Authentic Heroes of Bhaarat
Messengers of hope
In the following pages, we recognise a handful of them. None of them are
well-known names, certainly far removed from today's Page 3 People. They are all
ordinary men and women, whose work and success will, hopefully, enable the rest
of us to give up our usual cynicism and excuses for inaction.
APART: (Above) P.U. Thomas with the inmates of Navajeevan; Encore Software team
Shashank Garg, Vinay Deshpande and Mark Mathais with Simputer(right) ; Dayamani
Barla who fights for tribals' rights(below left)
These are all stories of positive action, determined endeavour
and quiet triumphs, far from the world of mass media and satellite television.
The dictionary defines a hero as 'a person noted for feats of courage or
nobility of purpose or for special achievement in a particular field'. All these
people qualify as a hero on each of those requirements.
These are the stories of Indians from different walks of life, formally trained
and not, who are innovating, discovering and seeking solutions to some of the
country's problems. Some do it by adapting new knowledge and technology. Others,
by reviving useful and proven arts, crafts, practices, resources and systems.
Their work is a living example of what Max Mueller wrote in 1892: "Take any of
the burning questions of the day, India will supply you with a laboratory such
as exists nowhere else."
Considering India's history of migrations, invasions and conquests by foreign
forces, its people have always had to fend for themselves in an overcrowded,
competitive land. Maybe this is what makes them slightly selfish, and family and
community-centred. Indians, however, admire-and even venerate-selfless
individuals who reach out to serve society. Many institutions founded for
serving society's deeply-felt needs have striven and survived over long periods
of time. Hopefully, the work and the institutions set up by the people featured
in these pages, too, will last a long time.
have always clung to what has worked over the centuries and then reworked them
to suit changing times. It is increasingly being shown by these and other people
that many traditional skills and ways are sound and even desirable in today's
conditions. Class, caste and gender injustices that prevail in India are well
known and regularly highlighted. Yet, there are also at the same time many
processes of change, rebellion and transformation happening. Mostly begun and
propelled by ordinary people and driven only by their extraordinary belief and
The Week has always endeavoured to find such people and write about them and
their work. Our Man of the Year grew out of such a search 20 years ago. Today,
as the magazine celebrates its 20th year of publication, we honour some of these
people as our authentic heroes.
Twenty is purely an arbitrary number, more a matter of convenience than anything
else. There are countless other similar people, who have devoted themselves to
improve the lives of people in society. Some have been working for many years.
Some are relatively new. But the heartwarming stories of change that they have
brought about in the lives of the poor and downtrodden people need to be told
and made known.
Our experience as a publication has been that readers respond to such stories of
commitment and success much more extensively and positively than we, the cynical
editors, expect them to. So accustomed, and partial, has the media become to
chasing tales of venality, greed and corruption, that such tales of individual
heroism seldom make headlines. It is time they did, as A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
exhorted the media the day he took office as President of India.
None of these people are hankering after reward and recognition. To all of them,
their work is its own reward. But then, it is also a truism that man is
motivated by the desire for recognition more than anything else. And there is
one other person whose efforts we would like to recognise here, though he has
not made it to our authentic heroes list. He is D.V. Sridharan of Chennai, the
creator and editor of a Web site he has titled Good News India (www.goodnewsindia.com).
It is a remarkable one-man effort begun in June 2000, compiling and cataloguing
the extraordinary work of ordinary Indians in development and science. And some
of the people featured in the following pages were first featured in
The underlying theme of the site, to use Sridharan's words, is: "Surely an
indolent, selfish, unenterprising society would have been extinguished long ago.
Or, are there enough people doing the right things and the good work that have
kept this land going for as long as it has done as a civilisation. The need,
therefore, was to discover those people and their work. Thus a collection began.
[The aim is] to redistribute these stories in the hope that they will fill the
breasts of Indians with optimism." Ours too.
By Sandeep Phukan
There is no retiring for Mohammed Habib, 80, despite the grimness of his work.
In more than six decades he has wheeled out thousands of unclaimed corpses in
his cycle-cart from police stations, parks, footpaths or government hospitals
and given them a dignity in death.
Another day, another wait: Habib with
wife Ameena Begum and grandchild
"When I was 15, I ran away from my native village in Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh),"
says Mohammed. "I came to Delhi and made my home on the steps of the Jama Masjid."
What he saw there one day changed the way he looked at life. An unclaimed corpse
had started rotting on the steps of the Jama Masjid. Mohammed's mentor, Munna
Khan, a fakir who gave sermons to anyone who cared to listen, asked passersby to
help him bury the body. "No one was willing," says Mohammed. "I offered to give
him a hand, but he felt I was too young for the job."
Soon, however, the two gave the corpse a decent burial. Mohammed, who had led a
carefree life until then, was so disturbed that he vowed to give unclaimed
corpses a dignified burial or cremation. "I check if the man has been
circumcised," he says, relaxing in his cycle-cart parked outside the Lok Nayak
Jayaprakash Narayan Hospital, which serves as his base. "Accordingly, I take the
body to a burial ground or to the electric crematorium."
The 'baba' in a sweater and brown coat runs a tea stall outside the hospital.
His wife, 55-year-old Ameena Begum, who is blind, sits next to him and tends to
her grandchild. "When I do not get any help, she is always ready to give me a
hand," he says.
Mohammed adopted an 8-year-old Hindu boy, Deepak, 15 years ago. He now assists
his foster-father. "When I was a young man, leaders like Mahatma Gandhi had a
great influence over simple people like us," says Mohammed. "Which is what
prompted me to adopt him." Deepak's parents had come to Delhi from Agra when
Mohammed met them.
Deepak's father died while there and his mother returned to Agra. "Since then I
have been with him," says Deepak. "Baba is ageing and has become frail, but he
still lugs the corpses himself.''
On an average, Mohammed picks 12 bodies a week. Some days he makes more than
three trips to the crematorium. "Whenever the police find an unclaimed body in
the old Delhi area, they come to me," he says. "I cremate the bodies and they
meet the funeral expenses." When he finds a corpse, he informs the police and
waits for them to hand over the body. "I do not charge any money from the police
or the hospital," he says. "I try to make do with whatever I earn from the tea
The police once offered him Rs 20,000 and at another time Rs 10,000. "But I do
not take money," he says. "I want to earn divine goodwill by serving people as
long as I can. God has given me enough."
Mohd Habib (Laawaris Baba),
Near Jayaprakash Narayan Hospital, Opposite Delhi Gate,
Asaf Ali Road, Delhi-110002.
Man called 'savage'
By Ajay Uprety
The botanists and geologists in Uttranchal are yet to comprehend
Jagat Singh Chaudhary's miraculous feat. This retired Border Security Force man
has single-handedly grown a forest in the rocky mountains of the Himalayas. The
50,000 trees that sway proudly on two hectares at an altitude of 4,500 ft is a
tribute to his 20 years of hard labour.
Forest gumption: Chaudhary in his jungle
Chaudhary, fondly called junglee (savage), belongs to Kot malla, a nondescript
village in Uttranchal. So what is unique about junglee's forest? "I have planted
trees that normally grow at 7,000-8,000 ft altitude," says Chaudhary, 52, who
knew nothing about the flora of the region when he started out. As many as 56
different species of trees now coexist in his man-made forest. "Botanists may
not believe this but I have made the impossible, possible." For instance, oak,
which is known for water-retention, grows alongside pine, deodar and
rhododendron which are high altitude trees. Amazingly, beetle plant, cane (not
grown anywhere else in Uttaranchal) and olive plants grow together. Also grown
are 26 varieties of evergreen grass and 23 species of medicinal plants. Bamboo,
tea, ginger, cinnamon, rudraksha, haldi and vegetables normally cultivated in
the plains, thrive here. Chaudhary makes his own organic manure by digging pits
on his land.
