What Little More Can We Do to Help the Homeless People this Winter!

Shared few years back on my Facebook timeline! I feel the relevance and hence sharing with you all (unedited)!

This time in Delhi is extremely cold and everyone feels it. As per some reports, in 2014-15, more than 450 people died due to cold in North India. But is it actually low temperature that kills people?

I do not think so.

No one dies of low temperature. People die due to lack of food, clothes and shelter. People die because we do not know how to help each other in need. If a rich person meets a car accident near a slum area, the people in the area will ensure that he is taken to hospital. If a homeless person dies of cold on the street, all those enjoying the luxury ride will hardly give a thought. If you ask them why they did not act, they will say it is the duty of the government, not theirs. This is true most of the time. You may remember the incident that happened few years back when a pregnant woman gave birth to a child on a street of Delhi and no one helped her. She almost died!

What I believe is if we are ready to help each other, then we can save many lives and transform the city into a truly caring one.

On the morning of 24th December, 2015, I was wondering how I could help the homeless people in Delhi and contribute my bit to make them a little warm in this winter. I literally jumped out of my chair and immediately called up a close friend. The moment I told him this idea, he was in. In the evening, we started knocking every door of our residential building. We politely asked them for old/unused clothes which are still wearable and in good condition. In the beginning, we got nothing. Some people did not open their doors even when we told what we were for. But there were also people who contributed and encouraged our effort. Some people even had their old clothes collected in case someone came or asked. Some told us to come back the next day. We went back the next day and people generously contributed.

I had already done a background study of some NGOs that work for homeless people in Delhi. I also thought on how to distribute it ourselves. Though too idealistic, I wanted to distribute the clothes to homeless people on the streets directly or to people in the slum area and wanted to see the smiles on their face.

So on the night of 25th December, we hired a van and went to the office of Mother NGO and one Ashram (Nirmal Hriday, Majnu Ka Tila). Both the offices were closed. Actually, we talked to one of the representatives of Mother NGO before going there. He did not inform us whether the office would be closed. We also presumed that since they worked for homeless people, they would be open round the clock. For Nirmal Hriday Ashram in Majnu Ka Tila, the gatekeeper of the Ashram did not let us talk to the people of the Ashram since it was late and we were asked to hand over the clothes to him or take back with us. We took the clothes with us.

Undeterred, we considered it an opportunity to directly go to the slum area and try our luck. We went to a slum area near a bridge few meters from the Ashram. There we started distributing the clothes. But due to lack of manpower and limited resource, we could not distribute all the clothes (My friend, the driver and me alone would not be able to manage the crowd). We were afraid that we might create a chaos. When resources are limited and people also know it, chances are that they will compete to grasp it and this is mostly true when the things they are competing for are things they do not have and badly need.

We came back disappointed. The next day, on 26th December, we went to Mother NGO’s office and handed the clothes to Mr. Harish Massey, a representative of the NGO. We were not given any receipt but we took a snap with him.

From what we have experienced, I think that the Government of Delhi, the bureaucracy and the common people can do a lot. The civil societies and NGOs are doing their bit.

As for the Delhi Government, it can launch an initiative like a Youth Leadership Program where young people or students can apply for an internship with the Government to help the homeless. The interns can organize into three-four groups in every locality and collect old/unused clothes as well as food. We can safely presume that every household in Delhi has some old/unused clothes that are unnecessarily occupying their cupboards. They are never going to wear these clothes again. These clothes can make people in need warm. These clothes can save many lives. Many people in Delhi waste a huge quantity of food. University Hostels also do the same. People can be organized to collect the good food to distribute to the hungry and starving people in the street. In this way, it will be an opportunity for the youth to serve the people more or less directly and many lives can also be saved. The government can reward the interns with certain incentives to encourage them. For many people, serving the people might be a reward itself.

The Government can do this by joining hands with NGOs. The collected clothes and food can be handed over to NGOs like Goonj, Uday Foundation, Mother NGO and many other organizations, and these organizations can distribute the clothes and food to the people.

Individual efforts are very limiting. It can be effective when an organization or the Government which has the manpower and resources back individual initiatives and efforts. I personally believe that there are many young people who want to serve the poor and the needy, who want to contribute their bit for a better world for everyone, who are ready to act, given the opportunity.

My friend is a student. I am a student. We could not spend more time. We don’t have a lot of money. All that we did was that we spent three days effectively. In those three days, we could collect a good quantity of clothes. We spent only Rs. 300/- for transport. Yet, we were super happy for what we could do to help homeless people. It may make 20 people warm. Out of hundreds, that’s a very tiny number. However, even if we could make only 2 people warm, we would still do it. The lives of those two counts.

Delhi has a population of more than 16 million and the homeless people account for roughly 50 thousand. Even if one out of hundred people in Delhi contributes one clothe, no people in the city would feel cold, no people in the city would die because of cold.

PS. 1. We got two more small bags of clothes after the photo was taken.
2. We donated the clothes to Mother NGO because the organization is working with the Government of NCT Delhi and sound credible. We earlier contacted Goonj and Uday Foundation through phone calls but we could not reach them.

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The Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi and His Ideas

“Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is the last article of my faith…”

– Mahatma Gandhi, at a trial court on March 18, 1922 after he was arrested following the calling off of the Non-Cooperation Movement.

The apostle of truth and non-violence, one of the greatest upholders of peace and harmony humanity has witnessed, and the leader of India’s freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi and his ideas continue to inspire generations. From Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States to Nelson Mandela in South Africa and many other leaders and people around the world who have stood and fought against oppression and injustices of various kinds have been inspired by the ideas, principles and the life of the Mahatma.

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In this essay, some of the most important ideas of the man who changed the world by being simple and humble yet strong and determined are looked into.

View on Modern Civilization

Mahatma Gandhi considered that modern civilization is grounded in a fatally flawed theory of mankind which takes note neither of morality nor of religion. Modern Western Civilization was completely body-centered and materialistic. It attributed to mankind selfishness and infinite multiplicity of wants. It led to a life devoid of meaning and purpose because it had no guiding moral principles.

People in the West and around the world today have slowly realized the callousness of this modernity. Today we see people embracing minimalist and simple lifestyle and slowly turning away from extreme materialism.

In his Hind Swaraj, Mahatma Gandhi also argued that despite all its egalitarian pretensions, modern western civilization is discriminatory, exploitative and violent. All this was manifested in the practice of imperialism that the Western world once aggressively followed.

Today, imperialism is a rejected idea and the very practice of it in any form is condemned by the world community.

The people’s slow appreciation of a life which is not entirely materialistic and rejection of exploitative practices such as imperialism are testaments to the relevance of the ideas of Gandhiji.

The Principle and Idea of Satyagraha

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‘Satyagraha’ literally means ‘holding onto truth’. According to Mahatma Gandhi, Satyagraha is ‘love-force’, ‘soul-force’, or ‘truth-force’- the force which is born of truth and love or non-violence.

Satyagraha is different from both passive resistance and violence. The core principle of Satyagraha is to oppose the tyranny but not the tyrant. A satyagrahi should be ready to give up his life rather than take the opponent’s life.

Satyagraha leads to the conversion of enemies into friends, and peaceful resolution of conflict which is mutually accepted. The purpose of Satyagraha is to substitute force-obedience by willing-obedience and involuntary cooperation by voluntary cooperation.

The Gandhian method of peaceful resolution of conflict is the basis of conflict resolution that has been guiding the United Nations and many other parties in conflict in the contemporary era. The world community endorses the idea of peaceful resolution of conflict in regional, national and international disputes. In this context, Mahatma Gandhi and his ideas are becoming increasingly relevant.

The Idea of Swaraj and Swadeshi

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‘Swaraj’ means ‘self-rule’ and ‘self-restraint’. For Gandhiji, Swaraj is a constitutional, democratic political order as well as the economic independence and self-sufficiency.

Mahatma Gandhi believed that ‘Swadeshi’, meaning economic independence and/or self-sufficiency, is necessary for putting Satyagraha into practice and winning Swaraj meaningfully. He was of the view that freedom was bound to remain a mere philosophical abstraction unless the vast masses had some gainful employment. Therefore, he actively supported village construction, employment of the masses, etc.

Realizing the importance and relevance of Gandhian philosophy of village development and meaningful employment of the masses, the Government of India has been actively pursuing various programs to develop villages and provide employment. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the largest employment guarantee scheme in the world at present, is one fine example.

Sarvodaya- Welfare of All

Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Swaraj’ also means ‘Sarvodaya’ which means ‘freedom for all’ and/or ‘welfare of all’. Sarvodaya philosophy envisioned what Gandhiji called ‘Ramrajya’, which is Gandhiji’s version of ‘Kingdom of God on Earth’.

Though considered idealistic and a utopia, Mahatma Gandhi championed ideas of equality, freedom and justice in his philosophy of Sarvodaya. He wanted a society free from inequalities, exploitation, discrimination and injustices. Is not this what many people especially the youth fighting for? Today, we condemn injustices, we fight against exploitation, and we dream for an equal and just society. The Anti-Slavery March in London against a CNN released undercover footage of what appeared to be a slave auction in Libya (2017), fight for practical ending of caste discrimination in our country, call for gender equality, demand for fundamental right to work- all of these reflect the willingness and urge to ensure a just and equitable society.

Adherence to Just Ends and Means

Noble end demands noble means. The end of an action would be good only if and to the extent the means are good. Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed that ‘end’ is as much important as the ‘means’. Such a noble and truthful dictum remains eternally relevant.

TOWARDS CONCLUSION

Though Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas and principles are appraised and accepted by many, they are not free from criticisms.

Some scholars argue that since Gandhiji largely concentrated on the darker side of modern civilization, he overlooked some of its great achievements and strengths. Since he saw it from the ‘outside’, he oversimplified it and did not fully understand its complex structure.

Mahatma Gandhi’s stress on khadi and simplicity at the cost of huge industries and ostentatious life is considered an anachronism. Critics argue that huge industries are needed for economic self sufficiency.

Besides, critics say that Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha and Ahimsa (non-violence) are very limited. India fought war against Pakistan and China; moreover, non-violence can hardly solve the problems created by nuclear weapons.

Further, some critics argue that in today’s politics, ‘end’ justifies ‘means’; none of the politicians seem to adhere to the Gandhian dictum of ‘just means and just ends’.

Though some of these criticisms hold ground, it does not mean that having some of these limitations make Gandhian principles and ideas out of place.

While Mahatma Gandhi criticized modern western civilization, he also appreciated many of its aspects such as rationality and scientific spirit.

Mahatma Gandhi was not also totally against big industries. He simply wanted that the common masses were not exploited by interested capitalists who were greedy and profit-mongering- a concern shared by many in the world today.

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The great scientist Albert Einstein was right when he said of Gandhi:

“Generations to come, it may be, none will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

The message of the Mahatma, the enlightened soul, might mean differently to different people. Yet, the core of Gandhian philosophy such as notions of forgiveness, cooperation, reconciliation, and non-violence for a lasting peace and harmony are universally accepted and eternally relevant. It is for us to re-examine and look into his philosophy, life and ideas, and see how it can help us improve our world.

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Anyone who wishes to make an attempt to understand Gandhi and his philosophy should make it mandatory to read the following books:

Other noteworthy books on Mahatma Gandhi you can explore: