On 29th December 2020, 104 ex-IAS officers wrote a stern letter to Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of U P, condemning the anti-conversion ordinance that has transformed the state into "the epicentre of politics of hate, division and bigotry". The signatories included among others former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and former Adviser to the Prime Minister TKA Nair. They demanded that the "illegal ordinance be withdrawn forthwith". The signatories also said that all politicians, including the Chief Minister, need to re-educate themselves about the Constitution which they have sworn to uphold.
When all opposition politicians maintained a studied silence because of vote bank politics, these officers have shown the guts to raise their voice for the sake of the constitutional values. They have definitely listened to the voice of their souls. The nation can be proud of these ethical leaders who have the courage to challenge the political and religious leaders who sell their souls for the sake of acquiring power and keeping themselves in power.
On 29th December, the second day of Knit India organized online by the Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) Indore, something happened that can make the 104 ex-IAS officers happy and proud. Eleven emerging young leaders spoke online to 350 participants how they are trying to live a value based life. All of them had participated in the one week Enlightened Leadership Training or ‘Knit India’ organized by the USM. They have been connected to USM since they underwent the training. Four of them are continuing their education in the schools and seven are doing their graduation or post graduation in various disciplines.
The young leaders shared with the participants the values that they have picked up from the USM and how these values are guiding them in their lives. Although their sharing was different from each other, there were some common elements. These common elements are very much similar to the Characteristics of ethical leadership presented by Isaac Arakkaparambil SDB in the first session of Knit India on 29th December.
All of these young people are perturbed by what is happening in the society and they are asking relevant questions. Why are atrocities and crimes on women increasing? Why are nearly half of the children under age five undernourished when India has an excess of food grains? Why are the human rights defenders arrested using draconian laws and put behind the bars? Why doesn’t the government listen to the thousands of farmers who are agitating on the borders of Delhi in freezing temperature? Why are the prisons overcrowded and the prisoners who are in their eighties with various ailments are denied spectacles or a sipper and straws? Why do the state brand dissenters and those who question it ‘anti-nationals’?
All the young leaders who spoke said that they learned from the leadership training the difference between a small dream and a big dream or vision and ambition. Vision is making a significant or a unique contribution to society along with one’s profession whereas ambition is self-centered. Majority of them have chosen their higher studies in view of doing something unique. For example, Sidra Ahmad who is pursuing legal studies has the vision of legally empowering people whose human rights are violated. Tulika Mishra who is preparing for Civil Service Examination has the vision of transforming the lives of the underprivileged sections of the society as a civil servant. She says, “There is a scarcity of good leaders and I want to be one among them”. Ritka Soni who is doing her post graduation has the vision of empowering people suffering from mental health problems.
An important value imbibed by almost all the young people who spoke is sensitivity to others, especially the less privileged. Arush Gupta who is pursuing engineering studies in Bangalore is providing his voluntary service to an NGO by taking tuition for poor children. Niyal Rawat of Carmel Convent School, Neemuch, M P, in his sharing said that he is able to distinguish between needs and wants. “I learnt that we can live with minimum and reduce the luxuries”, he said. Komal Chauthe of St. Joseph School Buldhana, MS, said that she stopped spending money on unnecessary things. Atra Ansari of St. Mary’s Convent School, Bhopal shared that she has stopped complaining about what she lacks and has become grateful to God for what she has. All the three students acknowledged that their visit to a slum in Indore city during the leadership training and interaction with the working children of non-formal education centres was an eye opener for them.
Practice of pluralism is another important value that the young people imbibed from the USM and they are practicing it. Sidra Ahmad said that she has learned to agree to disagree. Chhavi Jajoo of St. Antony’s Convent School, Faridabad said she is practising pluralism by accepting, appreciating and celebrating the differences and she is respecting all religions. Learning the difference between religiosity and spirituality has helped them to become pluralistic. Religiosity is the practice of rituals, prayers, pilgrimages etc whereas spirituality is the practice of ethical and moral values. Komal Chaute very boldly said, “My greatest identity is humanity”.
A good number of young speakers said that they do introspection and evaluation every day. Tulika Mishra and Atra Ansari have acknowledged that as a result of being part of USM they started applying critical thinking. Consequently they do not blindly follow anyone and do not blindly imitate anything. They try to collect information on any issue from different sources and do analysis before coming to any conclusion and decision. Persons with critical thinking cannot be easily brainwashed.
Yash Chaudhari, a former student of Carmel Convent School, in his talk on the topic, “Expressing Solidarity with the Human Right Defenders” made an excellent analysis why the poor people are often denied their human rights. Due to the lack of information and resources poor people are not often able to protect their human rights, when they are violated by the state or the powerful people. The human rights defenders like activists, academics, lawyers come to the help of the poor. As the state does not want to expose its failures and its secret plans, it often tries to harass and imprison the human right defenders who try to expose the failures and transgressions of the state. Reading, understanding and propagating the ideas and views of human right defenders and expressing solidarity with them are expected from responsible citizens. “The state can imprison the human right defenders, but it cannot imprison their ideas”, he said.
Lavina D’Sousa who was a full time animator in the USM earlier, spoke to the participants of Knit India 2020 from New Jersey, America. In her keynote address she said how she was practising ethical leadership by narrating a small incident from her life. “We have a group of family members who comes to clean our offices every week. Unfortunately at the end of November this year they all got infected by Covid and could not come to clean for 3 weeks. They are honest, hardworking people and I felt very bad they will not get paid for all the time they missed. I decided to go to the owner of the company and requested if we could pay their full money for the whole month and not deduct anything and luckily he agreed. This was the least I could do for this family.”
In her address she appealed to the participants to respect all religions. “As USM members, let us never forget the most important religion which is the religion of humanity. Let us never shy away from doing good and what is right regardless of what religion we follow. The beauty of USM is we welcome everyone and we respect everyone’s faith. Let us not forget to practice human religion”.
Many Indians are disappointed with the present political leaders. The leaders who are expected to defend the constitution and the rights of the citizens are often violating them. The leaders who are bound by the constitution to promote unity among the people of India are dividing them in the name of religion and caste because of vote bank politics. The leaders who have the responsibility to foster harmony and brotherhood do often indulge in hate speech. Against this backdrop, it is quite natural for many Indians to feel disillusioned. But the young leaders who spoke during the Knit India 2020 and demonstrated the qualities of ethical leadership, and more than 300 students and teachers who participated in it bring a lot of hope.
USM firmly believes that the youth is not only the future, but they are also the present. The experience of USM shows that young people can be developed as ethical and enlightened leaders, if they are mentored through proper accompaniment. Many religious congregations and dioceses can replicate the USM experiment and make a significant contribution to India by building ethical leaders with an excellent blending of character and competence.