A Never Ending Journey

Dr. Narendra Dabholkar

 (Dr Narendra Dabholkar was  requested to write about his past experience and achievements of his several organizations in the Deepavali issue of  the  Magazine called ‘Shabda’ (word) . About 8 eminent persons wrote about their experiences and achievement under the Title ‘A Look Back’. Here is the gist of his article written in July 2007, translated into English.by Ms  Suman Oak)

Since 1971  I have been involved in the various movements of Social Change fighting for Social Justice, economic exploitation, corruption and politics. I came in this movement in 1985. I had not felt the need and urgency of it at that time. So as soon as bickering began to come to the fore, I decided to quit.  I don’t know what would have happened had I quit the organization. But certainly I would not have been there. My Pune colleagues argued, ‘We have the intension to work, and you are the one who possesses  commanding  oratory and also can  spare  time.’ Thus I became the Co-ordinator for two years and continue if the organization seemed to take root. This took place in 1989. Two years later I was elected  the working president. Strangely enough those who put pressure on me to lead, gave up the work, one by one while I alone stuck on.  We had 17/18 branches then; and now have a network of large number of activists working in 180 branches.

Recently an eminent elder social worker said to me, ‘you seem to be doing well; no bickering in the organization; although not an NGO, you face no financial difficulties; the media too support you.’ Though I was amused by his remark, I began to ponder ‘being such a huge organization, why is there no bickering, no quarrels, no disparaging remarks, no antagonism?’ This reassuring atmosphere, the love of the co-workers, their confidence in me, I am certainly in an enviable position.

I have been the president from day one. After 3 years I wanted to step down but could not.  Then they decided to allow me to step down once the anti-black magic bill was passed. It is being postponed time and again and I remain the president. Not that I will retire after stepping down, for I am blessed with some rare abilities, such as, organizing work, keeping cool, perseverance, enviable health and ability to travel and work continuously without rest. Of course, age counts and the picture will eventually change. But I will try my best to remain alert and active.

During the last 18 years, we never experienced economic difficulty because of our unique way of work. The organization does not have an office of its own. All the branches are self supporting. They earn a little from the programmes they organize, self study tests, donations from members and sympathisers and some percentage out of the advertisements they get for the magazine. I believe in what Gandhiji said, ‘No good work can suffer for want of funds.’

We get considerable publicity and people think we hanker for it. But I always remind my co-activists that an organization can rarely remain in the public eye for such a long time; and we should be prepared for being ignored eventually. Our work is publicized for three reasons. First the activities for eradication of superstition are intrinsically newsworthy. Secondly people and the media in Maharashtra believe that our activists are honest. The third reason, I must  admit is that we maintain proper relations with the media, take care to give them correct and honest accounts of our activities in time. Whenever any incident connected with Eradication of Superstition occurs I write a report on it and most of the main news papers immediately publish it.

The real test me and my organization had to pass was a different issue. Whenever an organization is founded people start casting aspersion s on it. To which caste do the activists and the leaders belong? As we gathered strength, the discussion about the castes became more aggressive. Some accused me of trying to destroy religion and therefore they asked for my expulsion out of Maharashtra. Others who called themselves progressive and secular accused that being a Brahmin, my real intension is not eradicating superstition and I am not capable of it. I have a hidden agenda, a Brahmanic plot for deceiving the public. This caste ridden psyche is illogical but it is made to sound logical. A venomous attack of this sort could harm any organization. But we remained unscathed not because all the exploitative characteristics stuck on to my caste do not apply to me; but because of the vast membership encompassing all castes and sub castes existing in this state.  Caste was never considered while electing office-bearers, so that sticking any caste label to the organization is impossible.

I have no precise answers to the questions, ‘how could we spread the organization so wide, without any bickering? How can we get unstinted support from the media? How do we manage with such meagre finances? How do we remain aloof from the caste ridden psyche prevailing here?’  But I can mention a few possible reasons. Our organizational structure, setup and working are genuinely and intentionally democratic and decentralized. Another reason, more important than anything else, is that the volunteers join our organization because of their intrinsic motivation; they feel suffocated in the superstition ridden surroundings and do not know how to face it. They find a true enlightened path in Samiti’s work. So strengthening the organization and spreading it becomes their internal need. They strive to protect the organization from petty quarrels, caste biases and penury.

