At a time when the entire world is grappling with the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, considering the diversity and enormity of our population we can say that Bharat is faring relatively better than other powerful nations of the world. People experienced lockdown for the first time. Speculations about the merits and demerits of this measure run rife all over the world.
Slowly the lockdown is being lifted. We will have to carefully proceed further. Coping with the trail of challenges of this unfamiliar disease will require an extraordinary approach. The world after will not be the same as the one previously known to us. Restoring normalcy in day-to-day functioning will be no cakewalk. We will have to walk into this new world together, and with a firm resolve to be victorious.
Bharat’s war against Corona is different from that of other nations of the world. It is unique. State power is paramount in the nations of the world. It has a great bearing on all societal systems in those countries. Therefore, those states are termed as 'welfare state’. In catastrophic times, state systems are activated through administrative readiness and the citizens await official, state-based machinery to get functional. The picture in Bharat is different.
Traditionally society (as people) has existed independent of the state power here. We had autonomous systems independent of state power, capable of taking care of various matters of the society. Rabindranath Thakur in his essay, ‘Swadeshi Samaj,’ opined “a welfare state is neither a Bharatiya concept nor tradition. Since time immemorial the state here was entrusted strictly with only a few critical matters. All other matters were addressed by the autonomous systems of the society.” He stated explicitly that “a society that has minimal reliance on the state power to make arrangements for itself is ‘Swadeshi Samaj.’”
Acharya Vinobha Bhave remarked, “The state power was important to us only until we were under foreign rule. Now that we are independent, it is time to awaken the power of the people.” He further added, “the society that relies heavily on the state for its needs is an indolent society; a weak society. Non-governmental work is more efficacious.”
Earlier ‘we’ were under foreign rule. On August 15, 1947 ‘we’ gained independence. On January 26, 1950 ‘we’ brought our Constitution into effect. This ‘we’ under foreign rule, the ‘we’ that became independent, and the ‘we’ that adopted our Constitution, is the same timeless through ages, it precisely is our existence and identity (i.e.) our Rashtra. Our motherland was invaded. At times, Kings were defeated. Foreign rule too prevailed. But this ‘we’ remained undefeated. ‘We’ alludes to the people of this society, our nation. At this point, it must be understood that this ‘nation’ is not the same as the Western ‘nation-state.’ Ex-President of Bharat, Dr. Pranab Mukherjee in his address to Sangh Swayamsevaks in Nagpur underlined this very fact, stating, “Western concept of a nation-state and Bharatiya concept of ‘Rashtra’ seeped in our view-of-life are dissimilar.” Our national identity has emerged through a long-drawn process of confluence, assimilation and co-existence.
In the present situation, state representatives—policemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics, cleaners and many others are executing their duties remarkably despite the possibility of infectious transmission and life-threat. Many personnel got infected in the process and a few have even been reported of losing lives as a consequence. Therefore, it is legitimate to refer to these professionals as “Corona-warriors”. All sections of the society, especially the Army and the Police have loudly and rightfully applauded the efforts of care workers. Some might interject, reasoning, “duty is an official imperative and hence they were under compulsion to discharge it.” However, the diligence, faithfulness and dedication exhibited by the members of these groups is praiseworthy which needs to be honoured.
Alongside these governmental and semi-governmental agencies, another sizable section of the society embraced life-threat to join the emergency task force from day one. With no accountability to the government and a disinclination toward return-gains, yet, with a sense of deep affinity, they convey “in times of crisis it is my responsibility to help the members of my society” and exert efforts to the same end. This spirit of oneness with the whole society is the feeling of Vayam Rashtrang Bhootah.’ (I am the constituent of the society and have an inextricable connection with my society). Doing relief work in times of natural calamities like floods and earthquakes is incomparable to serving during a pandemic when a highly infectious disease multiplies the threat. The active societal contribution made by this section during the current pandemic has been consistent across the length and breadth of the country. This illuminates the power of a conscious and active nation.
