Ramakrishna Mission offers services for the benefit of all people, without distinction
Swami Vivekananda returned to India in January 1897 after his triumphant visit to America and England, where he had preached the eternal principles of Vedanta. Among the other things that impressed him in the West were the well-organised institutions, through which the interests of common people were being served there. He knew that such powerful organisations were yet to take root in India and felt a pressing need for an organisation to work for the regeneration of the nation. It was a momentous occasion when he inaugurated the Ramakrishna Mission on 1 May 1897 in Kolkata. The Mission was registered as a society in 1909.
It is 120 years since the Ramakrishna Mission was founded. The Mission, along with its twin organisation Ramakrishna Math, is spearheading a global non-sectarian movement, which has been silently working to catalyse the spiritual regeneration of humanity. Today, Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission have 146 centres spread all over India, and 49 centres in other 21 countries. The twin organisations conduct medical service in the form of hospitals, clinics, and mobile dispensaries; educational work in the form of schools, colleges, coaching centres, non-formal education centres, and a university; rural development and tribal welfare work, relief work in times of disaster; and spiritual and cultural work, including publication of books and journals. They run homes for the aged, orphanages, training centres for farmers, and academies for the disabled. They feed the poor and the hungry and provide them with education and training to become self-sufficient. In 2015-16, about H665 crore was spent on different service activities.
The Mission has had varied experiences in its long journey as a service-oriented organisation. It started providing medical facilities at sacred places of pilgrimage such as Varanasi, Hardwar and Vrindaban more than a hundred years ago, when there were hardly any such facilities available there. From their humble beginnings, the Mission’s branches at these places have now grown into multidisciplinary hospitals. Although, in recent decades, many other hospitals and clinics have come up in these places, quite a number of poor people still prefer Ramakrishna Mission hospitals as they can avail of medical facilities either completely free or at nominal rates there. Besides serving the poor and needy, these hospitals provide an opportunity for well-meaning doctors to offer their free services. Apart from doctors, the Mission is proud to have a strong support base of dedicated volunteers from various vocations who have taken up the vow of service. The Mission owes much of its reach and efficiency to these volunteers.
In the educational field, the Ramakrishna Mission is a name to be reckoned with. Nearly 400,000 students, ranging from toddlers to research scholars, were on the rolls in the Mission’s educational institutions in 2015-16. Nearly a quarter of these students came from socially backward communities. The Mission’s residential schools at Deoghar, Mysuru, Narendrapur (Kolkata), Purulia and other places are recognised as premier institutions. Along with emphasis on academic excellence, special attention is paid to the development of noble character of students by imparting them values of education. Marked by cleanliness, punctuality, discipline and an elevating atmosphere, the Mission’s schools and colleges have won appreciation from different quarters.
The Ramakrishna Mission has an impressive record of service among the tribal population of India. In the tribal-dominated North East, the Mission has branches in Cherrapunjee, Shillong, Aalo, Narottam Nagar, etc. Except in Itanagar, where the Mission runs a big hospital, most of the other centres in the North-East run schools for tribal boys and girls, which have become quite popular. The other major work is in Chhattisgarh for the development of the Abujmarh tribe in Narainpur District. The district and the surrounding areas, described as a ‘tangled knot of hills’, has thousands of tribal families inhabiting some 233 far-flung villages over a sprawling area of 4,000 sq km. which remains cut off from the rest of the civilised world for about 6 months a year during the rainy season even to this day. In 1985, the Mission started a branch in Narainpur for providing multifarious services to the tribal community. Priority is given to first-generation learners in the Mission’s school there. The efforts of the Ramakrishna Mission have contributed to the emergence of a literate generation paving the way for a social change in these hilly areas.
The Ramakrishna Mission began its first organised relief operation within two weeks of its being founded. Since then relief has been a major plank of the humanitarian service programmes of the Ramakrishna Mission. Relief has been undertaken almost every year on different scales and in various forms in one part of the country or the other in response to natural calamities such as cyclone, flood, earthquake and drought, and man-made disasters. In dispensing relief, the Mission takes recourse to a range of activities starting from distribution of cooked food to construction of houses, thus meeting both the immediate and long-term needs of victims. In the recent past, following the unprecedented devastation caused by the cloudburst and flash floods in Uttarakhand in 2013, the Mission launched massive relief operations which lasted for several months.
Being a non-profit organisation, the Rama–krishna Mission depends for all its activities on the kind donations from its devotees and well-wishers, grants from Central and various state governments, and financial assistance from private and public sector enterprises. As the Mission strives to keep its accounting system completely transparent, it has earned credibility in the eyes of both public and the government. Donors know that their contributions to the Mission will be spent entirely for the very purpose for which they are made and will reach the intended beneficiaries without fail. The Mission has been able to successfully keep up its standard mainly because its monks supervise the service programmes at every stage.
The Ramakrishna Mission has successfully collaborated with many corporate bodies in executing their corporate social responsibility (csr) initiatives. Among the companies with which the Mission has worked, mention may be made of Infosys, itc, Peerless, sail and Tata. There are many other large and small enterprises which have chosen the Mission as their csr partner.
The Ramakrishna Mission is not an ngo in the ordinary sense of the term. The government of India has recognised it as a ‘charitable non-commercial organisation’ and as an ‘established voluntary agency’. The Central and State governments invite the Mission to be part of its various projects in different sectors. The members of the Mission are often nominated as honorary members in different committees set up by the government.
Apart from the multifarious fields in which it is engaged and the magnitude of the work it undertakes, the Mission has several unique features. It is primarily a spiritual organisation. All the service activities of the Mission are regarded by its members as means to the attainment of the goal of human life which, according to Sri Ramakrishna, is realisation of God. Here, charity to the poor and the needy is not prompted by egotistic feelings, but is conceived as service rendered in a spirit of worship. Despite all these religious colourings, the doors of the Mission are open to people belonging to all religions. And, the services conducted by it are meant for the benefit of all people – without any distinction based on caste, colour, creed or class.
(In the present article, ‘Ramakrishna Mission’ is used to refer to both Ramakrishna Mission and Ramakrishna Math, which, although distinct legal entities, are governed by the same set of people and have their joint headquarters at Belur Math in Howrah District, West Bengal.)