Streets are where battles are fought in a democracy, and the warriors are groomed through dialogue with the ordinary people in every village, in every lane and bylane. Neither much paraphernalia nor catchy slogans are needed for this task. What is needed is sensitivity to the pain and the miseries of the people, a desire to find the cause, and the honesty to win the confidence of the people. Once the people start reposing faith in you, the task becomes much easier. From Jotirao Phule to E.V. Ramasamy Periyar, Dr Ambedkar, Sant Gadge, Dr Ramswaroop Verma, Jagdev Prasad, Swami Achhootanand and more recently, Kanshi Ram – all walked this path. People first developed faith in them and then adopted and accepted their ideas.
A heartening piece of news is coming from Punjab, where a group has set out to awaken the ordinary people. They don’t sermonize. They just tell the people to preserve their self-respect. In a democracy, it is the people who decide the contours of governance as well as society. But without self-respect, they won’t be able to make independent decisions. This self-respect does not have an external source. The unity of the people is its source. That is the reason the campaigners call their organization “Samajik Ekta Shakti” (the power of social unity) and their slogan is “Alakh jagao, azadi pao”. “Alakh jagana” means making people aware of their power and restoring their confidence.
This slogan reminds one of Periyar’s Self-Respect Movement. The movement, which began in Erode in 1926, triggered a revolution in Tamil Nadu and remains a beacon to date.
It is Raidas’ concept of Begumpura (a place where there is no sadness) that unifies the members of the Samajik Ekta Shakti. None of them is a big leader or a known face. They are ordinary people themselves and want to make others like them aware of their power. The yatra began in Mugobal village, in Mahalpur Tehsil of Hoshiarpur district, on 26 February and will continue through April. After crisscrossing the state, it will conclude at the statue of martyr Udham Singh at Sunam village in Sangrur district. Sunam is the ancestral village of Udham Singh.
Pertinently, a third of Punjab’s population are Scheduled Castes. Sikhism negates caste, yet some vested interests are spreading the poison of casteism and communalism to divide the people of the state. Once the people are divided, their energy is dissipated in fighting each other, and selfish politicians take advantage of this. The yatra’s objective is to persuade the people to forget their petty differences and realize the power of social unity.
The workers of the organization go from village to village telling people how their constitutional rights are being usurped. They appeal to the people to rise above the political, religious and caste differences for the welfare of society at large. They urge the people to keep their self-interests aside and raise their voice for societal wellbeing. Once the people unite, the problems will go away. They won’t have to depend on others for resolution of their problems.
The yatra has been taken out by the Sant Samaj of Punjab. The objective is to let people know about Begumpura – the town free from pain and misery, where peace and tranquility reigns forever – which was Raidas’ dream 600 years ago.
Begumpura shahar ko nau, dukhu-andohu nahin tihi thau
Na tasvees khiraju n malu, khaufun khata na tarsu juvalu
Ab mohi khboob batan gah payee, oohan khaire sada mere bhai
Kaemu-darmu sada patisahi, dom na some ek so aahai
Aanadanu sada masjoor, oonha gani bashi mamoor
Meaning, I live in Begumpura; it is free from suffering and exploitation; there are no quarrels and rioting here, there is no fear; there is no place for worry and regret; people commit few mistakes; truth rules; everyone does their work happily; there is no high or low; everyone is equal.
It was also Raidas’ dream that –
Ek aisa chahoon raj mein, jahan mile saban ko ann,
Chhot-bado sab sam base, rahe Raidas prasanna
(I want a rule in which everyone should get food to eat and everyone, whether high or low, should be equal and happy)
The pursuit for freedom begins with shedding mental slavery, and freedom is a prerequisite for self-respect. As soon as man begins thinking freely, the chains of slavery start coming apart. That is why the pamphlet being used in the yatra provides no answers. It only asks questions. The objective is to make the people, living amid misery and want, start thinking about their condition. Some of the questions are thought-provoking and are applicable not only to Punjab but to the entire nation.
Here is a sample: Why do politicians harbour a negative attitude towards society? Why commercialization of education and health? Why Ambedkar’s dream of ushering liberty, equality and brotherhood through the Constitution still remains unfulfilled? Why are private businesses making profits while government enterprises are in the red? Why are the executive, courts, media and government institutions not free? Why are basic needs – food, clothing and shelter – not being met even 75 years after Independence?
We all know the answers to these questions. But no one wants to answer them. The people also know and understand everything but they keep quiet. This yatra aims at arousing the people from their slumber, from their inaction, and infusing the consciousness of self-respect in them.
(Translated from the original Hindi in Amrish Herdenia)
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