Corona Pandemic: A Situation, Challenge and an Opportunity
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh 23-May-2020
Respected Mahanagar Sanghchalak ji, Sangh functionaries, dear swayamsevaks, gentlemen, mothers and sisters.
In this peculiar situation, advanced technology has made our virtual meeting possible. At present the entire human race is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and one unique feature of this struggle is mandatory home-confinement. All economic activities have come to a halt with the purview of possibilities being limited to only that which is remotely doable. Sangh shakhas, annual training sessions and meetings too have been indefinitely suspended. This may be perceived as inactivity by swayamsevaks but it is not so. The incessant flow of essential tasks carried out from homes is indicative of continuity of life. Such is the flow of activities of Sangh too. While we are unable to carry out routine activities in the form familiar to us, new, previously unfamiliar tasks have come to the fore. This is true of both our personal lives and at Sangh. What are the ideals of human civilisation? We must actualise our propensity for goodness and elevate the state of mankind using this personal goodness. This is a fact that all of the civilised world, as well as the Sangh reckons with. One who focuses only on personal welfare is not considered a good human. One who works for social good but lacks personal moral values may not be considered a good human either. While at Sangh or in one’s personal life the activities of personal and social good move together, hand-in-hand.
Service to society is what meditation is to Soul
Bharatiya traditional thought holds “meditation/ soul-searching in solitude and service in society” as the basis of life. Sangh too ascribes to this idiom as its belief. Akin to shakhas on open grounds, Sangh swayamsevaks and their family members are offering prayers at their homes. Ritualistically conducting prayer meetings at fixed timings, many pay obeisance to their resolve of service as swayamsevaks everyday. While everyone is committed to retaining the essence of daily shakha activities, the nature of work at hand has morphed. Service has emerged as the core of Sangh activities at present. This is evident in the sheer volume of service-oriented activities carried out by swayamsevaks and the enthusiastic reception of the same in the society.
However, we must not limit ourselves to merely dispensing these tasks. Instead, it is important to be cognizant that the real work at hand is to actualise our propensity for goodness and elevate all of mankind through personal goodness. Once a Buddhist monk travelled to China to preach the word of Gautama, the Buddha. Having served the mission for a considerable period, he felt an urge to pen down the Master’s teachings in the Chinese language for the local people. After completing the book manuscript, he requested a few patrons to pool funds and print it. With sufficient funds collected, the hand-written manuscript was due to enter the printing press when, one night, a devastating earthquake struck claiming several lives, leaving villages and towns ramshackle. Funds for printing were redirected towards relief work leaving the printing fund empty. Eventually, a second time money was pooled to meet the printing requirement. This time again natural calamity struck and several towns and villages were brimming with floodwaters. Once again the printing fund was consumed in rehabilitation process. A third time around, with the help of community pooled funds, the manuscript was printed into book format. Many copies of the book sold out quickly. Eager to go through its contents, the readers, alongside their family members, opened the book to find a note of commencement “this is the third edition of the book on Buddha’s Meditations.” That was to say that while the essence of Buddha’s teachings has been penned down only once, it has been lived out twice before by elevating others’ suffering. For that reason, those two rehabilitation exercises were equal to meditation in practice. Similarly, the service and relief work carried out by a swayamsevak in the face of this pandemic situation is also Sangh work. When we work with this spirit, we will demonstrate the core belief of Sangh for all to see viz- “service to society is what meditation is to self.”
Serve with the spirit of Oneness
Service activities undertaken by Sangh are selfless. Ego boost through social service is not our motto. Facilitating public discourse around support services launched is important. Publicity material aids messaging across geographies about the nature of initiatives undertaken. It boosts mass conscience, inspiring people to take affirmative action. Publicizing ongoing service activities also paves way for interested members of the society to join in the emergency task force. Rooting our actions in the belief that it is my society, my nation and hence my job to help those in distress, will free us of negative states of selfishness, fear, hopelessness and false pride. We must extend a helping hand with the view that- I am one with the whole society, which in turn will spread the joy of serving to many.
