STRIVING FOR SOCIAL HARMONY AND EQUALITY
THE UNIFYING Hindu appeal generated by the Sangh which, as we have seen, is acting as a powerful antidote to the disintegrating pulls exercised by separatist, foreign-inspired theories is proving equally efficacious in overcoming social disparities and conflicts born out of casteism, untouchability and sectarianism. The Swayamsevaks try to make use of many an occasion, especially of the devotional nature, for invoking this appeal and translating the concept of Hindu unity into reality.
Around 1970, there was a Bhagavata Saptaha in Gadegaon, a small village in Vidarbha, Maharashtra, after which annadana (distribution of food-offerings) was to take place. The local Swayamsevaks, who were entrusted with the job, made arrangements for serving all the people in a common row, without any distinction of caste. That was unprecedented and shocked the orthodox sections. But sweet persuasion and insistence of Swayamsevaks had their effect.
This gesture of equality and fraternity soon brought the Harijans closer to the rest of society. Other measures like facilitating the worship in temples by the Harijans during Vijayadashami followed. Social harmony thus reinforced paved the way for the participation of all sections of people in several village improvement activitiessuch as levelling the playground, deepening the school-well, erecting the school compound and repairing village roads.
Similar is the experience in Bhamberi, with a population of less than 5,000, in Akola district of Vidarbha. Till a few years ago, whenever the Harijan residents of the place attempted to take out processions on the Ambedkar Jayanti Day, the people of other communities used to indulge in derogatory slogans against them. Sometimes even riots would follow. Thereupon the police had imposed a ban on such processions. But the district Sanghachalak persuaded the police to remove the ban. The next year he too joined the procession along with Swayamsevaks and other Hindus. Slowly, the spirit of Hindu unity developed and non-Harijan Hindus too began participating in Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations and addressing on such occasions. Shri Ramanavami and Gita Jayanti are now common festivals in which all Hindus, including Harijans, take part with great enthusiasm. The social harmony generated thereby helped considerably in improving the quality of the entire village life.
The Sanghachalak, now the Sarpanch of the village, has also taken several steps to provide essential civic amenities to the village. Supply of drinking water is now made adequate and regular. The Sanghachalak has also stopped his predecessors' practice of taking money for sundry services like issuing certificates to the needy villagers, He even spends from his own pocket for travelling etc., while going out in connection with the various tasks of village upliftment. As a result, corruption at the panchayat level has come down considerably. Social evils like drinking and theft of crops have also markedly declined. All this has been achieved through the personal contacts and persuasion of the Sanghachalak and other Swayamsevaks.
Even earlier, as a Headmaster elsewhere, the Sanghachalak had sheltered poor students, including Harijan boys, in his own house and fed them. All of them had free access even to the kitchen. After his retirement, he has now settled in Bhamberi, which has proved a blessing to the entire village.
A novel experience awaited the Swayamsevaks of the evening Shakha in Madappally village in North Arcot district of Tamil Nadu. The local Dravida Kazhagam leader was invited to the annual celebration of the Shakha. It was a pleasant surprise to ail when he accepted the invitation and came to the function. More surprise awaited them when, at the close of the function, he went back and brought sweets for distribution. He then explained: "In fact, a few days ago I had come here with the intention of opposing you and stopping your aclivities since all of our DK workers are upset about your starting the Sangh in our village. But when I saw that boys of the agraharam (Brahmin locality) and those from the Harijan mohallas are freely mingling and playing together with joy and enthusiasm and behaving just as the children of a single family, I was totally disarmed. I felt that our founder, Periyar (E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker) too had dreamt exactly of a similar casteless society. Whereas we of the DK have failed to achieve it, you have been silently succeeding in realising his dream. Hence my good wishes and sweets to you."
It is natural that such a powerful movement for social harmony and unity generated by thousands of Shakhas spread all over the country should have assumed "several new dimensions. The Karnataka Provincial Conference of Vishwa Hindu Parishad held at Udupi in 1969 signalled a historic moment. The conference, attended by 15,000 delegates and dharmacharyas drawn from all shades of Hindu faith, called upon the entire Hindu world to banish untouchability. The Jagadgurus and Acharyas commanded:
"In pursuance of the objective that the entire Hindu society should be consolidated with the spirit of indivisible oneness and that there should be no disintegration in it because of tendencies and sentiments like 'untouchability', the Hindus all over the world should maintain the spirit of unity and equality in their mutual intercourse."
The Sammelan also saw the birth of the historic mantra 'Hindavah sodardh sarve' (all Hindus are brothers).
Till then, though many of our eminent social and religious reformers had striven to eradicate the evil of untouchability, the misconception that it was a part of Dharma had stuck to the popular mind. But now the orthodox dharmagurus and peethadhipatis themselves came forward to openly and unequivocally outlaw it from the domain of Dharma. It was indeed a moment of victory of the true spirit of Dharma over a pernicious aberration that had been masquerading under its name for so-long.
