Secular Events

Proposal For A Management-Oriented Non-Profit Organization To Promote Freethought In India

A group of activists, academics and leaders of the Freethought Movement have come together to propose the foundation of a well-organized, non-profit, freethought organization in India.

Summary: This is a proposal for a management-oriented approach to a Nirmukta organization. It is in three parts- (1) establishing why such an approach is needed, (2) presenting a mission statement and (3) proposing clear objectives to be implemented immediately.

Introduction

Nirmukta had its first online “meeting” on Saturday the 23rd of January, 2010. The members of the Nirmukta team who participated in this meeting include Prof. Narendra Nayak president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA), Dr. Prabhakar Kamath, Pankaj Kulkarni, Siddharth Singh, Ajita Kamal and Kedar Kulkarni. We also had a guest panelist, Blair Scott, the National Affiliate Outreach Director for American Atheists, to help bring us a unique perspective from an established freethought organization in the United States. While the meeting was beset with technical problems, some avoidable by refining protocol and familiarizing ourselves with the format, and some unavoidable (such as the bandwidth issue), we were still able to come up with some good ideas and share them with the group.

After the meeting, the members of the panel got together online and began plans to form a modern organization built on a management-oriented model and designed to bring the Indian freethought movement into the 21st century. Professor Nayak, who has spent more than 30 years traveling the country exposing godmen and fighting superstition, set out to describe the crucial issues that needed to be addressed towards enabling FIRA to be as effective as it can be. His write-up, posted here at the same time as this document, was taken into consideration during the planning of the next steps moving forward. After days of deliberation we are pleased to announce our ideas here.

This document is divided into three sections. The first section lays out the reasons why a management -oriented organization is needed. The next section contains the mission plan for the proposed organization. The final section proposes some immediate steps to get the ball rolling.

In order to avoid confusion, all references to ‘Nirmukta’ in this article hereon refer to the proposed organization and not the website, unless otherwise stated.

1. The Need for Management Tools in Promoting Freethought

The models of social revolution adopted by the great thinkers of the past were very successful in the contexts within which they operated. Without their efforts we would not have progressed as a society to where we are today. However, we must acknowledge that the world we live in has changed drastically. Let us step back and look at the the factors affecting the popularity of science and freethought today.

There are a few different aspects of the social infrastructure of a nation that are influential in shaping the culture of the land. All good social movements target these different aspects in order to appeal to people. As far as the Freethought Movement is concerned, many individuals are working extremely hard in their respective areas- specific aspects of India’s social infrastructure.

Consider two of these freethinkers, Prof Narendra Nayak and Dr. Meera Nanda. The former’s area of focus is debunking superstition and god-men through on-ground activism. The latter is an academic thinker. Both these individuals are performing extremely important roles within the context of promoting a reason-based way of life in India.

Professor Nayak’s work is without comparison. However, as his recent write-up here says, there are many areas where he needs support. He is one exceptional man with a few dedicated helpers. He needs an army. Dr. Meera Nanda has done so much intellectual heavy-lifting to provide us with the knowledge we need towards carrying out our goals. Yet, her ideas sail by causing barely a ripple in our mass consciousness. Prof. Nayak is the president of the largest Rationalist organization in the country. Dr Nanda has written some of the most in-depth books on secularism and religion in India. Yet, why do we look around and see so much superstition and blind belief? If the people and ideas are there, then what is missing?

We propose that the missing element is management with a vision.freethought-in-india

The means of information creation, replication and mass transmission have increased exponentially in just a few years. Ideas today, competing in the marketplace of ideas, are not considered worthy of merit for simply being objectively true or good for humanity at large. For example, Dr Nanda’s and Prof. Nayak’s works are tremendously good for mankind, and they are both dedicated to the search for truth, and yet the value of their work remains unappreciated. It turns out that ideas competing in the marketplace of ideas are considered worthy of merit only if they are popular within a certain cultural framework. We live in a society today where fame is not just easy, quick and short-lived, but also highly marketable. Profound ideas and inane fads are both competing for the same attention space. This new world of technology and consumerism requires a clarity of approach. It requires management. Only a management-oriented approach can create the efficiency required for our ideas to survive and grow within this new cultural reality.

Without a management plan to organize the freethought movement we are each just a lone voice lost in a cacophony of screaming sounds

In the late 20th century, many social movements around the world began looking for ways of tackling the problems within this new social reality. Management models from economics were applied to non-profit work, and the largest social movements in the modern era were founded. Today, the organizations that adopt these models are the ones that influence culture the most. They form vast networks of activists– their loyal base. They form academic ‘think-groups’ to generate and influence public policy They control media networks, and provide sufficiently meaningful social alternatives for the masses. They use innovative market-driven and viral approaches to fund raising. Without being aware of it, most of us are adrift in an ocean of cultural ideas that these new and powerful social movements influence heavily.