Sewa work initiated also entails educating people about the appropriate conduct in the current situation. On one hand, life sustenance of our brothers and sisters in need is our focus and on the other, following health regulatory guidelines to prevent contagion is also of paramount importance. Therefore, we must model the right conduct by adopting best practices and complying with the rules and regulations laid down by the administration and government while carrying out our sewa activities. As service workers, it is necessary that we embody the prevention guidelines laid down by experts before moving into the public education realm. Conducting service tasks will require stepping out of personal dwellings and moving about in public places. In such a situation, we must be mindful of the minutest requirements of the prevalent state and act as positive role models to those we come in contact with.
The novelty of this pandemic situation and the adversity brought upon mankind in its wake should not incite fear amongst us. Fear does not enable resolution, all it does is prolong suffering. This situation calls for our grounding in a composed state. Careful evaluation of the situation and thoughtful planning of potential interventions will inadvertently reap positive results. “Confident execution of well-etched plans and fearlessness in perpetual efforts” should be our mantra.
Until recently the corona disease was unheard of. In view of insufficient information, making definite claims regarding its expected course, duration, treatment and such nitty-gritty is difficult. It is expected in time and with newer developments in its course, more information and clarity will emerge. While a quick resolution of this crisis is deeply wished for, it is certain that continuous efforts to extend help to those in distress due to the disease or otherwise, and adopting best practises to control the spread will go a long way in emerging victorious.
Once, stripped of all his wealth and possessions, a man decided to commit suicide. He reached his pocket to find some money in it. Seeing that money he thought to himself, “ I’d rather lose this to a gamble as well and then proceed towards death.” With an intent of betting the leftover money, he reached a nearby town only to find a land auction notice. The so-called land, up for auction was actually a 250-feet-deep ditch dug in the hopes of locating speculated manganese reserves below. Failing to find the reserve, the owner abandoned his search and offered the piece of land on auction. Deeming the ditch a befitting gamble, the suicidal man bet the last of his pennies on it. In the absence of competitors, he secured land possession in the auction. With the newfound problem presented by the labour working on the land, as to whether or not to continue digging, he coaxed them to continue until waged day conclusion. At around 5:00 PM, before the workers wound up, they presented the new landowner with pieces of earth comprising manganese. With good fortune smiling at the bankrupt man, he became wealthy again. Based in the United States of America, this realistic rags-to-riches story titled “Difference between success and failure is three feet” was written by this man himself and featured in the Reader’s Digest. Courage mustered by the new landowner differentiated his life outcomes from those of previously dejected landowners resulting in a world of difference. This maxim should inspire us to remain unphased in the face of momentary challenges and continuously exert efforts.
Hanuman ji, an Inspiration
Providing indiscriminate support to all, helping every person in need is the essence of service. Even at a personal cost, Bharat abolished export restrictions and offered lifesaver drugs to certain nations in need and in doing so we have exemplified the spirit of service as a nation. In this dire condition, we must remain committed to serving all of humanity. Whoever calls out, deserves every help possible. All humans are our own kin and those who are in distress are worthy of our service. It is the need of the hour to pool our resources and might in the task of serving the needy. Service is devoid of competition and in the end, no victory marches are held or laurels won. Forming a functional collective capable of effectively serving requires coordination. Coordinated efforts will ensure appropriate information flow and task distribution. All this can only be achieved if our actions are founded in the belief that we are all one. A sense of affinity towards all, allows one to see how service is not a favour. Affection and kindness flow from such a consciousness, making these hallmarks of service.
Sage Valmiki notes in his epic ‘Valmiki Ramayana’- Hanuman ji is praised by the devatas for his display of certain abilities. Four noteworthy abilities are- acting with determination, envisioning possibilities, working intelligibly and employing discretion.
Discretion is significant in this precarious situation. It is important that we remain fit to serve and do not compromise our own well-being. This requires remaining vigilant and cautious while working on ground. As a preventive medicine, we should intake the potion or ‘kaadha’ prescribed by Bharat government’s health ministry ‘Ayush Mantralaya.’ Observing other mandates like the use of facial masks, cleaning hands using soap water or disinfectant sanitiser, maintaining physical distance and maintaining cleanliness of our surroundings are essential. Exercising discretion also entails identifying sly people who pretend to be needy and obstruct the flow of services to those truly in need. Working intelligibly enables agility. General announcements bear implications for every citizen whereas a few select situations avail special provisions. Agility makes adopting merits of the provision possible which in turn complements the task at hand by casting wider demography into the beneficiary umbrella.
