Everyone of us has ideas on how we can liberate ourselves from the grinding poverty that has been the bane of our country. Over the years I have evolved a list of priorities which I would like to address to two groups of people because I believe that if they take them up seriously, we can change the face of India in the future. One group is Rahul Gandhi and the young men and women who campaigned with him during the recent elections and some of whom are now members of the Lok Sabha.
The other group I have in mind are preachers of religion ranging from Sai Babas, Jagadgurus, bapus, sants, sadhus, sadhvis and pracharaks because I believe they reach out to many more people than politicians; if they lend their support to social reforms I propose could become a movement.
My top priority, to check the suicidal rate of increase in population through propaganda, has made very little difference and more needs to be done. Ideally we should enact laws to make sterilisation of couples on the birth of their second child compulsory. If that sounds too drastic, at least pass laws banning people with more than two children from holding any elected post from the village panchayats, state legislatures to the two Houses of Parliament. Also debar them from getting jobs in the government, be that of a peon or a Prime Minister.
My second priority is increasing power generation other than produced by coal and oil. Our best bet is nuclear energy. The recently concluded Indo-US nuclear treaty will soon yield results. This has to be supplemented by extensive exploitation of solar and wind produced electricity. It will be the only way we can light just about everything.
My third priority is preservation of environment and wild life. We must ban the felling of trees except for purposes of development like laying out new roads, rail tracks and canals. We must put an end to disposing dead bodies by cremating them with wood and instead provide electric crematoria within easy reach in cities, towns and clusters of villages. Otherwise provide burial grounds for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists with the proviso that no monuments will be raised on graves and the land so used is returned to the agriculture every five years. Preachers of religion could play a very important role in persuading people that cremation of dead bodies by wood is not a religious obligation. They should also persuade their followers not to immerse idols coated with poisonous paints in rivers and lakes as it kills fish.
If we succeed in preserving our forests, we will ensure preservation of wild life now threatened with extinction. Ponder over my proposals; if they make sense, propagate them. If they do not, dismiss them as fantasies of a senile old man.
The recent eruption of violence among sikh groups in Vienna and its repercussions in Punjab reminded me of a Punjabi saying: Where there is one Sikh, there is one Sikh; Where there are two Sikhs, there is a Singh Sabha; Where there are three Sikhs, there is rawla-rappa (turmoil).
When I first went to Vienna, I did not see a single fellow Sikh in the week I spent in the city. On my second visit a few years later I was told by our embassy officials that a few Sikhs had been given asylum by the Austrian government because they claimed they had fled India as they were followers of Sant Bhindranwale and would be eliminated by the Indian police if they stayed on.
They had formed a Singh Sabha and set up a Gurdwara. They were Jat Sikhs. Later, other Sikhs followed who were largely non-Jat belonging to Scheduled Castes. They did not feel comfortable going to a Jat Sikh run gurdwara and set up one of their own down the same street. The inevitable rawla-rappa followed.
When a sant, head of the sect of the second gurdwara went on a visit, Sikhs of the first gurdwara stormed in, assaulted the head and killed his aide. The victim’s followers in Punjab went on the rampage in many cities — Jalandhar, Amritsar, Ludhiana, Patiala — and set fire to buses, trains, public and private property.
The Prime Minister appealed for peace and reminded them that Sikh Gurus condemned caste distinctions and preached community harmony. It fell on deaf ears because there is no truth in the assertion that Sikhs do not have a caste hierarchy. As a matter of fact, they pay lip service to a caste-less society, but in practice subscribe to it. Its vicious hold is not seen in cities or large towns, but is found in the countryside: separate gurdwaras, separate wells and separate localities.
Caste-intermarriages which are rare even among the well-to-do and educated are unknown in villages. That is the principal reason why hundreds of deras headed by Babas and Sants flourish all over Punjab and Haryana. They welcome people of all castes as well as Hindus, Muslims and Christians.
The Granth Sahib is read and revered; however the focus of attention is a Babaji or Santji. The one attacked in Vienna is the creation of followers of Sant Ravi Das, who was a chamar (cobbler) and whose hymns are incorporated in the Granth Sahib.
A young man was being interviewed for a job as a salesman in an antique store. The owner picked up a chip of wood from the floor, put it on a red velvet cushion and asked: ‘What's that?’ Emperor Akbar's toothpick. ‘Excellent, you can start right away.’ (Courtesy: Reeten Ganguly, Tezpur)