Woman herself is a source of power, no one can empower her
Nivedita Raghunath Bhide, 58, set out from Wardha at the age of 19 with a determination to serve the society. She is the vice-president of Swami Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari, and was chosen for Padma Shri (though from Maharashtra, she has been nominated from Tamil Nadu) this year to honour her social contributions. Humble and hard-working, she says the announcement 'made her uneasy'; since the work carried out by the Kendra is 'the contribution of all the members and singling out one person is not appropriate'.
Bhide has authored several book on Swami Vivekananda and continues to motivate through her talks on women empowerment, rural development, health and related issues.
Excerpts from an interview with TOI ...
Q. What has been the motivating factor behind your early interest towards social work?
A. Ours is a middle class home. We're a big family consisting of my parents, three sisters and three brothers. But we were always taught to help the needy, and my parents were socially oriented and socially conscious. We had only 2-3 pairs of clothes, but we had many story books brought by my father. I used to read all of them. Ever since STD 8 or 9, I started feeling that I should do something for the society and country. I wanted to go to the interior areas and work. In 11th grade, I read about Swami Vivekanada Kendra. Founder Eknathji Ranade had given a press release asking young men and women to work for the country by being a part of the Kendra. It said that the Kendra will train young men and women and send them to interior areas for social activities. I told my father my interest in joining the organization. He said that one should at least be a graduate to join the organization. When I wrote my last paper for BSc, I came home and wrote a letter to Kanyakumari, expressing my willingness to join. Eknathji interviewed me in Nagpur. He said I was too young, and told me to come after two years. I said, "I want to do social work. If you don't enrol me, I'll join another place." He came to my house and got my parents' permission.
Q. What are some of the earlier memories of the example set by your parents?
A. My father was an active member of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, Theosophical Society and Gyaneshwari Mandal. There was one temple near our house. My parents rendered their services there. Near our house we also had a well. It was dry before we shifted to Wardha, and later, it always had water. Father said it was God's grace and all the nearby people including Dalits were welcome to draw water from the well. There were no differences in our house. Anyone could come and stay with us. We were taught of developing oneness with the society; to seeing everyone as our own. That left a deep impression. Father used to give free tuitions to poor students. Till he was 85 years old, he taught such kids lovingly. He started as a postman and retired as a superintendent of postal services.
Q. Did you face any objections from your family or relatives once you decided to dedicate your life for society?
A. My father wanted me to do PhD. I used to always come first in college and studied with open talent scholarships. I was first in Wardha district and got a rank in the university. I told him, "I can study well and get good marks, but I don't think my wisdom is increasing. I want to get knowledge of life and that is why I want to work for the society. If this is my path, why should I linger on other paths for a longer time". He was supportive of my decision. There were tears in my mother's eyes, but she never stopped me. Some people told me that only those with physical or financial difficulties join social organizations. But I was determined.
Q. You have authored several books on Vivekananda. When did you first start reading on him?
A. Once I joined, we used to be trained from morning 4.30am till night. We had many classes coupled with activities. During that time, I was to rest for a month owing to kidney problem. That's when I finished reading Swamiji's complete works. That was my first introduction into Swami Vivekananda. I found magic and fire in his work. Materialism, disintegration of a family or individual, meaninglessness of human life — I found relevance in Swami Vivekananda's thoughts, which he claims he has taken from the Vedas. He had taken the pertinent essence of it and presented it by adapting it to the present context. I was charmed and continue to be charmed by it even today. On Swamiji's 150th birth anniversary, I again read his complete works. There were so many things which weren't clear to me earlier and were striking. It has freshness and relevance.
Q. What went into writing the books?
A. I never had the intention to write a book. I was asked to contribute articles to kendra's magazine called Yuva Bharati. When I started writing, someone expressed their liking for it and asked if we could publish it in the form of a book. When I was in Arunachal Pradash, we thought that a book in simple Hindi on the stories of Rama, devotees of Shankara and so on were needed. Assignments kept coming. On Vivekananda's 150th anniversary, many volunteers insisted on a book on Swamiji's thoughts on women and their relevance in today's world. That was another book. I used to write articles on difficulties Swamiji faced in America. That became another book. Founder Eknathji Ranade was a great man and I wrote his biography. I've only written for work's sake.
Q. You've spoken extensively on women empowerment ...
A. The issue of women's empowerment is close to me. I feel we are going in the wrong direction when it comes to 'feminism'. A woman herself is a source of power and no one else can empower her. She has to realize this and manifest it. She is not separate from the family, society or creation. Her empowerment means the empowerment of society. There is no individualistic approach to it. This is what Swamiji says. The power can either be created or destroyed. We need to understand its constructive aspect.
Q. What are some of the works carried out by the Kendra?
A. We have carried developmental activities all over the country. We have works in 830 places including tribal and rural areas. We run open schools, run medical centres, help senior citizens. Inculcating self confidence in youth is also our motto.