As for envisioning possibilities, the obedience of preventive mandates and education of masses through publicity and positive modelling can pave way for modifying behaviours and habits. Right conduct of affinity, coordination and cooperation and best practises of cleanliness, hygiene and social distance do not pertain only to the present scenario. These are the cornerstones of our future civilization. Conservation of the sanctity of our society while overseeing its all-round development is our resolve. In order to attain this ideal, we must tread diligently. We must refrain from counting the number of days spent at the task and focus over rendering our best services until the problem is resolved. While working towards this end, invoking the memory of the virtues of Hanumanji will serve as a guiding light.
Emotional flaws may be remedied using ‘Vidur Neeti’ of Mahabharata
षड् दोषा: पुरुषेणेह हातव्या भूतिमिच्छिता ।
निद्रा तन्द्रा भयं क्रोध आलस्यं दीर्घसूत्रता।
One who wishes to emerge victorious, effective and majestic, one who desires prosperity must demolish following six tendencies or flaws. These tendencies are- inactivity, laziness, fear, anger, lethargy and procrastination.
Emergency situations call for prompt action. Lethargy and procrastination are handicaps in such times. It is the swiftness with which governmental and administrative agencies of Bharat sprung into combat mode and the receptivity of citizens in adopting culling measures that have gripped this uncalled-for situation. These developments are noteworthy and deserve to be followed through till the very end.
It is good to deep dive when focusing on tasks but laziness and inactivity in this scenario may mean losing sight of the dangers that surround ground workers while carrying out service tasks. This calls for attentiveness and vigilance. Each step must be tread mindfully. Lastly, fear and anger are to be averted. Possibility of a quarantine is perceived fearfully. Some reports illustrated cases where, in efforts to avoid quarantine, citizens tried to go into hiding. While many misinterpret rules and regulations as an impediment in living normally, in the month of March Sangh functionaries resolved to cancel all activities scheduled for until June-end. Provocative remarks of certain members of the society may insinuate few people to perceive this as a governmental obstruction in their routine functioning, causing indiscriminate anger. Indiscriminate anger compels extremist actions. In the larger scheme of events, such actions will benefit detractors.
These same detractors are also the elements responsible for virus contagion noted so far.
Therefore, it is important to make note of two things. First, adopting a pragmatic view of restrictions and wholeheartedly accepting that they are in the best of our interests. Secondly, we must refrain from generalising blame of the wrongdoings of individual members of certain groups onto all members of that section of society. History is replete with mention of defaulters, they have been present everywhere. Understanding that lack of discretion causes individuals to falter is vital. Failing to understand this fact, a simple-minded citizen maybe led astray by insinuating remarks of destabilising forces and wayward groups.
Deluded by anger and hatred, they may question the usefulness of restrictive measures or spew hatred at all members of certain sections of society which will only further the agenda of political forces that actively divide and chant slogans “Bharat tere tukde honge,” (Bharat will be fragmented in smithereens). Forces with ill intentions manifesting in divisive politics will continue their business but it is our responsibility to remain committed towards the task of maintaining law and order. For this, our actions must be in harmony with government directives.
1.3 Billion people: Sons & daughters of Bharatmata
1.3 billion citizens of Bharat are daughters and sons of this motherland. We’re all connected. We must steer clear of negative emotions like fear and anger. No two sections of the society should look suspiciously at each other. The elders of different communities can act as harmonising and peace-keeping forces in their own community.
It is their moral responsibility to preach the value of choosing positive affirmations and rejecting negative emotions to all members of their group. Owing to their life-experience, they are well aware of the adverse effects of ascribing to divisive ideologies.
Recently, two highly revered saints of the Bharatiya community were brutally killed in Maharashtra. Critical analysis aside, the most important question is- do you think what happened was fair? Should citizens of a civilised nation take the law and order in their hands? How should police tackle such a situation? A social discourse over such issues needs to happen. These questions ought to be asked. Given this frame of mind, however undesirable, many ifs and buts arise automatically. Rising above confusions and selfish tendencies, being mindful of the need of the hour, we must direct our efforts in nation-building.
