Zameendaari System in Freemasonry
Is there a society of equals or is there imperialism: a blunt commentary
by Ujjwal Dey
Truth is bitter and I don’t have a sweet tooth. A spade should not be duped into believing it is more privileged by stating that it is “a spatulous device for abrading the surface of the soil” or “an instrument of manure relocation”.
Ranks and rewards do as much disservice in civil society as they do service when they are rightfully and dutifully implemented. Unfortunately, Freemasonry hasn’t escaped the human nature of greed, corruption and personal agenda. One should be wary of hero-worship, whether in the basic unit of a Lodge or the Regional or National bodies. Idea and ideals need to have a fan-following. Heroes need to take a bow and lead by example. Inspiring change is better than using a surgical knife to force change. Hero-worship leads to idolizing a person instead of the institution.
As Masons who have been to various Lodges and functions, you must have witnessed the decision-making in the Lodges. Is it a round-table discussion of equal Master Masons? Or is it a despotic dictation by one or two individuals controlling the Lodge. We shy away from discussing such matters. Because as Indians we have done the same with our State and Central Governments. As long as our work gets done, as long as we get our paycheck, we don’t bother questioning the workings of a corporate nor that of elected officials. Such is the apathy of highly progressive and ancient civilization of India today. It is when knowledgeable and active citizens ignore the evil in society when society accepts the evil as normal culture of day-to-day living. Evil gets assimilated and becomes natural lifestyle of the society. Thus begins the degradation of a nation or an institution.
A Lodge is the most basic unit in Freemasonry. Its running is to be by a collective group of volunteers. Instead, it is often seen that each Lodge is run like a personal fiefdom by one or two “Zameendaars”. After balloting for a candidate the next big and important voting in a Lodge is the election of the Worshipful Master. Yet, this is not a decision open for discussion in most of the Lodges. There are a handful of privileged Master Masons in such Lodges who play “king-maker”. So within a year somebody becomes a Warden. Or perhaps without attending more than one meeting a year, somebody gets elected as the next Worshipful Master. They go on as puppets for promoting the Zameendaar’s personal agenda. It would have been okay if it stopped there. But then after passing the Eastern Chair, these puppets are introduced to the political machinery of the Region and the Grand Lodge. Here the cronyism affects more than just a bunch of Masons in a Lodge. Here the imperialism and puppetry of the Zameendaars affects and influences the fate of Freemasonry in the entire region or nation.
Are we a Masonic institution or a glorified Rotary Club or Elitist Golf Club? Each Lodge should ask this to themselves. What is the reason for its existence? Is it just something to engage your idle time? Is it to promote the concept of fraternity and brotherhood of man? Is it to meet like-minded people? Is it to achieve personal ambitions? Are we here just to collect funds for some poor village? Aren’t professionally-run NGOs doing it better? Is there more to Freemasonry than monthly dinner and drinks?
When the king-makers or Zameendaars thus control the most basic unit of Freemasonry, you can be sure that the affect is seen throughout the region and the nation. If every member of a Lodge took active interest in the workings of the Lodge, such a situation would not arise. But just as most citizens remain spectators in our national political circus, the same is the case with Freemasonry. If you have to request, remind and beg members to attend the regular once-a-month meetings, then how can you hope to have good men in charge of its workings? So the Secretary and the Treasurer remain unchanged for decades. No one interested in that paperwork burden. And vested interests using and controlling the Lodge go on to wield their autocracy by manipulating financial and Masonic decisions.
As long as an individual Master Mason is considered powerless inside the Temple, such fiefdom has no end. When was the last time you asked for the breakup of your annual membership dues? When was the last time you checked the bill for the banquet? When was the last time you have seen the Secretary or the Treasurer attend a regular meeting? When was the last time you looked into the Projects undertaken for charity? Do you know how much funds are accumulated with your Lodge? Do you know who decides the financial issues affecting the Lodge every year due to changing economy? Is there a remote-control hierarchy in your Lodge? Puppetry of the Craft? Such uncomfortable questions need to be addressed by those attending regularly and believing in the rich tradition of Freemasonry.
Transparency in Governance has to start with the most basic unit – the Lodge. Having unanimous decisions is great. But being aware of alternatives is better. If we are free and accepted – why can’t we also be free-thinkers with a mind of our own?
An ARGM is assigned to each Lodge for supervision. I believe that if the Worshipful Master cannot explain the operational and financial decisions taken under his tenure, then the ARGM should inform the RGM about the poorly functioning officers of the Lodge. Every officer has a duty, a labour to be borne by him for the functioning of the Lodge. The Warden cannot excuse poor clothing standards. A guard cannot excuse random intrusions by late-comers. A Secretary cannot claim membership of dozens of members when the Lodge Annual Membership Fees is actually paid only by a handful of members. Stewardship fund is not for personal charitable projects. Charity funds are not for unilaterally decided charity projects. These operations and expenses are to be discussed in an open Lodge by the concerned officers. If they cannot be answerable or transparent, there can be no active Lodge there. It is a collective. A society of equals.
Indian citizens need to overthrow the culture of “Sahib” and “Sethji” and colonial system of imperialism. As privileged members of society, Freemasons need to first implement a free and transparent functioning basic units of Lodges before entertaining ambitions of saving the downtrodden masses of the nation. Charity begins at home. If your own Lodge is a Zameendaari system, then bringing solar lights to the tribal villagers suffering from the same caste-system and class-bias will not liberate your Soul.
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Copyright Ujjwal Dey 2012