Swami Vivekananda: A Recluse, A Nationalist

Vivekananda, a Bengali origin by birth, has been widely regarded as being symbolic of Indian culture, and Hinduism. Widely regarded as an Indian monk, Vivekananda was, in no manner, less than anything of a nationalist. His writings, and speeches, having influenced people from manifold streams of the Indian Freedom Movement.

It’s a juxtaposition, as to how Gandhiji and Subhas Chandra Bose, who shared different ideologies, came to fall in love with the country, by the words of this great monk. From people of the highest class of the society to the lowest, it is for everyone, that he has worked. He had disciples ranging from almost all the European nations, including some from American backgrounds too!

Narendranath (his real name) was a “sannyasin of high intellect, action, and devotion”, who aimed at preaching, “divine unity of existence and unity in diversity throughout the country.

An eremite person, Vivekananda never took refuge in only being an ascetic. He knew he had to work, for his nation, his motherland, and contribute to building it to the highest class. Vivekananda stressed the importance of a scientific mindset, a scientific temper, and innovation. It was in 1893, when Swamiji was on his way to Chicago, from Yokohama, when he came across Jamsetjee Tata, the billion-dollar businessman. Vivekananda insisted that Tata should try to encourage scientific temper, by building world-class institutions, in India, the like of which hadn’t existed before.

This talk, led to the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science, in Bangalore, India’s premier research and development institute at the moment. This conversation, aboard the Empress, also brought in ideas of the TIFR, TCS, both being at the forefront of the scientific mindset in India.

Vivekananda stressed on industrialisation, the outcome of his thoughts being the TISCO, India’s largest steel producing centre. Subhas Chandra Bose, the famous Indian Independence activist, regarded Vivekananda, as his spiritual teacher. He called Vivekananda a “full-blooded masculine personality – and a fighter to the core of being,” having also explained how Vivekananda found his true self, his inner personality, under the guidance of Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

It is said, that there existed a luxury hotel, named the Watson’s Hotel, in Bombay, before the establishment of the Taj Palace. Swamiji stressed on making Indians conscious of their own strength. Coincidentally, Jamsetjee was thrown out of the Watson’s Hotel, by Europeans. As a consequence, he went on to build the grandest and the most expensive hotel, The Taj, symbolic of India’s wealth and progress.

Vinoba Bhave praised this preaching of Swamiji, he has taught “The same Soul resides in each and all,” and thus, denouncing discrimination. The first Indian Governor-General, Chakravarty Rajagopalachari, epitomised Vivekananda as the saviour of Hinduism in India. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan felt that it was due to Vivekanda’s teachings that Indians could rely on their moral strength and cultural strategy, at a time when Indian youth was doomed in “despair, frustration and hopelessness.”

Even Gandhiji, The Father of the Nation, considered that Vivekananda’s writings had increased his love for nation by a thousand-fold. Vivekananda, after having attended the Parliament of World Religions, at Chicago, in 1893, came to have a profound impact, on almost all sections of the Europeans, a major number of whom converted to Hinduism, to spread the “Indian cultural message,” throughout the world.

Professor John Henry Wright, invited Vivekananda, to give a speech at Harvard University. He was one of the first men, to invite Swamiji, giving the recluse, a distinction. Indologist Max Mueller, a German historian, and professor, was also said to have been influenced by Vivekananda, this leading him to study India, it’s culture, it’s people, it’s tradition and discovering the secrets of the land.

One of the most eminent disciples of Vivekananda was Emma Calve, French Opera singer, who in her autobiography had stated, “It has been my good fortune and my joy to know a man who truly “walked with God,” a noble being, a saint, a philosopher, and a true friend. His influence on my spiritual life was profound. He opened up new horizons before me, enlarging and vivifying my religious ideas and ideals, teaching me a broader understanding of truth. My soul will bear him eternal gratitude.”

Rockefeller made his first philanthropic contribution, after he had a talk with Vivekananda who insisted that he help the poor and distressed people. Will Durant, American Philosopher, and historian, claimed that Vivekananda’s speech was more ‘virile’ than the ones of the Vedic times.

Swamiji also influenced President Sukarno of Indonesia, whom he advised to serve his people, and his nation, remaining strong, and courageous enough, to take any decisive decision frankly. Chelyshev predicted that the memory of Vivekananda would never ever fade away. Chinese scholar, Huan Xin Chuan stated that Vivekananda was the most renowned social figure of modern China, being respected there as well and Chinese socialists carefully studied the works of Vivekananda.

The most notable among his devotees were Margaret Noble, famous as Sister Nivedita, who dedicated her life towards the service of India and it’s people, and their cause. Marie Louise (a French woman) became Swami Abhayananda, and Leon Landsberg became Swami Kripananda, after Swamiji’s instigation.

Vivekananda has continued to play a pivotal role, not only in matters of the Indian governance but also, matters relating to International Affairs, he has spread the light of his enlightened knowledge, almost on every subject and aspect, he could have. “The powers of the mind are like the rays of the sun….when they are concentrated, they illumine.

Vivekananda will continue to live among us, in our ideals, our ways, our culture, tradition, beliefs, and faith, he has been one of the first to introduce the glory of the ancient civilisation and it’s people to the Western world, who simply watched in awe.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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