Fear and anger cause delusion hence these are evil. Efforts to circumvent these must be made at all costs. Brutally hit, two unarmed peaceful saints met with a painful end. They were both righteous and pious beings. Let alone harming anybody, their life was a message of moral conduct and peaceful coexistence. We humans owe those revered souls a great favour for their embodiment of values upheld even in suffering of deadly blows. We are all pained as a consequence. Hindu Dharmacharya Sabha has invoked the call for offering respectful tribute to departed souls and Vishwa Hindu Parishad has organised a prayer meeting that all of us hope to participate in. With heartfelt condolences, I proceed with my address.
Moderation and Patience
This pandemic is not indefinite. There will come a day when we will be free of this danger. However, the journey to normalcy will possibly be long and arduous. Beckoning patience, resetting of life-machinery will be a time-consuming process. Moderation of several kinds will have to be practised to facilitate the herculean task of total recovery. It has been noted that places where people displayed impatience in reclaiming pre-covid lifestyles, witnessed a surge in the patient numbers, compelling administration to reinforce regulatory measures. As we move into a post-lockdown period, we must avoid being swayed into a realm of carelessness. School education, manufacturing work in factories and shops in the markets will need to open to cater to the needs of the
society. Resuming such vital operations will also require ensuring the right conduct in those settings. For instance, assessing the availability of space in schools to ensure social distancing, deciding upon suitable teaching medium, viz, physical classroom teaching versus online, virtual classrooms, enforcing distance-related rules in public places like marketplaces and workplaces. As responsible members of the society, we are duty-bound to direct others onto the path of desirable conduct.
Mustering the discipline and order essential to confront these future challenges requires building a virtuous society that stands on the foundation of harmony and cooperation. Cultivating such values in the society will require a multi-pronged approach. Eminent personalities must gather to initiate a public discourse about the need for a virtuous society. They should also profess the right conduct in speech and action. Techniques to boost the immune system should also be discussed. As of today, several suggestions to develop a robust immune system have been suggested by the Ayush Mantralaya and medical practitioners, ranging from physical exercises, yoga and pranayama to herbal ayurvedic preparations. These lifestyle and dietary measures can become a part of lifestyle when adopted by all family members and practised together as a unit. Our homes are also right grounds for imparting and imbibing virtues of disciplined, fearless and perpetual action. Appropriate individual conduct will inspire the right actions in the larger society. A society where right action is a norm will be conducive for service-oriented work.
Swadeshi and Self-Reliance
This unique challenge of corona pandemic has yoked all nations of the world. In the last several decades, the world hasn’t seen a calamity of this magnitude. Like all other nations, we too have put our best foot forward to defeat it. While posing a challenge to our society, this situation has also served as a lesson. In one of his recent addresses to the Sarpanchs of Gram Panchayats, Mr. Prime Minister opined that this calamity is making us cutely aware of the need for self-reliance. The role of an organised, virtuous and ceaselessly striving society in the task of restoring order has been discussed. At this point it is also valuable to heed to the facts that we can glean in this compromised condition.
These facts should be absorbed to form the tenets of our future society. With the invocation of these learnings, the next phase of national development will commence.
What will happen to the migrant labourers that have gone back to their place of origin? Will they return to cities? What employment opportunities can be created for those who choose to stay put in their villages? Can urban industrial centres offer sufficient opportunities for workers that turn back with hope? Given overall economic slowdown will they be absorbed? In order to ensure a steady flow of funds in the society and to make do with the limited resources, downsizing will be a requisite. Reimagining lifestyles is also of paramount importance. This requires redrawing our mental maps at various levels- from personal to industrial, societal and even national. A dialogue on these lines should be held.
If self-reliance is the way forward then redefining ‘self’ is vital. We will need to herald a self-based economic doctrine that emphasises energy-efficiency, employment generation and environmental conservation. Reimagining an economic model, development strategies and a social paradigm that is a combination of our rich traditional wisdom and the modern scientific know-how is the need of the hour. Mere drawings and projections cannot realise such lofty ideals. For such imaginations to become reality, public conscience must be awakened to these tasks. Inspiring self-reliance, promoting the use of domestic goods, limiting the use of foreign goods, discretionary purchase of foreign goods if domestic alternatives are unavailable, importing on our terms and conditions when essential- these behaviours are the building blocks of the self-reliance consciousness.
