Ramesh Hari Haralkar, 62 years, started working in the MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, earlier BMC) as a sweeper, just like his father and people from the Dalit community have been doing for their livelihood. Due to the caste-system, lack of access to elementary education for children of this community as well as general ignorance and lack of awareness of their rights, generations are stuck in the vicious cycle of working in professions not deemed ‘dignified’ by the rest of society. To Ramesh, a bit of respect came only when he was promoted as a painter in MCGM.
Hailing from Ratnagiri, where society is more conservative than Mumbai, Ramesh understood at a very young age that only education can help the next generation break this cycle. As a result, he made it his life goal to help as many children and youth as possible to lead a better life. Along with many awareness programmes on education, health and hygiene, Ramesh also started a movement called Jhadu Virudh Khadu to emphasise the importance of education. He started an evening remedial class called Eklavya Abhyasika in the municipal school in Parel, Mumbai for children from Dalit and other poor communities. Apart from school subjects, children were given training in scientific thinking through science based programmes and also practical applications in art and crafts. He also invited experts from various sectors to help students with career guidance.
Since he started doing this in 1972, more than 30,000 students have benefited from his efforts. They have moved out of the ‘traditional’ profession of being cleaners and now work in various sectors such as media, entertainment, or are even pursuing studies abroad.
Ramesh wants to continue to work till the time all children are out of this lifestyle and find self-respect through education and better career options.
Harish Iyer, 35 years, describes himself as an equal rights activist, feminist and animal lover. Sexually abused by a close relative as a child and then stigmatised and bullied due to his sexual orientation while growing up, Harish developed a deep empathy for women and survivors of sexual violence who are often subjected to many injustices.
He feels that being an abuse survivor himself, he can understand and help other survivors like nobody else can. During his toughest times, only his pet dog Jimmy could give him the strength by listening to him. So he felt that he could be a ‘Jimmy’ to other survivors by listening to them.
Since the age of 18, Harish has been voicing his opinions openly and in his personal capacity helping survivors of violence get justice. Now he uses social to survivors of violence, ensures media platforms like Facebook, Twitter that the police gets involved and and blogs extensively to discuss and fights for justice in any way he can. share critical information about child Through workshops and seminars, sexual abuse, equal rights, violence he encourages women and other against women, LGBT rights and survivors to speak up for themselves animal rights and also aggressively and those who have been wronged. campaigns for women’s rights. He Harish also started a helpline (via provides counselling and legal aid email and instant chat) where people can reach out and share their stories with him directly. According to him, child rights, equal rights and emancipation of women are all interlinked and have to be addressed simultaneously.
Harish works with United Way, an NGO in Mumbai, during the day while his evening hours are taken up by his online work. He plans to open an NGO in future so that he can work on all these issues in a more systematic way. Harish says people usually have two ways to handle a situation like rape and abuse – feel helpless or deal with it. He chose a third way – to stay happy.
Yeshwant Shrivastava, 59 years, has been teaching ancient heritage by painting art forms and making natural colours since 1971 to people from socio-economically weaker sections of the society including widows and women. What makes his effort worthy of an award is the fact that he has been doing this without any financial remuneration from his students, serving the dual purpose of helping them learn livelihood skills and also keeping India’s rich heritage alive. Some of his students (more than 700 in all) have earned tremendous recognition including national and international awards.
Yeshwant, who has a Masters in Arts, has learnt all 36 schools of painting and arts though he is largely influenced by the Nathdwara Pichwai School of painting. He feels that learning these ancient forms of art should be included in the school curriculum along with relevant subjects like English, Science and Maths. It will help revive India’s beautiful and rich heritage that is slowly dying and also provide an alternate option for livelihood to youth who now do not know better than studying only engineering and not getting a well-paid job. But his deepest satisfaction comes, not from all the work he has done in the past, but from teaching art to the inmates of Central Jail, Jaipur. He started teaching art to prison inmates in 2012, that was even acknowledged by the Chief Minister of Rajasthan. As a result of his art classes, inmates have not only been able to create and sell paintings, but have also changed their ways of life by doing good work in prison. Some of them have been released early due to good behaviour and work.
“BPCL recognises honesty. I am happy to know that,” Yeshwant says softly.
Health issues in rural India are different from that faced in the cities. Apart from a general lack of awareness on personal health, basic hygiene and sanitation, people in villages face other health risks such as heatstroke, snake bites, poisoning due to exposure to chemicals, machinery-related injuries, road accidents and even drug abuse. More often than not, many people die due to non-accessibility of basic health care services and/or due to lack of knowledge on how to handle medical emergencies including preventable and curable problems like diarrhoea, vomiting etc.
