People like us

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This book, which brings together the column People Like Us, which I wrote for several months for The Hindustan Times, will give you the examples of people and institutions who have somehow broken through the haze of cynicism, and have contributed in personally satisfying ways to society over and above the normal preoccupations of a metropolis. The examples are largely from in and around New Delhi, but I have not the slightest doubt that they are a representative sample of what a few —alas just a few —are doing elsewhere in India too. These individuals and organizations need your help and involvement. In helping them you will only, in the long run, be helping yourself.

The purpose of this book is to try and revive the project of social sensitivity —pivotal for the survival of any civil society. It is a book that can change your life and with it the destiny of India too.

I am grateful to Har-Anand Publications who so readily collaborated in the publication of the book. I owe a special note of thanks to Narendra Kumar with whom I first discussed the project, and to his son, Ashish Gosain, who so efficiently brought it to fruition. My gratitude is also due to Rohit Babbar, my colleague, who helped in the making of the columns. I need hardly add that this book would not have been possible but for the fullest cooperation of those who are featured in them. I remain indebted to them.


Help Age India: Because We too Will be Old

Sai Kripa at NOIDA — Anjina Rajagopal

Child Relief and You — Praveen Sharma & Radha Roy Sarkar

A Home for Our Children — Meera Mahadevan

A People’s Movement against Pollution — Satya Sheel & Saurabh Khosla

Why Can’t Delhi be Kottayam?- T. K. Mathew

A Police Officer’s Prayas—Amod Kanth

A Different Teacher—Arun Kapur

Service Through Sacrifice — Jaspal Singh

Two Ladies and A School — Mridula Jain

A Katha for You and Me — Geeta Dharamrajan

Jan Madhyam — Ranjana Pandey

Concern India Foundation- A. B. K. Dubhash

Crusader for a Common Cause — H. D. Shourie

Commitment to Slum Kids— Mamta & Sumeet Kachwaha

The Woman Behind Medical Alert Nirmala Bhushan

Rashmi’s Vidya- Rashmi

Malavika’s Brood of 70-Malavika Rai

Commitment to a Cause —Dr. Y.P. Anand

Fighting Disability — Shayama Chona

Hope Inside the Wall- Firoz Bakth Ahmed

Delhi’s Angels — Ashraf Pate! & Jaimala lyer

A Matter of Vision — Susy Joseph & Mary Asha Lata

Motorcade Mayhem —Dr. Shreekant Gupta

Bagh Bhadur- Vinod Dua

Lead Kindly Light — Rita Kaul & Geeta Seshamani

Lend a Helping Hand-Kiran Hukku

Hope for the Millennium —Sanjiv Kaura

Young Messiahs — Gautam Graver

Preserving Childhood — Sanjoy Roy

Changing the Picture- Samar & Vijay Jodha

The City Slickers- Dr. Iqbal Mallick

In Aid of Awareness- Nafisa Ali

Where Each One Teaches Many — Father George Tharayil

An End to All Parking Woes — Sudershan Aggarwal

Concern for Drug Addicts-R.M. Kalra

An Emissary of Hope — Harmala Gupta

Sanjivini — The Art of Listening— Kavita Gupta & Raj Dagar


Giving a New Direction to Delhi’s Lesser Citizens — Ravi Chopra & Shobhana Radhakrishna

Tree of Creative Freedom— Arajit Sen & Gurpreet

Conserving Our Heritage — Priya Paul



There is a new challenge before India today. Most people from the middle class will think that it has nothing to do with them. They will continue to believe that their lives need no changing. They will continue to be convinced that nothing really significant matters apart from the familiar grapple with want and fulfilment. They will have the right excuses: what can I do about it; who am I to do anything about it; what have I to do with this state of affairs: my problems are big enough; let me get on with my life et. al.

But look around you, and you will see that such excuses, this refusal to see beyond anything except one’s interest, has created a real crisis and has made most of urban India —in big or small towns —a soulless and barren collection of wants. There is a frightening ethical vacuum. No one knows anymore what is right and wrong. There is a sense of weariness with empty slogans: people are tired of promises that never materialise, of principles that are always betrayed, of ‘gods’ who have feet of clay, of the complete absence of shame, of small minds and petty agendas living only at the level of intrigue and scheming.

