The year 2017 witnessed unprecedented hate crimes and attacks on journalists and human rights activists in India. All over the world the tendency to hate and exclude people of different religions, cultures and nationalities is increasing. At the same time there are a good number of individuals, organizations and movements working for peace, justice and harmony and one among them is Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) of Value Education for Peace, Indore.
It was a proactive response to the death and destruction in most parts of India in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992. “Instead of cursing the darkness why not light a candle”, asked Varghese Alengadan, a priest from Sagar Diocese, Madhya Pradesh. The answer was the birth of a movement in a rented flat in Indore city, focusing on the youth, especially school students. During the last twenty five years the movement has reached 900 schools in different states of India.
The vision of USM is “A CIVILIZATION OF LOVE BUILT ON THE CORE VALUES OF WORLD RELIGIONS”: the universal family spirit of Hinduism and Baha’i faith; the discipline and fellowship of Islam; the courage of Sikhism; the compassion of Buddhism; the non-violence of Jainism; the creativity of the Parsi religion; the indomitability of Judaism; the cosmic solidarity of Tribal religions and the self-sacrifice and forgiveness of Christianity.
Its goals are (1) developing responsible citizens capable of enlightened leadership with character and competence, (2) promoting harmony among religions and ethnic groups, (3) creating ecological consciousness and (4) Creating awareness about the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution. USM undertakes the following activities to realize its vision and goals.
One week Enlightened Leadership Training for students in USM community Indore
Seminar for students and teachers in schools
Seminar for Teachers as mentors in USM community, Indore
Seminar for Parents in schools on their role in the education of their children.
One week Leadership Training for Principals both at USM and at the request of organizations at their places
One week Leadership Training for Heads of Institutions
Knit India: Annual Get-together of students, teachers, principals and heads of Institutions
Publication of Bi-monthly ‘Youth Action’ magazine for value education and leadership building
Publication of inspirational and educative books
Production and distribution of inspirational and patriotic songs ( Pratyasa)
Sankalp project for integrating child workers with main stream educational system
Awards to honour individuals making significant contribution in the society as teachers, principals, nurses and social workers.
Organizing inter-school dance competition in Indore city once a year, based on the Pratyasa Songs.
Net working and collaboration with other organisations like, Rotary International, National Peace Movement, Indian Society of Authors and several other NGOs.
The silver jubilee celebration of USM on 29th December 2017 during the 50th Knit India programme was an occasion to feel good about its modest achievements and intensify its commitment to realize its vision and goals. The testimonies given by students, teachers, principals and friends on this occasion was an affirmation of the relevance of the Movement in our troubled times. “I could experience universality, solidarity and the movement nature in USM said Dr. Vincent Kundukulam from Kerala while felicitating during the Silver Jubilee celebration of USM on 29th December in Indore. “Every person who comes to USM is taken care as a family member and everyone is treated equally irrespective of the status or position; USM believes and practices pluralistic spirituality and it has been functioning in rented premises during the last 24 years without owning any land and property or building”, he added.
Ms. Ambika Piparsenia, a teacher from St. Mary’s Convent School, Jhansi, shared with the audience how USM motivated her to become a writer, a voracious reader and a person with focus in life. Kastubi Khani, a class IX student from St. Mary’s Convent School Nainital, Uttrakhand told in her felicitation speech how USM has influenced her life by making her very sensitive person. She had travelled with her mother all the way from Nainital to Indore in order to take part in Knit India 2017 and the Silver Jubilee celebration of USM because the school did not send students to participate in the Knit India. Mr. Harinaranan Chari Mishra IPS, the DIG of Indore, extolled the role of USM in inculcating the ethical values in the students. Ms. Anuradha Shankar IPS, ADGP of Madhya Pradesh, in her address applauded the contribution of USM in building visionary leaders and pledged her continued support to USM.
About 300 persons, consisting of students, teachers, principals, friends and USM team members participated in the Knit India 2017, five days live-together for sharing, learning and celebrating unity in diversity. ‘Knit India’ is a unique annual get-together of students, teachers and principals from different parts of India in view of fostering unity and integration and building a civilization of love. USM members, especially those who have participated in the Enlightened Leadership Training, attend Knit India organized every year from December 28 to January 1. The Knit India programme is concluded with the New Year Celebration. 2017 being the silver jubilee of USM, the Knit India was organized from December 27 onwards.
The name, Universal Solidarity Movement signifies its uniqueness. USM is not an organization, but a movement, a way of life . Its vision of building a civilization can be realized only through the involvement of large number of people who follow a way of life. In order to realize its vision it focuses on the high school students and all those who are involved with them like parents, teachers, principals and the school management. It has evolved programmes for the students, teachers, principals and heads of institutions. At the same time its spirituality, the “Five Paths for Personal Transformation” can be practiced by anyone as a means for experiencing peace within oneself, in the family, country and the world at large.
USM promotes pluralism. For USM pluralism is not tolerance of differences, but acceptance, appreciation and promotion/celebration of differences, particularly differences in religion, language and culture. It strongly believes that peace and harmony can be established in the world and among the countries of the world only through pluralism. Imposition of uniformity has been one of the causes for conflicts in the world. USM firmly believes that pluralism is the unique gift of God to India.
USM community is an example for pluralism because persons belonging to different religions, languages and cultures live together, work together and pray together for a common cause, accepting and appreciating each other. Inter-religious prayer for peace conducted in USM community twice a day symbolizes “unity in diversity”. The prayer consists of inspirational songs that can be sung by the followers of any religion, readings from different scriptures and silent prayer for peace.
USM believes in the basic principle of transforming oneself first before working to transform the world. The USM members try their best to practice what they preach to others by becoming the change they want to see in others. They are conscious of removing the distance between words and deeds. All those who come to USM for different kinds of training learn equally both from the atmosphere of the USM and from the sessions conducted. According to the personal reports presented by the trainees at the end of their training, some of the values they have imbibed from the USM ambience are generous hospitality, cleanliness, equal respect for every person, team work and respect for all religions.
USM practices and promotes spirituality rather than religiosity. The basis of spirituality is the belief that God dwells in every human being. This has two consequences. If God is present in a person nothing is impossible for him/her. What is required is to maximize the divine present in every person. Positive and possibility thinking coupled with hard work can perform miracles in human beings and make the impossible possible. The second consequence is seeing God in other human beings and honouring them because the same God dwells in all human beings.
It is the belief of USM that the youth is not only the future, but also the present of the nation. The youth are urged to take charge of the NOW. They are trained to bring about change in their families, schools and in the society after undergoing self-transformation. Many students after participating in the one week Enlightened Leadership Training persuade their parents to change their behaviour with the workers and house-maids in their families. As a result the workers are treated with honour and dignity. The students are encouraged to present their opinion to the authorities in the school and in the civil administration. Till the end of 2017, 6220 students in 323 groups from 22 states of India participated in the Enlightened Leadership Training.
24x7 hospitality is a speciality of USM community in Indore. The guests and participants of various trainings are welcomed at the USM gate by the community members at any time of the day or night. Even if people come in the middle of the night to USM and if the team members come to know that they have not taken meals they are provided with meals or snacks and tea. Similarly when the participants of the training and guests leave USM, the community members are at the gate to see them off. Arrangements are made to pick the trainees and the guests from the railway station, bus stand or airport. USM firmly believes that ‘when guests come God comes’. Rooms of guests are cleaned every day.
As the USM believes in positive and possibility thinking, it is able to set new trends. USM has been following for the last 25 years a policy of not owning land and building. It has been functioning in rented premises. It started with a single apartment for a monthly rent of Rs. 3000/- As the activities expanded it shifted to more spacious buildings. At present USM pays a monthly rent of rupees one lakh. Many friends have advised Fr. Varghese Alengaden, the founder and National Coordinator to buy land and construct a building instead of giving a big amount of rent every month. In order to keep up the ‘movement way’ USM has decided to stick to its policy of not owning land and building.
For the last fifteen years USM has not applied to any organization, either in India or abroad for funds through project proposals. USM has decided not to submit project proposals to government or donor agencies for funds. But USM accepts love offerings from the members and contributions from friends and well-wishers. In the year 2016-17, 78% of the income of USM was self generated through training programmes, seminars and sale of books and other promotion materials. Only 22% of the income came in the form of donations and contributions. Even though USM has a hand to mouth existence, it tries to pay decent salary to the staff and is very generous in its hospitality. USM places total trust in the providence of God.
Inclusiveness and transparency are other two hallmarks of USM. The Annual General Body Meeting of USM is open to all those who desire to participate in it. Students, teachers and friends are invited to participate in the annual general body meeting. They are given all documents and free to ask questions and clarifications. The annual audited statement of account is published as a part of the annual report and made available to the public.
The members of the legal body of USM consist of people belonging to different religions. The seven member governing body consists of members belonging to three religions. It is an unwritten rule that a least three out of seven members are to be women.
Daily evaluation by the USM core group is another uniqueness of the Movement. The USM core group at Indore conducts evaluation of life and activities every day from 9.00 p.m. and it is termed as “9.00 p.m. life line”. The core group members share their critical learning of the day on the basis of personal and community living and activities. The members share both positive and negative aspects so that improvements could be made in the life and functioning of the members. After the evaluation, planning for the following day is done. If the guests who come to USM are interested to join the evaluation they are also gladly welcomed.
After important events like Knit India, Foundation Day, Women’s Day celebration, Teachers’ Day Celebration etc. a thorough evaluation is made by all those who are involved in organizing the programme. The evaluations have helped USM to be creative and evolve innovative interventions.
Before starting the daily evaluation a candle is lit in honour of the persons who were part of USM and have left this world. Their names are read and the community members spend a few moments in silence, remembering with gratitude their solidarity, friendship and support. USM has started this practice as a counter culture, different from the ‘use and throw culture’ of the day.
The feedback received from different stake holders on the occasion of the silver jubilee celebration and the testimonies of personal transformation by students, teachers and principals during the Knit India 2017 confirm that USM is contributing to build a civilization of love through the actions of all those who are part of USM. “ USM has awakened my conscience about what is good and bad, need and luxury and greed and satisfaction. USM will continue to inspire me throughout my life”- Riya Tayagi. “USM gave me a new vision and aim of life”- Sonakshi Arora, St. Mary's Inter College, Allahabad. “With the support of my family members I have taken the initiative to form a Charitable Trust that would work for the betterment of the less privileged children by providing them with quality education. The Trust will be supported by our family business. USM motivated me for this initiative”- Kanishka, Chavara Vidyapeeth, Narsinghpur. “As a result of becoming a USM member I have understood the value of money and I do not buy branded clothes but buy simple clothes” Siddhi Yadav, Auxilium Convent school, Lonawala. The attitudinal and behavioural changes that have taken place in many students indicate that Universal Solidarity Movement of Value Education for Peace is on the path of realizing its vision.
(Published on 08th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 02)