Behind this remarkable transformation lay the silent and sustained contacts of dharmacharyas by Swayamsevaks and their association in various Sangh and allied functions. And, more than anything else, Shri Guruji had, by his persuasion, brought home to them the urgent need to give the right guidance to the general Hindu masses. The dharmacharyas too blessed his efforts and put their seal and sanction for the command given above. And when the resolution to that effect was passed to the thunderous applause of the vast gathering at Udupi, Shri Guruji exclaimed in joy, 'momentous!,' and himself called upon the gathering to give a rousing ovation to the dharmacharyas present on the dais.
Shri Vishwesha Tirtha Swamiji of Pejawar Math, Udupi, took the first step in putting the resolution into practice by undertaking a pddayatrd in Jabbar Block, a backward locality in Bangalore. This step, unheard of in the annals of orthodox religious maths, evoked waves of protest from those sections. But, gradually, even they- read the signs of the times and started responding to the call of Hindu unity. Since then, more such padayatras by several mathadhipatis have followed, giving a powerful impetus to Hindu awakening.
In September 1981, a few leading mathadhipatis in Karnataka took one more revolutionary step. They came forward to give mantradeeksh4, which was till then reserved for their own followers, to all Hindus including Harijans. They also declared their maths open to all and sanctioned equal rights in matters of poola, leertha and prasad. The various mathadhipatis, till now considered merely as heads of their respective sects, are gradually becoming Hindu mathadhipatis. Scores of mathadhipatis and sannyasins have started putting these resolutions into practice as well. Their moving and mixing with Harijans in their mohallas, visiting their houses and worshipping in their temples has come as a new and refreshing breeze to those brethren of ours.
Mingling freely with the neglected brethren is a rewarding experience, say the swamijis. They affirm, "We have never found such purity of mind and depth of devotion anywhere else." The Swamiji of Admar Math even says: "I feel myself purified on such occasions. The affluent localities suffocate me by their pomp and show and their outward exhibition of devotion. The stain of such association, I feel, is washed away when I pay a visit to our neglected brethren."
New vistas in social transformation are opening up as the Hindu missionaries are coming in close contact with such neglected brethren. A ten-day 'Speak Samskrit' camp was held in Ashokapuram, a Harijan locality in Mysore. At the close of the function, one of the students, a railway official, expressing 'the inmost urge of all his fellowmen', urged the Sevavrati who conducted the camp, "You have introduced us to Samskrit, the Devavani. But this should not stop at Samskrit only. Take us to the fountainhead of our glorious Dharma and Samskritithe Vedas. Are we not as much its heirs as other Hindus? Do give us an opportunity of coming into contact with the holy Veda Mata. "
The annual one-month long Veda Sllikshana Shibir, being carried on at Narikombu village in Dakshina Kannada District and Hariharapura near Sringeri (both in Karnataka), is a notable experiment in assuaging this religious-cum-social hunger. About one hundred boys from all sects and castes, including a number of Harijans, partake of the Vedic coaching in each of the two camps. Caste does not in the least affect the earnestness or quickness in their learning. In fact, some of the best Vedic chanters turned out from such camps are from the backward sections. The notion that mere birth in certain castes endows a better accent and pronunciation, better memory and better recitative faculty has been found to be a myth.
No wonder, the centuries-old belief that Samskrit, Vedas and other religious scriptures were the exclusive preserve of the Brahmins is slowly giving way to the conviction that that treasure is the common heritage of all Hindus, irrespective of caste, creed and sect.
A programme intended to provide a fillip to the all-round uplift of the Harijans residing in the rural areas of Andhra Pradesh was arranged by VHP in 1982 at Tirupati with the active support and help of Tirupati Tirumala Devaswom Board. 120 workers from the neglected sections, including a few vanavasis, underwent an intensive two-week-long training course at the TTD venue. Many of the participants, called Mala-dasaris, were already engaged in performing some preliminary religious and allied services in their villages. They were given the necessary training in practices of rituals like pooja, namakaran, paravartan, etc. Nritya (dance)-bhajans and other mass devotional activities formed a special feature of the training for all the trainees. Speeches, stories and discussions on principles of Hinduism, unity of Hindu society, life-incidents of saints and heroes from among the neglected sections and efforts made so far by eminent social reformers in eradicating untouchability, etc., helped to give the much-needed intellectual and emotional sustenance to the trainees. In general, the training had the main thrust of increasing the rapport of the neglected sections with the rest of Hindu society, and strengthening their will to face the forces of Islamic and Christian proselytising agencies.
It is expected that with a proper channelisation of the enthusiasm generated by the camp, doors will be opened for any number of Christian converts, who are craving for reconversion, to come back to the Hindu fold.
In the rural areas of Andhra, particularly in the coastal districts, the popular devotional folk art of Pandara Bhajan has been one of the major media in sustaining the Hindu faith and samskars of the poor and unlettered. A day-long programme for 40 groups of such bhajan mandaliseach mandali consisting of about 60 singerswas organised in 1984 in Nellore district. Competitions were held where prizes were given away to the best troupe, and the gurus of those teams honoured. The massive programme was twice broadcast on the radio from Vijayawada. This programme, organised by Swayamsevaks under the name of 'Janahit', helped the neglected sections like the agricultural labourers and the artisans, mostly of the Harijan community, feel the glow of love and harmony with the rest of their urban Hindu brethren.
