Many of us remember old movies related to Indian Independence, often black and white, aired around some ‘national days’ on lazy weekends. For some of us, these movies became background sounds and without knowing, we absorbed their messages. Some slogans were absorbed while we were playing board games while watching the movies, some of them were used in our school essays, and others used in general knowledge exams. Some images became indelible, and were never lost even after an onslaught from gazillion other, much faster images in color.
One such image is from a movie whose title, actors, and characters have all been forgotten. But an image of sari-clad women of various ages, after a fiery speech by a freedom fighter, removing gold jewelry from their arms, ears and around their necks, still haunts me. It was not just jewelry that the women were giving up. They were giving up their most prized possessions which connected them to their ancestors, were probably the only investment those women had in the pre-independence era. And they were giving all that up for an idea, for a dream. The money was to be used for freedom struggle!
We must remember that India’s freedom struggle is unique in the sense that though it was both an ideological war, and an assertion of self-identity, it was first and foremost a spiritual movement in the name of Bharat Mata. Images of Devi were evoked in Bharat Mai ki jai, something that is mocked today. The right to hoist our flag and sing our national songs, were earned after much struggle, even though many think that the practice should be left to individual choice today. Wonder if those who oppose respecting national symbols and loyalty to our motherland realize that if it is not Indian flag or Indian national anthem, it would be some other flag and some other national anthem that we will be asked to pledge allegiance to? So long as there are nations, there are flags and there are anthems and songs. Conversely flags and anthems do not exist in a void, but represent nations and institutions. Not acknowledging them, especially in the case of India is similar to saying that things and ideas once won after struggle should be abandoned. An equivalent would be like saying that voting rights for women and minorities, which manifested only after years of struggles, even in countries like the United States, should be left to individual states, simply because some women do not care about voting. In a democracy, voting is both a duty and a privilege, as is acknowledging national symbols. Ignoring these is similar to cutting a tree that provides us shade.
However, anyone interested in Indic cause would agree that we are at a civilizational war today. The onset is from all directions, missionaries who inherited much land from the British and run schools that usually have a church attached to it, distribute free bibles, free food and transform Jesus into Krishna and Vishnu to deceive many, our film fraternities that make films after films, undermining inseparable connection between Hinduism and the land mass called India, and mostly from institutionalized ignorance of India’s past, and the consequent deracination of Hindus themselves who feel embarrassed of, rather than take pride in their tradition.
Ideological wars need to be countered with ideas. Ideas, in turn need to be converted into articles, books, television shows, memes, fact-based-well-researched essays, possibly presented at organized conferences which will inspire many others and create a network of interactions to give a momentum to the movement. Hindus and those interested in the Indic cause need to be mobilized at all levels. Elites and common people, formally educated and not-so-formally-educated, and even those who may not be sure how to contribute. That is how independence was won. That is how this civilizational war must be fought–by mobilizing people at all different levels. All this requires resources–mainly—committed people and money.
Research about social movements borrows a term from science (nuclear physics)—‘critical mass’, which implies that like in nuclear fission, in social movements, there is a base amount of ‘mass’ required for the chain-reaction (movement) to self-sustain. Critical mass is achieved when there is a sufficient number of people following an idea, a movement, an innovation, the rate of adoption/acceptance of that idea becomes self-sustaining and takes a momentum of its own, beyond which it is sure to become a part of the culture and generate change. As of now, we are far from that state.
For that critical mass any movement first needs very pointed efforts of getting the ball rolling, which many eminent scholars and writers have already begun. Several organizations have taken up issues that approach upholding India, Indian thought and heritage. To name a few –, Indic Academy, Indic Collective, Infinity Foundation, Srijan Foundation, India Inspires. Several blogs and new sites have emerged, and created a network of people interested in the cause. There are many more so we can research and decide where we would like to contribute the most.
Here it is important to remember that we are all fighting for the same cause. There are only a few generals and most of us are merely soldiers. Let us not all try to be generals. Let us read, understand and follow before we try to lead. But in the meantime, we can still contribute. Even when we are trying to learn and understand we are contributing by reading, discussing and following.
As we start 2018, here are a few suggestions (almost all of them can work on an informal personal level) on various ways of contributing. May be, we can combine two or more practices in 2018 to contribute to the Indic renaissance!
A few suggestions: At individual, group and community level. These categories are not mutually exclusive.
