Liv­ing life with Scout’s hon­our

Post - - NEWS - YOGIN DE­VAN ●

WHEN my fa­ther breathed his last af­ter liv­ing a most use­ful life through 91 sum­mers, the fam­ily faced a quandary: how to sym­bol­ise at the fu­neral what he lived for most.

He was an in­tel­lec­tual giant, so per­haps some books on heavy phi­los­o­phy should be placed on the cas­ket. How about What Gives Life Its Mean­ing? or Do An­i­mals Have Souls? or even What Is Truth?

De­spite as­cend­ing through the var­i­ous rungs of so­ci­ety un­til reach­ing the top, he main­tained a base of hu­mil­ity. Per­haps a small mound of soil would sig­nify that he was, af­ter all, a farmer at heart.

The dilemma was re­solved when it was de­cided to place my fa­ther’s scout uni­form with its many badges. It epit­o­mised all the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a good scout and which my fa­ther em­bod­ied in such abun­dance: he was trust­wor­thy, loyal, help­ful, friendly, cour­te­ous, kind, obe­di­ent, cheer­ful, thrifty, brave, clean and rev­er­ent.

Scout­ing was close to my fa­ther’s heart. He was ac­tive in the boy scout move­ment for more than seven decades, ris­ing to be an ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber at na­tional level and was awarded mem­ber­ship of the World Baden-Pow­ell Fel­low­ship. He at­trib­uted his per­sonal, ca­reer and com­mu­nity achieve­ments to char­ac­ter moulded through scout­ing.

Scout­ing was started in 1907 in the United King­dom by Lord Robert Baden-Pow­ell. His vi­sion was to cre­ate a bet­ter world.

The first South African troops were formed in 1908. The first scout jam­boree (large gath­er­ing) in South Africa was held in 1936 and B-P was present to ob­serve how scout­ing was spread­ing to youth across the coun­try. Due to the then po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in South Africa, four racially-seg­re­gated scout move­ments es­tab­lished them­selves.

In a his­tor­i­cal sur­vey of In­dian scout­ing in this coun­try, the dis­tin­guished ed­u­ca­tion­ist and scout RG Pillay, who as­cended to be­come the Chief Scout Com­mis­sioner for South Africa, re­called that scout­ing among In­di­ans owed its ori­gin to the Rev­erend Bernard Lazarus Em­manuel Sig­a­money.

Dur­ing his the­o­log­i­cal stud­ies in the UK, Rev Sig­a­money joined the scout move­ment there. On his re­turn to South Africa in the late 1920s, he formed a scout troop in Jo­han­nes­burg where he was sta­tioned. Such was the in­ter­est shown by the boys that in a very short time, three ac­tive scout groups were func­tion­ing in Jo­han­nes­burg.

How­ever, a stum­bling block to fur­ther progress was the re­fusal by the then lead­ers of the Boy Scout Move­ment to grant of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion to the In­dian scouts.

In or­der to ob­tain this recog­ni­tion, Rev Sig­a­money sought the as­sis­tance of the Right Honourable VS Srini­vasa Sas­tri, who had just ar­rived in this coun­try as the first agent-gen­eral for the gov­ern­ment of In­dia.

The far-sighted Sas­tri ad­vised that Rev Sig­a­money whip up in­ter­est in scout­ing among In­di­ans in the then Natal prov­ince. He sur­mised that since In­di­ans were mainly cen­tred in Natal, if the move­ment got a foothold in this prov­ince, then the num­bers would be in­creased and recog­ni­tion would be sure to come by sheer strength of num­bers alone.

Thus, Rev Sig­a­money brought a con­tin­gent of scouts to tour Natal in 1928 and again in 1929. The sight of these scouts march­ing to the rhythm of their bu­gle bands along the streets of Durban, Pi­eter­mar­itzburg and other small towns soon fired the imag­i­na­tion of the In­dian com­mu­nity of Natal.

Scout groups were formed at In­dian schools. The pow­er­ful Natal In­dian Teach­ers’ So­ci­ety formed a sub-com­mit­tee with BD Lalla as chair­per­son to con­trol the ac­tiv­i­ties of these school troops.

Pillay re­called the first com­bined camp held in Durban North with some of the early pi­o­neers of In­dian scout­ing tak­ing part, in­clud­ing him­self, TM Naicker, Ge­orge Singh, Dr So­ma­sun­drum Coop­pan, EV Naidoo, PR Singh, Peter Pahliney, Em­manuel Sig­a­money, R Reg­nath and oth­ers.

De­spite the en­thu­si­asm of the boys, the move­ment made lit­tle head­way due to the ab­sence of of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion. Frus­tra­tion caused some lead­ers to lose in­ter­est and the move­ment was on the verge of col­lapse. It was this dark hour that saw the emer­gence of the man who was later to be de­scribed as the “Fa­ther of In­dian Scout­ing” – Her­bert Sel­ladura Done.

In 1934 he con­vened a meet­ing of school prin­ci­pals and the Sub­ur­ban In­dian Boy Scouts and Girl Guides As­so­ci­a­tion was formed. The 16 prin­ci­pals present vol­un­tar­ily signed a stop or­der on their salaries to meet the salary of the or­gan­is­ing scout­mas­ter.

From then on­wards there was no step­ping back. Camps, hikes and com­mu­nity ser­vice be­came part of the reg­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties of the scouts. The first com­bined camp un­der the aegis of this as­so­ci­a­tion was held in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg and re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of a lo­cal as­so­ci­a­tion in the cap­i­tal city.

