Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sewa Sandesh 113: 8 November 2008

From Editor’s Desk
Everyone in the society today seems to be worrying about the future of the youth in Bharat. Everyone talks of the degeneration among the youth and the vices that are encroaching the minds and altering the lifestyles. Well, to some extent it is worrisome. The positive energy that the youth posses is not being streamlined or guided or even challenged at times and the distractions are enormous.
Yet, a simple call to join hands for serving the society is met with huge response from the intelligent and creative band of youth, forcing us to rethink our position about the so called “degeneration”. Some among them trying to devote couple of hours every day, while some devote couple months and few even devote couple of years for selflessly serving the society. Youth for Seva in Bangalore has attracted large number of youth from various colleges and institutions. Seva-Sahyog in Pune is attracting young professionals in good numbers who volunteer lot of their time despite hectic, kind of ‘target bound’ job environment.
The reverberation is experienced which ever city we go and touch the youth. We need to have ‘ears’ to listen to the “hum”.

‘Youth for Seva’ Organises Deepawali
Charity Sale in Bangalore, Karnataka
Youth for Seva organized Deepawali charity sale in more than 10 offices across Bangalore during last week and raised over Rs.50,000/- for NGOs participating in the Drive. All the products in this sale were made by students of NGOs working for mentally challenged and multiply disabled children. Many companies had requested YFS to put up stalls in their premises. It was a good opportunity to showcase the creative and competitive abilities of NGOs and their students. However, due to lack of volunteers to manage the stall, many requests were kept pending .
Dr. Ambedkar Vanvasi Kalyan Trust, Surat, Gujarat
by Ashish Chokshi, Birmingham, U.K.
Dr Ambedkar trust is based in the heart of Surat, with the aim to ‘uplift the weaker section of the society.’ On 5000 sq m. the trust has built 2 state of the art buildings, complete with hostel faciltites, libraries, computer rooms and much more. The facilities are built to develop the weaker sections of the society – namely the people of scheduled caste and scheduled tribes. Those that are living in the slum areas of Surat and the Tribal areas surrounding Surat are in desperate need of development. These people have never really had the chance in life to get much access to education and healthcare, which in turn means that they continue to stay in such circumstances, and never really get a fair chance in the big scheme of things. The potential is there – students have come out of scheduled tribes and castes and achieved good education with – MA and MSc degrees, LLb and MBBS degrees. It has been seen and proven that if they are given a little bit of help; they can go on to do great things.

At the trust, there is a general feeling of there being one family. Most of the staff live onsite – all accomodation is provided for. The staff men come from different areas of Gujarat, and often have been very lucky in coming across the job that they are working in now.
In this report, I will outline what I have seen and thought about in my time at the trust.
Onsite medical Clinic
The onsite medical clinic runs from 9.00am till 8.00pm every weekday and from 9am till midday on Sunday. A General medical practioner attends the clinic everyday except Sunday. Different medical specialists also attend the clinic most days. The specialists give their time voluntarily, and the vast majority has their own practices.
Monday – Gynaecologist, Ladies clinic, Acupressure
Tuesday – Orthopaedic, Ayurvedic
Wednesday – Physician, Child specialist, Acupressure
Thursday – Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, Opthalmologist
Friday – Acupressure
Saturday – No clinic
Sunday – Acupressure
Generally, people from all walks of life attend the clinic; however it is the people from the different slum areas around the centre that benefit the most. The location is convenient – people usually come from within a 3 km radius, and all the consultations and the medicines provided are given free of cost or at a very minimal charge. As explained earlier, the slum areas are impoverished – they usually would not be able to afford such medical treatment, especially not any specialist treatment. It is only because of the onsite clinic that they are able to access any medical care at all.
As well as providing treatment, the professionals here tend to educate all patients coming into the onsite clinic on preventive medicine. Many live in very unhygienic conditions, hence diseases spread much more rapidly. Often, the general public does not know about basics like completing courses of medicine.
All the specialists that attend the clinic voluntarily
give their time and most have their own surgeries. The clinics run by these specialists are always in demand – there is always a queue even before the professional has arrived. The medical clinic has also provided many services at the time of calamities. During the floods in Surat in August 2006, the medical clinic was open around the clock for 8 days, providing people coming in with basic medicines. Doctors volunteered to come from all over Gujarat, and chose to stay at the Dr Ambedkar trust as a base and render their services from here. Doctors also went out from the Ambedkar Trust, taking medicines from here, to set up camps around the city to provide a much needed service that helped to save hundreds of lives. At the trust itself, the doctors provided medicines and consultations to 1050 people, and many more at the camps set up by the trust around the city. Whilst I was at the clinic I witnessed many of the services given by the doctor onsite. High numbers of parents would come in with their children with rather basic cases that have evolved into serious ones through lack of care – one major job of the doctor would be to educate. The doctor would fully explain the situation, and educate the patient on how to prevent the problem in the future.I feel that this education is very much necessary, as without this the problems would persist, and it could drag whole communities down.

