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EditorialEditorial : Svadharma, One’s Duty


What am I supposed to do in life? What is my duty? What is my way and what is not? These questions are integral to our existence. We become what we do. What we do is our identity. If you are a police officer, it is not only because of a badge and an ID but because you protect people. That is your duty. You do not become a teacher by just getting a job but by your commitment to teaching. Our actions define us and so, it is vital that we know what our actions should be. Svadharma or one’s duty has been a guiding principle of human society. However, there seems to be some confusion about the concept, particularly in recent times, owing to not understanding the Indian varnashrama system. Such confusion mainly centres around how to decide on one’s duty.


Svadharma is what one professes to do. If one vows to teach, then teaching is svadharma. If one is a medical doctor, treating patients is svadharma. In the context of this word, sva means one’s own and dharma means that which one upholds. How does one know what one’s duty is? It is common to arrive at an understanding of one’s duty from the family and society one is born into, and the consequent upbringing one receives. This gives us an idea of what is correct, proper, and acceptable. A husband who is brought up in India might consider it his duty to guard the interests of his wife almost to the extent of apparently controlling her. Whereas a husband who is brought up in Europe might consider that taking care of his wife’s necessities and allowing her to make decisions independently and giving her space would be the best things to do. Further, the idea of duty differs greatly depending on our religious backgrounds. Duty is decidedly a subjective matter. However, there are some moral imperatives that are universal, for example, telling the truth, not hurting others, not stealing, and loving everyone. Birth and society do influence our idea of duty. But what if someone thinks that she or he was born into the wrong family and surroundings? What if someone feels stifled by the beliefs and customs of the place where one was brought up? Then a person develops one’s own idea of duty based on the understanding of oneself and the world. A doctor’s daughter need not be a doctor. A lawyer’s daughter need not be a lawyer. A priest’s daughter need not be a priest. This means that in the final analysis, duty is what one vows to do. It could be based on birth, family, and society, or it could be a choice away from the cultural roots of the society where one was brought up. Once one decides and vows to do something, after proper thinking and consulting traditional wisdom, one should stick to that and it is this sense of holding on to one’s responsibilities taken upon by one, which is generally called ‘duty’.


Duty is not just something we ought to do, but it is the indicator of our personalities. It is just like the insignia of an establishment, which identifies and makes a statement of the institution’s mission. We are known by what we profess to do. No matter how great one may consider one’s duty to be, it could be seen in a totally different light by others. We have to be liberal enough to understand and accept different ideas of duty. I may not like what someone calls one’s duty, but I have to accept it as a possible duty of a person. Differences could arise out of quite insignificant practices. Take for instance, the habit of carrying pens in one’s shirtpocket. Some cultures consider it the mark of a learned person while others ridicule this as a sign of pomposity. Depending on the culture one is born into, a person may or may not carry pens in one’s shirtpocket, all the while thinking that she or he is making a point by this small action. Our ideas of duty are just like this. We hold on to some convictions, which may not be so important after all. But it is definitely a sign of the determination of our personalities whether we hold on to what we believe in or shed our convictions at the slightest pretext.


History is replete with instances of people who deviated from the sense of duty they were brought up with. They took on new and different responsibilities, shouldered them well, and found their deserved places in history. History also abounds with examples of people who marred their lives and the lives of their nations by not performing what they professed. If a ruler, who is supposed to take care of the subjects, does not do so, there may be an uprising. If a teacher, who is supposed to impart knowledge to the pupil, does not do so, there may be a defection by the student. The condition of an individual, a family, a society, and a nation can be made or marred by performing or neglecting one’s duties.


It is common to hear people grumble at the talk of duty because duty is for most, something one has to do, whether one likes it or not. Such an idea of duty is binding. A nurse, who attends to a patient because she has to do it, is unlikely to provide the same comfort as a mother who takes care of her child because she loves to do so. Love makes duty sweet. It makes bearing pain pleasurable. If a person takes up a responsibility, a cause, a person, or an ideal and gives everything for that, such a cause, person, or ideal becomes both a duty as well as an object of love. A soldier who loves one’s country will fight to the death not because of the compensation his family will get but because of the protection he can give to his country. That is the power of love.


True love does not come of selfishness. Since one’s duty cannot be properly done without love, it cannot be properly done without being unselfish. Duty done for duty’s sake, work done for work’s sake, without any motive, without any kind of expectation, would lead us to our higher self. By sacrificing our needs for some higher purpose, we stress on our higher nature by denying the lower nature. Across all species, a mother is the most unselfish. She has no thought other than the well-being of her children. Even when she is at a distance, a mother’s heart constantly prays for her children. That is a prayer no God can ignore. That is why motherhood is worshipped by believers and non-believers alike.


How wonderful the world would be if every person does one’s duty without any expectation, without bothering about the duties of others, without judging others? How nice and peaceful would that world be where duty would be just a synonym of love? If a cook has to cook, let her cook, why grumble? Has change in duties brought any peace to anyone? Once we take up a responsibility, we have to give up our entire being to that task. We have to work with a smile, not a smirk. Work done in such a spirit would ennoble and enlighten us. We can conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles with such a never-say-die attitude. We would work till our last breath. So, let us find our work and give our entire breath to it. Let us find our own way and see the light through it. Let us take the burden of iron and turn it into sweet cotton candy. Let our indomitable wills and ever-expanding hearts make of us personalities who do not just promise but also deliver.


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