Com­mu­nity ser­vice of a high or­der soon won for the scouts the ad­mi­ra­tion of the en­tire com­mu­nity. The heroic res­cue op­er­a­tion by the Ross­burgh Rovers dur­ing the 1935 floods in Clair­wood earned spe­cial recog­ni­tion for the move­ment. The scouts were thanked per­son­ally by the Gover­nor-Gen­eral of South Africa, the Earl of Claren­don, and Sir Syed Raza Ali, the then Agent-Gen­eral for the gov­ern­ment of In­dia, who both vis­ited the scene of the floods. Mean­while, the fight for of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion of the In­dian scout move­ment con­tin­ued.

The as­so­ci­a­tion con­tin­ued its ac­tiv­i­ties in spite of the in­con­ve­nience and de­lays caused by pur­chas­ing all its re­quire­ments from Lon­don.

In 1936, while trav­el­ling from Kenya to Lon­don, Lord Baden-Pow­ell asked for a meet­ing with In­dian scouts when his ship reached Durban. A rally was ar­ranged. So im­pressed was he with the smart­ness and turn out of the scouts that he de­layed his de­par­ture to Eng­land in or­der to at­tend a meet­ing of the South African Scout Coun­cil in Bloem­fontein.

At this meet­ing, a for­mula was adopted for the suc­cess­ful func­tion­ing of the scouts of the four racial groups in this coun­try through peace­ful co-ex­is­tence and friendly co-op­er­a­tion. A spirit of cor­dial­ity and true broth­er­hood ex­isted among all scouts and lead­ers.

The 1960s brought its own chal­lenges for In­dian scout­ing. There was the move­ment of set­tled com­mu­ni­ties in terms of the Group Ar­eas Act, which re­sulted in scout­ing com­ing to a stand­still in well-es­tab­lished ar­eas such as Stella Hill, Cavendish, Cato Manor, Durban North and Queens­burgh in Durban, as well as sub­urbs around Pi­eter­mar­itzburg.

The peo­ple of these ar­eas were re­set­tled in the mas­sive hous­ing schemes of Chatsworth and North­dale. New scout groups had to be formed in these new ar­eas and suit­able lead­ers had to be found and trained. Be­fore long, 17 groups were formed in Chatsworth alone. Lo­cal as­so­ci­a­tions were also es­tab­lished in Umz­into, Port Shep­stone and New­cas­tle. Greater at­ten­tion was given to scouter train­ing.

In the in­ter­na­tional sphere, mem­bers of the In­dian scout as­so­ci­a­tion were in­cluded in the South African del­e­ga­tion to the World Con­fer­ence held ev­ery two years.

Un­for­tu­nately, the pres­ence of del­e­ga­tions com­pris­ing all four racial groups at these in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences would have cre­ated a false im­age over­seas of an in­te­grated South Africa at a time when apartheid was at its height. In the world jam­borees, the South African scout con­tin­gents were also mul­tira­cial since 1957 and the lo­cal boys mixed freely with scouts from around the globe.

That merit alone counts was clearly ev­i­dent at the 13th World Jam­boree in Ja­pan in 1971. South Africa had to choose one rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the World Youth Fo­rum which was held in con­junc­tion with the Jam­boree.

There was pleas­ant sur­prise when the South African boys – the ma­jor­ity of them white – chose Vi­vian Reddy of the In­dian As­so­ci­a­tion to rep­re­sent South Africa. A fur­ther pleas­ant shock came when Reddy – to­day a com­mu­nity leader and suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man – was cho­sen to be the mem­ber of the nine-man steer­ing com­mit­tee of the Fo­rum by the African Re­gion.

It was only in 1977 that the boy scout move­ment united into one in­te­grated or­gan­i­sa­tion free for all, re­gard­less of race or re­li­gion. In 2000, the SA Scout Move­ment opened its doors to girls too, mak­ing the move­ment open to all gen­ders.

Un­til a few decades ago, many schools of­fered scout­ing for boys as an ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity af­ter school hours. Girls could join the guides move­ment. Teach­ers would be scout masters and guide mistresses.

Boys and girls de­vel­oped into young men and women of good char­ac­ter and strong lead­er­ship skills. They had great ex­pe­ri­ences in the out­door pro­grammes and ac­quired con­fi­dence and self-re­liance that they would not have been able to gain any­where else.

One of the long­est serv­ing scouts in the coun­try, VK Naidoo, who joined the move­ment in 1959 and has been ac­tive with the Su­rat Hindu Scout Group since 1963, said it was a pity that the num­bers of In­di­ans join­ing the scout move­ment had dwin­dled.

“There is no doubt that scout­ing builds mo­ral fi­bre. Scout­ing fills in the gaps be­tween school­ing and home life and builds skills, fit­ness, and char­ac­ter in youth and adults. It nur­tures an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the out­doors and also makes it eas­ier to lead a vir­tu­ous life.

“Per­son­ally, I have learnt the joy of mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. Scout­ing has given me sat­is­fac­tion in help­ing boys be­come young men, and good cit­i­zens,” he said.

Per­haps, Vi­vian Reddy should in­clude on his bucket list a cam­paign to woo more boys and girls to be­come scouts to live out Lord Baden-Pow­ell’s mis­sion to build solid val­ues that in­spire you to leave the world a lit­tle bet­ter than you found it.

De­van is a me­dia con­sul­tant and so­cial com­men­ta­tor. Share your thoughts with him on: yo­gind@meropa.co.za

VK Naidoo, one of the long­est-serv­ing scouts, with an award from Su­rat Hindu Scouts.

Scout­ing honed Vi­vian Reddy’s lead­er­ship skills.

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