Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mittal Patel - Empowering Indian Villages, Strengthening the Idea of India

"A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on - John F. Kennedy"
I watched TEDx talks given by Mittal Patel, Shree Bose, and Arunachalam Muruganantham and all these were inspirational and motivating, to say the least. However, I chose to write about Mittal Patel's cause.

Because she is a woman working in the villages and myself being from a village, I know how hard it is for a woman to change mindsets.

"The Wildlife Protection Act protected snakes but what happened to snake-charmers? Nobody knows!", says Mittal Patel in one of her TEDx talks. She took up the task of empowering poor villagers in a distant corner of otherwise affluent Gujarat. And she fought her battle real well.

Mittal Patel at a TEDx Event

She helped nomadic and de-notified tribes of Gujarat to get recognition from the Government. It took her quite some time to do so but she never gave up. In between she fought against two of the deadliest enemies of the idea of India; bureaucracy and caste-system. She bridged the gap which was actually duty of the government. She is a journalist by profession and she did what a journalist is supposed to do; never give up until justice is served.

She even rescued village girls from the clutches of prostitution, which they believed was the only thing they could do.

I can easily relate to her story because in Himachal too nomadic tribes and naive villagers are often taken for a ride by the cunning politicians and bureaucrats. Even nomadic tribes living in the remotest regions of Himachal Himalayas are not given Schedule Tribe status. In the name of constructing roads, they are shown global warming and deforestation warnings. It doesn't matter if they walk 20 kilometers just to reach the nearest school.

We were told that India resides in its villages. It does even today. Just that we all have turned a blind eye towards our villages. Let me tell you a story in this regard.

Pong Dam Kids returning from School
Pong Dam was built in the year 1974. It generates 360 MW of energy which lights up millions of houses in the state of Punjab. Those living in the wetland region were given compensation money and land as well. Money always lives a short life but land outlives every other material possession. However, the then government played smart and awarded these Himalayan natives a piece of land in Yamunanagar (Rajasthan). 
Imagine, someone from the foothills of the Himalayas settling down in a furnace called YamunaNagar!
Those people obviously refused to leave. The power plant became functional. Millions of households were lighted in Punjab. And a village of 27 families was pushed into darkness. They continued to live in their village, which was soon surrounded by the largest man made lake of India. Decades have passed since then, the Pong Dam has generated tremendous amounts of energy; lighting lives across the country. 
Yet, 27 families live in the darkness, just a couple of miles away from the Pong Dam. They have no roads and boating isn't a fashionable hobby there; it's a necessity to get in and out of the village. 
And above all, they have no voice. They live in the darkness, even today. 
I think we need Mittal Patel in each and every village of India. And these stories need to be told because positivity too is sometimes contagious. You never know when someone might stand up for a cause and marks the beginning of a new tradition. What Mittal Patel did in Gujarat needs to be done in every village of our country. If we want the Idea of India to be implemented well, we need to empower our villages. Just what Mittal Patel did.

I have known TEDx talkers (Jodie Underhill & Akram Feroze) and I also volunteered for the TEDx Dharamshala event in the past. I know how it feels to be in the presence of the 'doers' who unlike most of us believe in the art of converting speech into actions.
This is my entry for Indiblogger with Franklin Templeton Investments that partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Anndata - A Token of Love for Beloved Mess Workers

The Challenge: Fundraiser for Mess Workers at my Engineering Institute

Nobody likes the mess food while studying in the college. However, it’s only after you leave your college you realize the importance of mess food. Yellow Dal is a Universal Truth across the country, no matter which college you are studying in. Be it Engineering, MBA, or Medicine, you will rarely find someone praising the mess food.

However, once you have left your college, mess food always reminds you of your good old days. But did you ever think about those who cooked your food?

Let me tell you a story.

“It was the farewell party of our seniors. Everybody was thanking their professors, friends, and lab technicians. Then we saw one of our seniors on the stage asking everyone to pay attention. He was standing with two mess workers. We all thought they were there to help with some work to be done. However, the senior on the stage started his ‘Thanks Note’ by honoring those two mess workers. They had been serving the Institute since its inception. They were the unsung heroes of our institute.

After a couple of month’s soul-searching, we realized (a group of three friends) that these mess workers were not entitled to any post retirement benefits. Although we were living in 2004 yet their salaries were still stuck in the 1980s. An old mess worker died and his little kid had to drop out of the school. Just the other day, he had asked my friend to give him a CD of new songs for his son. We couldn’t do anything. A life was lost, that too of someone who had fed us for four long years.

We decided to take up this challenge and formulated a plan to facilitate a centralized funding scheme for them. Simple mathematics it was. 20 rupees from every student, 1200 students in the institute meant INR 288, 000 per annum.

Mathematics is simple; making things work when Sarkari Babus are involved is difficult. Old school guys love sticking to conventional stuff. They asked us to go to the Board Of Governors, get the proposal approved from them, and then they would think about it.

But we didn’t have to work hard. Some of our Professors understood the problem these mess workers were facing. After a round of discussions and heated arguments with our babus, we were able to incorporate the new rule in Institution’s Constitution. The practice of contributing INR 20 for Mess Worker Welfare Fund started from the very next semester.

In Indian context, the one who feeds you is called ‘Anndaata’ and is considered an incarnation of God. We felt great after we got the job done. It was a real challenge that we faced because helping those who fed was not a heroic job we did but it was our duty. 

It’s been 5 long years since this happened and even today we feel proud that we did something for those who remain Unsung Heroes of our society.

I blogged about this incident in September'09 (Ignore Poor Writing Style)

Relishing the Challenge: It was an amazing experience writing for the AIA and Relish the Challenge Campaigns well conducted by Creativeland Asia. I am grateful that I was given a chance to be a part of both these campaigns. I would like to thank Cinthol and CLA both for giving me this opportunity. And special thanks to Rahul for being extremely supportive throughout the campaign(s).

This post is my eighth entry for Cinthol’s Relishing the Challenge Campaign