Chaudhary believes that unless forests are turned into a viable economic unit,
people will never protect it. He optimises forest land by growing vegetables
between trees. "In this way, not a single inch of land is wasted and I get
plenty of vegetables, cereals, and fruits; I don't have to buy them from the
market," he says.
When he quit the BSF in 1980, his father, Bhadhur Singh, challenged him to
revive two hectares of land that had lain barren for several years. Since then,
he has been planting trees with dogged dedication. "I don't mind carrying sacks
full of snow from the upper reaches of the Himalayas to protect the high
altitude trees which need a cold climate," he says.
Today, his forest not only meets the requirements of fuel and fodder for his
village but the trees with good water-retention capacity helps channel enough
water for the needs of his village. His work was recognised when R.S Tolia, IAS,
highlighted Chaudhary's efforts in protecting biodiversity and environmental
conservation. He was presented the Indira Gandhi Vrikshmitra Award in 1999 and
was felicitated by the Uttranchal Governor S.S. Barnala.
Dr Arvind Dharmorah, head of the Society for Mass Communication, who has worked
with Chaudhary said: "We need men like him. Then our problem of depleting forest
reserves will go with the wind." Even if it is by 'savage' means!
Jagat Singh Chaudhary,
Koti Talla, Rudraprayag,
The Gandhis of computing
By N. Bhanutej
Are the benefits of technology only for the elite? Will the
unbridled growth of IT unleash forces that could rapidly lead to further
widening of the disparities between the haves and the have-nots?
Not necessarily, say three entrepreneurs from Encore Software Limited-CEO, Vinay
Deshpande, Shashank Garg and Mark Mathais-and four academics from the Indian
Institute of Science's Computer Science and Automation Department (IISc)-Swami
Manohar, V. Vinay, Vijay Chandru and Ramesh Hariharan.
Brain trust: (From left) Ramesh Hariharan,
V. Vinay (seated), Swami Manohar and
Vijay Chandru of Indian Institute of Science
This collaboration of academia and industry were concerned with the application
of IT to India's needs. PCs, they said, are misfits in India. Apart from being
expensive, in India there is neither the environment (it is dusty here) nor the
electricity to run them efficiently. The country's problems only get compounded
when we try to find remedies to these two shortcomings. The air-conditioners
need more electricity, while in the quest for uninterrupted power we are piling
up more and more eco-unfriendly lead batteries. In short, the PC is unsuitable
for our limited and specific needs, they concluded.
Then, what is the Indian alternative to the PC?
Vinay Deshpande was attending a marriage in Satara, Maharashtra, when the
chairman of a village co-operative bank approached him with a problem: the
bank's pigmy collectors were siphoning off deposits of poor villagers, and the
bank was paying up the latter's claims. Could Vinay, being a computer
professional, build a Rs 10,000 device through which collections can be recorded
and transferred online to the bank? Vinay knew it was a challenge as well as an
Vinay Deshpande, CEO, Encore Software
"It was Vinay who said we should aim at developing a hand-held
device," recalls Manohar. The team members discussed it among themselves over
several months, in between their teaching and entrepreneurial jobs. And finally
came up with the idea of a Simputer-a sim(ple) (com)puter. Manohar did the
christening, and the name stuck. In March 2001, when the first prototype of a
Simputer was unveiled to the world, The New York Times said, "This is how
computing would have looked if Gandhi had invented it."
The Simputer, which runs on the free Linux operating system, can fit into a
shirt pocket (8 cm X 13 cm with a thickness of 2 cm). It is powered by two
pen-torch batteries. Its smart-card feature ensures that the device can be
shared by a community (it is not a personal simputer). What's more, it can speak
(it has a text-to-speech feature) to the user in his/her mother tongue.
Currently, it can speak eleven Indian languages; more are on the anvil.
With interfaces that are based on sight, audio and touch, even illiterate people
can operate the Simputer with the help of user-friendly pictures on its desktop.
It can be connected to the modem, which makes access to the Internet possible. A
speaker and a USB connector are its other features.
The Simputer team ignored the intellectual property regime by making it
available to everybody and anybody who wanted it. Both the IISc and Encore
transferred their rights over the Simputer to a trust called the Simputer Trust.
All the seven inventors of the device are its trustees.
Says Prof V. Vinay, "Innovation in India is a bottleneck. Our job is to start
innovation and let people bend it to their requirement. That can be best
achieved through a public trust. Anyone can manufacture the Simputer by applying
to the Trust for a licence. Competition will keep the price down. Besides, the
huge market cannot be serviced by any one manufacturer."
While more than a dozen companies showed interest in obtaining licences, only
two companies went the whole hog. Encore, led by Vinay Deshpande was one. Thanks
to their 'entrepreneurial leave' from the IISc, Manohar and team started
Picopeta Simputers, which also obtained a manufacturing licence for the Simputer.
Those who collaborated to invent the Simputer are today competing to market the
same with their own innovations. However, any further innovation on the Simputer
(even by Encore or Picopeta) will have to come back to the Trust after it has
been commercially exploited for a year. The unique general public licence
ensures that the Simputer and its innovations remain in the public domain.
Unfortunately, the potential of the Simputer has not been realised, nearly two
years after its invention. While Encore is developing machines that can be
applied in e-banking and e-governance, Picopeta (with its academic background)
has e-education close to its heart. With Encore tying up with TVS and Peninsula,
and Picopeta collaborating with the public sector Bharath Electronics, it is
just a matter of time before Simputers become as ubiquitous as the wheel.
By Kanhaiah Bhelari
Jharkhand: Dayamani Barla, 35,
does not like journalists. It hurts to rake up her bitter past each time she
speaks to them. Like Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar, Barla has
been fighting tirelessly against displacement of 2.5 lakh people by the Koel
Karo power project in Jharkhand. Demonstrations against the project began as far
back as 1966, but had a lull in 1990, and picked up momentum again in 1994, when
Barla stepped in. She has given the movement a new dimension.
hot to handle: Barla and husband
"The movement is not only about saving 255 villages and 55,000
acres of cultivable land from becoming nonexistent," says Barla. "It also aims
at averting the environmental imbalance that denudation of 27,000 acres of
forest land would cause."
Barla says there is no rationale behind the proposed power project. "It is a
well-planned conspiracy by the government to ruin tribal culture in the name of
development," she says. "The tribals are in favour of development, but not at
the cost of their culture." While the proposed project plans to generate 710
megawatts of power, Barla says 1,000 megawatts could be generated by
constructing a number of small dams which would not displace a large number of
people. But the BJP government in Jharkhand is not convinced. Last Februrary,
the police opened fire killing eight activists.
Barla is a force to reckon with in other areas too. In 1988 she formed the
women's rights organisation called Jharkhand Ulgulaan Manch (Jharkhand Revolt
Front). "I rescued 21 girls from being smuggled to Delhi this year," says Barla,
who posed as an agent of the tribal girls to understand the modus operandi of
the smuggling gangs. "Hundreds of tribal girls have been supplied to the
metros," she says. "Delhi has 20,000 tribal girls registered as maidservants.
The police and local politicians have a nexus with the gangs."
Barla had an unhappy childhood. At the age of 10, she witnessed her family land
being grabbed by a powerful member of the Sahu caste in her village. She managed
to complete her matriculation by working as a maid. She gave tuitions to go to
college and completed her M.Com from Ranchi University in 1993. She then joined
an NGO, Alternative for India Development, but quit on realising that it was
exploiting tribal women. Since then, she has begun working on her own for the
liberation of tribals, especially women. This year, Barla married Nelson, a
displaced tribal whom she has known for 20 years.
