THE potential of Indian youth has deeply amazed people both at home and abroad. When they react, the ruling dispensation has to revert its anti-people decisions. When they pass out from IIMs and IITs, they astonish many by getting high packages in countries like USA, UK, Canada and Singapore. These bright professionals help a lot in shaping various fields of those countries. It is well known that major part of many of US companies’ workforce, including NASA, is these Indian scientists.
But this picture has another face, which is not highlighted. There are youth who returned home to serve their own people when their career was at its peak. Some, by choice, started working in remote villages, while some joined politics or even became sanyasis. On March 14, 2012, a total of 44 youth were initiated into Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan order at Salangpur temple of Saurashtra. Seventeen of those 44 youth were engineers, three doctors and over a dozen were NRIs. All these have been successful professionals. One of them was Jayesh Chokasi (24) who left the job of a successful aerospace engineer in the US. Similarly, Dharmesh (31) was working in Houston, Texas, as a software engineer and got an annual package of Rs 70 lakh.
Narayanan Krishnan of Madurai left a highly acclaimed chef job in a five star hotel of Switzerland, just to feed the mentally ill, destitute and abandoned people in Madurai. A single moment changed his life—seeing a man eating his own waste out of hunger and seeing many people wasting (even if it is un-intentional) at parties. In the last nine years he has served over 1.7 million hot meals, three times a day — breakfast, lunch and dinner — to the destitutes in Madurai alone. In 2003, Krishnan founded the Akshaya Trust for this purpose. When no barber was ready to cut the hair of such people, he even learnt hair cutting and has, so far, done more than 6000 haircuts for people on the road.
Not only those who settled abroad, but at home too many youth are setting exemplary precedents. In Delhi, a group of young professionals from diverse fields of health, agriculture, social science, management, technology started working with a vision to make a positive difference in the lives of rural people. Under the banner of ‘Chaupal’, a voluntary organisation, they have incorporated community-building components such as health, hygiene, agriculture, veterinary and social issues such as female foeticide, drug abuse, empowerment of women and deprived sections of society through education and dialogue. The group organises camps on weekends in rural areas, which lack modern medical facilities.
Started in April 2007 in Bengaluru as a platform under Hindu Seva Pratishthana to provide opportunities for youth who wanted to take active part in community development despite time constraints, the Youth for Seva (YFS) did a miracle in very short span. Hundreds of leading professions from IT, health and many other fields serve the underprivileged under this banner. The YFS runs projects for differently-abled, waste management, environment protection and health promotion and also education. Its projects, Green Commando and Doctors for Seva, have proved to be a big hit. It also has units in Delhi, Bhopal, Chennai and Hyderabad.
Noted mountaineer Dr Harshvanti Bisht, did a miracle in the Himalayan region by growing rare Bhojpatra and other plants at the high altitude of 12,500 feet for eco-restoration of the Gangotri-Gaumukh region. When her fellow mountaineers were busy conquering newer heights, the Arjuna Awardee Dr Bisht, a member of the 1984 Everest expedition, was chalking out strategies to address the ecological problems in the Gangotri-Gaumukh area. She says, “Covering almost two decades of sustained efforts, our experiences can hopefully help others who are struggling to protect fragile alpine environments, while balancing the benefits that religious and adventure tourism accrue to the local economy of mountain communities. Our progress in reestablishing birch trees can be of particular assistance to those seeking information on eco-rehabilitation in dry high altitude climates.”
Similarly, a gold-medalist turned farmer, Manoj Kumar from Mustafaganj (Bihar) started remarkable work of producing organic manure in the Maoist-controlled ‘red zone’ of Bihar. He formed a Kisan Club and started the production of vermi-compost and organic farming. His initiative began to energise the local economy. More than 150 women and 300 men of the village are producing organic manure in their bid for self-reliance and so that their children have a chance at education. Nearly 350 farmers in the village are organised into a green brigade under the aegis of the Kisan Club that has branches in 10 neighbouring villages. But Manoj hasn’t hung up his boots. He continues to move around educating farmers about the latest agricultural techniques and encouraging women to cultivate and become self-reliant.
