PEOPLE LIKE US
Preface This book, which brings together the column People Like Us, which I wrote for
several months for The Hindustan Times, will give you the examples of people and institutions who have somehow broken through the haze of cynicism, and have
contributed in personally satisfying ways to society over and above the normal
preoccupations of a metropolis. The examples are largely from in and around New Delhi,
but I have not the slightest doubt that they are a representative sample of what a few —
alas just a few —are doing elsewhere in India too. These individuals and organizations
need your help and involvement. In helping them you will only, in the long run, be
The purpose of this book is to try and revive the project of social sensitivity —pivotal
for the survival of any civil society. It is a book that can change your life and with it the
destiny of India too.
I am grateful to Har-Anand Publications who so readily collaborated in the publication
of the book. I owe a special note of thanks to Narendra Kumar with whom I first
discussed the project, and to his son, Ashish Gosain, who so efficiently brought it to
fruition. My gratitude is also due to Rohit Babbar, my colleague, who helped in the
making of the columns. I need hardly add that this book would not have been possible but
for the fullest cooperation of those who are featured in them. I remain indebted to them.
PAVAN K. VARMA
Help Age India: Because We too Will be Old
Sai Kripa at NOIDA — Anjina Rajagopal Child Relief and You — Praveen Sharma & Radha Roy Sarkar
A Home for Our Children — Meera Mahadevan A People‟s Movement against Pollution — Satya Sheel & Saurabh Khosla
Why Can‟t Delhi be Kottayam?- T. K. Mathew A Police Officer‟s Prayas—Amod Kanth A Different Teacher—Arun Kapur
Service Through Sacrifice — Jaspal Singh Two Ladies and A School — Mridula Jain A Katha for You and Me — Geeta Dharamrajan
Jan Madhyam — Ranjana Pandey
Concern India Foundation- A. B. K. Dubhash Crusader for a Common Cause — H. D. Shourie Commitment to Slum Kids— Mamta & Sumeet Kachwaha The Woman Behind Medical Alert — Nirmala Bhushan Rashmi‟s Vidya- Rashmi
Malavika‟s Brood of 70-Malavika Rai
Commitment to a Cause —Dr. Y.P. Anand
Fighting Disability — Shayama Chona
Hope Inside the Wall- Firoz Bakth Ahmed
Delhi‟s Angels — Ashraf Pate! & Jaimala lyer A Matter of Vision — Susy Joseph & Mary Asha Lata Motorcade Mayhem —Dr. Shreekant Gupta Bagh Bhadur- Vinod Dua
Lead Kindly Light — Rita Kaul & Geeta Seshamani Lend a Helping Hand-Kiran Hukku
Hope for the Millennium —Sanjiv Kaura
Young Messiahs — Gautam Graver
Preserving Childhood — Sanjoy Roy
Changing the Picture- Samar & Vijay Jodha The City Slickers- Dr. Iqbal Mallick
In Aid of Awareness- Nafisa Ali
Where Each One Teaches Many — Father George Tharayil An End to All Parking Woes — Sudershan Aggarwal Concern for Drug Addicts-R.M. Kalra
An Emissary of Hope — Harmala Gupta
Sanjivini — The Art of Listening— Kavita Gupta & Raj Dagar INTACH- O.P. Jain
Giving a New Direction to Delhi‟s Lesser Citizens — Ravi Chopra & Shobhana Radhakrishna
Tree of Creative Freedom— Arajit Sen & Gurpreet Conserving Our Heritage — Priya Paul
There is a new challenge before India today. Most people from the middle class will think that it has nothing to do with them. They will continue to believe that their lives need no changing. They will continue to be convinced that nothing really significant
matters apart from the familiar grapple with want and fulfilment. They will have the right excuses: what can I do about it; who am I to do anything about it; what have I to do with this state of affairs: my problems are big enough; let me get on with my life et. al.
But look around you, and you will see that such excuses, this refusal to see beyond anything except one‟s interest, has created a real crisis and has made most of urban India —in big or small towns —a soulless and barren collection of wants. There is a
frightening ethical vacuum. No one knows anymore what is right and wrong. There is a
sense of weariness with empty slogans: people are tired of promises that never
materialise, of principles that are always betrayed, of „gods‟ who have feet of clay, of the
complete absence of shame, of small minds and petty agendas living only at the level of intrigue and scheming.
Look at what this has done all around you. You may not notice, or you may refuse to see, or even if you do you may choose to ignore. But the facts will not go away. One-
third of Delhi, the capital of India, is officially acknowledged to be a slum. More than one-third of the city has no access to latrines. The country houses the largest numbers of illiterates in the world-an appallingly 290 million, more than the combined population of USA and Canada. Every three minutes a child dies in our country of diarrhoea, 250
million people still go hungry to bed every night. And all around us there is the., stench of corruption.
What should be done? Should we continue to lead our lives at if nothing is wrong? More importantly, can we lead our lives as if nothing is wrong? We are taking of our own
country, which has rightly an aspiration to be counted among the great powers of the
world. Do we have reason to believe that governments and leaders alone will solve these problems? I think not.
The people are tired, tired of greed, tired of living solely at the level of wants irrespective of the means, of accepting the immoral, of living with compromise, of
adjusting to the betrayal of faith. The time has come, therefore, for the middle and elite classes to pause, to introspect, and to think. Not on the grounds of idealism. Not because this is what they are supposed to do. Not because somebody has asked them to. But
because they must do so in their own long term self-interest.