A management-based approach can help connect Prof. Nayak with thousands of individuals, activists and resources around the country, lend media power to his actions and provide him with access to the best information available on any topic. He will have the backing of legal experts and seasoned reporters. Most important of all, we can provide the activists on the ground with the best logistic and financial support if we establish a management-oriented approach to promoting freethought. The same incentives apply across the board to all areas where people are working to promote science and reason in India. In order to become big enough to influence culture, media and public policy, Nirmukta must organize itself on the principles of efficient management. If the freethought movement is to survive and flourish in India- if the work of the great thinkers and activists of our time are to continue to benefit us all, we must adopt the tools of management and marketing.

Many of our ideas cannot be implemented until we register Nirmukta as a non-profit organization later this year, build an operational structure for this organization, and begin using our innovative marketing-based approach towards generating funds needed to move forward. However, there are some ideas that we can begin implementing right away. But first, we need to state clearly what our overall goals are.

2. Mission Statement

Imagine an India where the forces of religion and superstition do not play a role in public life or government policy. Imagine a day when science is celebrated and rational thinking is upheld as a fundamental duty of all citizens. Imagine an India where human rights is valued over dogmatism and closed-mindedness, an India where people can be free of the caste chains that bind them and the blind allegiance to authority that keeps them ignorant, an India that rises above mindless rhetoric and addresses the real suffering of millions of its citizens. This is the India that we envision through Nirmukta. India must be freed of its shackles! India needs Nirmukta!

The general objectives of the proposed Nirmukta organization are in line with those of the Nirmukta.com website outlined here. In addition to those, this mission statement will refine our general objectives further in order to envision an action plan. Broadly speaking, four distinct areas of action are identified. These areas are:

  1. Community
  2. Media
  3. Think Groups
  4. Activism

Community refers to social and cultural interaction within and between local groups of freethinkers in India. Media involves both traditional as well as innovative approaches to information exchange. Think Groups are bodies comprised of secularist representatives in academia and positions of influence. Activism comes under the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA).

The underlying facilitator is financial resources. The efficient management of these four areas of action and the procurement of funds to enable each area to function at its maximum capacity will be a key role of the Nirmukta organization.

flowchart1

The Nirmukta organization will be registered as a non-profit organization operational by the end of this year, 2010. Some organizational infrastructure will be built up in the time leading up to officially becoming an NGO. Once the organization is registered, a large network of individuals and groups will come together over the next few years to manage the four areas that have been identified above. This is the overall mission of Nirmukta.

3. Immediate Objectives:

The mission statement is designed to be simple and straightforward. The declarations are very general, simply stating the overall goals that will be achieved. To actually move forward, we need specific objectives.

The first step in this direction was to create the Nirmukta Management Committee (NMC). This committee consists of individuals with experience in management solutions and working with NGOs. At the time of writing this document the NMC is still in the process of recruiting additional members to its core group. Over the next few months this committee will oversee the formation of the Nirmukta organization, after which it will be dissolved and replaced with capable individuals in the form of an official executive committee under the watch of an elected advisory board.

The NMC has come up with a concise preliminary action-plan to be implemented immediately. This plan breaks up the immediate objectives into three simple points. Only the outline of each one of these points is presented here. Details under each point will fall under the oversight of individual committees for each.

1. Local Representatives: We will work with individuals who share our ideals, living in major cities all over India. These folk will plant the seeds in their local area towards forming a local/regional center for freethought. The most effective of these individuals will become regional representatives for Nirmukta. Once a sufficient number of these individuals are on board, we will bring together our national level academics and activists to endorse and provide resources to each local chapter. All representatives of local groups will have a voice in the national organization.

The Local Representatives Committee will be in charge of finding these representatives. The members of this committee will be good at social networking and organizational and people management. This committee will put together a list of potential representatives, with contact information and other relevant data.

2. Media Network: Our first steps towards creating a media network will involve constructing a vast array of websites that can determine the online cultural narrative on science and freethought in India. We have already purchased some important domain names to begin our expansion online. Some other already established websites will be approached and affiliated with Nirmukta. We realize that this is an unconventional approach, but it is our opinion that in the modern IT context such an approach will work best (until the organization is founded) to lay down the foundation for our media network. Our end goals in this area include expanding into print media, film, and television, promoting independent art and stage projects and eventually establishing a major publishing house. However, to begin with we are going to build a series of websites.

