Harmony - Silverawards 2010 - The Winner
Annaswamy Ranganatha Rao, 103
“Education is not a filling of the pail, but a lighting of the fire”
William Butler Yeats
When Professor Annaswamy Ranganatha Rao set out to become a math teacher he never once imagined that one day he would be regarded as the Socrates of Ahmedabad, the Ghalib of Mathematics and the father of non-formal mathematics in India. Rao set up India’s first math lab in 1974—a feat that is now made mandatory in all CBSE and ICSE schools across the country. Located at the Vikram Sarabhai Community Science Centre (VSCSC) in Ahmedabad, the lab features 200 mathematical models that demystify complex theorems and equations and make math fascinating and fun. The innovative concept has won Rao several accolades including the National Award for Popularising Mathematics and Science in 1997 from the National Council of Science and Technology Communication. To evoke further interest in the subject, he has penned several books and puzzle collections (aptly titled Brain Teasers) for all age groups. Rao, who used to conduct lectures at the VSCSC campus till last year, now holds weekly problem-solving sessions for math enthusiasts at his house. The amazingly active centenarian believes the process of teaching needs to be modified to ensure students think creatively and independently in any field of their choice. He means what he says—adults and children who visit the math lab have now learnt to love the subject that once intimidated them.
Sekhar Raghavan, 63
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you cannot change it, change your attitude.”
Sekhar Raghavan has taught rural and city folk in Tamil Nadu to adopt traditional methods of water harvesting; use eco-friendly toilets; reuse wastewater; and conserve water on a daily basis. By doing so he has brought a significant rise in the groundwater levels of Chennai. After conducting an extensive study of water consumption involved in sewage disposal (“10 per cent of sewage requires 90 per cent of water to flush it”), Raghavan began to raise awareness among Dalit fisher folk in Kovalam, Tamil Nadu, on the relevance of ecological sanitation. Then, villagers in Kovalam used a ‘pit’ toilet—a hole in the ground that contaminates groundwater and spreads water-borne diseases. Raghavan introduced ‘Eco-san’ toilets to the village in January 2006. A dry composting toilet, the structure is built slightly above the ground and consists of two chambers. One chamber collects solid waste while the other collects liquid waste and wash water. After the toilet is used, the solid waste is covered with ash, which stimulates bacterial activity that causes the waste to compost, while the liquid waste and wash water empty out into plant beds. Encouraged by the response from villagers, in 2008, the Akash Ganga Trust, established by Raghavan eight years ago, built 66 Eco-san toilets in Kovalam in collaboration with the Institute of Buddhism & Economics.
P Gopinathan, 64
“Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.”
A school dropout, P Gopinathan has left an indelible mark on Kerala’s handloom industry by empowering 1,800 women across six panchayats through the art of weaving. The women organised under 27 mahila samajam constitute Gopinathan’s Eco Tex Handloom Consortium that weaves some of Kerala’s best saris, shirts, mundu (sarongs) and rugs. Forty years ago, armed with nothing but a dream, Gopinathan went door to door in the tiny fishing hamlets of Poovathur and Manchavilakom in Kerala to teach poor women weaving—free of cost. Today the two villages occupy prominent positions on Kerala’s handloom map. In 2004, he set up a weaving school where women from backward communities are taught to weave for free. He was also instrumental in getting the Kerala government to pass a Bill in 2010 for coir, khadi and handloom workers, ensuring a minimum 100 days of wages a year and maternity leave with a month’s wages. The tireless crusader was awarded the Padmashri in 2007. However, the road so far has been anything but easy—two years ago, Gopinathan mortgaged his house and a 1-acre plot to clear the consortium’s debts and pay the weavers’ bonus. The gentle silver is not intimidated by adversity. Next on his agenda is a general school to train women weavers to ease the labour crunch in the sector.
A Sharfudeen, 68
“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it in himself.”