Kerala presents a remarkable example of the many-sided dynamism of Swayamsevaksin respect of achieving social transformation. There was a time when Swami Vivekananda, after having seen the shocking extent of untouchability in that province, had exclaimed: "Is Kerala a lunatic asylum?" But the Sangh Shakhas, now numbering over 3,000, covering a third of about 9,200 villages in the province, have begun to register an all round impact.
The way the elaborate pooja was performed at the mammoth Vishal Hindu Sammelan (VHS) in Ernakulam in 1983 signified a revolutionary change coming over orthodox religious practices. While the chief tantrik was an Ezhava, his assistant was a Namboodiri of the traditional Brahmin priesthood class. The conference was followed by another significant event. A training course in worship and other religious ceremonies was organised for the aspirants from socially backward sections at the Adwaita Ashram at Always founded by Shri Narayana Guru. Tantra Vidya Peetham, whose moving spirit is a senior Sangh pracharak and himself an authority on Tantra Vidva, took the lead. At the closing public function, Shri Jayendra Saraswati Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peethanl gave away the certificates under the mudra (seal) of his math. The function itself was held inside the Ayyappa temple at Ernakulam, owned by the devotees belonging to the Ezhava community.
The decision of VHS to organise celebration of the golden jubilee of the successful 1931-32 Satyagraha for temple entry of Harijans proved to be a further milestone in pulling down social barriers. The memorable event organised in October 1982 at Guruvayoor witnessed the moving presence of all the 27 surviving Satyagrahis, almost all of them more than 75 years old. The participation by the topmost thinkers and social leaders of Kerala reflected the weighty social sanction behind the move. To the criticism of some CPI leaders that it was an RSS affair, V. M. Korath, Deputy Editor of Matrubhoomi, countered: "What is wrong with RSS? It is a nation-wide movement for the organisation of the Hindus. Unification of Hindus was a theme very dear to the heart of Mahatmaji. Guruvayoor Satyagraha was launched by Mahatmaji, only to banish separatist tendencies from the Hindu society and unite them. Since Gandhiji was too busy with the freedom struggle, Dr. Hedgewar took up this task of unifying the Hindu people and-eradicating casteism from them. Hence it is perfectly in the fitness of things, if RSS takes upon itself to organise this golden jubilee celebration."
One more striking event converging at Guruvayoor followed the jubilee programme. It was in February 1983. One hundred Harijans started on a 200-mile march from Trivandrum to Guruvayoor. They had announced their resolve to put an end to discrimination by taking meals in the Brahmana Bhojana inside the Shri Krishna temple. The leader of the group had also appealed to the Sangh leaders to co-operate with him. From the wide publicity the march had received, especially in the Communist and Christian press, it appeared the leftists viewed it as an opportunity to put the votaries of Hindu consolidation in a dilemma. But, the Sangh and VHS leaders issued press statements urging all Swayamsevaks and VHS workers to extend assistance to the marchers all along the route.
The rousing reception the marchers received was something they had never dreamt of. At every place, the Swayamsevaks welcomed them, freely mixed with them and arranged for their food and shelter. En route, the marchers were taken to several temples and congregational bhajans and feasts. At some places, they were received with Poorna-Kumbha too. The marchers, whatever might have been their initial prejudices about Sangh, were now completely disabused of them.
The temple authorities too responded splendidly. The Sangh and VHS workers led the marchers inside the temple lustily singing bhajans and stotras. Food was served to all in the usual Bhojanashala (dining hall). The Swayamsevaks and their wives, including those belonging to the orthodox Namboodiri caste, also sat and dined with them. The Chief Minister, finding an atmosphere of goodwill and amity all round, also joined them for meals. Matrubhoomi, the leading nationalist daily of Kerala, remarked: "The RSS Swayamsevaks appeared to be more enthusiastic than even the marchers themselves all through the programme! "
The Samajik Samarasata Manch in Maharashtra has come up to accept the challenge of centuries posed by the practice of untouchability and perversions of casteism. The forum organises public symposia and get-togethers where Sangh and the dalit leaders share their thoughts. Both are pleasantly surprised to find that there is a high degree of agreement in their views, attitudes and experiences.
At a function organised by the Manch at Bharata Natya Mandir in 1987 in Pune, Annasaheb Hazare, the architect of the model Gram-Vikas in Ralegan Sindi, felicitated workers who had worn themselves out in the cause of the dalits and others belonging to depressed classes.