Look at what this has done all around you. You may not notice, or you may refuse to see, or even if you do you may choose to ignore. But the facts will not go away. One-third of Delhi, the capital of India, is officially acknowledged to be a slum. More than one-third of the city has no access to latrines. The country houses the largest numbers of illiterates in the world-an appallingly 290 million, more than the combined population of USA and Canada. Every three minutes a child dies in our country of diarrhoea, 250 million people still go hungry to bed every night. And all around us there is the., stench of corruption.

What should be done? Should we continue to lead our lives at if nothing is wrong? More importantly, can we lead our lives as if nothing is wrong? We are taking of our own country, which has rightly an aspiration to be counted among the great powers of the world. Do we have reason to believe that governments and leaders alone will solve these problems? I think not.

The people are tired, tired of greed, tired of living solely at the level of wants irrespective of the means, of accepting the immoral, of living with compromise, of adjusting to the betrayal of faith. The time has come, therefore, for the middle and elite classes to pause, to introspect, and to think. Not on the grounds of idealism. Not because this is what they are supposed to do. Not because somebody has asked them to. But because they must do so in their own long term self-interest.

No one class in a country can achieve the cherished goals of prosperity and security if all around everything wrong continues to flourish. This is the central point. Educated India needs to awaken in its own interest, and seek to change things by reviving the tradition of a constructive interface with society and the community. Even in small ways. It is not necessary for everybody to try and become Mahatma Gandhi. There is no need for unacceptable sacrifices. There is no need for absolute or dramatic gestures. There is no need to suddenly renounce all your pleasures and pursuits. The country is crying out for a pragmatic revolution, for a middle space between the high idealism of Gandhiji, and, the complete absence of any sense of social sensitivity in most of us fifty years after independence. The only plea-and again on the basis of self-interest- is that, even as you live in your own little worlds of aspirations and desires, spare just in little time to notice what is wrong and what needs to be done, so that each of us can begin to make the transition from an uncaring and selfish resident to a caring and concerned citizen.

I believe that, in spite of the truly unacceptable levels of selfishness around us, there are still some people and institutions

who can be role models, beacons of light. In this vital endeavour. There are some who in their spare time arc making adults literate. There are others —who without any major personal sacrifices —have adopted the children of victims of terrorism and are ensuring their education. There are examples of those who have mobilised thousands of children in the fight against pollution. Or have raised money for a borewell to be dug to provide potable water to the residents of the nearest jhuggi-jhompri colony. A few are involved in making Delhi a cleaner city and there are those who are working to preserve its architectural heritage. There are people, like you and me, with the same desires and pursuits, who are happier because of their involvement in the rehabilitation of the handicapped.

Many more examples can be cited, but I believe that there are many among us who are tired of only living at the plane of hypocrisy and deception. They would like to contribute in a more meaningful and fulfilling why to society and community. I believe that the powerful legacy of sewa in all Indian religions may be heavily camouflaged but is not entirely dead. The examples cited in this book provide proof that this is true.

HelpAge India: Because We too Will be Old

One of the less noticeable but festering problem of urban India is the increasing number of the old, and the diminishing number of those interested in looking after them. In the shadows of the frenetic pace of our small towns and big cities, which leave the young with little time or inclination to be concerned about anything but their own interests, there is the reality of an aging India. According to reliable statistics, there are 70 million senior citizens in India today, and the number is expected to go up to 177 million by the year 2025.

With the breakdown of the ‘joint family’, elderly people have become more and more vulnerable and lonely. There is a shortage of space in cramped urban homes. There is a greater demand on incomes by the television watching young. And, there is a breakdown of values. The problem assumes a crisis proportion because 90% of the elderly are from the unorganised sector, which means no pension, provident fund or medical insurance when they turn 60.

HelpAge India was born in 1978 to come to grips with this problem. Its essential aim is to raise funds in order to support voluntary organisations across the country which seek to help the elderly and the aged. In its first year, HelpAge India raised a meagre 22 lakhs, which helped fund 13 projects. This year, its budget is close to 13 crores, and it is involved in the funding of 500 voluntary organisations.

HelpAge India takes no money from the Government. Significantly, the single largest segment of its budget - Rs. 4 crores - comes from donations made by school children. It is equally significant that most of these children are not from public or private schools, but from their humbler cousins -government schools. An important source of funding is through its Direct Mail Appeal Scheme, where it writes for donations directly to people. Such appeals yielded close to 2 crores last year. Corporate houses also contribute, but their share is fairly insignificant, at less than 20 lakhs per year. About 1% of the total funds come from HelpAge Greeting Cards.

HelpAge uses these funds to provide financial support to 800 homes and 123 Day Care Centres run for the aged. These homes are mostly in the nature of dormitories where food, shelter and health care are provided. Anybody over 60, who needs these facilities is eligible to join a home. Patients can also fund their own stay in a home, but mostly, the inmates are those who have been left as excess baggage by their kith and kin on the fast, track of upward urban mobility.

There are two activities in which HelpAge is involved directly. The first is arranging cataract operations for the aged. Last year, it arranged for 57,000 cataract operations. HelpAge also runs Mobile Medicare Units catering exclusively to the destitute aged. There are 8 such Units in Delhi, and 95 all over India. It also runs an “Adopt A Granny - Scheme”. Under this scheme, elderly people can be sponsored by families and individuals. Their daily needs are met through a small monthly contribution of Rs.400 from donors. If you adopt a grandmother or a grandfather, HelpAge will send you a picture of your beneficiary; you can meet the person and be directly involved in their rehabilitation. It is a pity that there are only 28,000 people in the whole of India who have responded to this scheme.

It is a recognised fact that in our materialistic world, the elderly are often relegated to oblivion because they are no longer capable of income generation. It is for this reason that HelpAge also has several income generating schemes by which the aged are, to the extent feasible, provided training and opportunities to be economically independent.

In all its activities, the primary aim of HelpAge is to try and raise the consciousness in ordinary people about the problems and travails of the elderly. This is not an easy task, specially because, increasingly, the Great Indian Civilisation has reduced itself to judging any and every thing only by the touchstone of its monetary value. But, once again, if we want to be a civil society, we cannot ignore such matters, particularly because respect for the old is an inherent part of our civilisational inheritance.

Random examples can bring tears to one’s eyes. Satyawati, a 70 year old and unwell lady, has lived for the last 13 years in a Manila Ashram. She has a television in her room, but her eyes are fixed on the door with the hope that one day her son will return from abroad and enquire about her well being. Another lady, Daya Rani, signed off her property to her children and gave her money to her daughter who then needed it. Now penniless, none of her children are willing to look after her. Ram Prabhu, 76, has cataract in both eyes. His wife died last year and his children have left the village to live in the city, leaving him alone.

If we cannot look after our elderly, we are forfeiting the happiness and solace of our own sunset years. Our President K.R. Narayanan is a Patron to HelpAge India, as is former President R. Venkatraman. You can be involved with HelpAge by helping spread awareness, being a regular donor and helping to enrol donors. (HelpAge India can be contacted at C-14, Qutab Institutional Area, New Delhi-16.)

Sai Kripa at NOIDA

Anjina Rajagopal

I have often wondered why is it that a given situation affects two persons differently. Everyday, in this vast and sprawling metropolis, each of us, in some way or the other, is exposed to what is unacceptable by any standard for any civilised society. And yet, for most people, this appalling state of affairs makes little or no dent to the amazingly insular life that they have become accustomed to live. But, there is always the possibility, and the great hope that an unacceptable situation may react differently on that one individual who is willing to take the trouble to change things around him or her.

Anjina Rajagopal, 46, is a living symbol that such a hope still exists. In 1988, she was going to her office in the Times of India where she worked as a steno-typist. Near her office, she saw a very young boy being beaten mercilessly by a tea-stall owner. Unlike many others who passed the screaming child, she stopped. On enquiry, she found that the boy could neither speak nor hear. He survived by begging for food in exchange for which he was given a few morsels of putrefying food by the tea vendor and made to work for this largesse. If he did not work well, he was beaten. Anjina enquired about the boy’s parents. They were unknown. She sought the help of the local police station. The parents or any other relative could not be traced. She advertised but got no response. Finally, she took the boy to her home in NOIDA.

