When the divisive forces in India are spreading hatred and revenge and instigating lynch mobs to target the perceived enemies, Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) Indore is making an effort to build a civilization of love. ‘Knit India’, an annual get-together of young students, teachers and principals to celebrate unity in diversity, is a conscious attempt to declare to the world that India can be united and strong if it accepts, appreciates and celebrates it diversity. ‘Knit India’ is a celebration of the heritage of India, the spirit of Vasudaiva Kudumbakam (The whole universe is a family).
When 94 students 27 teachers from 14 schools of different states of India lived together for four days, interacted with each other and shared in the panel sessions their experience of practising the values of pluralism, inclusiveness, sensitivity etc., promoted by USM, they were involved in nation building.
Knit India 2018, organized by USM from December 28 to 31, 2018 in Indore, provided a platform to the participants to work together in groups to prepare and present cultural programmes, depicting creative solutions to the problems facing India. It provided an opportunity to listen to persons who have made a difference by making their unique contribution to the society. Shri. Rajan Ranade’s selfless work to provide solace to the old people rejected by their family members motivated the children to take care of their parents and grandparents and not leave them in old age homes. Rajan Ranade, a retired bank manager in Indore, has set apart six days in a week to give free service to six NGOs which take care of orphans, street children, old people and multiple diabled children.
Mr. Gyanendra Purohit’s efforts to empower the hearing and speech impaired persons through education and advocacy changed the attitude of the participants towards the differently challenged persons from sympathy to ensuring their rights and not discriminating them. Besides running four homes for the hearing and speech impaired children he has organized the hearing and speech impaired people to fight for their rights. He also provides legal aid to the hearing and speech impaired persons.
The speciality of Knit India 2018 was that almost the whole of 31st December was set apart for learning about Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi. This was a conscious decision taken by USM to counter the attempts made by the reactionary forces to reduce Gandhiji to Swach Bharat and present him as an anti-national who sided with Pakistan. Sri. Shravan Garg, a veteran journalist and former group editor of Daink Bhaskar and Chinmay Mishra, a well known social activist, shared with the participants their in-depth knowledge about the life and contribution of the father of the nation.
“Mahatma Gandhi is respected and admired all over the world because of his Sarvadharm Sambhav. He believed that all religions are true and he did not want anyone to impose his/her religion on others. At the same time he respected all religions and tried to learn about them”, said Shri. Shravan Garg in his address to the participants. He told that along with his commitment to truth and non-violence Gandhiji was a man of extraordinary courage. Bapu was not at all afraid of the might of the British government; on the contrary the British government was terribly afraid of him. That is why he was arrested and put in jail several times. Sri. Shravan Garg advised the participants not to be afraid of anyone and speak up when the situation warrants.
It was a new revelation for the participants when Shri. Chinmay Mishra told them that Gandhiji knew 28 jobs, including shoemaking and haircutting. For Gandhiji all kinds of works were great. The participants were wonderstruck when Chinmay Mishra said that Gandhiji could write 70,000 pages in the form of books and articles and 30,000 letters in spite being deeply involved in the independent struggle.
According to Chinmay Mishra, truth is God for Gandhiji and non-violence is the means to realize the truth. The way of truth is straight, but very narrow. It is like walking on the edge of a sword. Secondly, one should not steal. Keeping things, which one does not need, is stealing according to Gandhiji. In this context recalling the famous quote of Gandhiji is very relevant. “The earth provides to meet every man’s need, but not every man’s greed”. As a result of the sharing by two eminent Gandhians many misconception about Gandhiji were removed from the minds of the young people. Many children have taken the resolution to buy and read two books, 1) My Experiments with Truth, the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi and 2) Hind Swaraj, a book written by Gandhiji.
The most influencing part of Knit India 2018 was sharing by USM members their stories of personal transformation because of practising the values promoted by USM. The following statements by a few participants give a glimpse of the impact of USM on the children and the adults.
