A gathering of Mumbai's leading activists with interests in a wide range of social issues gathered today at Moneylife Foundation to mark the birth anniversary of Dr Verghese Kurien. In line with Dr Kurien's ideals, it was decided to commemorate the day by pledging to cooperate for positive change or as “Sahakarya Kranti Diwas”. Over 12,000 people have signed a petition asking the government to confer the Bharat Ratna on India's milkman
Several activists gathered at the Moneylife Foundation Centre on Monday to celebrate 26th November, the birth anniversary of Dr Verghese Kurien, and to appeal that his day be recognised as Sahakarya Kranti Diwas or a movement for positive change. A petition demanding a Bharat Ratna for Dr Kurien was signed on www.change.org by over 12,000 people. Many of those who supported the movement have also been writing to the Padma awards committee to bring to their attention the wishes of ordinary Indians. The petition, which has been sent to the President of India as well as all those who are part of the decision-making hierarchy in the government, has already been sent electronically. A print copy will also be sent to them shortly.
Anand Halve, co-founder of Chlorophyll, came up with the idea that the best way to honour Dr Kurien’s memory would be to recognise his birth anniversary as “Sahakarya Kranti Diwas”. The idea for a movement for positive change found quick acceptability and the meeting of activists and others at Moneylife Foundation today reflected exactly that spirit.
The meeting started with Moneylife Foundation’s founder, Sucheta Dalal providing statistics to show how only one Bharat Ratna so far has been awarded to a person who has worked with India's poor and needy, and that was to Mother Theresa. The majority of Bharat Ratna awardees have been freedom fighters, artists or political leaders. Also, plenty of Bharat Ratna awards have been bestowed posthumously. Ms Dalal made the point that a Bharat Ratna will mean nothing to Dr Kurien when he is no more. But it will be an acknowledgement that someone who pledged his life for the upliftment of poor farmers and achieved transformational change that benefitted millions of people gets due recognition in India.
Vinay Somani, founder of Karmayog.org which is probably India’s largest platform for connecting NGOs across India, provided many insights from the interactions and experience at Karmayog. He said the first step to being a socially conscious citizen was to be honest about oneself and about one’s interactions. He added there was a great need for NGOs to support one another by rising above personal egos. Mr Somani, an engineer and a Harvard Business School alumnus, then went on to provide several tips on what leads to effective action. One of these was the need to write and document various interactions—he urged people to write about issues, write letters to editors, write letters of protest and petition for various kinds of change. Putting things in writing, he said, often yields better and faster results.
Anand Halve, spoke about his interactions and learnings about what motivates people to work for change. He pointed out that people don’t react to intellect, they react to emotions. If you cannot reach a person emotionally, it invariably leads to a cop-out. In an engaging talk that drew from the experiences of those involved in the Arab Spring revolution, he pointed out that social media and visual images (through the easy reach of photographs and videos available on smart phones) had helped spread the message and galvanised people into action. But none of it would have happened if they didn’t feel emotionally charged. Mr Halve as well as several other activists spoke of similar challenges in getting their issues to be discussed and debated by mainstream media.
N Venkat Krishnan, the IIM Ahmedabad alumnus who opted out of the corporate rat-race to start GiveIndia, an NGO that provides a platform for individual and payroll giving, also related his experiences. Dr Sadanand Nadkarni, former dean of Sion Hospital, explained how the government medical system, through faulty processes is creating badly trained doctors and this has serious implications for society. Dr Nadkarni, who is 80, is a tireless fighter for improvement in medical administration and policies and his talk charged many activists to pledge support for this cause.
Another activist who drew loud applause was Samir Zaveri, an untiring fighter for the cause of railway passengers. Mr Zaveri, who lost both his legs in a railway accident at the age of 16, has been a champion for a vast array of railway passenger safety issues, medical care, ambulances and compensation. He uses the RTI (Right to Information) Act as well as the legal system most effectively.
SV (Bobby) Sista, founder and executive trustee of Population First and Nanhi Kali—two NGOs involved in population control and the girl child respectively, spoke about the vast challenges involved in his mission and the effort and strategies involved in getting these issues discussed by the mainstream media.
Also present was SD Israni, senior advocate and Moneylife columnist whose talk was peppered with anecdotes about how writing letters of complaint led to positive consequences.
Anil Kohli, an entrepreneur who has become an enthusiastic Twitter activist, provided examples of how this micro-blogging network has the power and reach to provide unexpected results. He is involved in a movement to transition from Twitter into multiple activities on the ground led by individual teams who are networked through the social media. Jemin Panchal and several other activists who were part of the move from social-media to on-the-ground activism were present at the meeting.
Justine Leigh-Bell, a project leader at Vanashakti an NGO engaged in environment protection, spoke about the effort in launching a value-based environmental education programme through schools in India, which plans an ambitious nationwide rollout.
Indrani Malkani, trustee of vCAN, spoke about how working with the administration had helped several of her causes. An important one, after the 24 July 2006 cloudburst in Mumbai was to get HAM radio operators officially inducted into Mumbai’s Disaster Management Plan. A second was the school bus project, which happened through Cathedral School and the third was the clean up of Girgaum Chowpatty.
Interestingly, the entire programme was recorded and will be uploaded on Moneylife and YouTube, due to the efforts and cooperation of another activist-volunteer Suvendu Haddar, an IT expert. Other prominent activists present at the meeting included Gaurang Damani, Ashok Ravat and Rajesh Gada.