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Vijay Darda : The occasion was Diwali this year. Like every year, traditional pan supari programme was organised at Prithvivandan at Gandhi Chowk in Yavatmal where the Lokmat Group was founded. One of my childhood friends, who is a follower of Islam, came to attend the programme. We were meeting after almost 30 years. We hugged each other and suddenly wept inconsolably. During our childhood days, he used to stay close to our house in Yavatmal. I asked him, “You stay there only!” “No. I have shifted to the locality of Muslims now,” he said.
I was astonished. The city where people lived in harmony, had been divided on the basis of caste and creed. Telis, Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Punjabis and Kunbis now live in their localities. I asked him once again why he did not meet me for so many years. His reply was even more shocking. He said, “Vijay, you have become a wealthy person and that’s why I was hesitant to meet you.” I remember my childhood when there was no rich-poor divide; friendship meant friendship only.
At that time, Urdu and Marathi medium schools would be the same. We would celebrate 15th August and 26th January together, would make arrangements for flag hoisting together. Right from applying cow dung to lime, we would do it all together forgetting caste and religion. A Muslim trader would lend us a pipe to unfurl the flag. Once, we went to our English teacher Qureshi sir and asked him which colour is on the top of national tricolour, green or saffron? This left him absolutely incensed. He said you don’t know the colours of tricolour! Wait, I’ll punish you and make you stand under the Sun. That feeling of patriotism, devoid of even an iota of caste and religious consideration, was amazing.
On 15th August and 26th January, a Prabhat pheri of school students would be organised wherein students would raise the slogan ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. But caste or religion never caused any impediment then.
I am also reminded of Ganeshotsav during our childhood days. We all used to sweep the ground clean, decorate the pandal and worship together. There was no distinction on the basis of caste or religion. Be it Eid, Diwali or Christmas, we children would visit each other unhindered. We were children and childhood was our religion. My religion never became an obstacle in celebrating Eid. We celebrated Ganeshotsav with the same enthusiasm with which we commemorated Eid and Christmas. My mother would help me dress and prepare for Eid and Christmas. We would go to the mosque and church. I still go.
But where did that religion of childhood go? What exactly has gone wrong? I have been in the public life for quite long now and from experience I can say that our society has gone astray. Hatred has replaced harmony. It takes courage to admit publicly that the society today has been divided more than ever before. The difference of being a Hindu and a Muslim is more today than it was before! The religion interfered with the politics and created such an environment that the old bond of affection for each other was broken. The line of suspicion has been drawn so deep that it may take us generations to erase it. At the moment, there appears to be no hope. The way the organisations have been formed in the name of protecting religion and the way they are systematically nurtured, is even more dangerous.
This is not confined to religion only. Caste feelings have also started to unleash with alarming regularity in the past few years. Many times it seems like we are hell-bent on returning to the tribal era where people of one clan used to behead the people of another tribe! The flourishing business of casteist forces has become a source of easy money for some people. And for politicians, it is a kind of ‘vote farming’ which they promote to get good harvest.
In fact, the society has reached such a state where there is no such thing as role model! Had Gautam Buddha, Mahavir Swami, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ramkrishna Paramahansa, Mahatma Gandhi, Acharya Vinoba Bhave or Sane Guruji ever envisaged such a society? Not at all. They wanted to create a society that would be ideal for humanity because this work can only be done by India, which gave the message of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam to the whole world. But we have reduced to dust the thoughts and ideas of our own great men! The society has degenerated so much that we have lost respect for each other. The new measure of respect is position and wealth. Let alone some cultured people, you may have hardly seen a rich person respecting the poor. My Babuji and my mother believed in social harmony. They sent us both brothers to municipality school so that we should understand and experience the pain of the poor. In fact, today the parents themselves do not want their child to come in contact with the poor. Many of my friends were very poor but they got the same respect in our house which we got. Such an attachment has become scarce now. These values should be taught to the children by their families.
Another vice -- to denigrate each other -- is spreading fast in the society. You may have experienced it yourself that when a person is before us, we greatly appreciate him. But as soon as he is gone, we start speaking ill about him. This kind of behaviour is embarrassing and dangerous for society. Why do we not take into account all that is good in that person and try to imbibe that goodness in ourselves? If we keep looking for evil then how will we get good? Believe me, if we find good, then it will help remove another big evil of the society called fraud. Though fraud and deception have been part of human history, we should hope that we will overcome this vice while progressing on the path of development.
I am also pained by the fact that society is deviating from the golden tradition of respecting women. The rise in the incidents of molestation and rape is agonising. Where are our kids getting these dirty ideas from? Obviously, there is some disturbance in the family and society! Clearly it seems that we have become victims of the lack of cultural values.
In the past, children would be imparted cultural values. Apart from imparting bookish knowledge, the teachers in schools would also instill values among the students. They would also be aware of what the students are doing after school and whether they are deviating from their path. Our Sadiq sir and Halbe sir never differentiated between students on the basis of their caste and religion. They equally loved all their students. Where are such teachers today?
It is the absence of sanskars which fills us with malaise. A restless person breaks every law of life. People flout traffic rules. When the airplane lands, people open their seat belts as if they were in captivity. Even before the aircraft halts, people get up from their seats. We have to find a solution to do away with such restlessness! If we change, society will change!
Before I conclude
Bill Gates has correctly said that merely reading books is not study. Our Sant Kabirdas has also said that nobody becomes a pundit by reading scriptures only! My personal belief too is that knowledge is not acquired from books alone; it is around us. Refine your skills and you will go on acquiring knowledge automatically!