Baba Adhav, 78, Pune
For bringing dignity to labour
Adhav set up Hamal Panchayat in Barshi (Solapur district, Maharashtra) in 1955 for fighting for the causes of the hamal (or ‘coolies’). The Association of Maharashtra Farmers affected by dams and projects was also formed by Adhav and his comrade Datta Deshmukh. Their persistent efforts led to the enactment of the first ever Rehabilitation Act in India. Today, Adhav is involved with about 20 organisations that encompass everyone from porters (hamal), loaders (mathadi) and construction workers to domestic workers, brick kiln workers, quarry workers, cycle rickshaw pullers, waste-pickers, hawkers and vendors. His latest crusade is to get the Unorganised Sector Workers’ Social Security Bill, 2005, passed as an Act.
Parthibhai Bhatol, 65,
For bumping up Amul’s turnover
Two years ago, Bhatol took over the reins of India’s largest milk food business from Verghese Kurien, the brain behind the White Revolution, to become the first farmer in the country to lead the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), or Amul. There were critics aplenty. But Bhatol has silenced them all. On his watch, GCMMF’s turnover went up 39 per cent from Rs 3,774 crore in 2005-06 to Rs 5,255 crore in 2007-08. “We are aiming to cross Rs 6,500 crore by next year and Rs 10,000 crore in two to three years,” says the champion of marginalised farmers, who has also worked as a primary school teacher.
Kambel Chulai, 69,
For making a low-cost crematorium that runs on firewood
Chulai was always troubled that his clan required two full-grown pine trees to build a frame-like pyre for cremating the dead. His crematorium has two parts—the pyre and a kiln-like structure, which directs the path of the flames and intensifies the heat. And instead of about Rs 5,000, only Rs 200 worth of firewood is needed. Taking eight years to develop the design, the first cremation took place in June 2003—after convincing his people to shun a life-long custom. Almost 80 per cent of cremations in Jowai now take place in this crematorium, which has the potential to become an eco-friendly model nationwide.
Mandakini Dravid, 81, Pune
For proving that age is no bar to education
On 25 June 2008, Dravid became the oldest person to be awarded a PhD by the University of Pune—at the age of 81. Her thesis ‘Medical and Psychiatric Social Work Practice—Process and Analysis’ is a sum of her work as a trained social worker at Sassoon Hospital, Pune, for the past 40 years. Dravid has worked at Yerawada Mental Hospital and many other hospitals across Maharashtra on diverse issues related to the mentally ill, physically challenged, unmarried mothers, abandoned babies, adoption, marital discord, alcoholism, drug addiction and disaster management. In 1973, she started Sreevatsa—an orphanage for abandoned children that also arranges adoptions.
Hirbaiben Lobi, 55
For giving backward communities a future to look forward to
The Siddis, one of Gujarat’s most backward communities, have for centuries led life in the shadows, marginalised and illiterate. Now, the future seems brighter for this tribe, thanks to Lobi. Illiterate herself, she is leading a quiet revolution across 18 villages in Saurashtra. Her initiatives include a cooperative movement, family planning, and small savings group. Competing successfully against established brands, her vermicompost manufacturing group sold compost worth Rs 700,000 last year. Helping to build a community school for the Siddis, she’s now planning a college. Lobi has won the Women’s World Summit Foundation Prize (2002) and the Jankidevi Bajaj Award (2006) for Rural Entrepreneurship.
Brother Brendan Maccarthaigh, 70,
For trying to eliminate suffering from the Indian classroom
MacCarthaigh developed a study module—Student’s Empowerment, Rights and Vision through Education (SERVE)—in 1996 to de-stress children during examinations and minimise student suicides. In 2001, Janaki Rajan, then director of State Council Educational Research and Training (SCERT) Delhi allowed the system to be adopted in the state but the programme was stopped after Rajan’s term. While La Martiniere School for Girls uses it for lower classes in Kolkata, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand began to support the module since last year. Now, MacCarthaigh hopes to motivate retired silvers to become more active in the community and join the movement to make Indian classrooms happier places.
Hasnath Mansur, 70,
For awakening Muslim women to their potential
Former principal of a girl’s college, Mansur has committed herself to educate poor Muslim women and make them aware of their rights under the constitution. In May 2008, her organisation Tameer (Arabic for ‘creating’ or ‘constructing’) completed a three-year project sponsored by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) to spread information and education among Muslim women in the city through a series of camps. Tameer also aims to empower disadvantaged Muslim women by offering small loans to start small-scale business with the help of self-help groups. Mansur was recently successful in getting the Karnataka State Minorities Finance Development Corporation (KSMFDC) to grant loans to these women.
Subhashini Mistry, 60, Hanspukur, West Bengal
For bringing health to the poor
Mistry overcame abject poverty to establish Humanity Hospital, which offers free medical care to the poor in Hanspukur, near Kolkata. To build the hospital, she sold vegetables, scrubbed floors and worked as a daily labourer at construction sites. The hospital started in a temporary shed in 1993; today, it has expanded to 10,000 sq ft spread over two floors and has 35 beds. Until recently, the hospital had a makeshift operation theatre. In December 2007, a new operation state-of-the-art theatre comparable to those found in the best private hospitals was inaugurated. Mistry’s dream: to make Humanity Hospital a 700-bed, super-speciality hospital.
Hardev Singh Sawhney, 76,
For adopting silvers in his neighbourhood
In 2006, Patel Nagar police station in Delhi appointed Sawhney honorary special police officer (HSPO)—the friendly, civilian face of police involved in sensitive cases like family and property disputes where people are often wary of lodging a police complaint. Going a step ahead, Sawhney has adopted eight silvers living alone in his colony. He visits them regularly, pays their bills and fits safety gadgets at his own expense to ensure their security. In case of medical emergencies, he even helps with hospitalisation. In July 2008, he was issued a certificate of appreciation by the police station for his ‘pioneering work in protecting interest of senior citizens’.
Laxman Singh, 52,
For being a water warrior
Singh’s ingenious method of water harvesting turned a poor and arid Lapodiya into a drought-proof and poverty free village. His chauka system—channels and square pits fringed by bunds in a chequerboard pattern over a 5-km expanse—collects rainwater and allows it to flow through dry wastelands, converting them into grassy patches ready for pasture. In recent years, his chauka have sprung up all over Rajasthan, over an estimated 30,000 hectare in 700 villages. In March 2008, Singh started a two-year project funded by UK-based Wells for India. The NGO has already offered about Rs 3 million to extend its water-harvesting programme to include more villages in the area.