From Arunachal Pradesh to Kashmir and Kanyakumari 4,79,949 swayamsevaks under the banner of Sewa Bharati supplied dietary allowance kits to 1,10,15,450 families at 8570 different locations
From Arunachal Pradesh to Kashmir and Kanyakumari 4,79,949 swayamsevaks of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh under the banner of Sewa Bharati supplied dietary kits to 1,10,15,450 families at 8570 different locations. 7,11,46,500 food packets were distributed to those in need of food. Approximately 62,00,000 masks were distributed. Members of nomadic tribes, eunuchs, those in the flesh trade, monkeys and other animals dependent on temple visitors for nourishment and cows constitute the beneficiary groups. Several students living in major metropolises and large towns also received help. A helpline to support students of the Northeastern states was specially created to ensure communication with their family members and render all required help. Those who sustain by gathering daily alms around temples and other religious centres also received the offerings of this ‘Sewa Yajna.’ Swayamsevaks even ventured into ‘bastis’ that noted infectious breakout to help people there. Regardless of any filter, unbiased help was extended in every state of the country to the needy. Crowd-management, registration of workers in transit and innumerable such tasks were managed as a support to the administration. Upon administration’s clarion call in the Pune city, RSS swayamsevaks flanked by volunteers of other social outfits stepped inside densely populated, risky, red zones and screened over 1,00,000 people, handing over suspected carriers to the administration for further testing.
Besides RSS several other social and religious organisations, congregations, mathas, temples and gurudwaras contributed to this society-led relief movement in various locations across the country. Contemplation of the ‘vayam rastrang bhootah’ (body-limb connection) sentiment gives impetus to the development and functioning of such systems. Realisation of this feeling connects and unifies people despite of speaking different languages, known by various castes, and worshipping diverse deities, are spread across the Bharatiya landmass to forge the ‘we.’ The eternal ‘we.’
The acute awareness of being a part of this colossal ‘we’ offers inspiration in extending selfless service. “People living in all states, literate, illiterate, wealthy, poor, villagers or city-dwellers, townsfolk and forest-dwellers are all my own people,” encouraging this sentiment implies awakening a nation. It is then that the consciousness expands to successively include self, family, clan, neighbourhood, village, district, state, nation, the entire world and all creations into the scope of one’s identity. These different layers, are not in conflict but are complementary. The incessant endeavour of the society to harmonise these components is the basis of eternal, spirituality based, integral and holistic view of life of Bharat. This view of life is what gives Bharat its unique identity since time immemorial. Our identification with these various identities of the society is the very reason why ‘we’ have the capacity to have a feeling of affinity for these ever-expanding layers of existence. That feeling of affinity propels action in the times of crisis which further strengthens the bond.
The act of organising society is neither instantaneous nor automatic. Conscious, long-term and continuous endeavours result in an organised society. It takes generations of craftsmen to evolve a functional system. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is an example of such crafting agents. The goal of unifying all the people of the diverse Bharatiya society by inculcating a spirit of oneness with all, was the foundational purpose of the Sangh. The comprehensive expanse of work, influence and organised cohesion that is visible today for all to see has consumed the lives of five generations of Sangh karyakartas. Thousands of people have spent their entire lives with this very aim as their mission. Not only RSS, but umpteen number of social and religious agencies, educators, merchants and businessmen and home-maker women folk contribute to this task of nation-awakening each day, consistently in their own subtle ways. However, Sangh’s ability to consolidate and project nation-wide efforts under one umbrella makes it perceptible.
It takes dedicated years of penance to inculcate this sense of belongingness in the entire society and a mindset to work as a part of a disciplined system in a given situation. One such revelatory experience came about when the Aila cyclone hit Bengal on May 25, 2009. South 24 Pargana district was worst affected by this devastating cyclone. On June 3, having travelled in a jeep for an hour followed by a 40-minute boat ride and lastly a walk through knee-deep slush I reached the distant island where relief work was undertaken. Taking cognisance of the ongoing rescue and relief operations I enquired into the experience of the swayamsevaks there. I asked them to share the names of the religious-social organisations or agencies that were also conducting relief work there. The answer was eye-opening. They said “other agencies have restricted their service area to the parts having road access. Sangh alone is active in these inaccessible interiors.” I wondered if those swayamsevaks would have ever experienced working in such dire conditions. I admired their thoughtfulness and courage to reach out to people that needed the help desperately. Such dedication can only result from cultivating the discipline and by identifying self as an integral part of the society.
