Once upon a time a promising young lawyer from India embarked upon a journey to the Dark Continent which would later prove to be the making of the father of our Nation. While practicing there he came across the social evil of apartheid and empathized with the locals. He himself became the victim once when he was thrown out of a train carriage because of his complexion and in spite of carrying a first class ticket. All this happened courtesy a white man who felt that his purity was compromised by sharing the carriage with a colored man. Most of us would have accepted the situation the way it was but Gandhi did not. He wanted this racial discrimination to end. He wanted the attitude of the white men to change. And thus to pursue this vision of his, he stayed in South Africa for the next 21 years. He helped those who were shackled to bondage because of their color. He educated them and made them aware of this historic injustice. And rest is just history.
Mahatma Gandhi through his actions has always exemplified that he practiced what he preached to others. To those who ignored his principles of truth and non-violence at the first place, his life became a testimony and he eventually showed them how that was supposed to be done. This statement by Mahatma Gandhi is not just a fancy juxtaposition of words but has embedded in it, the very philosophy of his life which can be supported by many instances. Once a woman came to Mahatma Gandhi requesting him to ask his son not to eat too much of jaggery as it is harmful to the body. Gandhi kept on asking them to come again and again before simply advising her son not to do so. The woman was puzzled and wondered why he asked them to come again and again just to be told this simple instruction. To this Gandhiji explained that he first needed time to rectify his own habit of eating too much jaggery!
The person from whom these precious words surfaced himself is the greatest illustration substantiating the underlying truth and practicality of them. When he came back to India after a remarkable stint in South Africa fighting the apartheid, he was appalled to witness the atrocities of the colonial rulers on his countrymen. But at the same time he did not approve of the violent ways of revolutionary terrorism to drive out our oppressors. He believed that this task should be only attained travelling the path of truth and non-violence. And through the various events highlighting the national freedom struggle, he was able to turn this superior vision into reality. The withdrawal of the Non-cooperation movement after the violence at Chauri-Chaura exemplified the integrity of this principled man. Imagine if he only had this vision of these principles and devoid of the determination and capacity to inspire the masses. It would have been so futile a wandering.
Right from the very genesis of human civilization there have been people who have personified this statement given by Mahatma Gandhi and it has been only due to their endeavor that the civilization has progressed, persisted and prevailed. There have been individuals different from the average crowd who had a better vision of the world, who had the capacity to influence the direction in which we were heading and who came forward to act. It is for these people that we stand here today on a progressive path overcoming the darker era and it is for such people from our era that we embark upon a journey to an even better world. Pondering over the ancient era, we come across the example of Ashoka the Great who conquered almost the entire Indian sub-continent but after the victory at Kalinga, there came an immense change in his worldview and perception. Walking past the river of blood and bodies marked by the overwhelming grief of their kiths and kin, he regretted the act of war. It occurred to him suddenly that all this bloodshed for territorial gains only suffices the greed of the aristocratic classes but millions of innocents die in vain. But by then he had become the beacon of expansionist policies, the valor of defeating others in war and the naked pompous show of power. How would people accept his new radical vision? That could have only happened by showing the change within him and in fact that is what eventually happened. He reduced the standing armies by great proportions and became a great believer of Buddhism. It was his act of reforming himself first that made his followers belief in the change.
Moving on to the inspiring times of contemporary history of our nation, one just cannot overlook the father of modern India i.e. Raja Rammohan Roy and his numerous contributions to liberate and emancipate the Indian women and to cure people from the malaise called religious fundamentalism and absolutism. He worked immensely for these reforms and created many groups and sabhas to propagate his liberal views and to end the blind faith of people. He protested strongly against the social evil of ‘Sati’ and it was his activism and charisma that played a great role in its abolition. He was among the few persons in those times who could see the catastrophic repercussions of extreme religiosity and dedicated all his life to work against it and to educate people.
During this era, we also witnessed various other visionaries like Ramchandra Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda who believed that “work is workship”. They setup various missions and foundations which even today promote this very idea. They dedicated all their lives to make people understand the value of service to the mankind. Mother Teresa believed that “the hands that serve are more sacred than the lips that pray”. She even today symbolizes selfless service to the mankind and inspires millions of modern-day philanthropists. These legends had a pious worldview and envisioned a far better society and via their actions and gestures they keep inspiring the future generations to move closer and closer to this apparent utopia. Moreover, when we talk of modern-philanthropy, we come across names like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who have greatly inspired the rich to share their exorbitant resources with the needy and the desperate. The fact is that still only a small fraction of people are cornering most of the resources and the truth is that if they are willing to share a bit, we can eradicate poverty and destitution. The simple yet elusive truth!
And coming to the recent post-modern era, we still find the shades of this age-old philosophy but of course in the form of a new variant called ‘Entrepreneurship’. Today the youth is in no mood to work indifferently and dispassionately for the monstrous and greedy corporations and businesses that have become leviathans unyielding to the expectations of today’s workforce. Today the youth has very many ideas and innovations which they want to take forward and turn them into full fledged reality. Today they dream about changing the ways of modern living and by turning these dreams into entrepreneurship ventures they are showing the world how to bring about change. So, entrepreneurship is nothing but the manifestation of this age-old philosophy as evident in the present generation.
