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Insensitive To The Core

Insensitive To The Core

The month of November and December witnessed high celebrity weddings with pomp and show. The media was feeding people with the scenes of these mega shows. Bollywood couple, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, got married in the picturesque and posh Lake Como in Italy on November 14 and 15. It was followed by grand receptions in Bangalore and Mumbai with celebrities from various fields. Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas were married over a three-day bash at Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan Palace.

The fattest wedding of the season was that of Isha Ambani, daughter of Mukhesh Ambani, Reliance Industries Chairman on December 12. The venue of the wedding was Ambani Residence, ‘Antilia’. The 27 floor ‘Antilia’ was all decked up to host over 600 high-profile guests. Apart from all Bollywood stars, the Ambanis managed to rope in American pop superstar Beyonce Knowles. It was reported in the media that Beyonce charges 3 to 4 million dollars (Rs. 21-28 crores) for her private appearances. The guests included Ratan Tata, Gautam Singhania, former president Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Maharastra CM Devendra Fadnavis, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, sports stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh.

The wedding was one of India’s most lavish weddings. Ahead of wedding on December 12, Ambanis organized week-long pre-wedding celebration function in Udaipur. It was reported in the media that more than 100 chartered flights were employed for bringing guests to Udaipur. One can easily imagine the mountain of money spent on the marriage of the daughter of the richest man in India. In order to compensate for the big bash, the Ambanis organized “Anna Seva” and fed 5100 people, a majority of them with various disabilities.

Displaying extravaganza on the occasion of wedding is not something new in India. There were fat weddings in the past too. Former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, threw a grand gala which was then termed "mother of all weddings" in 1995 for her foster son Sudhakaran's wedding with Sivaji Ganesan's granddaughter. As the ranks of India’s wealthy surge with rapid economic growth, many families are staging profligate displays of wealth at their children’s weddings to show off their newfound affluence. If the cost of Sudhakaran’s wedding was estimated to be Rs. 10 core, the cost of some of the weddings today could be hundred times more.

Certain celebrations in the Catholic Church like canonization of saints, consecration of bishops, jubilee of dioceses and religious congregations also exhibit extravaganza. There is no justification for this kind of grand celebrations, considering the fact that large majority of Catholic families belongs to the lowest socio-economic strata of Indian society. 

Wastage of food is one of the characteristics of all mega functions in India. About 15 to 20 per cent of food is wasted in marriages and various such social functions. In some cases, the waste is to the extent of 20 to 25 per cent. According to a survey conducted by a team guided by Naranyana Gowda, Vice Chancellor of University of Agricultural Sciences (USA) the food wasted in Bangalore alone is worth Rs. 339 cores in a year. About 84960 marriages are held at 531 marriage halls in Bangalore every year. About 943 tonnes of high calorie quality food is wasted in these halls annually. At an average cost of Rs. 40/- per meal the total food wastage in the city is at Rs. 339 crore, the study says.

Wasting food is a crime in a country where every third child is malnourished, 22% of the people live Below Poverty Line, and 190.7 million people are undernourished according to a study of Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2017’ Report.

Against this backdrop it is heartening to know that the Delhi government is planning to put in place a policy to limit the number of guests invited to weddings or similar big celebrations. The idea behind it is to prevent food wastage, excessive use of water and traffic congestion.  This was told by the Chief Secretary of Delhi while replying to a bench of three judges in the Supreme Court. Referring to a case in which three siblings starved to death, the Supreme Court said that thousands of litres of water and tonnes of food were wasted in such extravagant celebrations while common people didn't even get safe drinking water.

Another area where extravaganza is exhibited is building worship centres and erecting statues. Politicians and religious leaders are squarely responsible for this crime committed on the people of India. It was reported in the media that about Rs. 3000/- crore was spent on the 182 meters high statue of Sardar Vallabhai Patel recently inaugurated by the Prime Minister in the Narmada district of Gujarat. The Maharashtra Government is building a statue of Shivaji at a budgeted cost of Rs. 3600 cores of which the first phase will cost Rs. 2500 cores. Yogi Adityanath has announced to build a 221 meter high statue of Lord Ram on the bank of river Sarayu. 

A huge Church costing Rs. 20 crores is getting ready for inauguration at Ramapuram in Pala diocese of Kerala. As per the media reports the church has three stories and surrounded by 9 steeples. It can accommodate 5000 people. St. George Church Edappally, Kochi built at a cost of 50 crore was inaugurated by Cardinal Alencherry, the head of the Syro Malabar Church, about three and half years ago. On the occasion of the inauguration of that church the cardinal had publically criticized the callousness of spending money on building posh churches. Unfortunately competition among the parishes and dioceses to build opulent churches continues unabated in Kerala. The statements of the leaders appear to be hypocritical, as they are not able to stop the madness for building luxurious churches. Jesus never built any church of brick and mortar. He was building human beings made up of flesh and blood. Ironically today churches are being built by squeezing the faithful.

India is a land of contradictions and paradoxes. One of them is the rapidly increasing gap between the rich and poor. According to the latest report of OXFAM, 73 percent of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the richest one percent, while 67 crore Indians who comprise the poorest half of the population saw one percent increase in their wealth. India added 17 new billionaires last year, raising the number to 101 billionaires. While the billionaires of the West like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg etc. have set apart a large portion of their personal wealth for philanthropy, only few billionaires in India are generous in sharing their fortune with the poor and the needy. 

There have been examples of sensitivity and altruism during the celebration of marriages in India. Abhay Deware and Priti of Amaravati set an example by spending their wedding money on education of children of farmers who committed suicide. The couple donated Rs. 20,000/- each to 10 farmers’ families, where the sole bread-winner of each family had committed suicide due to mounting debts and successive crop failures. Additionally, they provided books worth Rs. 52,000/- to five libraries in Amaravati. Manoj Munot, a businessman from Maharasthra, gifted 90 homes to the underprivileged families. These homes were built using the money Manoj had originally planned on spending on his daughter Shreya’s wedding. Instead, both of them decided to forgo a lavish celebration and used the savings to help those who needed it most. ( https://www.thebetterindia.com/80024/most-inspiring-unusual-weddings-india/)

The root cause of the madness for extravaganza in celebrations and building huge statues and opulent worship centres is lack of sensitivity towards other human beings and absence of spirituality. One of the core teachings of the Vedas is that God’s presence is to be experienced in all beings, particularly in human beings ( Aham Brahmasmi). Jesus has unambiguously taught his disciples that God is to be seen primarily in human beings and not in statues and buildings. God is to be served in the human beings with flesh and blood. That is why he has said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt. 25:40). The meaning of the parable of Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37) is the same.  Compassion shown in selfless love and sharing is the essence of spirituality according to Jesus. Jesus has also told his disciples to worship God in truth and spirit. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).  The word had ‘Ecclesia’ referred to the Christian community and not to the church building. Building posh churches is contrary to the teachings of Jesus and a crime in the context of India where millions of people don’t have a place to sleep safely.

What could be the means for creating and enhancing sensitivity towards the less privileged and readiness to share one’s human and financial resources with the needy? Making people of all faiths understand the difference between spirituality and religiosity. Religiosity consists of rituals, prayers, devotions, penance etc. They may help or may not help a person to become spiritual. On the other hand spirituality consists in practicing or living the moral, ethical and human values as described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  Contemplation is the most important means for growth in spirituality.

It is said that the values are caught and not taught. The value of sensitivity and sharing one’s resources with the less privileged is to be instilled in the students at a young age. Exposure to the situation of the poor and helping them to reflect on the situation of the poor is an excellent means for inculcating these values in the students. As a part of Enlightened Leadership Training, Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) takes the students for exposure visit to non-formal education centres for working children in the slums of Indore city. The students observe the unhealthy situation in the slums and interact with the children of the non-formal schools. Just after the visit to the slums they are taken to one of the biggest malls of Indore. They are allowed neither to carry money with them nor to buy anything. They have to observe the situation and the behaviour of the people in the mall.

Before going for the exposure visit the students are given a session on the social, economic and political situation of the Indian society. They also understand the gulf between the rich and the poor in the country. After the exposure visit the students share their observations, learning and the resolutions they have taken on the basis of their learning and insights. The resolutions taken by the students vindicate the transformation that has taken place in them. Some sample resolutions are as follows:

“I will not pressurize my parents to buy costly things; on the other hand I will save part of my pocket money and I will use it for helping the poor students.”

“I will celebrate my birthday with the inmates of an old age home.”

“I will reduce eating junk food and the money saved will be used for helping the poor.”

“Once in two weeks I will go to the orphanage near my house and teach the small children for two hours.”

“I will not waste food.”

Positive feedback from the parents of the students, even after six months or one year, confirms the sustainability of practising the altruistic values by children.

(jacobpt48@gmail.com)

(Published on 24th December 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 52)