RSS Swayasevaks reachwd out to the needy
wherever possible with the sense of belongingness and afffinity
Corona calamity also brought similar instances to the fore. Due to some rumour-mongering thousands of waged workers gathered at Delhi’s Anand Vihar Bus stand. No sooner did this become known, Delhi swayamsevaks arranged for food and water distribution to those workers. Uttar Pradesh Sangh workers in collaboration with state administration organised a fleet of 5,000 buses that made the journey to the places-of-origin of these labourers feasible. Technically the governments and administration owe those responsibilities but the swayamsevaks offered a glimpse into their managerial abilities and might by executing such challenging tasks. Extricating a mass of people out of confusion and responsibly ferrying them back to the safety of their village homes was not easy. This mass exodus caught many headlines and became a hot debatable topic. Pro-government and anti-government camps locked horns and engaged in mudslinging over televised debates. However, it is imperative to note that, in the same time frame 10 lakh waged labourers in Bihar, 30 lakh in Uttar Pradesh, 10 lakh in Madhya Pradesh and 1.15 lakh waged labourers from Jharkhand having successfully completed their journey made it back to their villages. Governmental-societal partnership made this herculean goal attainable.
Lockdown brought all economic activities to a grinding halt and induced a multitude of challenges. Arrangements and efforts to address those challenges were not free of shortcomings. It is painful that the ordinary, innocent and helpless people had to bear the consequences of those shortcomings. In a democratic setup, it is natural for such issues to become the matter of public discourse. But few members of the society- politicians, journalists and writers—oblivious of the fact that they too comprise the same society, alienate themselves from it. To blow matters out of proportion and to generalise a condition, creating the false impression demoralises the entire society and create general unrest.
What is wrong is wrong. But when publicly scrutinising such matters having one’s allegiance with the truth, carefully avoiding portrayal of an inflated, fallacious picture is our social and moral responsibility owing to the value system rooted in the feeling ‘vayam rashtrang bhootah.’
I recall one incident dating back to 1992. Having recently landed in the United States of America I soon learnt of this then-popular ‘GUN’ tee-shirt brand that was apparently a rage amongst American teens. With his tee-shirt sales hitting the roof, the producer rang in huge profits. But another section in the American society concerned with the potential threat of those tee shirts—a spike in violent tendencies among teens, stirred a movement in the society demanding the producer to withdraw his product from the market. Unwilling, but eventually foreseeing the threat of a complete boycott of all his products the producer relented and withdrew those ‘GUN’ tee-shirts. In a subsequent press interview, the journalists squizzed him about his earlier stance. To this, he replied saying “look I am here in the business of making money, not morality.” Maybe there exist two viewpoints in business- to view one’s society as a mere resource or to consider it as an extension of one’s own self.
In the same zest if incidents of violence, torture, exploitation, injustice or deceit plague society then people must organise their might to oppose and remedy such matters. After thorough investigation those found guilty must be brought to trial, bearing appropriate punishment. But how can the generalisation of a shortcoming portraying an inflated, fallacious picture and deflation of the spirits of the larger, well-meaning society be justified? However such conduct is truism in the present scenario and the reason behind this erroneous conduct is the dulling of the feeling of ‘vayam rashtrang bhootah.’
Stretching from the Himalayas to the Andamans the entire society is my own. I have to weave and create beautiful motifs in my social fabric should be the underlying thought behind all actions
Unfortunately, in endorsing a disparate, one-sided narrative several members of the society are overlooking their moral and social responsibility of moulding and viewing the society as a cohesive whole. Misconstruing the characteristic diversities as divisions and turning a blind eye to the spirituality-based view of life which is the source of unity at the core of our diversity has been a norm for quite some time now. In such an ancient society, some defects got created. Consequently, problems emerged. Corrective measures as efforts in redeeming our ancient glory must be taken, but with care not to dampen the perpetual spirit of weaving the society. Historically erroneous policies have led to social and economic problems. To nullify those errors cohesive societal building efforts must be exerted. In doing so we must ensure that the unifying thread of our fundamentally diverse society doesn’t weaken or lose strength.
Stretching from the Himalayas to the Andamans the entire society is my own. I have to weave and create beautiful motifs in my social fabric should be the underlying thought behind all actions. The invincible ‘we’ is the key to its capacity of standing tall in the face of the tribulations of the future and emerging victorious. All of us, at all times, under every circumstance should strive to strengthen and revitalise this eternal ‘we’ to remain invincible.
(The writer is Sah-Sarkaryavah of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh)