Harmony - Silverawards 2009 - The Winner
DR ALAN DAVIS ALAPATT, 59
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose”
In 1972, Dr Alan Davis Alapatt was planning to immigrate to the US. He didn’t know that his decision to stay back would change the lives of thousands in India. Last year, he entered the Limca Book of Records for offering free polio immunisation vaccines to over 19,000 children. Since 1994, he also runs a free clinic for the Warli tribal community in Talwada, Maharashtra. There, he has treated more than 20,000 villagers; cured hundreds of people of leprosy; opened an old age home for abandoned silvers; and set up a rainwater harvesting project. Dr Alapatt works well past midnight at his clinic in Mumbai every day. But he still finds time to organise picnics for AIDS-afflicted children, and to perform free cornea removal surgeries for eye banks. This compassionate hero still believes he has a long way to go—and a lot more to give.
ANUPAM MISHRA, 57
“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water”
Anupam Mishra believes the past holds the key to the future. Thirty years of studying India’s driest regions have convinced him of one thing: traditional systems like tanks and bunds are the best way to tackle water shortage. And he aims to convince the world of this. His books Aaj Bhi Khare Hain Talab and Rajasthan Ki Rajat Boondein have sold nearly 100,000 copies, and have been translated in five languages. They are veritable do-it-yourself handbooks. He also corresponds with over 3,000 readers and participates in international events to spread the message. In fact, his work has inspired many others. Two examples are NGO Tarun Bhagat Sangh, which received the Magasaysay Award in 2001, and last year’s Harmony Silver Award winner Laxman Singh. Today, Mishra heads the environmental cell of the Gandhi Peace Foundation but insists on a low profile. He refuses to accept any royalty for his work, or acclaim—he just wants people to listen.
MEENAKSHI BALASUBRAMANIAN, 62
“He who looks outside, dreams. He who looks inside, awakens”
Meenakshi Balasubramanian chose to view her son’s disability not as a roadblock but a reason to build another road. She started the Mutually Beneficial Activity Foundation in 2001 to rehabilitate the disabled and restore their self-esteem. Today, the MBA Foundation addresses the special needs of 72 young men and women. Further, it motivates them to recognise their talents and stand on their own feet. Members of the Foundation make a variety of products and market them on their own. Many have found jobs in multinationals, others are pursuing degrees while many more are part of an executive training programme. Balasubramanian is now building a vocational and day care centre at Gorai in Mumbai. She also wants to build a seniors’ home so ageing parents can live in proximity to their differently abled children. Her work is proof that no dream is impossible, no matter how different we are.
DR SISTER JUDE, 67
When you are willing and eager, the gods join in
Plagued by crime, illiteracy and lack of healthcare services, Mau in eastern Uttar Pradesh is the real India. With no other medical facility in a 40-km radius, the only hope is Fatima Hospital. Here, Dr Sister Jude and her team assure expectant mothers that they are in safe hands. Dr Jude came to Mau in 1976 for a three-month stint and never left. In these 33 years, she has performed 70,000 caesareans, conducted corrective surgeries for birth defects and handled the most complex gynaecological problems. She is a recipient of the Karamveer Samman for her contribution to healthcare by the Gorakhpur-based Yuva Chetna Samiti. Dr Jude has also started a course called DAWN DGO where two medical students will train with her for two years. With a miraculous touch that extends to the papayas in her garden, Dr Jude is Mau’s Gaurav, its pride.
ASA DUTTA, 80
To learn is to change
Education is a process that changes the learner. It changed Asa Dutta’s life. Daughter of a schoolteacher, she used education for her own fulfilment—and to make thousands of women self-reliant. Her adult literacy programme and tailoring school for women from Guwahati’s slums have given them a reason to celebrate life and age. Dutta’s quest for learning is her power. Recently, she completed her training in counselling at the Peace Centre in the Guwahati Archbishop’s campus. The oldest student in her course, she had no problem mixing with young collegians. She even had the best attendance record. Inspired by former president A P J Abdul Kalam’s Ignited Minds, she is now writing her own autobiography—a journey through history; a story of grit and gumption, and the story of an abiding faith in the women she inspires.