No one class in a country can achieve the cherished goals of prosperity and security if all around everything wrong continues to flourish. This is the central point. Educated India needs to awaken in its own interest, and seek to change things by reviving the
tradition of a constructive interface with society and the community. Even in small ways. It is not necessary for everybody to try and become Mahatma Gandhi. There is no need
for unacceptable sacrifices. There is no need for absolute or dramatic gestures. There is no need to suddenly renounce all your pleasures and pursuits. The country is crying out for a pragmatic revolution, for a middle space between the high idealism of Gandhiji, and, the complete absence of any sense of social sensitivity in most of us fifty years after independence. The only plea-and again on the basis of self-interest- is that, even as you live in your own little worlds of aspirations and desires, spare just in little time to notice
what is wrong and what needs to be done, so that each of us can begin to make the
transition from an uncaring and selfish resident to a caring and concerned citizen.
I believe that, in spite of the truly unacceptable levels of selfishness around us, there are still some people and institutions
who can be role models, beacons of light. In this vital endeavour. There are some who in their spare time arc making adults literate. There are others —who without any major
personal sacrifices —have adopted the children of victims of terrorism and are ensuring
their education. There are examples of those who have mobilised thousands of children in the fight against pollution. Or have raised money for a borewell to be dug to provide
potable water to the residents of the nearest jhuggi-jhompri colony. A few are involved in making Delhi a cleaner city and there are those who are working to preserve its
architectural heritage. There are people, like you and me, with the same desires and
pursuits, who are happier because of their involvement in the rehabilitation of the
Many more examples can be cited, but I believe that there are many among us who are tired of only living at the plane of hypocrisy and deception. They would like to contribute in a more meaningful and fulfilling why to society and community. I believe that the
powerful legacy of sewa in all Indian religions may be heavily camouflaged but is not
entirely dead. The examples cited in this book provide proof that this is true.
HelpAge India: Because We too Will be Old
One of the less noticeable but festering problem of urban India is the increasing number of the old, and the diminishing number of those interested in looking after them. In the shadows of the frenetic pace of our small towns and big cities, which leave the young with little time or inclination to be concerned about anything but their own
interests, there is the reality of an aging India. According to reliable statistics, there are 70 million senior citizens in India today, and the number is expected to go up to 177 million by the year 2025.
With the breakdown of the „joint family‟, elderly people have become more and more vulnerable and lonely. There is a shortage of space in cramped urban homes. There is a greater demand on incomes by the television watching young. And, there is a breakdown
of values. The problem assumes a crisis proportion because 90% of the elderly are from the unorganised sector, which means no pension, provident fund or medical insurance
when they turn 60.
HelpAge India was born in 1978 to come to grips with this problem. Its essential aim is to raise funds in order to support voluntary organisations across the country which seek to help the elderly and the aged. In its first year, HelpAge India raised a meagre 22 lakhs, which helped fund 13 projects. This year, its budget is close to 13 crores, and it is
involved in the funding of 500 voluntary organisations.
HelpAge India takes no money from the Government. Significantly, the single largest segment of its budget - Rs. 4 crores - comes from donations made by school children. It is equally significant that most of these children are not from public or private schools, but from their humbler cousins -government schools. An important source of funding is
through its Direct Mail Appeal Scheme, where it writes for donations directly to people.
Such appeals yielded close to 2 crores last year. Corporate houses also contribute, but their share is fairly insignificant, at less than 20 lakhs per year. About 1% of the total funds come from HelpAge Greeting Cards.
HelpAge uses these funds to provide financial support to 800 homes and 123 Day Care Centres run for the aged. These homes are mostly in the nature of dormitories where food, shelter and health care are provided. Anybody over 60, who needs these facilities is eligible to join a home. Patients can also fund their own stay in a home, but mostly, the inmates are those who have been left as excess baggage by their kith and kin on the fast, track of upward urban mobility.
There are two activities in which HelpAge is involved directly. The first is arranging cataract operations for the aged. Last year, it arranged for 57,000 cataract operations. HelpAge also runs Mobile Medicare Units catering exclusively to the destitute aged. There are 8 such Units in Delhi, and 95 all over India. It also runs an “Adopt A Granny -
Scheme”. Under this scheme, elderly people can be sponsored by families and individuals. Their daily needs are met through a small monthly contribution of Rs.400 from donors. If you adopt a grandmother or a grandfather, HelpAge will send you a picture of your
beneficiary; you can meet the person and be directly involved in their rehabilitation. It is a pity that there are only 28,000 people in the whole of India who have responded to this scheme.
It is a recognised fact that in our materialistic world, the elderly are often relegated to oblivion because they are no longer capable of income generation. It is for this reason that HelpAge also has several income generating schemes by which the aged are, to the extent feasible, provided training and opportunities to be economically independent. In all its activities, the primary aim of HelpAge is to try and raise the consciousness in ordinary people about the problems and travails of the elderly. This is not an easy task, specially because, increasingly, the Great Indian Civilisation has reduced itself to judging any and every thing only by the touchstone of its monetary value. But, once again, if we want to be a civil society, we cannot ignore such matters, particularly because respect for the old is an inherent part of our civilisational inheritance.
Random examples can bring tears to one‟s eyes. Satyawati, a 70 year old and unwell lady, has lived for the last 13 years in a Manila Ashram. She has a television in her room, but her eyes are fixed on the door with the hope that one day her son will return from abroad and enquire about her well being. Another lady, Daya Rani, signed off her
property to her children and gave her money to her daughter who then needed it. Now penniless, none of her children are willing to look after her. Ram Prabhu, 76, has cataract in both eyes. His wi