Like charity, community reform begins at home

Like every individual, every community has its flaws. Community reforms need to be an o n-going process. Such reforms have taken place in every religion, race, caste and community over the years. We often hear of communities running down each other. Accusations and counter-accusations bring anger and hatred or guilt and shame in the community concerned — never leading to change or reform.


If you want to bring about reform, making a person or a community feel ashamed is the last thing to do. Reform can come only from within a community; a non-Hindu cannot bring a change among the Hindus or non-Muslim among the Muslims. It is futile to point fingers at others; instead, every community should look inward to bring social transformation.


Take the case of 75-year-old Uduppi Pejavar Swamiji. He has brought about a visible change in the thinking of the Madhwa Brahmins. Four decades ago, a community which never even treated fellow Smartha Brahmins well and detested anybody with Vibhuti on their foreheads, now welcomes everyone and dines together.


Despite his fragile body and hundreds of restrictions of a monk’s life, Pejavar Swamiji travelled through the length and breadth of the country. However, such yeomen service remains unrecognised due to prejudice. Once I was to share the stage with Swamiji and a well-wisher journalist warned me against it because of his association with the Hindutva movement. I asked, ‘‘So what? He is a revered saint; I have seen his work. So why should I not share the stage with him?’’


It’s becoming taboo to share the stage with people subscribing to different ideologies. This is not our culture; in the Indian tradition even atheists are known to share the stage with believers. Unless people of different ideologies come together, how can there be harmony? Once you share the stage with them, you will stop blaming others. This is when one starts looking inwards.


Interaction among people of opposing ideologies is a sign of civilised society. Communists or Leftists treat religious leaders as untouchables. In a recent health conference, the Communists refused to share the stage with spiritual leaders. This is absurd; considering that yoga, meditation and spirituality are an integral part of the health-care system. Body-mind medicine is the trend of the current century. How can you administer a society when you keep away from a section of society?


There are good people in every community. It is ridiculous to build more walls in the name of ideology, religion, sect and political affiliation. Every community uses great reformers for projecting its own interests. Instead of internalising their wisdom, the community makes them a captive of narrow identities. Though Dr. Ambedkar worked for the whole society, a particular community claims complete ownership over him. Similarly, a section of Hindus claim ownership for Swami Vivekananda. Although Maharishi Valmiki belongs to entire humanity, a particular community has used his name for its identity. Though Mahatma Gandhi worked for the entire Indian subcontinent, Pakistan and Bangladesh seldom remember him.


It is unfortunate that the names of such great reformers are being used to strengthen social differences contrary to their own teachings. Dr Ambedkar wanted a unified India, not a divided India; so did Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.


As long as the perception remains that a reformer belongs only to his or her small community, it will be difficult for a new horizon to dawn. Even today, there are Hindu temples where Dalits and people of other faiths are not allowed. We need reform in these areas of social development. Hindu leaders themselves should work on these reforms. An external pressure cannot make this work — rather than bringing people together, it will widen the divide. Of late, there have been calls for minority communities, scheduled castes and tribes to unite. Why just them? Why not all the others too unite with them? Such selective unity will polarise our society.


The Brahmins were never a united force, but now the Brahmins are uniting because it has become an issue of survival for them. Similarly, communities will start uniting in the name of religion and castes, leading to conflict.


Criticising Gods, philosophies, life styles and prophets of other religions can only widen the gap. Let the Hindus work to reform their society. Let the Christians work in the North-East to bring more tolerance and peace and Muslims continue to issue fatwa against terrorists as happened after the Sankat Mochan temple blast. It was commendable to see progressive Imams in mosques all over the country issue fatwa and condemn the attack in no uncertain words. Let the communists deal with Naxalism and let religious leaders deal with communalism. Each one should look inward and attend to the weaknesses of their own community. Unless this attitude dawns and communities respect each other, rather than group against each other, secularism cannot be protected in this country.


Reform can happen only when people look within themselves with a willingness to grow, and extend it a little further, beyond oneself, to the community. Each one should see how much anger, prejudice, hatred one carries within oneself for others.