Swami Vivekananda’s ‘Plague Manifesto’: How can it help us fight the Coronavirus outbreak?
July 15, 2021
We can learn lessons from the leadership of Swami Vivekananda and Sister Nivedita during the plague epidemic in Calcutta in 1898 and 1899, in organizing relief movement and fighting Covid.
When the Plague first made its appearance in Calcutta in May 1898, Swamiji, along with other sannyasis including Swami Sadananda and Bhagini Nivedita wanted to start relief operations immediately to help the afflicted.
The plague epidemic that seized Calcutta created mass hysteria. Relief involved nursing the afflicted in segregation camps and improving public sanitation. When Calcutta was again in the grip of a plague epidemic the following year, a relief programme was instituted on 31 March 1899. Sister Nivedita and Swami Sadananda spearheaded the relief operation.
The first thing Swamiji did was draft a plague manifesto in Bengali and Hindi. Due to the hard work of Sadananda and Nivedita, the manifesto reached the greater part of the population and considerably reassured them.
THE PLAGUE MANIFESTO
Om Salutations to Bhagavan Shri Ramakrishna
Brothers of Calcutta!
1. We feel happy when you are happy, and we suffer when you suffer. Therefore, during these days of extreme adversity, we are striving and ceaselessly praying for your welfare and an easy way to save you from disease and the fear of an epidemic.
2. If that grave disease — fearing which both the high and the low, the rich and the poor are all fleeing the city — ever really comes in our midst, then even if we perish while serving and nursing you, we will consider ourselves fortunate because you are all embodiments of God. He who thinks otherwise — out of vanity, superstition or ignorance — offends God and incurs great sin. There is not the slightest doubt about it.
3. We humbly pray to you — please do not panic due to unfounded fear. Depend upon God and calmly try to find the best means to solve the problem. Otherwise, join hands with those who are doing that very thing.
4. What is there to fear? The terror that has entered people’s hearts due to the occurrence of the plague has no real ground. Through God’s will, nothing of the terrible form that plague takes, as seen in other places, has occurred in Calcutta. The government authorities have also been particularly helpful to us. So what is there to fear?
5. Come, let us give up this false fear and, having faith in the infinite compassion of God, gird our loins and enter the field of action. Let us live pure and clean lives. Disease, fear of an epidemic, etc., will vanish into thin air by His grace.
6. a. Always keep the house and its premises, the rooms, clothes, bed, drain, etc., clean.
b. Do not eat stale, spoiled food; take fresh and nutritious food instead. A weak body is more susceptible to disease.
c. Always keep the mind cheerful. Everyone will die once. Cowards suffer the pangs of death again and again, solely due to the fear in their own minds.
d. Fear never leaves those who earn their livelihoods by unethical means or who cause harm to others. Therefore, at this time when we face the great fear of death, desist from all such behaviour.
e. During the period of epidemic, abstain from anger and from lust – even if you are householders.
f. Do not pay any heed to rumours.
g. The British government will not vaccinate anyone by force. Only those who are willing will be vaccinated.
h. There will be no lack of effort in treating the afflicted patients in our hospital under our special care and supervision, paying full respect to religion, caste and the modesty (Purdah) of women. Let the wealthy run away! But we are poor; we understand the heartache of the poor. The Mother of the Universe is Herself the support of the helpless. The Mother is assuring us: “Fear not! Fear not!”
7. Brother, if there is no one to help you, then send information immediately to the servants of Shri Bhagavan Ramakrishna at Belur Math. There will be no dearth of help that is physically possible. By the grace of the Mother, monetary help will also be possible.
— N. B. In order to remove the fear of the epidemic, you should sing NâmaSankirtanam [the name of the Lord] every evening and in every locality.
(Sources: Complete-Works / Volume 9 / Writings: Prose and Poems. Prabudha Bharata Vol 111; May 1, 2006)
The author is Sah Vichar Vibhag Pramukh, Delhi Prant, SJM