Since the inception of the Samiti, I have been the working president and am considered the other side of that coin. But I am completely ignorant of how the Andhashraddhaa Nirmoolan Samiti became so strong, healthy and widespread. I did not play any particular role in this. So many people have helped me of their own accord. It won’t be proper to disclose their identity. Many advocates have come to my help, free of charge, whenever law suits are launched against me in various courts. The eminent actors Dr. Shriram Lagu and Nilubhau Phule consider themselves as our Bandhuva Majdoor, for we can count on them, whenever we need their help and extract work without remuneration. My wife, my brothers and sisters, my children all offer unstinted help to me.

In treading this path, I avoid reacting to criticism, entering the clamour of accusations and counter accusations and the blame game. I refrain from taking legal action for defamation against anybody. I do not want to embroil the organization with lawsuits. I do not know whether I am right but one thing is sure that avoiding to react never puts you to any loss. When one builds up his image in people’s minds through such a long march it becomes immune to petty accusations.

Other than the work of ANiS  and the weekly Sadhana, I do not do anything else. This has rendered me a single-minded person. For years I have not been on the Kabaddi ground; not seen a picture or a play, no outing, not even television. I read only what is needed for my work. This is deliberate atrophy of personality and I am aware that people close to me are disturbed. But for the present at least, I can’t help it. The most significant aspect of it is that I derive pleasure from it. I never feel bored or exhausted. People around me change, the thoughts change and the activists keep striving like me forgetting everything else. I tell my co-workers, ‘don’t work out of obligation to the society; don’t carry any such burden on your head, just enjoy your work. Work only as long as you derive satisfaction out of it.’

We have raised a new issue regarding the content of secularism. That is somewhat different from the prevailing progressive concept. One view says that the administration ought to put secularism in practice.  The other concept maintains that secular politics is impossible as long as the economy remains unstable. So measures to stabilize economy should be given priority, informing the toiling masses during the process. I prefer to put it as: the umbilical cord of secularism reaches right up to the thoughts of Mahatma Phule, Viththal Ramaji Shinde, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Babasaaheb AMbedakar; all these social reformers who made the anti-public religion turn and face the public. This will enrich the content of Indian secularism. Eradicating Superstition is not isolated work. It is necessary to unite it with the larger comprehensive social reform movement. But the links between these two movements are not in place as yet and we seem to work in isolation. So we should strive to avoid single track mindedness amongst the workers.

The activists of the Samiti are constantly under public watch, much more than other organizations. How they behave? Do they walk their talk? But very few people can follow it. But we, ANiS as an organization and myself as an individual are honestly trying our best because the moral fibre of our character is our strength and people seem to believe us. Many individuals agree with our principles and policy; but they do not join us because putting those principles into practice requires a lot more courage than they can muster. They cannot afford to antagonize their family and relatives. The poojas  to be performed and vows to be fulfilled require both husband and wife to carry them out together. Refusal to cooperate will disturb the peace in the family. Gopal Ganesh Agarkar put his principle very succinctly as, ‘Mere adding to your erudition is not enough; one must have the courage to act accordingly.’ Next he adds, ‘I will tell whatever is right (whatever needs to be told) and do all that I can.’ I imagine this chain of social change as, ‘thought as the first step- then articulation of it- its propagation -and then putting into practice. The next step would comprise of building a union that amounts to practicing the principles collectively and finally confrontation to bring about change where the Samiti needs a change. Sowing seeds of reason in the mind is not an easy job. However reason uttered repeatedly does take you a step ahead. The utterance converts into a movement. If people involved in the movement practice what they propagate, the movement culminates into a union which is a good thing to happen. If, in addition the union jumps into a struggle for change, nothing like it. but climbing up these steps exhausts you considerably. I am treading this path with whatever ability I possess, knowing fully well that it is endless.