Mobile Medical Van: The medical van facility has become an essential for 4 slum districts dotted around the city. The van goes to different areas. Each day it goes out as follows:
Tuesday – Pal Village
Wednesday – Pandesara – Gitanagar
Thursday – Variyav village
Friday – Panas
Each area is identified as a ‘Seva Basti’, or a slum area. There are numerous problems in the areas that are not being taken care of. Here are just a few of them:
1) Dirt and filth lining the streets: This definitely does not help stop disease spreading. Children play in the streets on a daily basis – it breeds hundreds of problems such as skin diseases, breathing difficulties and stomach/digestive problems.
2) Cramped living conditions : This causes disease to spread faster than usual – if one person in the family has a health problem that is contagious, it will spread extremely quickly throughout the family, and generally, there are 4-5 families living in the same cramped builiding, so it is likely to spread to them too.
3) Lack of sanitary education: This means that food/water borne diseases and skin problems are rampant throughout the community – these should be prevented from the very outset.
These areas are economically categorized as poor, and therefore are unable to reach expensive healthcare charged for in Surat city. For that reason, the mobile van proves to be vital for the communities it serves to.
The van provides free health consultations and medicines. It goes directly to the community itself, and therefore it eliminates the barrier of travel for any disabled/bedridden members.

I went with the van to Gitanagar. By the time we had got there, a queue of around 30 people had already formed. This made it clear to me from the very outset that this facility had become vital to the community. As we stopped at the station, more and more people started to queue up at the van. Surprising numbers of women and children were there. The major problems that were to be treated were digestive illnesses, fever, colds, flu, and skin problems. Often, a few people of the same family would turn up with the same illess as each other to be treated. As I took a short walk around the neighbourhood, it really struck me as to what conditions the population of this area were living in. there were cramped, unsanitary conditions. Right outside the house there would be garbage heaps, inside the houses mice would be crawling around. Most houses were made of brick, but with corrugated iron roofing. Each house had typically 3 rooms – one room to cook, one room to sleep in, eat in, and sit in, and one bathroom/toilet. There would be a communal toilet for the building if a toilet was not inside the house. No wonder disease spreads so fast.
Kamdhenu: Onsite there is also a small store selling natural medicines made of cow products such as cow milk, urine and stool. Medicines are produced off site. They boast many advantages over artificial chemically manfactured medicines, and they have no side effects whatsoever. They are sold on site with the intention of generating interest and spreading the knowledge of the benefits of these medicines.
Hostel : The hostel facilities provided are specifically for those of scheduled castes/tribes studying in Surat at University level. Students are able to reside at the hostel all year round without any stress of paying for the accomodation and other bills. There is an in-house kitchen and dining room for the students to use, and all meals are provided without any extra cost. This makes life much easier for all the students.
The hostel does much more for the students than simply providing them accomodation and food. Every morning students are expected to attend daily prayer and exercise at 5.45 am in the morning. Evening meals are taken all together, and each day ends with a prayer. Every Monday there are bhajans and often there are religious discourses. All of these things promote a sense of togetherness – the feeling of being a part of a family. Upon leaving the hostel there are a variety of routes students take. Students always retain contact with each other, and also keep in touch with the Dr Ambedkar Trust. Most students tend to find professional jobs in the city, and go on to do very well. Many of the students are so inspired by the activities at the hostel, they embark upon ‘Samaj Seva’ – they give a few years in service to the community. Without this hostel, many of the students would be unable to continue their studies due to lack of funding.
Inspiring Personality: Vinoba Bhave
Once India gained its independence, that nation’s leaders did not take long to abandon Mahatma Gandhi’s principles.Nonviolence gave way to the use of India’s armed forces. Perhaps even worse, the new leaders discarded Gandhi’s vision of a decentralized society—a society based on autonomous, self-reliant villages. These leaders spurred a rush toward a strong central government and an industrial economy as found in the West.Yet Gandhi’s vision was not abandoned by all. Many of Gandhi’s “constructive workers”—development experts and community organizers working in a host of agencies set up by Gandhi himself—resolved to continue his mission of transforming Indian society.