· “I have made personal time table and follow it strictly. I have reduced the use of social media; stopped bursting crackers and I wash my clothes. I am able to control my anger”. Aditya Singh, Student, Saint Antony’s Convent School, Faridabad, Haryana.
· “My attitude towards other religions changed and I have started respecting other religions. According to my teachers and friends I have become more humble and polite”. Soofia Khan, Student, St. Theresa’s Convent School, Bhopal
· “As a result of becoming part of USM I have stopped using two- wheeler and save Rs. 600/- per month and this money is used for helping the needy”. Tejas Sewak, student, Carmel Convent School, Neemuch, MP.
· “After becoming part of USM, it has become easy for me to forgive and forget. USM taught me how to use freedom with responsibility. If I am doing the right thing I don’t mind what other people say”. Kaustubhi Khani, Sir Padampat Sinhania School Kota, Rajastan
· As a result of joining USM I have got clarity of my vision and how to realize my vision. Ishmit Singh Madan, DAVV, Indore
· “USM gave me the inspiration to write and read books; I have become a voracious reader and frequent writer. I read about 50 books in a year”. Ambika Piparsenia, teacher, St. Francis Convent School, Jhansi, UP
Another speciality that makes Knit India a unique experience is chintan baithak and Inter-religious prayer for peace. It was an energizing experience for the participants to spend time in silence for reflecting over what happened the whole day and sharing in groups their learning, insights and resolutions. Every day 9.00 to 9.45 p.m. was set apart for chintan baithak. Chintan baithak motivated students to spend a few minutes every day in silence and speak to themselves. The inter-religious prayer for peace held every day before lunch was a spiritual experience for many participants and an incentive to respect and appreciate all religions.
Another important feature of Knit India was group activities for building solidarity and relationship among the participants. All participants were divided into 10 groups and they were given the themes like Communal Harmony, Eradication of Child Labour, Positive Use of Social Media, Honouring Women, Preventing and Reducing Stress in the Children etc. for preparing and presenting cultural programmes. All ten groups presented very smart cultural programmes that conveyed relevant messages very creatively. The ten groups also presented creative paintings on the life and contribution of Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi. Working in groups helped the participants to interact with each other and build bonds with students and teachers from different parts of India, besides providing opportunity for creative expression of their artistic talents.
The process of Knit India 2018 was envisaged in such a way that it provided opportunity for maximum number of participants to come to the stage and express themselves. The process of Knit India included inputs sessions for learning from the book of life of persons involved in the field, sessions for creative expression and sessions for reflection and internalizing the learning. The process also included a strategy to make use of the human resource of about a dozen prominent citizens of India. Besides using the local resources, they are being made partners in the mission of USM. The whole process was oriented towards motivating the participants to have a broad and inclusive vision for life, imbibe human and ethical values, experience solidarity and unity in diversity and build friendship in view of rebuilding a peaceful, harmonious and inclusive India.
At the end of the four days of interaction, sharing and working together the participants realized that diversity is not a weakness of India, but a great strength. They learned how the diversity could be effectively used for building the nation. They also understood that nation building cannot be achieved by shouting slogans, but by finding creative solutions to the problems of the people of India. They also realized that slogan shouting and inciting religious sentiments of people are diversionary techniques adopted by selfish, corrupt and perverted leaders. At the conclusion of the Knit India the participants stood on the boundaries of huge map of India with lighted candles in the midnight of December 31 and took a pledge to fight against the negative and divisive forces and to build a peaceful, harmonious, inclusive and vibrant India.
The experience of organizing Knit India has taught USM that a culture of love and acceptance can be created to counter the negative forces of hatred and exclusion by inculcating in the young people the core values enshrined in the preamble of Indian constitution and the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi. The Catholic Church in India runs thousands of schools with millions of young people. Organizing programmes like Knit India for the young people or motivating students to participate in the Knit India organized by USM is a golden opportunity to counter the culture of hatred and violence. Building a civilization of love is the ultimate goal of evangelization.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 7th January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 02)