Self-study and Group Study
Spend time in learning through focused reading and listening and/or watching related talks. There is no substitute for learning when it comes to clarity of understanding why we support one as opposed to the other idea. Indic thought has been much maligned over the last century. Mention India and Hinduism, a few words that are sure to come out are –caste, misogyny, inequality, and oppression. While divisions and discrimination remain a part and parcel of every society, some are chained to these terms in international media, by repeated distortion. Decide on a reading list for 2018—which can be followed as a part of a book club or as a family or individually. Only learning about our heritage, and texts can enable us with a well-reasoned response.
Redistribution of Finances and Resources
Most of us, especially, if we are reading this on our personally owned mobile device, are well-fed, well-taken care of. So, sparing some money towards the cause and making it a habit it is not difficult. However, if we do think that we have no money to spare for these causes, then may be some changes in the way we spend can make a difference. For example, give mindful gifts to your friends, a book instead of a flower vase or a wallet, get rid of that ridiculous practice of ‘return gifts’ on children’s birthday and donate the money instead to a temple. Children’s birthdays instead of being celebrated at Pizza huts and Chuck-e-Cheese can be celebrated at temples complete with a satsang or even puppet shows that tell dharmic stories.
Weddings today have become extravaganzas that they were not supposed to be. Weddings, lest we forget are sacred celebrations. This goes especially for weddings in the North of India, which have focused too much on food and entertainment. Some expenses on food and entertainment can easily be reduced and instead a langar (preeti bhoj) be organized for the poor and those who will truly give blessings as they eat, rather than complain about the content of oil and salt, as most well-fed people do.
While it is understood that exchanging precious metals and stones is a prescribed practice in general (both for wedding and otherwise), some expense on clothes can surely be curtailed and the funds used for supporting dharmic practices or those who are working for dharma.
Guided Walking Tours
Most European and many North American cities have Free-Walking Tours, usually conducted by volunteers. Some have organized themselves into small groups and maintain websites to attract tourists and manage bookings. While they give their time and effort, and share their love for their cities and towns, these activities are truly free and sustained by generous tips that tourists give at the end of the tours. India with its rich heritage and history provides ample places for such tours, and not just in big cities but also small towns. This will generate not only an interest in local, regional history, but engage the young, bring tourists and revenues, and also might be helpful in reviving some of old architectures and abandoned temples. All this needs is a few people interested in history and sharing their love for their towns and cities, one or two people who can create a website and a few flyers to be left at tourist bureaus.
Association for India’s Development (AID), an organization that was started by two graduating engineers of Indian origin in the US, started an ‘India Festival’ that is sustained by students and volunteers. Among several direct way of contributing to the organization that works mostly in rural development, India Festival is a way of sharing Indian culture, and generating some proceeds, from simple activities like keeping a henna stall, a stall that exhibits Indian textiles, sale of homemade Indian delicacies, all provided by volunteers. All the profits are used towards AID’s activities. Often held at Universities in the towns that have AID chapters, around the world, the festival has become a trademark of the organization. Today driving both Indians and non-Indians to the event. Since now AID has registered itself as a legitimate non-profit organization, often times a hall or an auditorium is allotted to the organization for a nominal fee (and possibly free in some cases). There is a basic entry fee and then purchase of food and goods and services costs some extra. Many of us have happily volunteered there, and have felt much richer and happier for the contribution. Such festivals need not be big or need a formal organization and can be held at temples both in India and abroad. We Indians have enough skills to share and exhibit. Use festivals that have been forgotten to organize such activities, so as to both revive the festival, educate the locals about the festival, and generate such profits that may be used towards dharmic activities such as sponsoring education of poor children, contributing towards conferences that forward Indic thought.
As the recent attack on Amar Chitra Katha tells us that all institutions and publications that promote a dharmic perspective are under a threat of being distorted and misrepresented, it is important that we create informal mentorship programs in our communities. A friend in the US has become a story teller and narrates the itihasaa to nearly twenty families and their children every Sunday in the local library. Personally, I can say this from my own experience of having grown up in a community that staged a Ramlila every year that messages heard year after year and seeing the dedication of those who were committed to the cause kept me closer to India’s core thought even in the most challenging of times. These mentorship programs do not have to be restricted to Hinduism, but can also be extended to bringing young adults to mentor younger children in studies and sports. Such activities strengthen communities.
Let’s get to work in 2018, and ensure that we are marching towards a critical mass! Each act counts!
Featured Image: Wikipedia