Luminaries: Amte, Prakash

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Hidden amid the dazzling human mosaic of India are millions of tribal people. For centuries, they have lived apart in remote highlands and forests. The Madia Gonds, for example, occupy 150 square kilometers of dense forest in eastern Maharashtra, bordering Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh states. In a thousand isolated villages, they survive by hunting and gathering and shifting cultivation. When Prakash Amte and Mandakini Amte arrived in their midst thirty-four years ago, the region had no modern services. Government officials considered it wild and served there only reluctantly. By contrast, the Amtes, both of them medical doctors, came by choice. Prakash Amte grew up in Anandwan, an ashram and rehabilitation center for leprosy patients in Maharashtra founded by his father, the renowned Gandhian humanitarian Murlidhar Devidas Amte, or Baba Amte. Prakash was busy with postgraduate surgical studies in Nagpur when, in 1974, he volunteered to take over a new project begun by Baba Amte among the Madia Gonds. He and his wife Mandakini abandoned their urban practices and, in a leap of faith, moved to remote Hemalkasa. The young couple settled in a doorless hut without a telephone or electricity or privacy. They practiced medicine beside the road and warmed themselves by a wood fire at night. The Madia Gonds, shy people and suspicious of outsiders, spurned their help at first. Prakash and Mandakini learned their language and patiently gained their trust. The miraculous cures of an epileptic boy with terrible burns and a man near death from cerebral malaria turned the tide. “Once a patient is cured,” says Prakash, “he comes back and brings four new patients.”

Beginning in 1975, Swissaid provided funds to build and equip a small hospital in Hemalkasa. There Prakash and Mandakini performed surgery and treated malaria, tuberculosis, and dysentery, burns and animal bites. To conform to tribal sensibilities, they placed most of the hospital’s facilities out of doors, beneath the trees. They charged nothing. Illiteracy had made the Madia Gonds easy prey for corrupt forest officers and other greedy outsiders. The Amtes helped them assert their rights and intervened to mediate disputes and rid the area of abusive officials. In 1976, they opened a school. The Madia Gonds were reluctant to send their children but, in time, the school prospered and became a center for both academic and vocational education. Prakash and Mandakini’s own children were educated there. The Amtes have used the school at Hemalkasa to introduce the Madia Gonds to settled agriculture-growing vegetables, fruits, and irrigated grains organically-and to encourage them to conserve forest resources. This includes wild animals, a tribal dietary staple. The Amtes’ popular animal orphanage at Hemalkasa promotes the survival of animals as part of nature’s balance. Simplicity and respect guide the Amtes’ work with the Madia Gonds. Prakash wears only a singlet and white shorts as he goes about his work, so as not to identify himself with “well-dressed” outsiders. Where applicable, the couple incorporates tribal cures in their medical practice. In school, children perform tribal songs and dances.

Today, the Amtes’ hospital has fifty beds, a staff of four doctors, and treats forty thousand patients a year free of charge. It is a regional center for mother-child welfare and health education. Its “barefoot doctors” bring first aid to outlying villages. The Amtes’ school, meanwhile, has grown to six hundred students and is comprehensive. Among its graduates are the Madia Gonds’ first doctors and lawyers and teachers as well as officials, office workers, and police. “More than 90 percent of the students have come back to serve in the community, including my sons,” says Prakash, reflecting on his and Mandakini’s legacy. “Maybe it’s the way we have led our lives.” In electing Prakash Amte and Mandakini Amte to receive the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes their enhancing the capacity of the Madia Gonds to adapt positively in today’s India, through healing and teaching and other compassionate interventions.