Leading them was a disciple of Gandhi previously little known to the Indian public, yet eventually regarded as Gandhi’s “spiritual successor": a saintly, reserved, austere individual called Vinoba.
As Vinoba later said, he found in Gandhi the peace of the Himalayas united with the revolutionary fervor of Bengal.
Gandhi greatly admired Vinoba, commenting that Vinoba understood Gandhian thought better than he himself did. In 1940 he showed his regard by choosing Vinoba over Nehru to lead off a national protest campaign against British war policies.
After Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948, many of Gandhi’s followers looked to Vinoba for direction. Vinoba advised that, now that India had reached its goal of Swaraj—independence, or self-rule—the Gandhians’ new goal should be a society dedicated to Sarvodaya, the “welfare of all.”
The name stuck, and the movement of the Gandhians became known as the Sarvodaya Movement. A merger of constructive work agencies produced Sarva Seva Sangh—“The Society for the Service of All”—which became the core of the Sarvodaya Movement, as the main Gandhian organization working for broad social change along Gandhian lines.
Vinoba had no desire to be a leader, preferring a secluded ashram life. This preference, though, was overturned by events in 1951, following the yearly Sarvodaya conference in what is now the central Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. At the close of that conference, Vinoba announced his intention to journey through the nearby district of Telengana.
He couldn’t have picked a more troubled spot.
Telengana was at that moment the scene of an armed insurrection. Communist students and some of the poorest villagers had united in a guerilla army. This army had tried to break the land monopoly of the rich landlords by driving them out or killing them and distributing their land.
At the height of the revolt, the guerrillas had controlled an area of 3,000 villages. But the Indian army had been sent in and had begun its own campaign of terror. Now, many villages were occupied by government troops during the day and by Communists at night. Each side would kill villagers they suspected of supporting the other side. So most villagers lived in terror of both sides.

The government had clearly shown it would win, but the conflict wasn’t nearly over by the time of the Sarvodaya conference. Vinoba hoped to find a solution to the conflict and to the injustice that had spawned it. So, refusing police escort, he and a small company set off on foot.
On April 18, the third day of his walk, Vinoba stopped in the village of Pochampalli, which had been an important Communist stronghold. Setting himself up in the courtyard of a Muslim prayer compound, he was soon receiving visitors from all the factions in the village.
Among the visitors was a group of 40 families of landless Harijans. (Harijan was Gandhi’s name for the Untouchables, the outcasts from Hindu society. Literally, it means “child of God.”) The Harijans told Vinoba they had no choice but to support the Communists, because only the Communists would give them land. They asked, Would Vinoba ask the government instead to give them land?
Vinoba replied, “What use is government help until we can help ourselves?” But he himself wasn’t satisfied by the answer. He was deeply perplexed.
Late that afternoon, by a lake next to the village, Vinoba held a prayer meeting that drew thousands of villagers from the surrounding area. Near the beginning of the meeting, he presented the Harijans’ problem to the assembly. Without really expecting a response, he said, “Brothers, is there anyone among you who can help these Harijan friends?”