Having discussed these conspicuous illustrations we must also answer the very basic question that what does change mean to people? Everyone sees the world differently and influenced by their primary and secondary socialization, they have a unique perception of the community as a whole. We admire certain things about the society but at the same time we admonish many others. And the commonalities are called collective conscience. Now this might not be even close to the picture painted by us while creating our own ideal type. And to influence this collective conscience towards this ideal type, we wish certain changes to occur. Now most of us are complacent waiting for this change passively. We become cynical of everything the other does as long as it is not taking the collective conscience towards the ideal type that we created. And we take no affirmative action while relaxing in our armchair.
This statement by Mahatma Gandhi is also like the fountainhead yielding multiple values and virtues and showing the pathways to those looking for a genuine direction to their lives. It talks about ‘initiative’ and how each and every person should have the ability to move away from the herd mentality and make a unique space for himself. And to take such initiative and to implement it would be requiring leadership skills. To be the change or to be the causal agent one needs to have the ability to motivate and inspire others as undoubtedly to succeed in any given scenario, apart from the individual brilliance there must be pivotal synergy of operation.
But often, change is not that easily achieved as there are conservative elements which seek self-aggrandizement by means of status-quo and fabricate various predicaments to those who seek to alter the archaic order. Ergo in order to eventually succeed, there must be perseverance. Every failure must be answered by renewed vigor. Another aspect of this vision is that it promotes a progressive approach. Here the ‘change’ denotes a positive development in the existing system to ameliorate the loopholes and thus to make it more robust and sustainable.
So what changes are pivotal today for the community to move forward with a substantial pace but at the same time in a sustainable manner? The first impediment to all sorts of developments is the absence of integrity, more commonly referred to as ‘corruption’. And the worst kind is that at the political level as it leads to all the other kinds and is gigantic in proportion. Few years back a bunch of social activists took this up and tried to wake the sleeping common man who was lulled deep into slumber by the promises of democracy. But the extent of corruption had become so colossal that we witnessed it on every crossroad. And hence came the largest mass movement of recent times. There was a partial victory but few among them were wise to understand that real change can only happen when the reform the whole political system. And then we saw the conceptualization and formation of a political party which promised governance with integrity. So to change the political system, they became a part of it. They protested, then contested and then they conquered. Here we also see that how good examples can result into their imitations by others in dire need of reforms.
Another aspect that has immense relevance today is the conservation of natural heritage and bio-diversity to maintain the ecological balance. Mahatma Gandhi once famously remarked that “there is enough in this world to satisfy everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed”. We humans, most of us, have acted with utter greed especially when it comes to the utilization of natural resources the mindless infrastructural expansion. It is a proven fact that even slight disturbances to the natural balance can result into catastrophic calamities even capable of wiping out the human race altogether. Another point here is that we have a moral obligation not to endanger the prospects and living standards of the coming generation. We just cannot mindlessly grow and grow at the expense of our future generations. There have been various crusaders to the likes of Sundarlal Bahuguna, Rajendra Singh etc who have encouraged and inspired masses to take up these cases.
Apart from these there is another fundamental change that is required. We must change the way in which we educate the young and the restless. Who are we to prepare ready-made moulds to shape them up into engineers and doctors? Who are we to dictate what they should read and what they should play? The last time I checked it was a democracy after all. We as their parents, guardians and teachers have the obligation to make them aware of all possible directions in which they can proceeds. We must discuss with them all the possible pathways and avenues. And then we should just let them decide for themselves. We must not coerce them into anything. They will choose what they are passionate about. And also that, passion is not manufactured, it is only discovered. So it is high time to move away from the tools of rote learning and venture into the schools of innovation and creativity.
Well of course this is not in any way an exhaustive list of changes that are paramount at the moment but definitely among the relevant ones. So do you thing that the education sector is rotting and needs reforms? Be the next Yash pal! Do you think that the healthcare advancements are out of reach for the poor? Be the next Devi Shetty! Do you think that telecom revolution needs to revitalize? Be the next Sam Pitroda! Do you think that the rocket propulsion systems of India can be further sophisticated? Be the next Kalam! The essence is, be the change you want to see!
Lastly I recall a small yet significant incident from my past that somehow relates to the philosophy being talked about here. There was a friend of mine who was rather a good man with only one fallacy that he used to throw litter anywhere without any concern. I tried to lecture him many times on the importance of hygiene but they had no impact on him. One day we were wandering around with a common friend of ours who was so motivated to teach my friend a lesson on cleanliness that he picked up things thrown by my friend on the road and put them in the dust bin. He did this for the whole day. By the end , my litter friend was so embarrassed that understood the point we were making. At the end, these words by Paulo Coelho sum it up nicely, “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion”.