This boy, whom she later named Rajat, became the foundation of Anjina’s organisation - Sai Kripa. This handicapped and homeless orphan boy crying for help as he was being thrashed on a street where thousands of middle class Delhiites go about their business everyday, became the living foundation stone for Sai Kripa

Anjina hails from Bellary in Karnataka. As a child, she still remembers that children in her village would beat drums and carry notebooks down the streets of the village, knocking at every door for donations for the orphanage in which they lived. Later in life, she remained deeply disturbed by the sight of children being exploited around her. There was an urge to do something about it. The opportunity came with Rajat, the child whom she took home.

Sai Kripa was formally registered on February 27, 1990 at F-44, Sector 20, NOIDA. Its basic aim is to provide a home for children who are homeless for reasons beyond their control. Its goal is not only to provide food and shelter but also to give such children love and affection. Sai Kripa does not like itself to be called an orphanage. It considers itself to be a home with Anjina as the universal ‘Mummy’. Today, Anjina’s home, ‘Bal Kutir’, consists of a family of 25 children, 11 girls and 13 boys, the youngest one just 14 months old and the eldest 17 years.

As often happens in such ventures, Sai Kripa’s next activity was focused on education. With the aim of serving the needy, the organisation set up a school in 1991 in Wazirpur village, about 16 kms from Noida. Initially, the school had classes only up to the 2nd Std. but now has expanded to have classes up to the 9th grade. Today, the school has as many as 300 children, but the beginnings were tough. It took a fair degree of sustained effort to motivate parents to send their children to school, especially in the case of daughters. In time, hostility gave way to curiosity, and curiosity, finally, to support.

Sai Kripa also runs vocational training centres, specially for those children who come for assistance at the age of 13 and above. Since these children are overage to attend formal schools, they are taught informally and helped to acquire vocational skills. The tailoring unit of Sai Kripa commenced in November 1992. It makes dresses for sale. Besides teaching tailoring to the girls at the school, another area of activity is the decoration of artifacts. Terracotta items are brought from the market, decorated and exhibited for sale. Children art’ also helped to make candles in their spare time. Carpentry is another skill taught to the children.

Sai Kripa has grown but is still fledgling ‘Bal Kutir’ is housed in as many as six rented rooms- The organisation is also short of staff and is badly in need of help from volunteers. Above all, Anjina’s project needs financial support.

It is worthwhile to mention that several organisations have come forward to help. CRY, supports Sai Kripa financially. The Concern India Foundation also lends a helping hand. The Lioness Club and Rotary Club in Noida have provided valuable support. Even the Noida Administration has tried to help by providing accommodation at subsidised rents.

But there appears to be a woeful shortage of private corporate sponsorship. The only corporate entity which has come forward to help the school by contributing lab equipment and computers is a foreign organistion - American Express -something to ponder about indeed for the many affluent Indian businessmen in Delhi and NOIDA.

Rajat is today 17 years old. He still cannot hear or speak, but is able to express himself very well through his actions. He is a happy child and an excellent carpenter. It is he who makes the boxes, cots and stools for Sai Kripa. A long journey indeed from the homeless child crying in agony at a tea-stall at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. (Sai Kripa can be contacted at Z-133 6r 134, Sector 12, Noida-201301.)

Child Relief and You

Praveen Sharma & Radha Roy Sarkar

For those of us who live in the somewhat insulated middle class enclaves of urban India, it is instructive to occasionally recall certain facts about the country we live in. 11,000 children die everyday of easily preventable diseases; 1.5 million children die every year of diarrhoea; there are 13 million homeless children in India; 4 out of 5 children in India will never enter a school; 70% of children drop out of school before they enter class IV. There are 111 million child labourers and 11 lakh street children in India. Ten million children work as bonded labourers. One out of six girls will not see her 12th birthday. The mortality rate of children under 5 in India is one of the highest in the world.

To many readers, these would be just statistics, dissociated from their real lives. However, the truth is that their own security and prosperity is directly linked to a dramatic improvement in the situation that these statistics outline. Otherwise, we will continue to live in a fool’s paradise, rapidly-eroding the very security and prosperity we desire.