PRADEEP KSHETRAPAL, 56
“Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”
A school in a sleepy town in Chhattisgarh is leading the battle for the needs of special children. The man behind this school in Korba is Pradeep Kshetrapal. Set up in 1998, the Rotary School for Deaf, Blind and Autistic provides education up to Class X, vocational training and residential facilities. About 80 per cent of the children here are from poor families. For over 10 years, Kshetrapal faced endless hurdles to establish the school and register it with the state board. Lack of trained special educators was the most daunting challenge. Today, the school houses 120 children and 22 staff members. And last year, Chhattisgarh hosted its first workshop on autism. Kshetrapal wants us all to understand that special children don’t need charity or pity. Like every child, they have an absolute right to education—it is we who are impaired if we fail to impart it.
MUKESH ANAND, 59
“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”
For Mukesh Anand, service is a way of life. A former distributor for an automotive company, an accident in 1997 left him on crutches for a year. It also opened his eyes to the plight of the physically challenged. In collaboration with Rotary International, he set up an income-generating scheme for polio victims. Then, the Army asked Anand to help rehabilitate war-wounded soldiers after Kargil. He responded with Mission Vijay 2, persuading corporate houses to employ over 1,500 ex-servicemen. And now, he has come to the aid of impoverished cycle-rickshaw pullers in Gurgaon. He got five rickshaws fitted with ice boxes. This enabled the pullers to earn an extra Rs 600 per month by selling cold drinking water. Corporation Bank will now finance ice boxes for over 8,000 rickshaws in Gurgaon. Today, Mukesh Anand, who has always idolised Sunil Dutt, is no less of a hero.
SINDHUTAI SAPAKAL, 61
“A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary”
Dorothy Canfield Fisher / ‘Against all odds’
could well be Sindhutai Sapakal’s anthem. Neither social ostracism, nor poverty and hardship stopped her from forging a new life for herself—and over 1,000 orphans. She has given them her name, and a home in her five centres for unwanted children and destitute women in Maharashtra. At 61, Sindhutai sets a blistering pace, travelling across the country, raising awareness—and funds—for her work. Now she awaits the completion of her dream project, the five-storey Sanmati Bal Niketan. And continues to seek out orphan children to add to her brood. “If someone needs a mother, I am there,” she proclaims. She was there for Shyam Randive 30 years ago, when she rescued him from the streets. Now, the college professor is paying tribute to his saviour by writing a PhD thesis on her life.
BHAUSAHEB THORAT, 85
“Every problem has in it the seeds of its solution”
Norman Vincent Peale
200 km away from Mumbai’s power crisis and urban turmoil, a quiet social revolution is taking root. Dry as dust three years ago, Sangamner in the interiors of Maharashtra is lush with the colour of life. The man behind the tehsil’s green potential is 85 year-old Bhausaheb Santuji Thorat. A visionary in the disguise of a simple farmer, Bhausaheb has awakened the collective conscience of 50,000 people. In 2006, he launched the Dandakaranya Movement, a crusade to sow millions of seeds every monsoon. Its origin lies in the epic Ramayana, when the sage Agastya turned the arid Dandakaranya region into a green haven. The movement, which has been lauded by the United Nations’ Environment Programme, has inspired a book—and an entire generation of farmers. Despite Bhausaheb’s failing health, his imagination, ideas and hope continue to soar. He is sure there will be plenty of trees one day.
DR GANESH NARAYANDAS DEVY, 59
“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people”
William Butler Yeats
In the fast-paced world we live in, there are voices that are slowly fading into oblivion. Voices that speak of our roots… our identity. Dr Ganesh Narayandas Devy believes these vanishing languages don’t just remind us where we have come but also show us where we are headed. In 1996, he set up the Bhasha Trust to conserve minority languages and protect the human rights of marginalised tribes. Today the Trust has grown to represent the most insistent voice of progress in 2,200 tribal villages. Over the years, Dr Devy helped set up a micro-credit group that now has 300,000 members; a food grain bank that reaches out to 150 villages; an academy for research of tribal studies; a crafts cooperative for promotion of tribal art; and a green economic zone to save tribal land from the ruthless grasp of industrialisation. His is a voice that will only echo louder with time.