Chandram Guruji of Solapur, responding to the felicitation, said that the Manch was carrying forward the tradition of noble souls like Buddha, Mahaveera and Basaveshwara. M. D. Shewale, of the Depressed Class Mission, was a recipient of the honour. He said that the Manch's effort was a praiseworthy step to undo the injustice prevalent in the past. He added that such positive and wholesome efforts need to be understood in their true light. A provincial-level worker of the Sangh, who is also the Executive President of the Manch, explained samarasata as complete harmony and identification of all sections of society which have to be achieved by awakening the social conscience. The stage had a back-drop of the pictures of Mahatma Phule, Vithal Ramji Shinde, Karmaveer Bhaurao Patil, Shahu Maharaj, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Swatantryaveer Savarkar, Sant Gadge Maharaj, Annasaheb Karve and Dr. Hedgewar.
One of the chief purposes of the Manch in organising such programmes is to highlight the constructive activities carried on by the dalit workers.
Close contact of the Sangh Swayamsevaks with leaders of the dalits and the many service programmes they are taking up for the welfare of the latter, promise to add a new dimension to their efforts towards bringing about social harmony. For the last few years, Swayamsevaks have been making efficient arrangements for clean drinking water and cheap and wholesome food for the thousands of Nava Bouddhas, who gather at the Chaitya Bhoomi, i.e., Dr. Ambedkar's Samadhi, at Dadar in Bombay, on the day of his death anniversary.
On 6th December 1987, Balasaheb Deoras visited Chaitya Bhoomito pay his homage to the memory of late Dr. Ambedkar. Smt. Mai (Savita) Ambedkar, wife of Dr. Ambedkar, personally came to receive and welcorr.e him. It is pertinent to remember that Maharashtra was then in great turmoil and the atmosphere was charged with conflicting emotions on the issue of Riddles of Hinduism, a book by Dr. Ambedkar.
Striving for social harmony and equality has all along been a passion with ABVP. The death anniversary of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar on 6th December is regularly observed in all its branches with a view to generating a spirit of social harmony. Visit to Harijan bastis, expounding of Ambedkar's message, organising programmes in Harijan and vanavasi hostels, inviting students from such hostels for tea and meals in houses and many other similar programmes have helped to foster a sense of dignity and equality among the neglected brethren and also in changing the high-brow mentality among certain sections of the so-called upper castes.
One instance should suffice to indicate the silent transformation that takes place on such occasions. At a get-together at the house of Professor Yashwant Rao Kelkar (a senior worker of ABVP) a girl student was among the serving batch. Observing her hesitation, Kelkar asked her to go inside the kitchen and collect the things herself. She did it. However, after the programme, she came back to Kelkar to tell him that she belonged to the Scheduled Caste. She was in tears when she said: "Sir, I could not believe that things could be like this. It is altogether a new experience in my life."
Veer Savarkar's birth centenary celebration afforded an inspiring occasion for the ABVP workers to highlight his cherished dream of social equality. The Samata Jyoti Yatra starting from the Patit Pavan Mandir, a temple built by Savarkar in Ratnagiri for that purpose, traversed 4,200 kilometres all over Maharashtra and reached Bombay on the 28th of May 1983, the 100th birthday of Savarkar. The Jyoti Yatra ended at the Chaitya Bhoomi of Dr. Ambedkar. The function symbolised the commonheart-beat of the two giants of social reformation movements of Bharat in a most touching manner. The hearty reception accorded to the Jyoti by the dalit and other writers, pleaders, educationists, and people of all sections bore eloquent witness to the immense appeal inherent in the ABVP's sincere and positive approach to the problem.
Here are a few individual instances of Swayamsevaks - illustrative of such other countless ones - of how they make use of various religious occasions to strengthen the bonds of social harmony and remove the sense of high and low.
News reached a district-level worker of Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh that the Harijan Hindu youths of a village in the district were. pressing their elders for their changing over to Islam en bloc. The reason was that the only Brahmin priest of the place had refused to perform the Sankalpa ceremony for their elders who intended to go on a pilgrimage to Gaya. The Sangh worker, who happened to be a Brahmin, hastened to the village along with the district president of BKS and a few other Swayamsevaks. The worker explained to the huge gathering of the villagers how the Vedas never advocated untouchability, how in the past the village priest used to carry out all such ceremonies for all Hindus and how he himself had visited and taken food in Harijan homes and had never met any opposition from his community. Convinced by the Sangh worker's talk, the entire village joined him during the Sankalpa ceremony. The devout womenfolk offered the customary dakshina, due to a priest, to the worker which he donated to the local school. As the worker was preparing to take leave of the village, the local priest was called to meet him. After a few words of reassurance from the worker, the priest feelingly said: "When enlightened persons like you have taken the lead, I need have no apprehensions from our community. Henceforth I shall certainly perform all the necessary rituals for the Harijans. "
The residence of a senior Sangh worker at Bidar, Karnataka, was all set for a marriage dinner. Prominent men of the town had assembled; so also the 'uninvited' men, women and children who had crowded before his house, waiting for the crumbs and leftovers. The Swayamsevak came out and simply told them: "You are my honoured guests today. Please wait for a while, for the second round of meals. I too will join you." The beggars were stunned with disbelief. But their disbelief turned into a pleasant reality when, after some time, they were all led inside the house and all the delicacies served to their satisfaction with love and affection, with the Swayamsevak also sitting along with them.