The Media Network Committee will be in charge of this department. Members of this committee will initially consist of web designers & developers, writers, editors, researchers and potential webmasters. The Media Network will eventually expand to include other media persons such as reporters, filmmakers etc. This committee will put together a list of domain names (acquired and not acquired), potential areas of interest, and interested individuals.

3. Activists & Academics: The final point in the preliminary action-plan involves contacting established academics and activists. This is an ongoing process. At this stage we would like all members of the Nirmukta team to help in building a list of activists and academics. If you know of an activist or academic who may be a good addition to the team, please approach them directly or pass the idea on to us. It is important to note that for academics and activists there are absolutely no requirements at this stage for becoming associated with Nirmukta. The idea is to help promote what they already do. For academics this means making sure their ideas filter down into influencing policy and the culture at large. This group will include professors, teachers, lawyers, scientists and so forth. For activists, this means providing them with access to a vast nation-wide network to do what they do best. The plan is that eventually our activists will come under the FIRA and that intellectuals will be incorporated into various think groups and action networks as advisers and professionals. This list will be maintained by the NMC.

The NMC will also be involved in other more specific aspects of planning the organization. We have not included any of those here because this proposal is designed to highlight the immediate and concrete steps we can take ASAP. A separate series of documents will be maintained by the NMC to compile details and long-term strategies.

The crucial work ahead lies in harnessing our individual passions for freethought towards a unified plan to get things done in India. We need every freethinking Indian who is concerned about the state of religiosity and superstition in our country to stand up beside us and participate in the organizational process. We will be posting further notices as we go along, detailing progress and requesting participation at each stage. We are counting on you all to help us build a strong community of freethinkers in India.

Here’s to a bright future for freethought in India!

This document was put together by the Nirmukta Management Committee

If you have any ideas, suggestions of solutions that might help towards completing the initial objectives, please get in touch with us at: nmc (at) nirmukta (dot) com.

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4 Comments

  • Dear Ajita,

    Feels great to see a concrete action plan. We need to ask ourselves one more question:

    Why is religion/belief based thinking so pervasive ?
    Because it catches us young. People are indoctrinated at a very young age. That is why one of the *immediate* objectives should be develop a curriculum which is may be a year long , or 2 summer months long intended to develop critical thinking skills among children. I was one of the best performers in my school as far as academics were concerned but when I look back now, the current national curricula (ICSE, CBSE etc) DID NOT make an explicit effort to inculcate questioning and rational thinking in a way I could use it in my day to day life — science today in textbooks is more about facts and problem solving. (Refer this to know what exactly I am saying http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gK2EEwzjPQ ) .

    May be we can talk to Richard Dawkins Foundation or other similar well set up organizations to help us develop such a curriculum which is specific to our scenario. We will need to find interested academics to start with. But this in my opinion is the ONLY long term solution that is going to work and that is why we should list it down as our immediate objective.

    Here’s another organization which does exactly what I am talking about in USA: http://camp-quest.org/

    Murthy

    • Thanks for your comment, Murthy.

      We have discussed the exact subject you bring up many times here on Nirmukta. Some of us have even listed all the areas in which the Nirmukta organization can possibly begin to provide alternatives for the kids. The plans to develop a curriculum, and many more such plans have been discussed, and will continue to be discussed over the next year and more. So, I want to suggest that this is not something new. For example, when you talk about how “science today in textbooks is more about facts and problem solving”, I wrote about that in 2008, just 2 months after Nirmukta was formed: http://nirmukta.com/2008/12/20/why-indias-science-standards-must-improve/ .

      I have visited the Michigan camp quest and have spoken with its organizers. I just want you to know that these are things that we are not unaware of.

      However, that is not our immediate focus because of one big reason. We do not have an organizational structure to do any of this! This is why we are planning an organizational approach. I do not mean to sound as though your ideas are not good- in fact they are very good. Such projects are exactly what the Nirmukta organization will set out to accomplish, and we need those like you to participate in its execution. However, we must FIRST establish the organization. This is what our proposal is concerned with on an immediate basis. This is a management-oriented approach. Many people have ideas. In India, ideas are very cheap, as you very well know. In order to actually implement these ideas, however, we need action.

      We have three clear steps that are laid out. These steps require action. Would you be interested in contributing towards one of these steps? Perhaps you can be a local representative? What can you do to help actually shape the organization? As you know, nothing can be done without money. Today, we spend many hours each day, networking, writing emails and losing sleep. Only when the organization is registered as an NGO and a management plan is implemented, can we begin to generate sufficient funds to make an impact in India. This is the approach we are taking.

      We hope you will join us!

    • To put it in simpler terms, there is no functionally effective ‘we’ yet. Establishing that is the objective of the proposal.

  • India needs well established rationalist organizations to promote science and free thought in our country. I appreciate and support nirmukta efforts for this.

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