After 20 years of heavy smoking, A Sharfudeen had to make the most painful decision of his life: choose between his life and his voice. In January 1999, in a dreadful battle with laryngeal cancer, his larynx, or voice box, was removed. Undeterred by the setback, Sharfudeen turned his loss into his life’s most ardent mission: to save others from repeating his mistake. After his surgery, he learnt to communicate through writing and sign language, and in 2002, he was fitted with an electrolarynx, an external device which when pressed against the throat reads speech vibrations, which are then translated into coherent ‘speech’. Today Sharfudeen uses his raspy voice to spearhead one of the most successful anti-smoking campaigns in Chennai. He uses the Adyar Cancer Hospital’s Tobacco Cessation Clinic to send out a powerful message to smokers and cancer survivors. He also speaks at various cancer awareness programmes conducted by the hospital in schools and colleges and corporate firms. Sharfudeen is the secretary of the Larynx Welfare Association, a voluntary group located on the Adyar Cancer Hospital campus. Through the association, Sharfudeen trains people to use an electrolarynx and conducts sessions where members discuss their psychological and clinical fears associated with the disease; share their experiences; and even receive pre-operative counselling. Sharfudeen’s voice may be unusual, but so is his courage to take on life.
Yogeshwar Kumar, 59
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
Yogeshwar Kumar has been constructing micro-hydroelectric plants in Leh, Uttarakhand, Uttaranchal, Meghalaya, Orissa and Jammu & Kashmir for more than three decades. He has built 15 plants to date, all of them owned and operated by villagers. An IIT-ian, Kumar’s dream is to “give people power over power”. Kumar harnesses the force of community participation to fuel his ideas. Under his guidance, villagers come together to form an Urja Samiti that is engaged in everything from planning and monitoring the project to operations and maintenance. Villagers are trained at Kumar’s modest workshop in Delhi to run and maintain the plants. Once the turbine is set up, meters are installed in each home and the money thus earned is used to pay a villager designated to operate and maintain the turbine while 25 per cent goes to the samiti. While a government electricity connection costs Rs 1,000-1,500 per household, a connection from the micro-hydel plant costs just Rs 500. That’s not all; he has also introduced wool-carding machines and organised felt-making workshops to produce value-added products out of wool. At present, he is on a special mission for the government’s Defence Research and Development Organisation, conducting experiments at high-altitudes to ensure that troops stationed in crucial areas receive the requisite nutrition, and has also tied up with the National Institute for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development to provide villagers practical skills.
V Mani, 73
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
He could have led a relaxed life after retiring as assistant general manager from Reserve Bank of India. But Venkataragavachari Mani chose the road less travelled and started SOCARE IND (Society for the Care of Indigent). In 1998, Mani converted his house in Rajajinagar, Bengaluru into a hostel for children of life convicts. Today SOCARE paves a secure future for 156 children aged between two and 18 years. With unwavering patience and perseverance, Mani tends to every need of his wards—education, food, clothes, extracurricular training and emotional succour. Under Mani’s tender care, children whose destinies were once entwined with the crimes committed by their parents now fearlessly dream of becoming engineers, business entrepreneurs, professors and doctors. Mani makes sure nothing casts a shadow on their fledgling aspirations—he brings in funds by appealing to donors; selling newspapers; making greeting cards; and even pledging his savings and his wife’s jewellery. In 2004, he built a three-storied bungalow in Leggere in Bengaluru as a separate accommodation for adolescent and teenage boys. He is now gathering funds and resources to set up a larger facility that will house a senior citizens’ home, school, larger hostel and a clinic for the poor.
Dilip Velaskar, 69
“Another word for creativity is courage.”
After a decade of relentless, intensive research on the role of platelets in cardiovascular events, Dr Dilip Velaskar developed the Rapid Thrombocheck Kit in 2009. The kit, a blessing for silvers, uses an aggregometry test to predict the probability of a stroke and other cardiovascular events. A huge leap in preventive medicine, it achieves this by correlating hyperactive platelets with heart attacks. Compared to the existing test used by technicians in research clinics, which is lengthy, cumbersome and costs as much as Rs 3,000, the Rapid Thrombochek Kit can be used in small clinical laboratories for Rs 250-300 per test. Small laboratories can purchase the kit for Rs 600 and use each kit up to 10 times. Though the kit is awaiting international patent, Velaskar is confident that once it hits the market it will create a paradigm shift in the approach of healthcare experts to cardiovascular events. High-risk patients can be identified and put on anti-platelet medicine or blood thinners such as Aspirin. “Around 4 billion silvers in India are on a daily dose of Aspirin without undergoing any sort of testing,” says Velaskar. “It is like using insulin without monitoring blood glucose. I want to prevent the spurious use of commonly available drugs and foster preventive medical care.”