A Swayamsevak, a bank employee in Tirthahalli, Karnataka, and his wife thought that they should celebrate the first birth-anniversary of their first-born male child in a unique manner. They went straight to the beggars colony and invited the womenfolk for the function. Those poor souls came with their ill clad children, as usual, with their vessels in their hands to collect the remains. However, they had the surprise of their lives when they were invited inside the house, sumptuously fed and treated as honoured guests. The climax came when the couple brought their handsome child before the guests seeking their blessings. Those mothers were literally in tears of joy as they blessed the child.
A prominent VHP worker of Baroda, in Gujarat, decided to break the social barriers and invite the neglected brothers and sisters to grace his marriage ceremony. He went along with the workers of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti to a slum and extended the invitation. Those people were dumbfounded. Some persons advised the invitees not to go as they would be humiliated or even beaten. However, they decided to attend the ceremony, where they were treated with all respect and courtesy. They also joined in the common meals along with other invitees. Later, the newlywed couple went to the humble abode of Ujam-bahen, an aged lady in that locality, and touched her feet for her blessings. The neighbours who had assembled there to witness the strange sight were surprised beyond words to see a Brahmin couple seeking the blessings of a Harijan woman. They were overwhelmed, with tears of joy welling up in their eyes.
Then there was the instance of the VHP co-ordinator of dharmacharyas in Karnataka, who had invited the Adi-Jambava mathadheesh, a swami from the Harijan community, to bless his daughter on her marriage ceremony. The worker is the chief priest of the famous Kote Anjaneya temple in Shimoga and the ceremony took place right inside the temple in the presence of a big gathering.
Instances are also not wanting where Swayamsevaks have taken initiative in yet another direction.
The brother of a vibhag pracharak in Andhra, himself a Swayamsevak, desired that his daughter be given in marriage to a Harijan boy. When the proposal was made to a suitable bridegroom and his family, they were taken aback to find the proposal coming from such a 'high'- caste family. However, they happily gave their consent. Families of troth the sides, along with their relatives and friends, were present for the marriage ceremony to shower their heart-felt blessings on the new couple.
A college lecturer, a Swayamsevak of Mangalore in Karnataka, felt that a Harijan colleague of his, with good qualities, could be an ideal match for his younger sister. When he talked to her, she simply said, "I trust you completely. I know that whatever you decide would be in my best interest." The Swayamsevak was able to convince his parents also. His Harijan colleague was as much surprised as the college staff and students The marriage was duly performed in a very cordial atmosphere. It assumed the form of a social function with a message that no one could miss.
There could be no better way than invoking devotion to God in ironing out man-made differences and disparities. And, traditionally, Hindu women have been the repositories of piety and devotion. Tamil Nadu VHP has made pioneering efforts in this respect and the response they are receiving is truly remarkable.
Deepa-jyoti (sacred lamp) is the symbol of the all-pervading divinity - Parashakti - worshipped in every Hindu home. Tamil Nadu villages have a special tradition of celebrating mass deepapoojas on certain occasions.
During the freedom , struggle Mahakavi Subrahmanya Bharati made use of this tradition for rousing national consciousness among women. Now, the VHP has picked up the thread. During Navaratri, 1,008 deepa-poojas are regularly organised throughout the State. The spontaneous response from womenfolk can be gauged by the fact that in 1987, 148,645 ladies partook in 2,842 deepa-poojas in 243 places. The devotional sentiments inspired by hundreds of jyotis on such occasions defy description.
Reporting about the programmes, The Hindu (21st October 1983) wrote: "The participants belonged to different strata of society and there was a sizable number of Harijan women also. Another interesting feature is that some of the participants hailed from other States speaking different dialects. It was a miniature India and a shining example of national integration and a classless and casteless society. What has been an empty slogan and a hollow platitude indulged in by politicians with gusto is being transformed into a reality by Vishwa Hindu Parishad in a silent way by organising these celebrations throughout the State."
The national purpose with which Lokamanya Tilak had started the congregational celebration of Ganeshotsavs has, for the last few decades, been sadly missing. But in recent years, at several places, the Swayamsevaks have tried with success to once again make the Utsav an effective instrument for social awakening.
Some years ago, there were a large number of Ganesh Mandalis in Hyderabad celebrating Ganeshotsav, each taking out its immersion procession separately. There was no co-ordination, no common objective and hence no overall social impact. The Swayamsevaks contacted the various Mandalis and impressed upon them the need for coming together in a common procession on the final immersion day. Some Mandalis agreed and formed a united procession. That impressive sight encouraged others also to gradually join it next year. Within three or four years, over 3,000 Utsav Mandalis, big and small, from all over the city, began coming together in a common, mighty procession. Now a sea of humanity moves on a 10-kilometre route for the immersion ceremony.