A group of youth motivated with the zeal of doing something different for the young generation took an initiative known as Shikshantar in Udiapur of Rajasthan for rethinking education and development. From the very beginning, the youth, associated with it, focused on creating spaces in which people can start to reclaim control of their own shiksha. This is done in two ways—by exposing the culture of schooling and unlearning the damage it has done to us; and by exploring and regenerating spaces for sharing-up learning outside the culture of schooling. It has now evolved into a hybrid organisation – a research institute, library, community meeting space, publishing house, filmmaking studio, zero waste upcycling centre, organic farm, self-healing centre – to allow it to cater to varying needs and experiments of the larger movement.
Thirty year old Mittal Patel, a gold medalist from Gujarat University’s Department of Journalism, has been trying to give voice to twenty-eight nomadic communities and twelve de-notified tribes in eight districts of Gujarat, whose existence is hardly recognised or acknowledged. From helping them claim their land rights to getting voter ID cards, setting up a school for their children and fighting with bureaucrats to extend welfare benefits to them — she has been busy, to put it mildly. These communities were branded as ‘habitually criminal’ by the British under the Criminals Tribes Act of 1871. However, despite the Act being repealed in 1949, nomadic and de-notified tribes are yet to become a part of the Village Panchayat, as they reside outside the village boundaries and are often mobile. With no permanent address and membership in the Panchayat, the community can’t obtain ration cards, voter’s registration cards etc increasing their vulnerability. Over three million nomads did not figure in any government record at the time. Mittal and her team spent months travelling to far-flung rural areas to locate settlements and gather details to get them official identity. Thanks to her efforts, over 20,000 people from various settlements have got the right to vote. “Now, we enroll more than 3000 persons every year,” she says.
Despite being visually challenged since childhood, Mahantesh GK of Bengaluru formed a voluntary organisation that helped more than 3000 differently-abled gain education and jobs. He runs a BPO for the disabled that employs 100 blind and handicapped people; TechVision, a computer-training and personality development centre that has trained more than 600 disabled people over the past 13 years; a disabled-friendly school and a hostel that provides free accommodation to 125 college-going boys and girls.
Equally, Malathi Holla in Bengaluru is afflicted by polio since infancy. But she has given shelter to dozens of physically handicapped children and provides them with education, medical help and food. ‘Instill Self-Confidence’ is the moto of her Mathru Foundation. She is an international medal winning athlete, 300 to be precise, A Padmashri and Arjuna Award winner she has had 32 surgeries and still counting. She had her first two surgeries before she was three years old, averaged almost one surgery every six months for many years later. She suffers from ‘contracture,’ a condition where the nerves bunch up in a ball and have to be unknotted surgically. The domino effect of contracture, especially near the pelvis region, is a painful and crude S curvature of the body–the legs get bent backwards and the back forwards. She is said to be getting ready for her next surgery to be performed soon. Number 33.
These youth have definitely set an agenda for change. Instead of living in despair and regularly blaming the government for continuous apathy they started work on their own and achieved the results to be emulated by others. Swami Vivekananda had dreamed of a similar younger generation. His clarion call to the youth was to focus their collective energies towards nation building. “Let us all work hard, my brethren; this is no time for sleep. On our work depends the coming of the India of the future. She is there ready waiting. She is only sleeping. Arise and awake, and see her seated here, on her eternal throne, rejuvenated, more glorious than she ever was — this motherland of ours,” the great saint had said.
Underlying an agenda for Indian youth, the founder of Deendayal Research Institute Nanaji Deshmukh, in his letter dated 21-06-2005 said, “…there is no need for despair. You, the youth of this country, have been presented with a unique opportunity to create a flawless, progressive and indigenous model of development that can serve as an example to the developing world. Holistic development is possible only when primacy is given to rural India, which alone can provide a firm template for a self-reliant and self-respecting nation.”