DATELINE ASIA
Volume 17 Number 3
Indian Agents of Change
01 June 2004

At times it was hard to see what difference individuals could make in a country of one billion people, with all its pollution, corruption and poverty. The stories of the people we met did something to challenge this sense of helplessness.

BY NIGEL HEYWOOD
Mahatma Gandhi altered the history of India as he listened to villagers, all over the country, and encouraged them to ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. In the last few months, I have been part of Action for Life, a training programme involving people from 19 countries, who have been travelling in India before moving on to other parts of Asia. We met some of the people who are still on Gandhi’s trail.

As we connected with students, businessmen, families, swamis, politicians, intellectuals, religious leaders, villagers and strangers on the train, we began to hear the many voices of India.

What we heard ranged from the ambition of young graduates to be part of the growing wealthy middle class to the passion of grassroots peoples’ movements fighting for the ‘right to information’ for the poor. We met Muslims and Hindus trapped in the cycle of communal violence, visited organic and self-sufficient ashrams, and met people who are working to empower rural communities through water-harvesting and skills sharing. Underneath the diversity lay a common search for what makes people happy and content.

In some places we were privileged to meet regularly with small groups of local people. We built strong friendships through sharing our life stories and searching together in silence for how God could use our lives to bring change. The central question was, ‘How can we start with ourselves?’

At times it was hard to see what difference individuals could make in a country of one billion people, with all its pollution, corruption and poverty. The stories of the people we met did something to challenge this sense of helplessness.

Barkos Warjri is a senior civil servant in the Indian administration, who has faced humiliation—and risked his life—by refusing to tolerate corruption and injustice within his work. He is motivated by a determination to submit to God’s will.

Mayur Shah works in a small business which sells telephone contracts. He became unhappy about the bribes they were paying to get Government business and convinced his co-workers that honesty would be a better policy. As a result the business lost money—until they realized that because they were saving money by not paying bribes they could afford to lower prices for the customers. The next month they began to reach their old figures again.

In Bangalore, a recent graduate, Shrupti Sampath, had found the courage to talk honestly with her parents after attending a family workshop run by two of our group. ‘One of the main problems was that we never discussed important issues,’ she writes. ‘There was a lack of understanding. We began to tell each other what was really on our minds. I learnt more about my parents’ past and began to understand the reasons for their behaviour.’

After meeting our group, Ashish, a young engineer, decided to repay the railways for train tickets he had not paid for. He says, ‘The right path is tough to tread and is easily left. You need some force to hold your hand and take you out from doubts and dilemmas.’

As a community of four different faiths, our common prayer was, ‘God, guide us. Strengthen our bonds of love with all human beings and teach us to care for all. We cannot change the world but are ready to become the instruments of change in your mighty and caring hands.’ We found ourselves becoming a link in a chain of people who are starting with themselves in the struggle for a more united, cleaner and more just India.

Nigel Heywood is an Australian fine arts graduate now travelling in Asia with IC’s Action for Life training programme.



SEARCH OUR SITE
Unless stated otherwise, all content on this site falls under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence 3.0