For The Indian Hindu, Swayamsevak Sangh, is a way of life - Paul Ukpabio's Blog


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Tuesday, 29 October 2019

For The Indian Hindu, Swayamsevak Sangh, is a way of life

By Paul Ukpabio

Its 8am Saturday morning, the cloud is dark on an average rainy season in the month of October in Otta, a border town between Lagos and Ogun state in western Nigeria. Otta: the home of various industries which produces popular Nigerian household consumer brands, and also blessed with an estate that boasts of a residence for a small community of Indians.
Here at the entrance to the large estate, the rain poured irregularly as if in a symphony, fast and then soft like a drizzle on the wet tarred, winding road leading to the security check point that shields un-welcomed visitors away.

Soon a residential part of the industrial estate comes into view. Some buildings just bungalows and then the high rise buildings followed, well-architectured and in orderly fashion. Here, in one of the flats, gathered members of the Indian Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, cheerful men and women some with their young children.

According to Dr Ram Vaidya a world joint coordinator of the group, who flew in to town from the United Kingdom to visit and share with the group, these are members of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, an organization that spreads to 44 countries in the world. “Our mission is to bring global harmony, peace, connectivity, and nature appreciation in the communities that we live in,” Dr Ram tells us. “We belong to the Hindu philosophy where our ancestors in India practice these same philosophies to present day. It is our responsibility to bring these philosophies to the country where we are living in. So we believe that for the family to be sustainable, everybody should take care of the planet, we should always take care of each other, support the fight against terrorism and against exploitation.”
Dr Ram tells us further that this is a regular meeting for families. “The meeting is a family retreat where we come to know and understand the vision and mission and mechanism of our organization. We call it a retreat. This retreat is for understanding our philosophy. We have four Shakha, that is branches in Nigeria which meets weekly at weekends when families come together. When we meet we practice physical fitness, yoga, play some games and sing songs together. We also discuss issues and how to move communities forward and we celebrate some festivals together. Also important is that, we pray to Almighty that He should give strength to all of us. Our motto is that we achieve by our own efforts.”

On his part, Sanjay Srivastava a joint co-coordinator in Nigeria summed it up when he said that, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh is a way of life! “This is a branch of what we have in India. This is one organization in India that has stood the test of time. It is presently over 90 years old. Founded in India in 1925, it is Indian’s oldest voluntary organization and about the oldest in the world. It is an NGO known by the United Nations and popular with other organizations. But when we came out of India and spread all around the globe, we also spread the voluntary duties of the organization. We have branches now in Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, UK, Australia and so on. You know Indians are known to love nature, low cost, good management, integrity, loyalty and so on. In 1947, our ancestors came to Kenya and they decided that they will start the Shakha that is a branch there like we have in India. That was achieved in 1947. So anyone coming from India could meet for a retreat there. That was the beginning of the group in Africa.” Taking part in the family retreats helps us so that when we go back to our organizations, we perform better. We work proactively; we work as better leaders, giving service to the people.“

Sanjay’s views are corroborated by that of the Nigerian co-ordinator of the group Pushkraj Moghal. “I lead the Nigerian chapter in this country,” says Pushkraj, “which means that, I lead the team that works for this noble cause. As Hindus, we build our characters, behave in a proper way, which in the end automatically means that society will behave in a proper way.  At the end of the day, it boils down to Dharma which means duty. That is duty to the society. Everyone is supposed to come together irrespective of your religious belief. And do it for the betterment of each other. That is the Hindu way of life. We believe the whole world is a family. One family! We believe in family. Wherever we are born, we try to be the change within change in the society through character building. We do that by interaction, games, connecting ourselves irrespective of our different followings, we are one.”

Pushkraj who says that he was born into the group disclosed to us that he has been a member all the way from India. “When I came to Nigeria, I became part of the organization which was founded in Kenya, I believe in plurality since childhood, I believe that everybody should be treated equally.” 

However, on his part, Sanjay Srivastava confides that he was not born into the group. “I joined when I was 5 years old. I saw a retreat like the one we had today, taking place near my house on a football play ground. That was when I developed interest in learning about the group and taking interest in the games. From there I started and I have been in Nigeria now for 12 years. Six years ago, we had volunteers and we were able to restart here.”

But what does the retreat involve? Sanjay sheds more light on this. “What we do when we meet is, we start with warm up exercise, yoga, we play traditional family home games whose main purpose is to get to know one another and bring harmony between us by encouraging strength building and bonding. We also sing songs about our struggles and about our leaders in history. We discuss issues in the society and we take views from everybody on how ills in the society can be solved. So in one hour meeting time, we have six activities that mean that we do not spend much time on each part of the programme. With these practices we build bonds, friendships, relationships, we increase our knowledge and intellectuality and the most important thing we do is character building!

During the weekly one hour meeting time, we observe that members of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh pray. We asked Sanjay if the prayers indicate that the group is a religious organization. “No,” was his immediate response. “It is not about religion but about humanity and sustainable development of mankind and we have many similarities between Nigeria and India. We have same kind of cultural and traditional way of life. It is that traditional way of life that encourages building of good character that our group is all about. And we also have a philanthropy aspect of it, whereby we donate books to schools and teach young people yoga; it makes them understand us better. It is beyond religion. It is basically for humanity, philosophy and culture. So any person from any religion can participate in it.”

Surprisingly, unlike other such native groupings, the Indian Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh is opened to Nigerians and other citizens wherever the group is located. According to the Nigerian coordinator of the group Pushkraj Moghal, “We have a few Nigerians in our group just like in Kenya. Our activities are attractive to Nigerians but they need to understand that we are ready and open so we have to communicate that to Nigerians because we are one family. There is no hierarchy, it is a family system. Like in family we have grandparents, parents, children and everybody has their own work to do.”

Pushkraj also shared with us the reason he has been a member of the group all his life, “I enjoy eternal freedom. It doesn’t affect my religion. The group allows you to follow your religion, you are still accepted and I can follow mine too. We ensure that whatever we do, we do not hurt the other. That is what I like best. Presently we have about 150 families here and about 40-50 families are in Northern Nigeria: About 25-30 families are in Abuja and perhaps 250 all over Nigeria. And together we try to connect with Nigerian brothers and sisters. We are going to increase the number of families to ensure that society gets better and better. Just like we say, it is a way of life for us.”
Sanjay Srivastava leaves a message for the youths: “The whole world is going through some transitions now and we cannot just say that the government must be responsible for everything. It is our responsibility to bring about the change in the society wherever we are living in. When we become proactive and assertive to bring about the change in the society, the first thing is to bring about the change in our lives. The youths should not be spectators but be involved.”


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