Child Relief and You (CRY) began in 1979 to help deprived children. In 1979, seven friends got together and with a contribution of Rs. 7 each, and a combined pool of Rs, 50, registered CRY as a Charitable Trust. The leader among them was Rippan Kapur. He was born in 1954 and died prematurely, when just 40, in 1994. Rippan grew up in a privileged middle class family. He attended St. Columbus and Elphinstone College in Bombay, and worked later with Oberoi hotels and Air India. From the beginning, he had shown an inclination towards social activism which found fulfilment when, at the age of 25, he set up CRY. The reasons for starting CRY were clearly stated by him: “I felt a sense of disgust at the way some children were growing up in India. I realised I could not just stand back and do nothing about it.”

In the early years of CRY, Rippan’s dining table at home served as an office. For quite some time, CRY shifted from one make-shift office to another - from the bedroom in Rippan’s house to garages without electricity and godowns without toilets.

Gradually, the organisation began to grow. In 1980, the famous Cards Division of CRY was born; in 1981, CRY hired its first employee. In 1987, CRY began a corpus (Child Development Fund) as an investment for its future. In the same year, it opened branches in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta.

The essential aim of CRY was, and is, to raise funds for helping deprived children in the fields of education, income generation, vocational training and health care. CRY understood that many people who wish to work for social causes and have the resources to do so, do not know where to begin. It thus became a link organisation to help such people, and give reality to their urge for social activism. It also became a major funding organisation for effective non-governmental organisations working for children at the grassroots level across India.

The modus operandi of CRY is simple. It identifies honest and effective NGOs and evaluates their profiles and budgets. Then, professionals from its Programme Support Unit examine the concerned NGO, and if, after scrutiny, it comes up to par, funds are sanctioned to it. The utilisation of these funds is carefully monitored. CRY disburses funds only on a quarterly basis, after receiving and scrutinising quarterly returns. It also organises training for social activists, especially teachers. Through this process, CRY today supports 200 NGOs on a pan-India basis in addition to several socially concerned individuals. In Delhi alone, it supports 14 organisations working with slum and street children.

CRY cards are a significant success story. The year 1988 was the year of Art for CRY, and the event created a national impact marking CRY’s 10lh anniversary. 144 artists donated 180 pieces of work. Companies, both big and small, sponsored projects and publications. The Tata Group of companies underwrote the expenses. It was a major fund-raising drive, which brought the objectives for which CRY was created into national focus.

In addition to selling the cards, CRY consciously seeks donations, specially from the corporate sector. CRY rightfully believes that the corporate sector needs to be aware of its social responsibilities. It thus seeks contributions from it under its scheme called Direct Project Funding. Several socially conscious corporate houses have responded. Tatas was one of the pioneers. The Jindals Group and Titan are important donors. Ironically, among the other big donors are foreign companies such as the American Express, British Airways and ANZ Grindlays Bank.

As part of its fund-raising drive, CRY also brings out corporate gifts such as desk calendars and travel and address books which every concerned Indian should buy.

Under the Adopt A Project Scheme, a company or individuals can identify a project/fellow supported by CRY whose work interests them and choose to support the entire project or part of it. This scheme is tailor-made for socially sensitive corporates and individuals. For instance, only recently, Motorola in Bangalore supported SNEAHA, a project working for the upliftment of tribal and rural communities in Bellary, one of the most backward districts in Karnataka. Not just children but women and the community are direct beneficiaries of Motorola’s support. Motorola’s team regularly visits SNEAHA to assess first hand the effect of their support.

Starting with a mere Rs.50, today CRY reaches out to over 700,000 children through 228 Child Development Projects disbursing Rs.14 crores. The basis of its work is that it can motivate people like YOU to help in a cause without whose success your own security and prosperity will be jeopardised. As Rippan Kapur said: “One cannot be satisfied as long as there are children who need help. One just has to keep going at it.”

Whatever the success of CRY, only the tip of the problem has been dealt with. Organisations like CRY need your help. (CRY can be contacted at DDA Slum Wing (Barat Ghar), Bapu Park, Kotla Mubarakpur, New Delhi-110003

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