With a background in First-Aid and Home Nursing,Naresh Kumar Pathania started writing articles in various dailies and magazines to increase the community’s awareness on a wide range of health-related subjects. When enquiries started coming in, he felt the need to take the knowledge on-ground through community-based programmes such as seminars, melas, workshops, rallies, village meetings, painting competitions etc. Through these methods, he has been imparting knowledge on basic lifesaving first-aid techniques for poisoning, heart and brain strokes, snake bites, weather- related emergencies, controlling severe bleeding, CPR methods, fire accidents, animal bites, burns and scalds, epilepsy, and care for the injured during road accidents to farmers, teachers, students, NSS/NCC volunteers, professionals, drivers, factory workers and the general public.
Naresh started work in Bathinda district in Punjab and, in 20 years, he has been able to cover more than 300 villages across Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu & Kashmir. He has always managed to finance his efforts/programmes with help from well- wishers and friends. Now he wants to take this message to all homes.
“Nobody should die without access to first-aid if it can be helped,” says a determined Naresh.
With the goal of using research to help society,A.L. Ramanathan, a professor of Research and Teaching at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, decided to use the help of research students, along with his knowledge and skills, to address a critical water pollution issue in various regions of India.
In the rain shadow region of Tamil Nadu, rural communities are dependent on groundwater for drinking as well as irrigation. The presence of Fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral, is high in these regions and tends to get concentrated during summer. Daily use of water with Fluoride content higher than permissible limits has led to high occurrence of Dental and Skeletal Fluorosis in the community. Similarly, high levels of naturally occurring Arsenic in groundwater leading to skin cancer affect many parts of rural
Bihar and UP. Prof. Ramanathan and his team of students have developed a green technology to remove Fluoride and Arsenic from groundwater which, according to him, is “Just a reinvention of traditional knowledge using scientific approach.” This technique uses sand and pebbles to filter water and gravitation along with back pressure to remove Fluoride and Arsenic from water. The technique developed by them is not only environmentally friendly, sustainable and cost-effective, but can also be operated and maintained by the communities without any technical know-how. Through this project, more than 10 lakh people have been able to access clean drinking water after many years.
Prof. Ramanathan is currently working on a project to develop and undertake micro-hydro power plants in western Himalayas that can help maintain the ecological balance and flow and also benefit communities living upstream. Prof. Ramanathan believes that only dedication and long-term investment in projects/research can lead to tangible impacts.
SPECIAL MENTIONS: SKILL DEVELOPMENT
A botched surgery that left Rajendran Nair completely deaf in one ear, and partially in the other, changed his whole outlook towards life. He had to leave his small business and fall back on his creative skills. Rajendran did a course in journalism and photography and soon his photographs started getting recognition online. That’s when he decided to help others in similar situations learn photography and live a more dignified life.
Since 2009, Rajendran has taught over 500 differently-abled children as well as youth and children affected by cancer across Maharashtra, Goa and Delhi NCR. Photography helps these children express their inner creativity and also serves as a therapy to minimise the pain of chemotherapy treatments. Rajendran’s aim, however, is to provide them with an avenue of earning livelihood when they grow up. His Facebook page ‘Spreading Light through Photography’ has over 2400 members who use this platform to showcase their work. Rajendran also uses this platform to spread awareness on cancer and disability.
Srushti Narendra Nerkar’s growing concern over environmental issues pushed her to find solutions at the very young age of 11 years. Srushti was distressed by the fact that though rural regions in Maharashtra were reeling under drought and acute water shortage, people in the cities were going about their lives nonchalantly. Thousands of litres of water are wasted by people taking showers and washing their cars daily, while many villages did not even have water to drink. Watching workers in a car wash gave Srushti the idea of creating a shower that could save water.
After experimenting with four models, Srushti finally hit upon the right solution on her fifth try. The Water Saving Shower created by her can reportedly save up to 65 litres of water per person per day. A normal bath shower uses 10 litres of water per minute, so an eight-minute bath can use up to 80 litres of water every day. Srushti’s innovation, however, claims to use only 15 litres! And if she can generate enough awareness for all of Nashik to convert to the new technology, the city can provide water to everybody for 34 more days!
Srushti’s innovation is currently undergoing the patenting process and she looks forward to selling it at a minimal price in the open market soon.
The residents of Khrew, a village in Pulwana district of South Kashmir, had long complained of rising pollution and health issues due to the presence of seven cement factories in the region. But it was only during a medical camp held in 2015 that the severity of the situation was understood, when most residents were found suffering from respiratory disorders, allergies or skin ailments. Moreover, dust from the factories was leading to crop failure affecting the livelihood of people in the surrounding region.
Danish Mehraj, a 20 year old student, formed a volunteers’ group which filed a Public Interest Litigation seeking a ban on the establishment of the cement factories. Simultaneously, a petition was submitted to the Central Pollution Control Board to stop the commissioning of new factories in the region as well as controlling of emissions from the factories. Danish made videos, wrote articles in dailies and magazines and demonstrated peacefully to create awareness about the impact of dust and air pollution on people’s health and agriculture.
Due to these efforts, the factory owners have now agreed to reduce pollution by providing exhaust emission controllers, conducting periodic health check-up for their employees, providing free medical treatments and giving employment to local people.