During the entire period of the 10-day celebration, the atmosphere gets surcharged with patriotic and religious fervour. Vulgar and trivial songs, dances and such other perversions are slowly being eliminated. The police too are alert in warning against such perversities. During the day, dramas on events of freedom struggle, dangers of social evils like casteism, untouchability, etc., have been introduced. Inter dining of all castes takes place in hundreds of places and has become an invariable part of the celebration. This has encouraged thousands of slum-dwellers and other backward sections to participate without reservations. Arya Samajists too, recognising the national and social significance of the Ganeshotsav, have joined the celebration wholeheartedly. In fact, the President of Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha was the first Chairman of the Central Co-ordinating Committee of all the Ganeshotsav Mandalis.
This tremendous Hindu upsurge has had a wholesome effect on the Muslim mind also. Even the fanatical sections among them have softened. At many places the local Muslims join their Hindu neighbours in making arrangements and decorations and supplying water for the processionists. Even at other times the dealings of Muslims with the Hindus have become more cordial and co-operative.
The impact of the Hyderabad Utsav was soon felt all ever Andhra Pradesh. Adilabad, for example, has also started organising a massive united immersion procession.
In the case of the janajatis of the North-East region, a serious problem arose regarding the affirmation of their identity as Hindus. At the first VHP Conference of that region held at Guwahati in 1967, a good number of janajati delegates from Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland were present. When it was decided to present every vanavasi delegate with a locket with OM symbol at the hands of Shri Vishwesha Tirtha of Pejawar Math, there was a flutter among the satradhikars. The question troubling them was this: how could the janajatis be considered as Hindus, accustomed as they were to beef-eating? Shri Guruji spoke to Shri Shankaracharya of Dwaraka Peetha and other prominent satradhikars of different Vaishnav Satras of Assam present at the Conference and convinced them that the janajatis, who have been basically Hindus all along, had been deprived of the benefit of proper Hindu religious enlightenment for a long time because of lack of communication and contacts with the rest of the society and its culture. As such, it was no fault of theirs if they had remained alienated from our religious and cultural concepts such as devotion to cow. It was therefore our duty to accept the janajatis as part of the Hindu society without any hesitation.
At the public meeting in the evening, the Dwaraka Peethadheesh declared that the janajatis are Hindus and their eating beef had been out of sheer economic necessity as there was no other cheap food available to them in the deep interiors of those hilly regions. The Acharya added that it was rather the fault of the so-called culturally advanced people that they had not cared to go to those hilly areas and educate the people about the Hindu culture and heritage all these years. The janajati leaders and delegates felt happy and proud to hear this authentic declaration dispelling doubts about their Hindu identity.
In the conference Shri Guruji's sitting with the janajati leaders for meals afforded one more touching occasion for them to experience the spirit of Hindu oneness in actual life.
The conference also provided a unique opportunity in another respect. When the satradhikars arrived at the venue of the conference, Shri Guruji introduced them to one another-because contacts or communication between even those religious heads belonging to the same region had ceased for the past four centuries.
During the conference, Shri Vibudhesha Tirtha Swamiji of Admar Math, Udupi' stayed with a fisherman. Swamiji carried out his time-honoured daily worship in the fisherman's house and distributed prasad to the entire fisherman community. No wonder they were so overwhelmed that they felt "God Himself has come to us in the form of Swamiji."
The way most of our vanayasi brethren in Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere have maintained their Hindu religious convictions and traditions intact in spite of their physical isolation from the main. body of Hindu society and the barrage of propaganda let loose against them by the Christian missionaries is astonishing. VKA and VHP have made it a point to nurture those sublime traditions and rebuild the bridges between them and the rest of the society.
Vanavasis are particularly drawn towards yajnas and yagas (Vedic sacrificial rituals) in which they participate with great fervour. They are encouraged to come and make in person their offerings to the sacrificial fire. This simple ceremony at once instils in them a sense of religious sanctity and social equality. Students in the vanavasi hostels run by VKA move out during the Ramanavami celebrations to new vanavasi areas, carrying the message of Hindu brotherhood. Such activities on the religious front have been started in several provinces. Similar is the experience at the Ashram centre at Talasari in the district of Thane, Maharashtra, which now covers 192 villages with a population of 55,000 vanavasis in the 5 taluks around Talasari with such activities inspiring devotion.
The unique spiritual tradition of Bharat lies in its scope for diverse ways of approaching the one great reality. It was this spiritual freedom that gave birth to various sects and creeds and philosophical doctrines, but all of them embodying the same basic convictions and values of human life. So long as these basic urges were strong and vibrant, the diversities caused no dissensions in the society. Bui, in course of time, as the unifying flow became feeble, the diversities began to develop as differences and even antagonism to one another. This also was one of the reasons why our society could not forge a common will to fight against the foreign invasions or overcome its own internal failings.
A significant change brought about by the present awakening is in respect of strengthening the proper perspective of 'unity in diversify' characteristic of Hinduism.
The VHP Conference at Triveni Sangam at Prayag, in January 1979, proved a sangam (confluence) in more than one respect. It was a sangam of the holy streams of all faiths and creeds, castes and sects, and of all languages and provinces. And a most meaningful pointer to this was the one symbolised at the inauguration itself.