A prominent farmer of the village stood up. “Sir, I am ready to give one hundred acres.”
Vinoba could not believe his ears.
Here, in the midst of a civil war over land monopoly, was a farmer willing to part with 100 acres out of simple generosity. And Vinoba was just as astounded when the Harijans declared that they needed only 80 acres and wouldn’t accept more!
Vinoba suddenly saw a solution to the region’s turmoil. In fact, the incident seemed to him a sign from God. At the close of the prayer meeting, he announced he would walk all through the region to collect gifts of land for the landless.
So began the movement called Bhoodan—“land-gift.” Over the next seven weeks, Vinoba asked for donations of land for the landless in 200 villages of Telengana. Calculating the amount of India’s farmland needed to supply India’s landless poor, he would tell the farmers and landlords in each village, “I am your fifth son. Give me my equal share of land.” And in each village—to his continued amazement—the donations poured in.
Who gave, and why?
At first most of the donors were farmers of moderate means, including some who themselves owned only an acre or two. To them, Vinoba was a holy man, a saint, the Mahatma’s own son, who had come to give them God’s message of kinship with their poorer neighbors. Vinoba’s prayer meetings at times took on an almost evangelical fervor. As for Vinoba, he accepted gifts from even the poorest—though he sometimes returned these gifts to the donors—because his goal was as much to open hearts as to redistribute land.
Gradually, though, the richer landowners also began to give. Of course, many of their gifts were inspired by fear of the Communists and hopes of buying off the poor—as the Communists were quick to proclaim.
But not all the motives of the rich landowners were economic. Many of the rich hoped to gain “spiritual merit” through their gifts; or at least to uphold their prestige. After all, if poor farmers were willing to give sizeable portions of their land to Vinoba, could the rich be seen to do less? And perhaps a few of the rich were even truly touched by Vinoba’s message.
In any case, as Vinoba’s tour gained momentum, even the announced approach of the “god who gives away land” was enough to prepare the landlords to part with some of their acreage.
Soon Vinoba was collecting hundreds of acres a day. What’s more, wherever Vinoba moved, he began to dispel the climate of tension and fear that had plagued the region. In places where people had been afraid to assemble, thousands gathered to hear him—including the Communists.
At the end of seven weeks, Vinoba had collected over 12,000 acres. After he left, Sarvodaya workers continuing to collect land in his name received another 100,000 acres.
The Telengana march became the launching point for a nationwide campaign that Vinoba hoped would eliminate the greatest single cause of India’s poverty: land monopoly. He hoped as well that it might be the lever needed to start a “nonviolent revolution”—a complete transformation of Indian society by peaceful means.
The root of oppression, he reasoned, is greed. If people could be led to overcome their possessiveness, a climate would be created in which social division and exploitation could be eliminated. As he later put it, “We do not aim at doing mere acts of kindness, but at creating a Kingdom of Kindness.”
Soon Vinoba and his colleagues were collecting 1,000 acres a day, then 2,000, then 3,000. Several hundred small teams of Sarvodaya workers and volunteers began trekking from village to village, all over India, collecting land in Vinoba’s name. Vinoba himself—despite advanced age and poor health—marched continually, touring one state after another.
After breakfast, the Bhoodan workers would fan out through the village, meeting the villagers, distributing literature, and taking pledges. Vinoba himself would be settled apart, meeting with visitors, reading newspapers, answering letters.
In late afternoon, there would be a prayer meeting, attended by hundreds or thousands of villagers from the area. After a period of reciting and chanting, Vinoba would speak to the crowd in his quiet, high-pitched voice. His talk would be completely improvised, full of rich images drawn from Hindu scripture or everyday life, exhorting the villagers to lives of love, kinship, sharing. At the close of the meeting, more pledges would be taken.

As the campaign gained momentum, friends and detractors alike watched in fascination. In the West, too, Vinoba’s effort drew attention. In the United States, major articles on Vinoba appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker—Vinoba even appeared on the cover of Time.
By the time of the 1954 Sarvodaya conference, the Gandhians had collected over 3 million acres nationwide. The total eventually reached over 4 million. Much of this land turned out to be useless, and in many cases landowners reneged on their pledges. Still, the Gandhians were able to distribute over 1 million acres to India’s landless poor—far more than had been managed by the land reform programs of India’s government. About half a million families benefited.
Meanwhile, Vinoba was shifting his efforts to a new gear—a higher one.
After 1954, Vinoba began asking for “donations” not so much of land but of whole villages. He named this new program Gramdan—“village-gift.”
Gramdan was a far more radical program than Bhoodan. In a Gramdan village, all land was to be legally owned by the village as a whole, but parceled out for the use of individual families, according to need. Because the families could not themselves sell, rent, or mortgage the land, they could not be pressured off it during hard times—as normally happens when land reform programs bestow land title on poor individuals.
Village affairs were to be managed by a village council made up of all adult members of the village, making decisions by consensus—meaning the council could not adopt any decision until everyone accepted it. This was meant to ensure cooperation and make it much harder for one person or group to benefit at the expense of others.
While Bhoodan had been meant to prepare people for a nonviolent revolution, Vinoba saw Gramdan as the revolution itself.
Like Gandhi, Vinoba believed that the divisiveness of Indian society was a root cause of its degradation and stagnation. Before the villagers could begin to improve their lot, they needed to learn to work together. Gramdan, he felt, with its common land ownership and cooperative decision-making, could bring about the needed unity.
And once this was achieved, the “people’s power” it would release would make anything possible.
Vinoba’s Gramdan efforts progressed slowly until 1965, when an easing of Gramdan’s requirements was joined to the launching of a “storm campaign.” By 1970, the official figure for Gramdan villages was 160,000—almost one-third of all India’s villages!
But it turned out that it was far easier to get a declaration of Gramdan than to set it up in practice. By early 1970, only a few thousand villages had transferred land title to a village council. In most of these, progress was at a standstill. What’s more, most of these few thousand villages were small, single-caste, or tribal—not even typical Indian villages.
By 1971, Gramdan as a movement had collapsed under its own weight.
Still, the Gramdan movement left behind more than a hundred Gramdan “pockets”—some made up of hundreds of villages—where Gandhian workers settled in for long-term development efforts. These pockets today form the base of India’s Gandhian movement. In these locales, the Gandhians are helping some of India’s poorest by organizing Gandhian-style community development and nonviolent action campaigns against injustice.
As for Vinoba, he returned to his ashram for the final time in June 1970, after thirteen years of continual marching and five more of presiding over the “storm campaign.”
During his final years, Vinoba continued to inspire new programs—for instance, Women’s Power Awakening, a Gandhian version of women’s liberation. He also launched an ongoing campaign against “cow slaughter” to try to halt the butchering of useful farm animals, a practice destructive of India’s traditional agriculture.
Vinoba died on November 15, 1982. In his dying, as in his living, he was deliberate, instructive, and, in a way, lighthearted. After suffering a heart attack, Vinoba decided to “leave his body before his body left him.” He therefore simply stopped eating until his body released him.
Another Great Soul had passed.
Twenty years after his release from the Puducherry Central Prison, Pandiyan (76) continues his association with the jail. Shri Pandiyan, a cook, saves a part of his earnings to provide free lunch to the inmates of the Central Prison on Gandhi Jayanthi day, year after year, without failing ever since he was acquitted in a murder case in 1976. His one-and-a-half- year prison life made him "humane and compassionate. " Among the things prisoners crave for is homely food, he said. On this Gandhi Jayanthi, he spent a lot of money to provide lunch to 261 prisoners and jail staff. "Every year when I visit the jail, several inmates would tell me that they intend to do such a noble service. I know several ex-convicts who provide food to orphanages", Pandiyan said.
Meet `Ambulance' Ganesan, a former taxi driver of Mettur in Salem district (Tamilnadu, Bharat). He now owns 5 ambulances. He came up in life because of his honesty, say his friends. 15 years ago, he helped two Bengaluru businessmen in a road accident struggling for life, to get medical aid. They persuaded him to accept Rs 15 lakhs, because Ganesan had ensured that the cash of over Rs 2.25 crore that he found in their car that met with the accident, reached them intact. With the money Ganesan bought an ambulance to save lives. Every time an accident occurs, Ganesan's help is sought. He arranges decent funerals for unclaimed bodies. Above all, he keeps a tidy sum in his shirt pocket to be handy, just in case he meets someone in need. — Courtesy: Panchaamritam

“All Indians are children of the same motherland. There could be no spiritual and moral defence of untouchability. If God were to tolerate untouchability, I would not recognize Him as God at all.” -- Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

1 comment:

Improvedliving said...

Thanks for the head sup. This is so cool.

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