We must personally adopt these behaviours and encourage our family members to do the same. Domestic production is a salient component of the self-reliance cycle. Goods must be user-friendly, aesthetically appealing and bear superior quality. This requires precision and coordination on the part of entrepreneurs, producers and designers and artisans. If consumers commit to limit the use of foreign goods and insist on the purchase of domestic goods, and producers strive to deliver quality products, self-reliance can become a reality.
As a consequence of this lockdown, newer dimensions of our natural world have also been revealed to us. Common man is able to appreciate the improved air quality. Those working on-ground report river waters have cleaned up, appearing clearer than ever before. Overall natural surroundings appear cleaner. Ever wondered what made this renewal possible? Several pollution-inciting industrial activities have paused. In this period of silence we must meditate over the idea of adopting industrial and commercial measures that are environment-friendly in the new, post-lockdown era. Alongside schemes for water conservation, tree plantation or reforestation and plastic use culling should be thought out. It is also an opportunity to trace the way back to our traditional and ecologically sustainable activities like cow-rearing and organic farming. We should be willing to abandon the unsustainable chemical farming practices and inspire our farmers to bid farewell to those. To effect a large-scale change, the seeds of thoughts will first have to be sown on our familial grounds. A renewed familial consciousness will spiral into a novel societal and national consciousness.
This confinement has also given a chance to spend time with one’s family at home. This blessing in disguise was unimaginable in a previous, rushed up world. Company of our loved ones is particularly comforting in times of distress. Such opportunities also open up spaces for deep conversation and dialogue. In moments of such genuine intimacy, we can reveal long-cherished ideals of family, economics, governance and society to our near and dear ones who then can ruminate over the same and join this march of change. As change agents, it is our highest moral responsibility to grasp this opportunity and shine a light upon the minds of our communities in this fateful hour.
Civil Obedience: The epitome of Patriotism
Civil obedience and infection spread seem to be related considering the present situation.
Geographical areas where prevention guidelines were promptly adopted, successfully arrested the infection, whereas areas where citizens faltered in observing requisite guidelines, saw amplification in the numbers. This has added to the disease burden in those geographies, causing a ripple effect. Therefore, the value of civil obedience should be authoritatively advocated. It should be our second nature. Sister Nivedita professed, “In a free nation, the true expression of patriotism lies in refined social sensibilities that above all else upholds civil obedience”. During his constitutional framework presentation speech, Dr. Ambedkar ji too, overemphasised on the importance of civil obedience of rules and laws. The present situation calls for revision of these valuable historical lessons. Need for adherence to condition-specific rules cannot be highlighted enough. Similarly, societal harmony, the spirit of cooperation and peace are vital. In the midst of our fast-changing and vulnerable world, value-based education is indispensable. Hopefully, the government will make note of it and gear up to address this gap.
Effective policy design at the state level, empathetic view of the society at the administrative level and cooperation of citizens are the composites of a successful regimen.
Government’s bent on remodelling administrative services to take a holistic view of societal challenges, prioritising social welfare can eliminate politics rooted in self-interest and set in motion politics rooted in national interest. Re-emergence of value-based education will accomplish the goal of societal renewal where civil obedience, moral conduct and general cooperation will be fundamental norms. Compelling us to evaluate our current position, rethink our value system and reimagine our future, this calamity has given us food for thought. We must deeply think over these issues and ring in change.
With the spirit of oneness and self-confidence, our nation will emerge from this darkness. Embracing this challenge through affirmative action, we will elevate our countrymen and people of all nations to the light of the day. Let us renew our resolve to serve and be victorious. By turning this calamity into an opportunity, we can reshape the nation into the Bharat of our dreams and resume our rightful place as global leaders. All we need to do is, play our individual parts earnestly. I have laid my deep-felt thoughts and heartfelt wishes before all. In concurrence with this approach, Sangh swayamsevaks will implement these ideas. However, to bring in a transformational change, all members of the Bharatiya society will need to adopt these suggestions. With this humble request, I conclude my address.