Role of religious organizations in social causes

November, 2004

"He combines religion with social welfare" lauded a daily newspaper back in 2003 regarding the changes brought about by Sri.Jayendra swamigal. Now, the very same dailies blame him for metamorphosis of a exclusive religious body into a social organization.

What is wrong in a religious organization taking on social responsibilities? Why do they get branded as "missionary"? It is sad that the word 'missionary' has negative connotations in India due to atrocities and forced conversions executed by certain missionaries during British rule.

Keeping my views private about the wisdom of his hasty arrest at untimely hours and the ludicrous charges brought about by the public prosecutor, I would like to air my views over the accusation brought out by the media about the Sankara mutt getting more into a social organization than a religious one.

Despite being a developing country, the masses of India are yet to get basic facilities and education. It is wrong to expect the government alone to take responsibility for all this. We need more NGOs and religious organizations to actively participate in uplifting backward downtrodden people.

We all know that prior to Sri.Jayendra Saraswathi, the mutt was predominately a Brahmin organization and the social work never reached the entire hindu community. Today under the guidance of Jayendrar, more social work is being undertaken catering to the needs of people regardless of their caste or creed. The Voluntary Health, Education and Rural Development Society (VHERDS) established by him is a non-profit organization that strives towards upliftment of the poor villages. He is the first kanchi seer to walk through the slums and interact with the dalits and find out their problems and discuss their wants. Innumerable social works are being undertaken by the kanchi mutt.

Integrated village development projects provide houses, sanitation, agriculture, healthcare services and education for the entire village irrespective of the caste. The village of thandalam was uplifted under this scheme. Self help groups work at the grass root levels providing microfinance and encouraging micro enterprises. The Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Rural Development Trust cares for the development of rural areas. Earthquake rehabilitation and flood relief projects were organized in response to the various catastrophical events of nature. Annadhana schemes whereby each family sets aside a handful of rice per day, which is collected once a week and distributed to the poor people in the society.

He initiated the renovation of several deserted temples, which were being a haven for antisocial elements. He has established a number of Veda schools spanning from fundamental training to research. Countries like Germany, US and UK are investing time and money in deciphering and researching Vedas. Kyoto university, Florida vedic college, Harvard university, University of Cologne etc run postgraduate courses on vedic studies. There is also a Journal of Vedic studies where the editor is M.Witzel of Harvard University. When the people around the world are showing so much interest in understanding the Vedas and applying it to daily life, it is a shame if we Indians do not do enough to spread the gospel of Vedas. Vedas is a wealth of the Indians as a whole. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi International Library and Research Centre at Enathur strives hard to revive the greatness of Indian literature. It houses a huge collection of palm leaf manuscripts and philosophical books. The kanchi mutt also aspires in sponsoring the research of indigenous medicinal plants.

The swamiji always propagated the fact that hindu dharma does not encourage discrimination and that the dalits need to be treated with equal respect and thus paving way for a silent social revolution in eliminating casteism. He shattered the divisiveness by offering worship in the dalit-run temple in Madurai in 2002. Training institutes and camps for the dalits was started, thus improving their job prospects.

The curse of dowry in our society prevents women getting married. Charitable trusts were established by the mutt to help poor spinsters to get married. Home for aged reaches out to the needs of the elderly and disabled people.

The mutt sponsors many hospitals, healthcare organizations. These hospitals cross-subsidize each other. So money paid by the rich will be used to provide free services for the poor and needful. Shankara Eye Center gives eye care to all strata of society. Half of its surgeries are done free of cost. Orbis, an international organization, has taken special efforts to praise the work of Shankar netralaya, which was the brainchild of Sri.Jayendra Swamigal in 1978. Public charity hospital Shankara Eye Center, which is run by Sri Kanchi kamakoti medical trust, has reached out to over 20 million rural poor and performed over 195000 free eye surgeries. Many free denture fitting camps, eye surgery camps and polio camps are conducted in the rural areas.

Sri.Jayendra swamigal is highly lauded for his efforts to unify the hindus and muslims. He organized communal harmony meetings. Various muslim leaders have praised this effort including the Islamic foundation trust. It is worthwhile to remember that this swamiji was the go-between in the Ayodhya issue between hindus and muslims. This is precisely why both the Muslim and the Christian organizations have taken it upon them to condemn the hasty and clumsy way in which the seer was handled in this unpleasant issue. Lama Lobzang of the National commission of scheduled tribes has insisted that the acharya receives a better treatment. The most wonderful thing is that the local muslim leaders in Ayodhya, where the swamiji had been a proponent of hindu-muslim unity, had offered special id prayers for the acharya.

An example of a successful social cause undertaken by the mutt is development of the remote village of Irulneeki. This is precisely the reason why the people of Irulneeki gathered money and printed posters all over the village demanding the release of perival. It is important to bear in mind that these people are Dalits and yet they shower so much love on the seer. I can't believe that the tamil media didn't bother to cover such an exquisite news. It shocks me to see that the media is intent on fanning hatred and promoting only selective news that it deems sensational.

The support extended by dalits, christians and muslims clearly highlights the love and respect the seer enjoys from different sections of the society. This is possible only because he led the kanchi mutt to actively participate in social activities, which regenerated the downtrodden villages and provided healthcare to all strata of society. Thus we can see that Kanchi mutt is capable of balancing the religious and social causes in its vast plethora of activities. This should in fact encourage all the other charitable religious organizations to participate in upliftment of villages rather than be an exclusivinistic organization. Religion is for the society. Religious organizations suvive on the donations given by their followers. My dream and hence my suggestion is that they should adopt one village per year, plough in all resources to improve the village and show to the world what they can achieve despite being a religious organization.

Jai Hind!

- Mrs.Brindha Saran from Sheffield, United Kingdom

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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