Over 2,500 years ago, the great Gautama Buddha was denied entry into Kashi. Since that day, confrontation between the followers of Vedic creeds and of Buddha had continued. But now, the historic moment came for pulling down that artificial barrier. The Dalai Lama, the head of the Tibetan Lama-Buddhist sect, was invited to inaugurate the World Hindu Meet. As he alighted from the train, eminent Vedic scholars from Kashi received him at the city station with chantings of the four Vedas and garlanded him. At the inaugural function also, the Dalai Lama was received with holy Vedic prayers. And he, in turn, honoured the pandits in the traditional Tibetan style. The inaugural words of the Dalai Lama were as full of emotion as they were thought provoking: "My coming here - a Bouddha bhikshu to a Hindu conference - might appear strange to some who have no deeper perception of our inherent unity. Gautama Buddha was a great son of this land. As such, Bouddha Dharma is also truly a product of this soil. On coming here, I discussed with the Vedic scholars here about the basic tenets of our philosophies and essential features of sadhana and found them identical."
The Dharma Samsad formed by the VHP comprises prominent sadhus and mathadhipatis of various faiths stemming out of the basic Hindu roots. The Samsad has been effective in highlighting the commop bases of Hinduism and has taken up issues capable of touching all Hindu hearts. Thus we find the Hindu conferences graced by a whole array of mathadhipatis, mahants and mandaleshwars of all creeds and faiths, all of them speaking in a single united Hindu voice. It is a rare spectacle that Shaivas and Vaishnavas, Jains and Bouddhas, Veerashaivas and Sikhs have all joined in a common endeavour for eradicating untouchability, casteism and sectarianism, and for agitating over issues like liberation of Rama-Janma-bhoomi, protection of temples, ban on cow-slaughter, prohibiting conversions and flow of foreign money into non-Hindu proselytising agencies, externment of foreign Christian missionaries; etc.
Raksha Bandhan offers a natural opportunity for the Swayamsevaks to forge ties of brotherhood with persons hitherto not in their contact. While on this mission of love, they make no distinction between Hindu, Christian or Muslim. Their experience shows that their brotherly feelings are reciprocated by all with the same warmth.
In 1985, the Swayamsevaks of Jyotipuram, near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, approached the headmistress of the Christian missionary school in the neighbouring village, Veera Pandi. They requested her to permit them to celebrate the Raksha Bandhan Utsav in her school. The reply she gave surprised the Swayamsevaks: "In fact, all these days I was eager to meet you. Some of our people had warned me when I assumed charge last year about the probable trouble from you. But I have found nothing but a high standard of disciplined and cultured behaviour in your members." When the Swayamsevaks explained to her the Sangh's concept of Hindu consolidation, she welcomed it saying: "If such is your broad concept, then I too am a Hindu - a Christian Hindu." The function went off with great enthusiasm and she took some 300 extra Rakhis for tying to her colleagues and friends.
On an earlier occasion, in Shri-Vaikuntham in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu, a prominent Christian advocate of the town came to preside over the Rakhi function. He is an important functionary of the Diocese. He said: "The Hindu culture, its arts and traditions are all very much in my blood. They are my proud possession. This being a precious legacy from our forefathers, I feel it is our sacred duty to preserve it." He also added, "I will hereafter talk to my Christian friends and try to convince them about the high ideals of Sangh."
So far as the non-Hindu children are concerned, they take to Hindu norms as naturally as the Hindu children. The annual Bharatiya Samskriti Parichaya Pareeksha, conducted by the Karnataka VHP for school boys and girls, invariably draws hundreds of Christian and Muslim children also as entrants for that examination. In 1983, the first prize was won by a Christian girl and she received a gold medal at the hands of Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Sringeri. In many places, Samskrit conversation camps of Hindu Seva Pratishthana have also attracted such children. They too accost each other with 'Hari Om' and have picked up the cultural patterns of Hindu behaviour taught by the Sevavratis. The shlokas, bhajans, stories from our epics, etc., are all eagerly picked up. Seeing their children developing such moral qualities, the parents also gravitate towards the Hindu ways. As a result, excellent rapport and harmony with the Hindus in the locality gradually develop.
The incident at a Yoga camp, conducted by Vivekananda Kendra at Dibrugarh in Assam in 1977, is worth recalling. Among the participants at the camp there were 15 Naga Christian teachers of missionary schools from Nagaland. On the final day, they came to the chief yoga instructor and said, "The lectures on religion, yoga and spirituality that we listened to during these 20 days have come as a new light to us. So far, we have been taught that Christianity alone is the true religion, that Jesus Christ alone is the true Son of God, that Christians alone are eligible for heaven and that all the rest are doomed to hell, and so on. But all these beliefs have now been shaken. We are made aware that there is a fundamental unity of purpose in all religions and there is no place in it for decrying or criticising other religious faiths."
