has become a popular foreign language in China. Similarly several universities in the US have included reading the Ramayana as part of comparative humanities and literature sessions on Asia.
12.  Highest statue of Lord Shiva in the world, towering 20 metres above the ground level was unveiled in South Africa. Nine artisans from  Bharat spent 10 months building and putting the finer details on the steel statue at Actonville in Benoni which features Lord Shiva on one half and Mother Shakti on the other.
“With so much emphasis in South Africa at present for the lack of respect for female gender, how appropriate for us as an organisation, is to honour the females and the mother of our community, Shakti. We have a murthi that is half mother, half father, symbolising the equality of gender,” said Karthie Moothsamy, the Chairman of the Benoni Tamil School Board.
13.  ‘A Spiritual Yatra’: (As narrated by a Chennai IT Milan swayamsevak) We, 25 Swayamsevaks of various IT milans in Chennai, started on Feb 22 evening by Kanyakumari express and reached Kanyakumari Saturday morning. We all walked to the Vivekananda Kendra which was a 10 minute walk from the rail station. As soon as we entered the sprawling campus dotted with pictures of Swami Vivekananda and his ever inspiring quotes a sense of purpose for the trip dawned on us. First of all, we visited the Kanyakumari Amman temple and bathed in the ocean.
After lunch all of us wore our Ganavesh and left for the beach to take a ferry to the Rock Memorial. Amongst our fellow passengers, a couple of German tourists asked us if we belonged to any particular organization. We briefed them about Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its noble mission. They were all ears and wished us the best in our endeavour. We all got on to the ferry and as soon as the ferry left for the Rock Memorial slogans like “Bharat Mata ki Jai” filled the air. As we were sailing through the turbulent ocean it made me think of the turbulence in the mind of Swami Vivekananda which prompted him to swim in such treacherous conditions to the rock and meditate upon Bharat Mata which fell from its pinnacle of glory and her beloved kids who were once the thought leaders of the world, now living in abject moral and monetary poverty.
With all these thoughts we reached the rock and went around visiting the Sri Pada Mandapam and the Vivekananda Mandapam. Then we assembled on the rock facing mainland Bharat and sung our RSS prarthana. By that time many people flocked around us in curiosity. Some tourists came and introduced themselves to us saying that they wanted to join RSS and some said that they used to attend shakha in their childhood. We sat around and sung patriotic songs for a while and returned back to the mainland.
Next day we visited few temples nearby and met Lakshmanji who was living in the Vivekananda Kendra. He narrated to us his role in reclaiming the rock from the Christian Missionaries who were trying to occupy it. It was an awe-inspiring story which brought tears in my eyes. We returned home with a sense of commitment to positively contribute to this great Motherland of ours.
14.  2 Muslim students WIN SANSKRIT medals in Gujarat University: Defying stereotypes, a Muslim boy and a girl have bagged all the three medals instituted for the BA course in the ancient Bharatiya language by the Gujarat University. Two of the medals for Sanskrit were won by Taiyab Sheikh, a student of Y S Arts and Commerce college in Devgadh Baria in Panchmahals district. The third went to Yasminbanu Kothari of the Adiwasi Arts and Commerce college in Santrampur in the interior of the state's tribal belt. Sheikh got 75.5 per cent marks and Kothari 68.5 per cent.
15.  With IQ of 162, NRI girl smarter than Einstein: A 12-year-old Bharatiya girl has recorded a score of 162 in one of the world’s toughest IQ tests that makes her smarter than scientist Albert Einstein and physicist Stephen Hawking neither of whom has taken the Mensa test but are estimated to have an IQ of 160. Neha Ramu, who migrated to the UK along with her doctor parents five years ago, achieved a score of 162 on IQ test. The score makes the girl one of the brightest people in the UK. A devoted swimmer, Neha wants to be a doctor like her parents and intends study at Harvard. She is also believed to have appeared in the SAT exam scoring 740 /800 in the test primarily designed for 18-year olds.
16.  Global honour for book on vegetarian food in Paris: Bharat made history in Paris, the world's gourmet capital, at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards recently. The prestigious Oscars of food awards were held at the historic Carrousel du Louvre, with over 171 countries in participation. And Rashmi Uday Singh's pathbreaking book A Vegetarian In Paris, a Times Group Books publication, is the only one from Bharat that won an award. The glittering ceremony, attended by the creme de la creme of the global culinary world, was presided over by Edouard Cointreau.
17.  Bali Shuts Down as Local Hindus Observe Nyepi: Bali's tourist hotspots were deserted on Tuesday, March 12 as the country's most popular island observed the day of silence known as Nyepi to mark the Hindu new year.    Balinese Hindus avoided regular activities in observance of the holiday, while visitors were told to respect the event by staying inside their hotels. Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport, the main entry point to the island, stopped a total of 334 flights to and from the airport from 6 a.m. on March 12 until 6 a.m. on March 13, Indonesian news portal antaranews.com reported. Sea ports including Benoa port in Denpasar, Gilimanuk Harbor which connects Bali and Java, Padangbai port which connects Bali to West Nusa Tenggara, and Tanah Ampo Harbor which commonly serves cruise liners, were all shut down for the holiday. Cars and motorcycles were also not allowed on the road. During Nyepi, which marks the beginning of the Balinese Hindu Saka New Year, people perform catur brata penyepian, or avoid four taboos, which are working, turning on lights, going out and enjoying entertainment. “Only sick people and women that will give birth may be taken to hospitals, after securing permission from pecalang [traditional village guards] and with their company,” said Ketut Teneng spokesman of the Bali provincial administration. Television and radio stations also halted broadcasting programs on March 12.
While Indonesia is a majority Muslim nation, the majority of Bali’s nearly 4 million population practice a local version of Hinduism.
18.  MPs for steps to save Yamuna, Ganga: MPs united across party lines to express concern over pollution in the Yamuna after leader of opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj raised the issue, saying the river had become thoroughly polluted despite thousands of crores being spent on cleaning it. Congress, BJP, SP, BSP and RJD members joined Swaraj in expressing anguish over the state of Yamuna and Ganga, forcing environment and forests minister Jayanthi Natarajan to promise that she will work towards setting up a commission with powers to prevent "atrocities" against rivers. While BJP leaders referred to a march to save the Yamuna that reached the capital on March 11, other MPs like S P Singh Baghel of SP said the money sanctioned under various plans had been misutilized.
19.   SHREE VISHWA NIKETAN: Pravas: Shri Saumitra Gokhale, samyojak Vishwa Vibhag will tour Bali – Indonesia to attend World Hindu Youth Conference. Visitors: Dr.Radheshyam Dwiwedi – USA, Sardar Aridaman Singh – Canada.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors, and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. - Abraham Lincoln

A low-cost pre-school chain FOR rural Karnataka families
In a classroom fashioned out of a cattle shed in Kyathanahalli, a village off the beaten track 110 km from Bangalore, three-year-old Likhith Gowda reeled off a breathless introduction in near-perfect English — "My name is Likhith Gowda, I am a boy, I study in pre-KG, my teacher's name is Geethanjali, I live in Kyathanahalli."
The toddler then walked to the long blackboard fashioned out of the sides of a cattle-feeding trough and proceeded to point out and recite the days of the week — "Sunday, Monday, Tuesday..." Once done, he headed back to the floor mat littered with Lego bricks in the well-lit shed with walls adorned with colourful charts of fruits, birds, shapes and numbers.
Gowda is one of the 36 students enrolled in the Kyathanahalli branch of Hippocampus Learning Centre, a low-cost pre-school chain in Karnataka. Its 77 branches already make it Karnataka's largest and among Bharat's fastest-growing pre-school chains, with a further 40 pre-schools due to open in the next couple of months.
What makes it unique is that its kindergarten centres are in the heart of rural Bharat where children's English rhymes reverberate through the verdant sugarcane fields and tall coconut palms. Its students are the children of cane and sheep farmers, silkworm rearers and rural traders, some of them the first in their families to step inside a school and a majority of them first-generation English learners.
Even more groundbreaking is the fact that the chain is a for-profit social enterprise backed by Rs 7.5 crore venture capital from Acumen Fund, Unitus and Lok Capital, all international funds which finance entrepreneurs building bottom-of-the-pyramid social ventures.
The founder is Umesh Malhotra, 44, an IIT alumnus who was earlier with Infosys and one of the first of a wave of stock option millionaires to leave the outsourcing firm to turn to entrepreneurship. The idea of a rural pre-school chain came to Malhotra, who earlier co-founded and sold an IT infrastructure firm and then launched a library chain (by the same name Hippocampus) and a restaurant business, when he partnered with an NGO to build libraries in rural government schools.
"In order to make a real difference and to build scale, we had to make this a commercial venture, but with a social heart," said Malhotra. "The parents at our school are not on dole, they are paying customers," he said.
Malhotra seeded the company in 2010 with Rs 2 crore from family and friends, before getting venture funded last year. In three years, the chain has grown to 220 teachers and 3,000 students.
The pre-schools are situated in large villages of Mandya and Chitradurga districts. The annual fees range from Rs 2,000-3,000, depending on the student's kindergarten level.
In many villages in Bharat, the only option for parents is to pack their children off to a ubiquitous network of government-run baalwadis or anganwadis, which are crèches rather than learning spaces. Only the very privileged and ambitious transport their kids to kindergarten in a nearby town, the mere logistics of such conveyance making it an expensive proposition.
Consequently, many rural chidren arrive at the local private or government school for first grade without having been in any prior school-type learning situation.
In contrast, by the time he "graduates" in three years, Likhith Gowda would have picked up the fundamentals of math, spoken and written English, Kannada, environment awareness, good manners and a bit of polish. The bi-lingual kindergarten combines many fun elements with learning basics drawn from Montessori and Playway methods.
Early childhood offers a powerful learning window which makes early intellectual nurturing critical, said C P Vishwanath, founder CEO of the Chennai-based Karadi Path which makes tools to teach English to early learners. "Initiatives like Hippocampus are critical. When a child from a rural or under-privileged background enters school, there is high probability that the child is starting with learning deficits due to poor nutrition and intellectual nurturing," he said.
Hippocampus' rural kindergartens aim to stimulate an environment where children can think and express, said its director of curriculum and training, Gayatri R P. "In rural Bharat too, 'convent' denotes a privately-run English-medium school, but the standard of education is very poor," said Gayatri. "We want to encourage creative thinking rather than learning by rote."
To keep costs low, Hippocampus trains and employs local women graduates or those who have passed Class 12 as teachers. As an additional revenue stream, each learning centre runs "after-school support" in the evenings where children in Class 1 to 5 from nearby schools are coached in English and Math. Nearly 1,800 rural children are enrolled in Hippocampus' after-school centres today besides the 1,200 kindergarten children.
The changes are already noticeable, said parents. The students are carrying their learning home in visible ways. They are neat, proudly identify English words on signs and often reprimand their parents for not washing hands or praying before a meal.
"The word in the village is that the children are learning well and speaking English too," said Krishna Kumar, a farm labourer at Kyathanahalli whose three-year-old son Hemanth does not want to miss a day of school. "We have not studied but we want our only son to get a good education," said Kumar who dropped out of school after Class 5.
But as with everything else in rural Bharat, it is not easy going. Malhotra said he is working on building acceptance among parents for the school's methods. "Parents want their children to write, write and write as they believe that is what constitutes education," he said. Instead, Hippocampus focuses on creative learning, where the learning outcomes are gradual but of high standard. "But we will not dumb down," he averred. – Indian Express, 2 March 2013.