Ram Snehi, 80
“One man with courage makes a majority.”
Ram Snehi fought the mafia, flesh traders and corrupt officials to rescue thousands of girls from the evils of prostitution in Chambal in Madhya Pradesh. Born into the Bedia community, where girls were ceremoniously initiated into prostitution before puberty and marriage was unheard of, Snehi worked tirelessly with the police and other agencies since 1953, to help young women secretly escape from brothels. Over the past 58 years, he has singlehandedly moved the local administration to rid the region of open prostitution. In 1991, galvanised into action by a PIL filed by Snehi, the Gwalior bench of the Jabalpur High Court cracked down on ‘red light’ districts in the state. In 1992, Snehi started the Abhyudaya Ashram where young girls and boys of the affected families of the Bedia community are given food, shelter and a decent education. Over the years, his ashram has nurtured half-a-dozen civil servants, three police officers, and 194 state-level and 37 national-level sportswomen. Many of his wards stay back with him or join other NGOs to continue the war against prostitution, AIDS, and other evils plaguing the community. The brave silver has sponsored 57 marriages and even offers the ashram as a venue for those who cannot afford expensive marriage halls. Snehi is now rallying for welfare efforts from the government for rehabilitation of sex workers and development of the Bedia community.
Sudarshan Mitter, 75
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
Over a span of 20 years, Sudarshan Mitter has offered 2,000 children in Faridabad the gift of education. A homeopathic doctor, Mitter first extended a compassionate hand to the needy by offering free medicines and running charitable dispensaries wherever her husband was posted. Disturbed by the aimlessness of children of menial labourers, rickshaw pullers, mechanics, domestic help, sweepers and rag-pickers, Mitter decided to teach them at a park near her house. She started in 1990 by seeking out 15 children as her students; at the moment, her ‘coaching centre’ at Sector 17 Park guides 160 children and she has 12 teachers to assist her. While moulding young destinies, Mitter has also found another calling: the welfare and rehabilitation of destitute women. Every month she offers rations of oil, rice, flour, lentils and pickle to poor women. Her school has triggered ever larger ripples of change in people’s mindsets. Inspired by Mitter’s initiative, reputed public schools in Faridabad have given admissions to many of her students and teachers at coaching centres volunteer their time at the park. Mitter does not merely educate, she also helps her wards find jobs and encourages them to tap into their creative talents. Many of her students are enrolled in drawing and dance classes. In February 2006, Mitter set up the Vishwa Darshan Charitable Trust—funds for which come from both philanthropists and her former students who are now leading successful, cultured lives.
Bharat Singh Sisodia, 66
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
T S Eliot
A former police inspector known for his unbiased handling of communal tension in southern Rajasthan, Bharat Singh Sisodia is now heralded as the saviour of the very people he once antagonised. In 2002, Sisodia set up the Vagad Sena Sansthan trust, which supplies subsidised medicines to the poor; provides free medicines and emergency health services to families who live below the poverty line; runs a opium de-addiction centre; gives accommodation to hearing and speech-impaired students studying in the civic school; and offers boarding facilities to families who come to the hospital here. Sisodia helped drastically cut the crime rate in the tribal area of Magadha village in Banswara by counselling tribal families about the importance of education; empowering them with jobs; and convincing shopkeepers to escalate prices of alcohol in order to push it beyond the reach of the poor masses. The determined silver travelled through 115 villages in Udaipur and Banswara—the opium trading belt of Rajasthan—in a span of 12 months and implemented one of the most successful de-addiction campaigns. In 2006, the Vagad Seva Sansthan Trust took over the dharamshala in Maharana Bhhupal Hospital, Udaipur, furnishing it and providing bedding and a kitchen for fresh cooked food for families of patients, apart from establishing a de-addiction centre. Today, the trust runs five such dharamshala around the hospital.