A similar instance took place in the extreme South also. In September 1978, an old and senior Swayamsevak working in Vivekananda Kendra at Kanyakumari was involved in a fire accident. He was immediately taken to a missionary hospital at Nagercoil. Preparations were made for the operation. The attending nurse, after praying to Jesus Christ, asked the patient also to do likewise. But the Swayamsevak coolly replied, "Yes, no objection, I will pray to Shri Rama, my God, just as you have prayed to your Lord Jesus Christ."
The nurse was taken aback. She remonstrated: "No, no. In such a moment of mortal danger to your life, only our Jesus can save your life and no other God. 'But the Swayamsevak, even in that condition, when his body was burning with scorching pain and his life appeared to be in the hands of the Christian doctor, kept his cool and said: "You see, here is our doctor friend. At home his children call him daddy; his wife addresses him by some endearing name; his brothers and sisters call him by his name. Patients like me address him as doctor. He is not addressed as doctor' by one and all. The form of address varies according to one's relationship, although the person is the same. So also is the case with our relation to God. He is one and the same for all of us. But we address Him by different names. So, why insist on a single name?"
The nurse felt thoroughly non-plussed. By that time the anaesthetist, a missionary from West Germany, got ready. Addressing the patient, he said: "I am hearing such an approach to God for the first time in my life. There appears to be a lot of force in it. Let us discuss it after you recover. Now, do not bother. Pray according to your own lights." The operation went off successfully and the Swayamsevak recovered fully.
It is a common experience that Muslims and Christians too often join their local Hindu neighbours in co-operating and helping in the Sangh's ventures. There was acute water scarcity in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, when a training camp of Sangh was being held there. A Christian family in that locality along with the other Hindu families specially requested the camp functionaries to send a few Swayamsevaks to their house for their daily bath for all the fifteen days.
An educated Muslim, a Government official, who had come along with his other Hindu colleagues to the meeting addressed by Balasaheb Deoras, at Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu in 1986, remarked: "Today I came personally to hear the RSS leader, since the Jamat leaders had instructed that no Muslim should go to Ramanathapuram as there would be an RSS procession and there might be violence and disturbances since RSS is rabidly anti-Muslim and so on. I took the risk of coming to know the truth and naturally I expected the speech to be virulently anti Muslim with abuses hurled at Islam and Mohammedans. But I was surprised to find that the RSS Chief's speech was a highly patriotic one and no one could have any objection to any point that he made in his speech. He has only given expression to right ideas and truth. The Jamat leaders are unnecessarily misleading the Muslims and are giving them wrong impressions about RSS."
Instances of boys and young men from among Muslims and Christians attending the Sangh Shakhas and even becoming active workers are, though not very common, not rare. This is the experience all over the country. In Kerala, such instances are comparatively more. Prof. Mathew of Kottayam, for example, is an ardent Sangh Swayamsevak and a powerful spokesman for all Hindu causes. To a question by Sunil Ghosh of Anand Bazar Patrika (27th July 1982), Calcutta, how, being a Christian, he had associated himself with RSS, an avowedly Hindu body, Prof. Mathew replied, "Yes, I am a Christian, but why should I keep myself away from the mainstream of Indian culture and ethos? RSS draws its inspiration from the thoughts of Swami Vivekananda. Will anybody dare call the Swamiji a communal person?"
Aziz Hussain was among the group of devoted Swayamsevaks attending the Shakha in Banswada in Rajasthan. He was then a B.Coin. student and had undergone the Sangh's special training also. A few journalists, thinking it odd, questioned Aziz, "Didn't your parents object to your joining the Sangh? Were they not afraid that your habits and customs would be affected by your association with a fanatically Hindu organisation like RSS?" Aziz replied, "My father is in Dubai. Once when he was here, some Muslim friends complained to him against me. Then my mother explained to my father that there was nothing to worry. She said: 'The Sangh pracharak here is a nice young man, endowed with many noble qualities; under his care, Aziz has improved a lot.' The pracharak came to my house for food when my father was here. He clarified the many doubts in my father's mind. After my father was convinced, he permitted my younger brother Ellias also to join the Shakha."
It was the same confidence in Sangh that made Gulam Dastagir of Bombay express his desire that his children be admitted to Sangh. A great scholar in Samskrit and Arabic, he is presently the Vice-President of Vishwa Samskrita Pratishthana. He directly wrote to Balasaheb Deoras, seeking admission for his children into Sangh so that they could grow in a chaste and patriotic atmosphere. To this Balasaheb replied: "By all means, send your children to the Shakha."
As in the case of other samskars and qualities inculcated in the Swayamsevak, this attitude vis-a-vis non-Hindus pervades all aspects of their life. Hamid Dalwai was a progressive Muslim of Pune. He was spearheading a crusade against the superstitious and archaic customs of Muslims under the banner of 'Satya Shodhak Mandal'. This earned for him a social boycott by his co-religionists. His daughter too was scared of the evil of polygamy and the notorious Talaq among Muslims. She naturally opted to marry a Hindu. Dalwai was a Socialist. Many of his friends were also Socialists. But no Socialist youth came forward to marry the progressive girl, because she was a Muslim. Finally, it was a third year trained Sangh Swayamsevak who came forward to marry her.
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