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Are we headed towards extinction?
My son, an articulate young man, and I have discussions about various subjects. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we agree to disagree. He said that the only answer to the discussion is Yes, we are leading towaeds extinction. He gave these reasons:
  1. Brahmos are too conservative
  2. Brahmos are "elitist", and have never paid attention to the common man
  3. No coordination between samajes
  4. Brahmo Institutions enjoy being centres of mediocrity
  5. Minimal social and charitable activities
  6. BS never protests against injustice by way of protests, processions, writing in national newspapers. Many other organisations do
  7. Non-Brahmos, even educated ones, don't know anything about Brahmo Samaj and its ideals as these remain unpublicised
  8. Brahmo Samaj is an "honorary" organisation, so there is no dedication
  9. Brahmo Samaj has no relevance in the modern world
He seems logical when he puts forth his arguments. When I look at the present state of Brahmo Samaj today, I am tempted to agree with him. But I am an incorrigible optimist. So using his reasons as a starting point, I wish to give my views:

Why did Brahmo Samaj come into being?
In ancient times evolution of spiritual thought resulted in the precepts of Hinduism and Judaism. But as with all institutions over the years, rigidity set in. This rigidity produced reformers like Buddha Zarathustra Christ Mahavir. They broke the shackles to propound great thoughts - Mazdayesna of Parsis Buddhism Christianity, Jainism. The same happened in middle ages; rigidity again set in producing a new set of reformers like Guru Nanak, Chaitanya, Martin Luther, Calvin. Again in recent times, similar rigidity produced great thinkers like Raja Rammohun, Swami Dayanand, Ramkrishna Paramhansa, E.V.Ramaswamy Periyar and others. These great thinkers rejected blind faith and superstition and promoted rational thinking above rituals. They did not rely solely upon gods or other supernatural forces. They applied their reasoning power, along with lessons learnt from history and used their personal experiences to form an ethical and moral foundation.

Brahmo Samaj Has A Glorious Past
In the 19th and early 20th century Brahmo Samaj produced giants - not only in religious thought but also as social reformers, politics, medicine, science and arts. The Brahmo ethos that they imbibed, helped them to achieve greatness. But we are producing pygmies nowadays. In his book India: Living with Modernity Dr Javeed Alam writes, "...In understanding the role and pervasive influence of the Brahmo Samaj on social thinking in India, it is not important how many people became adherents. It was the chief intellectual voice of modern reason - a relentless crusader against rituals and ritualism". As Jawaharlal Nehru had written, "..although a microscopic minority, the brahmo samaj had exerted an immense influence on Indian society."

Why Brahmo Samaj must not become extinct?
The rigidity I talked about earlier is, unfortunately, creeping in on all societies once more. Hindu Islamic, Jewish and Christian fundamentalists are promoting hatred and violence. As someone said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it" .We have a responsibility to our forefathers as well as to our children and grand children. We owe it to society to regain revolutionary fervour. This is the main reason why we must not allow Brahmo Samaj to become extinct.

Where have we gone wrong?
Early Brahmos were true revolutionaries. Living in today's liberal society can we ever understand the tremendous courage that was required in those days to defy the existing caste divisions and other unjust practices? Can we ever feel the fierce persecution they had to endure, not only from society, but often from their own families? They fought against all odds so that we can live with dignity.

But we have split our tiny organisation into microscopic pieces not due to any ideological reasons. Most of us believe that the divisions were personal rather than ideological and do not have any relevance among present day Brahmos. Today, complacency, lack of dedication and clash of personal egos guard their precious little kingdoms.

My fervent appeal to fellow Brahmos everywhere, that unless we stop thinking about our egos and start thinking about the good of the Samaj, we are surely headed for extinction. The need of the hour is cooperation and coordination between samajes not confrontation. Construction takes a long time - Desctruction takes moments.

Plan of Action
I suggest some simple steps which are not difficult or costly to implement.
  • List the Samajes
    We should have a list of all the Samajes. The Sadharan Brahmo Samajes was unable to produce a list when I asked for it.
  • Identify Brahmos
    We do not have a comprehensive list of Brahmos. Some lists are available with different Samajes, but even these are incomplete. So we don't have any idea about our strengths. Let each Samaj compile a list and circulate it. Also an updated list may be maintained at a Central place, say by CCBS
  • Youth Activities
    Make the Brahmo Samajes attractive, places where our youth want to come, not where they are forced to come because elders insist. I attend some Christian Church Services. I am pleasantly surprised to see a large number of young men and women attending services and having weekly meetings in the evenings to promote social exchange and bonding among themselves. Can't we do the same?
  • Make Brahmo Institutions as Centres Of Excellence
    We seek the best institutions to send our children for education or our ill relatives for medical care. In any city or town in India, we find that the most coveted schools are run by Christian Missionaries. We equate Christian education with excellent education, Christian hospitals with excellent healthcare. Christians are a small minority, but since most decision makers in Government have studied in these schools, consciously or unconsciously their decision making is influenced by what they have been taught in their childhood, often in Christian Schools and Colleges. Although Brahmo Samajes and related trusts run several educational and healthcare institutions all of them are mediocre. Also to the best of my knowledge, hardly any school, college, hospital, home for the aged have been established in the last 50 years.
    This provides an opportunity for us to take action by assisting in better management to make these Centres of Excellence. Many Brahmos hold or held senior decision-making positions in public life. We could use their experience to improve Samaj administration
    Becoming Centres of Excellence makes economic sense. An efficient, professionally run setup earns more money. The surplus thus generated can help to establish more educational and healthcare institutions.
    Why are Brahmo Institutions promoting mediocrity? The answer, sadly, is that we are happy to remain mediocre
  • Social & Charitable Activities
    Occasionally, we hear of good causes that different Samajes have undertaken. If these activities are well publicised, it will create awareness among public about Brahmo Samaj. It will also develop sense of togetherness among Samaj members and encourage other Samajes to initiate similar programs.
    Various parts of India are regularly faced with floods, droughts, earthquakes and other accidents. Brahmo Samaj should be in the forefront in assisting when there are such calamities. The local Brahmo Samaj may set up camps in such areas to provide relief with financial, food, clothing and medical support provided by other Samajes.
  • Protest against Injustice
    Regrettably, India seems to be going back to these dark ages. Injustice and fundamentalism are rearing their heads. Innocent people are suffering. Many incidents of oppression and injustice are regularly published in newspapers. We read these but remain uninvolved, as these do not affect us directly. By not protesting, we encourage wrong elements. In the 18th and early 19th century, Brahmo Samaj had always raised their collective voices against social injustice. Sadly, we do not do this any more. We would like to see Brahmos - collectively and individually - protest loudly when atrocities are committed against any community, or we hear of sati, child marriage etc. We should protest in the press and other public forums both individually and collectively.
    Many people have not heard of the Brahmo Samaj, or may have read about it in their history books. Individual Brahmos have a special role to play to publicise the great ideals on which the Brahmo movement was founded.
    Prarthana samaj & Brahmo Samaj should work in close cooperation with each other. We don't know what events are taking pace in each others organisation.
  • Attendance at Sunday Service
    We complain that people don't take interest in attending. Is there anything that the Samaj can do to change this? In Mumbai, for example, a number of Brahmos live in Chembur. For many years, a bus has been hired for carrying Brahmos to Samaj every Sunday. As a result, the Sunday attendance is between 50-80. Other Samajes could find their own solutions. At the 2000 Conference in Lonavla, I had heard of the Indore Samaj taking some steps to improve attendance.
  • Use media to promote the ideas
    • Make a list of newsletters that are published. Exchange useful articles with each other.
    • Quality of newsletters : It needs to be smartened up. They can be improved substantially with today's improved technology and with more relevant material.
    • Newsletters are distributed only among members registered with the particular Samaj. It would be more effective if these are distributed among all Brahmos living in the city or state. Brahmos will then know about each other's activities. This will in turn encourage larger attendance for prayer meetings and other activities.
    • Write in national newspapers, as Brahmos, about social issues that confront us today. This will draw attention to the Samaj.
    • Email: use it to spread the message of BS
I have a dream that different civilizations in the 21st Century will learn to live side by side in peaceful interchange, learning from each other, studying each other's history, ideals, art and culture, mutually enriching each others lives. The alternative, in this overcrowded little world, is misunderstanding, tension, clash, and catastrophe.
I have a dream that each one of us in Brahmo Samaj will make an effort, however small, towards achieving this dream - and making this a better place.
I believe that Brahmo Samaj is as relevant today as it was 175 years ago. But we
  • need to be united
  • need to take on a more activist role
  • need to take steps so that young brahmos attend Samaj proceedings because there are activities that they can relate to
So are we headed towards extinction?
Yes - if we continue in this fashion
No - if we recognise our weaknesses, work towards eliminating these and build on our strengths.

The author may be reached at ashis@arico.co.in