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Luminaries: Kiran Bedi

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No social relationship in Asia is more fraught with ambiguity than that between the police and the people. Called upon to maintain order and public safety, and to manage the region’s paralyzing traffic, the police provide essential civilizing services. Yet, nearly everywhere their reputation is tarnished by incompetence and abuses, large and small. For too many people, the police are not a positive good, only a necessary evil. KIRAN BEDI, India’s highest ranking female police officer and currently Delhi’s inspector general of prisons, believes the police can do better. Taught by her unconventional parents to compete and “to think equally,” BEDI excelled both at school and at tennis, the family passion. She sailed through college and a masters degree and, in 1972, at the age of twenty-two, won the women’s lawn tennis championship of Asia. That same year she entered the police academy and, in 1974, became the first woman to enter the elite Indian Police Service. Assigned to the capital city, BEDI rose rapidly in the ranks, winning national acclaim—and a presidential award—in 1978 by single-handedly driving off a band of club-and-sword-wielding demonstrators with her police baton. As deputy commissioner of police in Delhi’s West and North Districts, BEDI posted constables in blue-and-white “beat boxes” where citizens could consult them daily. She redirected former bootleggers to honest livelihoods by arranging friendly loans and assistance. Women’s peace committees, set up at her initiative, promoted neighbourhood harmony. As community participation rose, crimes fell. Observing the link between drug addiction and chronic criminality, BEDI set up community-supported detoxification clinics, a model she later developed for wider application as deputy director of the Narcotics Control Bureau.

As New Delhi’s traffic chief, her meticulous planning and ruthlessly impartial enforcement of the rules kept the capital’s motley caravanserai of vehicles moving at the 1982 Asian Games— although she admits she made some enemies in the process.

In 1993 BEDI became inspector general of prisons (Delhi) and took charge of Tihar, India’s largest prison complex. In this brutally overcrowded purgatory dwelled more than 8,000 prisoners, 90 percent of whom were unconicted and merely awaiting trial. BEDI rapidly transformed Tihar. Today its inmates follow a positive regimen of work, study, and play. Illiterate prisoners learn to read and write. Others earn higher degrees from cooperating colleges. In prison workshops, prisoners keep their skills tuned and earn wages to save in Tihar’s new bank. Through their panchayats (elected councils), inmates share responsibility for community discipline and for organizing games and entertainment. In yoga classes they learn meditation techniques to still anger and improve concentration. Complaints placed in the mobile petition box go directly to the top and are taken seriously. Tihar is a different world today. In it BEDI’s charges are being imbued with positive attitudes and practical skills for life beyond the walls.

In all of BEDI’s innovations there is a pattern: each one seeks to break down adversarial relations between the police and the community, and each one seeks to replace the hard hand of punishment with the healing hand of rehabilitation. The discipline, confidence, and competitive spirit of BEDI’s youth remain with her at age forty-five. She is impatient and inclined to buck the system. “It is tough to go against the wave,” she says, “but at least you reach where nobody else can.”

In electing KIRAN BEDI to receive the 1994 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes her building confidence in India’s police through dynamic leadership and effective innovations in crime control, drug rehabilitation, and humane prison reform.

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Himachal Pradesh

District: Shimla
State: Himachal Pradesh
Country: India
Name of the Cheif Executive with Designation: Devender Singh Rawat
Ngo Name: Nav Chetna
Postal Address: Attri Niwas, Near R.K. Traders, Khalini Shimla 171002
Email: info@navchetna.ngo
Area of work: AIDS, Alcoholism & Addiction, Children, Education & Training, Minorities, Rural Development, Skill Development

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Nagaland

Distric Wokha
State Nagaland
Name of the Chief Executive with Designation Mr. C. Robin    Lotha/Executive Director
NGO Name Agape Youth Welfare
Postal Address PO. Box-20, Wokha Town, Dist. Wokha-797111 Nagaland
Email agape_wokha@yahoo.com
Area of work Adolescents /Aged/Elderly/ Rural & Urban Development/Women/Environment/Corporate Social Responsibility.(CSR)/ IT or   Technology/Rehabilitation/ Skill Development/Sports/Housing/Forestry Agriculture &   Allied   Sector/ Health/ Education/ Poverty Alleviation, etc.

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