In her spare time, Barla writes for Hindi newspapers, highlighting tribal
problems. Impressed by her dedication and hard work, journalist P. Sainath, who
wrote the book Everybody Loves a Good Drought presented her with the first
Counter Media Award in 2000.
Club Road, Siram Toli, Ranchi,
Phone: 2313413, 2206184
Shades of brilliance
By Farwa Imam Ali
Dindigul: Bharathan cannot
resist crushing a flower or fruit that he chances upon. His experiment with 426
plants and natural substances for over 15 years has resulted in 120 colour-fast
natural dyes which are eco-friendly.
The 39-year-old's passion for natural colours seems ingrained. In school, while
other students used water colours, Bharathan's pictures stood out for the
brilliance of the turmeric's yellow, the red from beetroot and the black of
charcoal. "In our culture, colour is associated with regions, seasons,
religions, festivals and emotions," he says. "It is difficult not to be taken in
his colours: Bharathan (right) with Gandhigram Trust secretary M.R. Rajagopalan
and Italian weaver Alexandra L'Abate
Abandoned as a toddler, he was raised at Sowbhagya Illam
orphanage at Gandhigram in Tamil Nadu's Dindigul district. In 1986, the
postgraduate in economics started work at a mill in Kumarapalaiyam in Namakkal
district. Here he learned to make and use dyes, but the chemicals in synthetic
dye production often caused his skin to break out and he quit the job. He
returned to Gandhigram and found work as a textile technician at the Gandhigram
Trust for rural development. He continued his experiments with natural dyes.
In December 2001, the Central government's department of science and technology
funded a three-year project to establish a Centre for Documentation, Research
and Training in Natural Dyes. A retired civil servant and secretary of the
trust, M.R. Rajagopalan, persuaded Bharathan to join the project. The trust's
manager Ramaiah Raj and the late K.V. Chandramouli, a doyen in the study of
natural dyes, also encouraged his research.
Animated by his discovery of 12 natural colours, Bharathan set up a programme
for designing fabrics with natural dyes. Under the project, they perfected a
technology where natural dyeing could be done without the use of mordents
(mineral salts such as tin chloride for fixing colours). "What sets our venture
apart is that it is eco-friendly," says Bharathan. "Normally, the use of
mordents in natural dyeing is common. But here, we prefer to use combinations of
vegetable dyes at varying temperatures and common salt." The effluents of
natural dyes are also, unlike synthetic dyes, bio-degradable.
Bharathan's dyes can be used to colour almost any type of fibre and even
leather. His shades have attracted, apart from local export agencies, traders
from Japan, Italy and the USA. He has conducted workshops on natural dyes in
Nepal and Italy. His most prized discoveries are what he has christened the
Gandhigram yellow obtained from myrobolan flower and Gandhigram green from the
Eclipta alba (bhringaraj) plant. "We are the only ones who are able to obtain a
direct green while others do a yellow plus blue combination mix to get green,"
he says. At present, Bharathan is working on a technique to imprint batik
designs using natural dyes.
A bachelor, Bharathan tutors 85 students at the trust's textile unit in making
natural dyes. "I wish to pass on my legacy to those who appreciate the art," he
says. Teaching spurs him on to newer ideas and innovations.
"There is this craze to find new plants all the time," says Anila from Sampoorna
Kranti Vidyalaya, an ashram promoting Gandhian ideals, in Gujarat. "He tells us
that virtually anything that grows in the plant kingdom could be a catch."
Bharathan, who dabbles in astronomy, believes that celestial positions impact
plant behaviour. He is concerned about not disturbing nature's balance and
avoids picking seeds or cherries which serve as food for birds. He says there is
no problem that nature cannot solve. "As an adolescent and an orphan, life would
get lonely sometimes," says Bharathan. "I would then run out into the open
fields and garden and it had a soothing effect."
Gandigram Trust, Dindigul, Tamil Nadu-624 302.
Phone: (0451) 452328
Chennai: A mother's love can
move mountains. A mother's love can build great institutions. Which is what
Poonam Natarajan did on March 15, 1985 by laying the foundation for Vidyasagar
(formerly Spastics Society of India) in Chennai.
each day, every way: Poonam with disabled children
Poonam was inspired by her son Ishwar to start the centre. It started out small:
in a garage with three children and three staff members. Today, the institution
has grown into a large family with 1,800 people with different disabilities.
Ishwar was born with severe cerebral palsy. Poonam and her husband reacted like
the average educated couple-denial, anger and sorrow-and then decided to get on
with life. Poonam gave up her postgraduate research and trained as a special
"Disability is about attitude," says Poonam, who is vice-president (south zone)
of Abilimpics, an international event for vocational skills and talent among
adults with disabilities. "People told me that my son was like a vegetable. I
wanted to prove that my son could also contribute a lot to society." At
Vidyasagar, the effort is to empower people with disabilities and see that they
become part of mainstream life.
Poonam has received many honours and awards, including the British Council
Scholarship for Management of Handicap, National Award from National Centre for
Cerebral Palsy, For the Sake of Honour award from Rotary Club and the Shell
Helen Keller award given by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for
Disabled People. Back in Chennai after participating in a rally at India Gate,
New Delhi, on December 3 (World Disability Day), Poonam has every reason to be
proud of her work. Of the 5,000 participants from all over the country, the
largest contingent (147 people) was from Tamil Nadu.
"The needs of people with and without disabilities are the same," she says. "In
fact, a special school like ours should not exist. Children with disabilities
should learn together with non-disabled children. However, our education system
is not flexible enough; the focus is on a competitive rather than a
collaborative approach." Non-disabled children are conditioned to excel. For the
disabled, trying to live each day to its fullest, being happy with whatever is
provided and enriching the quality of their life are most important, says
The past couple of years have been a difficult period for her following the
deaths of her son and husband. But she has shown formidable courage; she
continues her mission with the same zeal and fervour as ever. "My son taught me
to look at life in a positive way," she says, a mother's pride shining through
her tear-filled eyes.
Vidyasagar, No.1, Ranjith Road, Kottupuram, Chennai - 600 085.
Lost and found
By AJAY UPRETY
Kumbh mela, 2001. The place is packed (nearly 4 crore people). Stranded in the
crowd, eight-year-old Subodh holds out a 10-rupee note and sobs, "Please take
this and help me find my father." The milling crowd has separated the two. The
thronging pilgrims simply pass him by. After wandering around for a few hours,
the boy finds himself before the 'lost-and-found' camp. Soon, he is playing in
his father's lap.
Good karma: Tiwari at home
Raja Ram Tiwari, who founded the camp, is happy each time a lost person is
reunited with family. He has been helping people in this manner at many
festivals and fairs since 1946. Tiwari has so far helped 4 lakh adults and
25,000 children in six ardh-kumbhs, 46 megh melas and five purna kumbhs. In the
millennium's first maha-kumbh in 2001, he reunited 1.3 lakh people.
Which is why the 75-year-old is now popular as bhule-bhatke Tiwari and has been
recommended for the Padmashri. What made this resident of the nondescript Gaura
Nandu ka Purva village in Uttar Pradesh undertake this mission? During a visit
to a mela at Prayag as a child, Tiwari was moved by the plight of the lost and
decided he would do all he could to help.
He first set out to help with a group of nine friends to the kumbh at Prayag.
"We had no infrastructure back then-no loudspeakers or televisions at the mela.
My friends and I would roam around with crude loudspeakers made of tin and shout
out the names of the lost people, who followed us," says Tiwari. They reunited
870 persons at the megh mela the same year.
The mission no longer works haphazardly. Tiwari founded an organisation called
the Bharat Sewa Dal with 150 volunteers. "The need to form this body arose
because the number of pilgrims have gone up manifold," he says. He is now
indispensable at the melas and has been nominated senior member of the mela
committee. Tiwari's wife, Shanti Devi, also abets his efforts. "She takes care
of the little children who get lost at the fairs," he says. The couple have
three sons, who also help out whenever possible.
Besides the kumbhs at Allahabad, he also goes to the Hardwar kumbh. He plans to
attend the next kumbh at Ujjain. In spite of his efforts, Tiwari is not able to
help all the lost persons; such cases are handed over to the police.
When not helping people, he spends his time at his village. He has few desires
other than reuniting the lost until his last breath.
Raja Ram Tiwari,
Gaura Nandu Ka Purva,
Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh.
Himmatrao S. Bawaskar
By B. Krishnakumar
Jalna: The time has come to
pour antivenom into society to neutralise the venomous forces eating into its
vitals," says Dr Himmatrao S. Bawaskar, 52. Fitting words, coming as it does,
from the man who discovered an antivenom for red scorpion stings.
is thy sting? Dr Himmatrao Bawaskar
Red scorpion sting deaths were common in the Konkan region when
the young doctor, son of poor farmers in Dehad village of Jalna district in
Maharashtra, reported to the public health centre in Birwadi in 1976. Fatality
rate was a high 80 per cent and doctors were baffled by the sudden and drastic
fall in blood pressure and disruption of blood circulation leading to excessive
collection of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary oedema). They saw the bodies of
child victims grow cold after priapism (the penis becoming erect), which was
even more confusing. Patients were usually discharged after being administered a
painkiller and prescribed some drugs.
Bawaskar's research showed that atropine, used by some doctors, could prove
fatal. Since the drug stopped profuse sweating, it gave the wrong impression
that all is well. The patient would subsequently die. The search for an antidote
became his life's mission after he quit the Government Rural Hospital at
Poladpur. He scoured books and articles from Israel and Brazil, where scorpion
sting cases were common, and found that some patients who had developed acute
pulmonary oedema survived after being administered intravenous nitroprusside
drip normally used by cardiologists in intensive care units. But the drug was
expensive and those who could not afford it died a slow and painful death.
It was while going through books on medicine that Bawaskar came across Prazosin,
"an oral nitroprusside that is safe and sound". It was cheap as well. Thousands
of poor people have benefited since Bawaskar identified it as a remedy in 1984.
But he cautions that it should not be used for long.
Initially, nobody took Bawaskar seriously. In fact, a leaflet for an antivenom
drug had the message-'Don't use Prazosin'. Even the Indian Medical Journal
rejected his findings. However, he was encouraged by Dr R.B. Naik and Dr Appa
Gokhale. The medical fraternity took note of his work only after The Lancet,
London, published his tract on red scorpion sting treatment. "Nobody was willing
to believe that scorpions could kill," said Gokhale. "He was the first doctor to
get restless over the fact that such a small insect could kill a human being."
Today, Bawaskar is a popular figure in Mahad taluka in the Konkan region and
travels all over the state lecturing about treatments for snakebites and red
scorpion stings. His doctor-wife Pramodini "is the backbone of my research
work". At their clinic in Mahad, patients get to interact directly with the
Bawaskars, there being no receptionist or nurses.
There are many who have fond memories of the doctor couple. Among them is Capt.
B. Manjrekar, who is in the shipping business in Mumbai. His son Mihir was once
taken to a major hospital in Mumbai when he fell ill after a family trip to Pali
in Raigad. "The doctors could not diagnose the cause," said Manjrekar. "I called
up Bawaskar and within a minute he confirmed it was indeed a scorpion bite. He
briefed the doctors on what to do and called up every hour until everything was
normal. And he wouldn't take any money. He is a great guy."
And the genial doctor's antivenom for the diseased society is-Ishwar Allah Tero
Naam, Sabko Sanmati de Bhagwan.
Dr Himmatrao Bawaskar,
Prabhat Colony, Savitri Marg,
Phone: (02145) 22398,
By Vinu Abraham
Those who have been in Kottayam 12 years ago might remember
Manubai. Out of her mind, she roamed the streets and was an easy prey to sexual
assaults. She was nine months pregnant when P.U. Thomas took her to Navajeevan,
a home he had set up for people like her. Today, though her memory is still a
haze, she is fit enough to help other inmates recover.
A new dawn: Thomas with the child of a
Started 20 years ago with two inmates in a modest two-room building in Kottayam,
Kerala, Navajeevan has rehabilitated more than 750 deranged vagabonds, 500 of
whom have gone back home. Today, working out of a multistorey building,
Navajeevan has 185 inmates whom Thomas showers with love and care.
What kindled his missionary zeal was a 22-day stay in the general ward of
Kottayam District Hospital when he fell ill as a teenager. "No one seemed to
care for the poor patients," says Thomas. "I decided to do something for them if
I got out of there alive." In the next few years, even as he worked at a
printing press, he ran errands for poor patients and helped them with money.
Thomas later became a part-time attender at the Kottayam Medical College
Hospital, where he met Dr Kalyani, who often took vagabonds and orphans home and
fed them. "I was determined to follow her example," says Thomas, who started
feeding patients. "Money was never a problem. Whenever I needed money, I would
pray to God and some stranger would offer help." When demand increased, Thomas
stopped buying food from hotels and got it prepared separately, "all with the
help of God working through kind-hearted souls".
Navajeevan feeds more than 2,000 poor patients and their relatives daily at the
medical college, district hospital and children's hospital. "Without him we
would go hungry," says Sarojini, wife of a patient there.
The turning point in his work came when Thomas witnessed a reunion of two
brothers at the medical college hospital, not too long after he had joined as
attender. The police brought a Sabarimala pilgrim who was suffering from memory
loss to the mental ward, and a few days later his brother, alerted by a
photograph in a newspaper, arrived from Coimbatore to take him home. "He hugged
him and lo, the patient was back to his old self," says Thomas. "It was a
touching moment. I wondered about the destitute, the deranged and the social
Helping Thomas take care of them are medical students, seminarians and common
people. "His sincerity is inspiring," says Shibu A.J., a volunteer.
Registered as a trust, Navajeevan runs on donations and spends Rs 15,000 a day
on the inmates. It gives medicines worth Rs 1 lakh every month to poor patients.
Other expenses include transporting patients back home and financial help to the
needy among them.
Thomas turns down donations from rich families who try to dump a mentally ill
relative in Navajeevan. "I don't need to resort to unfair means to run this
mission," says Thomas. "I trust in God and he provides everything."
Courage and conviction are perhaps the 52-year-old's only assets besides an old
moped and a small house. His wife, Laisamma, and daughters, who are nurses, have
stood by him. His only son, who had a congenital mental illness, died a few
years ago. Thomas believes that he was God's gift to the family: "God gave me
this child because he trusted me. He knew I would take good care of him." Those
at Navajeevan trust him, too.
Navajeevan, Near Medical College Hospital,
Phone: (0481) 596300, 590300
Guardian of culture
By Deepak Mahaan
Meeting Komal Kothari is a humbling experience. Traditions,
crafts, music, dresses, drama, poetry, paintings, water conservation, crop
rotation-the whole gamut of ethnology is his domain. For more than five decades,
he has toiled to preserve the dying art forms of Rajasthan and built up a
treasure house of information on its folk forms.
On song: Kothari listens to recordings of
folk music in the Rangayan library
Komalda, as he is affectionately called, spent most of his early childhood in
Kapasan, in Chittor district, which left an indelible imprint on his mind. "The
rural customs and traditions, especially the melas, intrigued me," said Komalda.
"The study of folk arts and traditions became my interest." It turned out to be
a blessing for future scholars and practitioners of Rajasthan's folk arts.
He was an outstanding student with a voracious appetite for literature, history
and the study of cross-cultural influences of civilisations on rural art forms.
He spent a nomadic existence with little financial returns. In 1960, along with
litterateur Vijay Dan Detha, he established Rangayan, an institute devoted to
the research and study of folk traditions and culture, in Borunda village near
Jodhpur. With practically no resources, Komalda collected material by travelling
to the remotest regions on foot. Today, his work has brought world recognition
to folk artistes like Langa and Manganiar singers.
Komalda received the Padma Shri in 1983. He plodded on, postponing a much-needed
surgery. Luckily, in 1992 BBC signed him for a documentary titled Pabu Story
about the Phad paintings of Rajasthan.
The payment covered the cost of surgery. "The BBC officials were most apologetic
about the amount but they didn't know that I had never seen that much money in
my life before," he recalls.
A Ford Foundation grant has ensured that more than 8,000 hours of his musical
recordings on old spools will be digitised for posterity. While his genius has
been recognised the world over, he gives credit where it is due. "Had it not
been for my brothers' generosity, my work as well as my children's upbringing
would have suffered as I hardly made any contribution to the family kitty."
Not one to rest on his laurels, Komalda is now reviving the manufacturing of
rural musical instruments and music training institutes. At 74, despite a
suspected cancer, he is also working on the blueprint of an ethnological museum
of rural technology.
B-52, Paota Road,
Jodhpur, Rajasthan-342 010.
Phone: (0291) 2551524, 2546359
By Vijaya Pushkarna
Budhwa was Gursharan Singh's best friend in school in Multan, now in Pakistan.
But in class three, Gursharan left the school as his father, an army man, got a
transfer. Eight years later, when he went back to Multan, he was shocked to find
that Budhwa had not passed class three. Budhwa was a sweeper's son!
Class act: Gursharan Singh leads from the
Anger over the iniquity of the system that cut short his friend's education made
Gursharan a fighter for social justice. At 15, when he was in class nine, he
became a member of the Communist Party of India, perhaps the youngest to get a
Though he became disillusioned with the Left, Gurhsaran, 73, has remained
steadfast to the cause of social justice. The medium he chose was 'platform
theatre'-different from street theatre-that is decidedly sloganeering with a
message. "Those who are financially weak are also weak to think and reason.
Intellectuals should tell them that a just and fair society is possible," says
Paaji, as Gursharan is called, taking a short break from a play-reading in
progress. It is for the evening's show on some platform-roadside, school, market
or anywhere-with a small band of five or six people. The driver of his Maruti,
too, has a role in his plays.
At 250 performances a year for 30 years, Paaji must have reached out to 1.5 lakh
persons so far. "I have only two subjects for my plays-backward classes and
women," he says. "They are the worst victims of the prevailing system."
Three years ago, on Guru Nanak Jayanti, he chose to perform in Talwandi, where
the seeds of Sikhism were sown while Nanak stayed at his sister Bebe Nanki's
place. The subject of his play was the ma-behen di gaali (obscene abuses) which
had become "the worst part of our culture". Those who saw the play could not use
such invectives thereafter, without the picture of Bebe Nanki popping up before
their inner eye.
When Gursharan visited Talwandi a few months ago, a young man told him that
people there had stopped using gaalis. No surprise, since the play had incited
women to stop serving food to men who used foul language and to go on a two-day
token domestic strike!
For Gursharan, life has been more than just sloganeering plays strung together.
In 1975, his play Takht Lahre Da penned by a Pakistani writer portraying the
hapless situation under Ayub Khan's dictatorship, was interpreted as a comment
on the Emergency. Gursharan was jailed for 48 days and removed from government
A Master's in cement technology, Gursharan was then a research officer in the
irrigation and power department in Punjab. His contribution in the building of
the Bhakra Dam from 1951 to 1962 is something that old-timers fondly remember.
Though he was reinstated 20 months later, he decided to pull out of service when
he still had seven years for retirement. All to devote more time to his cause.
His latest play, Mistri Ram Lal, is on housing the poor. It is the story of a
mason who makes high-rise buildings, but lives in a crumbling shanty. "The
system belongs to the moneyed, whether it is health or housing," says Gursharan,
who adapts plays from stories by various authors.
Gursharan's messages are neither populist nor hep. Yet, somewhere, the
realisation of what he is saying appears to have dawned. Pracheen Kala Kendra,
the region's most reputed school of performing arts, now stages his plays. He
performs at Chandigarh's Tagore Theatre on a higher scale, with a bigger cast.
"But the plays always reflect my commitment and my message," he says. "There is
no theatre without a message." n
House no. 1245, Sector 43 B,
Phone: (0172) 602995
By Gauri Warudi
Who would have thought that the common sugar cane had so much
potential? Dr Anand Karve, 65, for one. His project to convert sugarcane trash
into char briquettes which can be utilised for domestic cooking, won him the
Ashden Award for Renewable energy, instituted by the UK's Ashden Trust. The
judges were impressed that an environmental problem-burning millions of tonnes
of sugarcane waste in open fields caused pollution-could become a huge
income-generating opportunity and a source of clean and cheap domestic fuel.
Karve credits his daughter Priyadarshini with the idea.
Innovation: Dr Karve beside the kiln used
for charring sugarcane biomass
The project makes use of the char of sugarcane waste, obtained from a specially
designed kiln, which is then mixed with a binding agent. The kiln can hold seven
cylinders full of sugarcane waste for charring. About 23 per cent of the waste
that goes into the kiln is returned as char, and a kiln can produce 56 kg of
char a day. A mincing machine compresses it into briquettes.
It was a desire to promote rural self-sufficiency and entrepre-neurship that
drew Karve, a botanist, to this field. His dream was to help villagers make a
living at home rather than migrate to cities to 'exist' in slums.
In 1996, he established the Appropriate Rural Technology Institute (ARTI) at
Phaltan, a sleepy town about 100 km from Pune, which is home to many of these
development projects. Prominent among them is the sand bed cultivation of
plants, where banana, turmeric, ginger and other vegetables are grown in
specially treated soil on a plastic film.
All the soil related limiting factors (wrong pH, soil compaction, salinity,
nutrient deficiency, poor aeration, weeds, pathogens, etc.) are eliminated. By
using three times the normal dose of fertilizers, along with the necessary
micronutrients, three times the yield is obtained. Medicinal herbs from the
Himalayan region are also being successfully grown in the sand bed to enhance
their medicinal content.
Seasonal crops like cotton, castor and pigeon pea are planted in advance so that
their seedlings are available throughout the year. Sugarcane waste and cheap
seeds are used to produce gas, which is bottled and sold at Rs 10 per kg. "The
main idea is to offer a substitute for diesel and LPG to the farmer," remarks
Karve. One can run a small diesel generator or motor with it.
When Karve approached the Marine Research Institute in Bhavnagar with a novel
method of sea water irrigation, he was met with scepticism. Proving the sceptics
wrong, he grew healthy coconut trees irrigated with sea water. Another
achievement of his is the low-cost greenhouse he set up with an open top and a
skirting of plastic sheets. An onion farmer who tried this on an acre of land
reported harvesting three times the normal yield.
At ARTI, bamboo is chemically treated to strengthen it. "We have developed a
technique to treat the bamboo with a hand pump. It can be done even at home,"
says Karve. "Farmers can use this low-cost material for making fences, stands
and ladders. They last for almost 10 years." Farmers are shown how to make
'bamboo-crete'-a kind of prefabricated wall with bamboo lining and cement-which
has been used in reconstructing homes in Bhuj after the earthquake.
"We have about 50 families in Maharashtra who have made at least Rs 500,000 a
year by following our techniques," says Karve. "That's way above what any Class
I officer in Delhi can honestly hope to earn!"
Dr Anand Karve,
Rural Technology Institute,
Maninee Apartments, S. No.13,
Dhayarigaon, Pune-411 041.
Phone: (020) 4390348 4392284
The light of Tenali
By Lalita Iyer
Tenali: He is independent,
assertive and self-reliant. Pothaboina Suryanarayana, 62, is also blind. A
medicine administered to him at the age of 15 to treat typhoid had robbed him of
his sight. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, he gritted his teeth and faced
in music and life: Suryanarayana with wife Shantamma
The boy who put himself through blind school and harmonium
classes by selling books and peanuts on trains has come a long way. Today, he is
the founder of Sri Venkateswara Andha Viklangula Seva Sangham, a society for the
disabled. He believes that disabled people beg only because society does not
give them an opportunity to do anything else. The sangham helps them rise above
A resident of Tenali, a small town in Andhra Pradesh, he lives with his wife,
Shantamma, 60, who is also blind. They make a living by performing in
villages-he on his harmonium and she with her mellifluous voice.
Their performances are well received and the money they make is more than enough
to help them survive the monsoon months, when work is not easily available.
Suryanarayana was inspired to start the sangham after listening to the plight of
a 12-year-old blind boy he brought home from Tenali railway station. He opened
it in 1983 with 20 members. At first he fed them; then he began helping them
earn a living. "I am from a poor family. But I have seen my father help children
in need," he says. "That is how I learned to share whatever I have."
The sangham has helped its members get scholarships and books, and loans under
self-employment schemes. In 1994, Suryanarayana got three acres of land for
housing-12 houses have come up, his included. But society's selfishness
continues to plague him. People who have lost their rights to the land in a case
heard by the High Court in 1996 still have not fully vacated it.
Recently, the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People
recognised his efforts and selected him for the NCPEDP-Shell Helen Keller Award
2002. But for a man who is driven by a desire to help his fellowmen, fame is of
no account. Empathy and a willingness to help would be more welcome.
Chandrababu Naidu Colony,
By Deepak Tiwari
Kudari Dalli: This year's
severe drought in Chattisgarh drove almost 10 lakh farmers to greener pastures.
But the villagers of Kudari Dalli in Durg district had a good crop, thanks to
Brijlal Sahu, 60, who changed the course of the river Dangarh to irrigate 150
acres of land belonging to 43 farmers. No wonder he is called the 'Bhagirath' of
Kudari Dalli. In Hindu mythology, sage Bhagirath brought the Ganges to earth
after surmounting great challenges. Forty years ago, a drought had hit the
region when Brijlal was just out of school. He wanted to help his father and his
ambition was to irrigate their 11 acres of land with water from the Dangarh. But
his idea was not welcomed. "How can you bring water to the fields when the river
is flowing at a lower level. You have gone mad," said his father.
more than a ripple: Brijlal rests by the Dangarh, the water source of his
Undaunted, Brijlal sought the advice of his uncle, Amaru, who
suggested that the water be collected at some point in the river bed from where
it could be channelled into a small canal leading to his fields. He first made a
small pond using wooden logs, rocks, mud and leaves, to block the flow. Then he
began digging deep canals to channel the water to his fields which were half a
But breaking the rocks on the river bed was tough and the water in the canal
would seep into the earth before reaching the fields. To stem seepage, Brijlal
laid palm-sized teak leaves, pasted with black alluvial soil, along the canal.
The system worked, but it involved tremendous labour-the leaves had to be
replaced every week. However, his work began to reap benefits; his household ran
efficiently while his neighbours migrated for their bread and butter. Brijlal
sent his five sons and one daughter to school. He had two crops when other
farmers struggled to reap one.
For 30 years he continued in this vein, until one day, he found that if he could
break up a portion of a hill on the right bank of the river, water would flow
into his fields with greater force. Brijlal abandoned the pond downstream in
favour of the new plan a few metres upstream. He found an ingenious way to break
the rocks that blocked his path. Cutting down several trees near the river, he
placed them on the rocks and set them on fire. Burning wood on rocks creates
cracks, making it easy to break them down.
But a greater problem lay ahead. He needed to cut his way through a hillock to
make a canal. "It was a big problem, but since I had mastered
the art of breaking rocks, I was confident," says Brijlal. Utilising the
'heating rock' method, he dug a tunnel through the hillock. And within a year,
his hard work paid off-water gushed through an 800 metre-long canal through the
When the others learnt of his feat, "we joined Brijlal as water was coming to
our fields also," said deputy sarpanch Arjun Deshmukh. Two years ago, their
joint efforts produced a 2 feet-high stop-dam along with a network of canals
which helped water the fields of 43 farmers. A Dangarh river water committee was
formed to regulate the usage of water among its members. As a mark of respect,
Brijlal's family is not levied any money.
The water scheme has brought about a reversal of fortunes for the village. Its
grain bank is full and there is stock for another year. When social worker
Dinesh Kumar Taak learnt about the novel approach, he informed the irrigation
department of Chattisgarh. They rushed to Brijlal and imitating his scheme,
chalked out a project called the Kudari Dalli Diversion Project. But, government
officials demanded Rs 62 lakh for irrigating an additional 150 acres of land.
Brijlal laughs at this: "Give me Rs 30,000 and I will show you how to irrigate
another 150 acres."
What this village is today is because of Brijlal, says Balsingh Sahu, a grocery
merchant of Kudari Dalli. After all, he was the one who christened Brijlal 'Baghirath'.
It is a watertight observation.
Dondi Lohara tehsil, Durg,
Sticking to his vision
By Vijaya Pushkarna
When Bhagwant Kaur came to the one-horse town of Ropar in Punjab
as a young bride, the first thing her husband told her was: "You are my second
wife, I am already married." Swinder Singh Saini has been wedded to hockey ever
since the age of 10. "I told her that if she treated my first wife with love and
respect, I would love her too. Now she earns the money, and I burn it on my
first wife," says the man who chucked his legal practice to devote all his time
Hawk-eyed master: Saini on his favourite
Known as S.S. Saini in hockey circles, he is the founder-secretary of the Hawks
Club, a hockey stadium in Ropar. Ropar is situated close to where Guru Gobind
Singh founded the Khalsa, and Saini adopted the hawk that Guru Gobind holds, as
the club's insignia. Besides, any sportsman, according to Saini, must be like a
Born in Lyalpur in Pakistan, Saini, following his love for the game, represented
Punjab Schools in 1957 and the Punjab University in 1964. Joining the Punjab
Police was his next step but parental pressure made him study law. "When I
joined the Bar, there wasn't much chance to play and so I decided to promote
hockey," says Saini.
In 1972, he organised a hockey festival in Ropar, which became an annual
Dashmesh Hawks All India Hockey Festival. Through his efforts, Ropar became a
hockey ground, with children from the surrounding villages attending the four
hockey centres run by the Hawks Club. "We tried to make hockey a mass movement.
We needed funds and we begged and borrowed from all over the country," says
Saini. Punjab was by then the hockey nursery of India, contributing nearly nine
national players from Sansarpur itself. Saini believed that if Punjab turned out
good hockey players, India would have a good team.
He decided to do all he could to "create an atmosphere of hockey". Today, there
is no player from Punjab whose future he did not foretell! Saini has always been
led by an "inner voice" while spotting talent. His criteria for selection:
physique, speed, action and reflex action, apart from factors like player's
habits and the company he keeps. "I like to watch a player continuously, for a
long time. You cannot spot talent in a day," he says. He considers all the
national hockey players, in the junior and senior teams, as his "joint family".
Saini's contribution, sports officials say, is the way he motivates the boys.
Whenever he sees genuine talent, he promises to compensate them if they opt to
play hockey instead of a more lucrative sport like cricket. In fact, he arranged
government jobs for around 500 boys who opted for hockey. A Hawks Kennel Club,
set up to breed and sell pups, helps sustain the activities of the Hawks Club.
Saini who is known and respected in his field says, " Former President Zail
Singh tried to draw me into politics and I would talk only hockey. Of course,
hockey won, and he helped us a lot."
Today, Saini has no regrets about the time he has devoted to the sport. "Hockey
has given me everything. A reputation most of all. And I wish people would look
at hockey as a sport, and not in terms of money."
House no. 364,
Giani Zail Singh Nagar,
Phone: (01881) 22214, 22318
Woman of letters
By Deepak Mahaan
Mahaveerji: She lost her mother
when she was 5, was married at 13 and widowed at 14. The in-laws who shunned her
could not have expected her to evolve into a crusader for the emancipation of
oppressed women in Rajasthan. But Kamla Bai was made of sterner stuff than they
women through education: Kamla Bai
The Adarsh Mahila Vidyalaya in Mahaveerji town, which she opened
in 1953 with six students when she was 30, has now developed into a residential
postgraduate college with 1,800 students. "Women are exploited because they are
illiterate and financially dependent. Education is the only way out," says Kamla
Bai, 79, who was born in Kuchaman. She came to Mahaveerji on a pilgrimage after
the death of her husband and visited Mumukshu Mahila Ashram, which looked after
widows. Moved by their plight, she decided to dedicate her life to the ashram.
Though she had only primary education, she decided to become a teacher and
educate the women of the town. She took Sanskrit lessons from temple priests and
graduated from Banaras Hindu University in Uttar Pradesh. She then persuaded the
temple trust which controlled the ashram to allow her to start classes inside
the temple premises. Orthodox people called her initiative 'blasphemous', saying
education would 'corrupt the girls', but Kamla did not veer from her mission.
This feisty woman brimming with progressive ideas wants women to work and earn
money and respect.
Though she a staunch advocate of women's empowerment and emancipation, she is
hardly a feminist. "Many of the feminists today lack discipline and knowledge,"
she says. And she is dismayed that modern women are irresponsible in many ways.
Kamla Bai's dream is to make all women in Rajasthan literate. In a state with
the dubious distinction of having the lowest female literacy rate in the
country, she might be aiming for the stars. But that is exactly where you have
to aim, as they say, if you want to reach the top of a mountain.
Adarsh Mahila Vidyalaya,
Phone: (0749) 224337
Living a dream
By Vinu Abraham
In Wyanad district, in Kerala, a man's dream to help tribals
regain their dignity has set in motion a revolution. Writer-activist K.J. Baby,
47, had always empathised with the tribals who had lost their identities when
the 'civilised world' had encroached.
Sound of silence: Baby meditating with
the children at Kanavu
In his eyes, the children were the worst affected-caught in the middle as they
were, with neither tradition to fall back upon nor the advantages of mainstream
society to look forward to. But today, Kanavu (dream), the school he set up, is
helping them rise above oppression and marginalisation to assert their
Baby moved to Wyanad in the early 1970s. Living among the tribals and
experiencing their rich repository of songs, myths and art forms, awoke the
writer in him. He wrote his first play, Apoorna, in the late 70s describing
their plight. This was followed by Nadugaddika in 1982, in which he modelled his
protagonist after the murdered Naxalite leader of Wyanad, Verghese. As the
staging of the play coincided with the resurgence of Naxalite movement in
Kerala, he and his team were branded Naxalites and jailed for three months.
After lying low for a few years, Baby returned to the fore in the early 1990s
with the novel Mavelimantram, the story of an ideal society where everyone is
equal. Considered the first Indian work on tribal anthropology and
eco-romanticism, it won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award in 1995.
His school, Kanavu, tries to emulate the ideal society. Set up in 1993, on six
acres owned by Vistar Foundations, a Bangalore-based NGO, the school imparts an
alternative education. Baby and wife Shirley, a college lecturer, did this
deliberately as they realised that tribal children could not identify with the
regular syllabus, and hence dropped out. At Kanavu, the emphasis is on "seeing,
feeling and experiencing".
Drawn from the Paniya and Naickar tribes, the children follow the gurukul way of
learning-where teachers and students live and learn together. The thrust is on
developing the total personality of a child. "Our aim is to make a child capable
of deciding which career would best suit him," says Baby. His children-Shanti,
17, and Geethi, 15-also study at the school.
The children are taught yoga, meditation and the martial art kalaripayattu. Each
child spends a few hours in the fields, the kitchen and the tailoring room every
day. Older students are encouraged to take up subjects that interest them, learn
it and then share it with others. Workshops are also regularly conducted by
experts in the fields of arts and science, and by tribal leaders who share with
them traditional skills. The students are also encouraged to study for the
open-school matriculation examination. Many of them have now entered mainstream
Nothing speaks more of Baby's achievement than Gudda, a 16mm feature film the
children are working on. The first film to be made solely by tribal children, it
depicts their miserable plight through a Naickar ritual. A Naickar girl, when
she comes of age, is made to live in a separate enclosure (gudda) until her
parents can organise a feast to celebrate the event. In the film, the girl is
forced to remain in the enclosure for six seasons because her parents cannot
afford to give a feast.
Kanavu, Near Nadavayal,
Phone: (0493) 681113, 681114
By Tapash Ganguly
Bhangar: As a college student
in Bhangar, Mohammed Abdul Wahab often got together with his classmates to nurse
villagers affected by tuberculosis and other diseases. The nearest hospital was
in Kolkata, 40 km away. "Many times my friends and I carried patients there on a
bed of bamboo on our shoulders," he says. He had joined the Naxalites and always
moved in the night to avoid the police.
progress: Mohammed Abdul Wahab with SHIS workers
He had three children by the time he completed his BA and was
working as panchayat secretary in Howrah district when he met Swiss missionary
Brother Gaston and his assistant Buddhadev Mishra, who were helping slum
dwellers displaced by the flood of 1978, considered the worst in the history of
West Bengal. "Brother Gaston's words still ring in my ears," says Mohammed, 53.
"He told me to go to my village and serve my people." That got him going.
Mohammed decided to set up a free check-up centre and clinic for daily labourers
and rickshaw-pullers in Bhangar. But all he had on him was Rs 2. Tea stall owner
Atiyar Rahaman offered his shop free of cost, allowing Mohammed to set up the
clinic in 1979.
Initially, a doctor from an NGO run by Gaston attended to patients at the
tea-stall clinic once a week. Mohammed or his volunteers would take those who
needed more tests or X-rays to the NGO's laboratory. In 1983, an association was
formed and the clinic was registered as the Southern Health Improvement Samity.
Soon after, Dominique Lapierre, who in his City of Joy wrote about Gaston's
selfless work in Pilkhana slum, visited the clinic. The following year, the
Samity received Rs 76,315 with a handwritten note from DL-as Lapierre is now
known in Bhangar-saying "It is not desirable that any patient should die due to
a lack of medicines." The Samity used the money to open a dispensary.
Today, the Samity, housed in a huge complex, has eight doctors on its rolls. It
has set up 30 clinics in the South and North 24 Parganas districts, and in north
and central Bengal, taking medicines to tribals and villagers who would
otherwise have had no access to medical treatment. Four boats with doctors,
paramedics, medicines and laboratories serve thousands of people in the riverine
Apart from medical care, the Samity does its bit to promote education among poor
Muslim children. "Our teachers have coached 1,300 girls to take school-leaving
examinations," says Mohammed. The Samity also assists education in 25 madrasas
in Bhangar, but on condition that they teach English, Bengali, mathematics and
the sciences, apart from Arabic. It has founded a high school in Bhangar with
hostel accommodation for poor students from faraway villages.
The Samity has organised self-help groups to empower women. They save money on a
daily basis by running small businesses. This economic independence has changed
the face of hundreds of villages in Bhangar. "Mothers goad their children to
attend school," says Mohammed. "The sanitary environment has also changed with
almost every family having constructed a latrine with the Samity's assistance."
Family planning, too, has become popular.
With 1,500 volunteers the Samity works on a budget of Rs 6 crore, which comes as
grant from the state and Central governments and donations. "My aim is to make
our villagers self-reliant," says Mohammed. "I want to cut down on foreign
donations and am urging the Samity's beneficiaries to donate to the organisation."
Mohammed, who lives in his old mud house, continues to dream big. He wants to
start an eye hospital at Bhangar and take up an HIV/AIDS project to help those
affected in rural areas.
"We have to change our outlook," he says, "to make this earth a little more
Mohammed Abdul Wahab,
Southern Health Improvement Society, Bhangar,
South 24 Parganas,
Phone: (033) 23353122
By Deepak Tiwari
The kids love him, so does Mother Nature-not one sapling he has
planted has failed to grow. Ramesh Sharma, superintendent of police, Durg, may
be a no-nonsense officer, but off duty, he represents the "human face" of the
Over the past decade, Sharma has planted more than 2.5 lakh trees all over
Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh where he has been posted. The man's passion is
such that he even planted trees in Bosnia when he went there in 1997 as part of
the United Nations Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "I am not doing anything
great," says Sharma, who joined the police in 1979. "I just have a great urge to
contribute something to society, to which I owe so much."
Trees are my first love: Ramesh Sharma at
a police station in Durg
Sharma gets a few mangoes every year from the Dondi Lohara police station, where
he planted a mango tree back in 1989. When he became SP of Damoh in 1994, he
literally changed the face of all 20 police stations in the district.
"The greenery attracted so much attention that children began picnicking at the
lush police station premises," says Narendra Dubey, a Damoh journalist. More
than 1.25 lakh saplings were planted in the district in two years. Sharma's
efforts received national recognition when he was chosen for the Indira
Vrikshmitra Prize in 1999. Trees may be the Chambal valley-born's first love,
but street urchins come a close second. Two years ago, when Sharma was SP,
Railways, in Raipur, he began an informal school for the children who begged on
railway platforms and pilfered goods. The railway policemen contributed from
their salaries for the school, which had 40 students. "I wanted to impart good
values to the orphans and abandoned children, who were potential criminals,"
says Sharma. When he was transferred to Durg six months later, he continued the
good work: he started a school in Gondbasti slum.
The Akshar Arakshi Paathshaala there was an improvement over the Raipur school.
Here, Sharma has managed to do both "backward and forward integration". The
mothers of the 120 children have been roped in for income-generating activities
like making paper bags and cardboard boxes, while the fathers are asked to go
regularly to work and refrain from drinking and gambling. Sharma and his
constables shell out money for the classes. He has also persuaded a local bank
to give loans to parents who want to begin new ventures. Says Sharma: "I want
them to be financially self-reliant so that they do not depend on their kids for
"People spend time in clubs and parties on holidays; I prefer cleaning lakes and
teaching poor children," says Sharma. Every Sunday, he leads volunteers, armed
with spades, to a pond or lake-to clear the dirt and silt. He decided to do this
after reading news reports on how ponds and lakes were shrinking. Once a pond is
cleaned, a committee of local people headed by a police inspector is formed to
look after it.
Impressed by his missionary zeal, many people, including foreigners, have sent
him money but Sharma has politely turned all of them down. His philanthropic
activities cost him Rs 2,500 a month, but the happiness of it is immeasurable. n
SP Bungalow, Civil Lines,
The miracle man
By Anosh Malekar
Bhavnagar: It is one of those
rare days the prosthetic and orthotic engineer is 'in', and about 150 people are
milling outside Vijay Kumar Naik's clinic at the Prabhakunwar Ratilal Vadhar
Naik Artificial Limb Centre in Bhavnagar. During the course of the day, Vijay
Kumar, 47, attends to all, many of whom have come from places as far as Tamil
Nadu and Jammu.
Vijay left the United States in 1992, where he had gone on a five year
fellowship to the Kessler Institute in New Jersey, to serve his own people back
home. His decision was the outcome of a nightmare he underwent as a nine-year
hand: Vijay Kumar has devoted his life to the service of the disabled
"I still remember how my family suffered when doctors assessed a compound
fracture and said that it could lead to a permanently disabled foot." This
episode set him on his mission to provide succour to the disabled.
Vijay left a promising career abroad to serve his fellowmen. Before he went to
America, he was for a decade with the ministry of health in Yemen. Back in
India, his first challenge was a diamond-cutter in Gujarat, who needed a wooden
prosthesis that would enable him to work in a sitting position.
The conventional foot which weighed 8 kg was cumbersome and restricted his
movement. This set Vijay thinking on developing a better, cheaper model. He came
up with the 'Prabha foot' which makes it possible for the disabled to sit
He then developed the myo-electronic hand, popularly called the 'miracle hand'.
"The limb functions like a normal hand with the help of an electronic network
which replaces the nerves for passing messages to the brain," explains Vijay. A
myo-electronic hand costs $20,000 (approximately Rs 9,50,000) in the US; in
Bhavnagar it costs Rs 19,000. Vijay now travels all over the country to conduct
camps to fit Prabha feet and miracle hands.
When Leonard Mark, an attorney for social issues at the Temple of Understanding
in the US, came to Bhavnagar he requested Vijay to visit the landmine victims in
Africa. "Through this organisation, I got linked up with the United Nations and
visited Tanzania, Kenya, Angola, Zaire and Ethiopia, to see how best landmine
victims could be rehabilitated at minimum cost and time," says Vijay.
Wherever he went spreading his message of hope among the handicapped, he knew
that he was wanted more in his homeland. "In India, it is common to see men,
women and children with one or both limbs amputated or deformed. The causes
could be trauma, vascular diseases and congenital problems," says Vijay.
He knew that a greater challenge was in store for him in assisting women with
disability, leprosy patients and those with mental retardation, and in
developing community-based rehabilitation facilities. When the earthquake struck
Kutch on January 26, 2001, he rushed to the aid of those who lost their limbs.
Over the years, his concerns have multiplied and so have his innovations.
Osteoarthritis is a common problem among the aged, and many of them require knee
replacements. Vijay has developed a poly-centric knee brace for relief from knee
pains and to avoid surgery.
According to World Health Organisation estimates, 10 crore Indians suffer from
disabilities. "A majority of them can be rehabilitated by providing simple
artificial appliances and specialised training," says Anant K. Shah, secretary,
Parsanben Narandas Ramji Shah Society, which runs the artificial limb centre.
"The Rehabilitation Council of India has put the requirement of trained manpower
at 2.65 lakh. The country has only 22,000 registered prosthetics and orthotics
engineering professionals, most of them based in big cities." The society plans
to set up in Bhavnagar the country's first research and training complex for
providing trained manpower in all areas of disabilities.
As a member of the Rehabilitation Council of India, Vijay conducts training
programmes across the country. It is necessary to train local people because the
disabled need long-term treatment including follow-up visits, he says. His
contribution in the field of research and development was recognised by the
Gujarat Council on Science and Technology, which honoured him with the Dr Vikram
Sarabhai Award in 1999. He won the national award for best technology in 2001.
His numerous activities have left him with little time to spend in Bhavnagar,
and his wife and two sons miss him very much. "But my family does not mind," he
says, "as long as I continue my mission." n
Vijay Kumar Naik,
Bhavnagar - 364 002, Gujarat.
Phone: (0278) 429326, 420836
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