Luminaries: Amte, Prakash


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.

Luminaries: Kiran Bedi


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.

LUMINARIES:Mother Teresa


Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje Macedonia, on August 26, 1910. Her family was of Albanian descent. At the age of twelve, she felt strongly the call of God. She knew she had to be a missionary to spread the love of Christ. At the age of eighteen she left her parental home in Skopje and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. After a few months’ training in Dublin she was sent to India, where on May 24, 1931, she took her initial vows as a nun. From 1931 to 1948 Mother Teresa taught at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta, but the suffering and poverty she glimpsed outside the convent walls made such a deep impression on her that in 1948 she received permission from her superiors to leave the convent school and devote herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. Although she had no funds, she depended on Divine Providence, and started an open-air school for slum children. Soon she was joined by voluntary helpers, and financial support was also forthcoming. This made it possible for her to extend the scope of her work. On October 7, 1950, Mother Teresa received permission from the Holy See to start her own order, “The Missionaries of Charity”, whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after. In 1965 the Society became an International Religious Family by a decree of Pope Paul VI.

Today the order comprises Active and Contemplative branches of Sisters and Brothers in many countries. In 1963 both the Contemplative branch of the Sisters and the Active branch of the Brothers was founded. In 1979 the Contemplative branch of the Brothers was added, and in 1984 the Priest branch was established.

The Society of Missionaries has spread all over the world, including the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. They provide effective help to the poorest of the poor in a number of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and they undertake relief work in the wake of natural catastrophes such as floods, epidemics, and famine, and for refugees. The order also has houses in North America, Europe and Australia, where they take care of the shut-ins, alcoholics, homeless, and AIDS sufferers.

The Missionaries of Charity throughout the world are aided and assisted by Co-Workers who became an official International Association on March 29, 1969. By the 1990s there were over one million Co-Workers in more than 40 countries. Along with the Co-Workers, the lay Missionaries of Charity try to follow Mother Teresa’s spirit and charism in their families.

Mother Teresa’s work has been recognised and acclaimed throughout the world and she has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize (1971) and the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding (1972). She also received the Balzan Prize (1979) and the Templeton and Magsaysay awards.


The Magsaysay Award winner – Bezwada Wilson


The Magsaysay Award winner – Bezwada Wilson Fifty-year-old Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), was declared one of the six recipients of the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award by the Philippines-based award foundation, in Manila . Hailing from a Dalit family in Kolar, Karnataka, Mr. Wilson said his first brush with the local authorities over the abominable practice was in 1986-87, when he saw poor Dalit women cleaning human waste in the public latrines of Kolar Gold Fields. His own family members had been manual scavengers for generations.

“It was a big town, and in those days KGF was known to be the most electrified town after Tokyo,” he said. Yet, the town lacked public toilets with running water. Moved by the plight of the women who had to clean them every day, Mr. Wilson decided to petition the local town municipality to improve facilities. In 1986, he sent a complaint about dry latrines to the authorities and, when it was ignored, he sent the complaint to the Prime Minister, threatening legal action, the award citation notes. As a result, the town’s dry latrines were converted into water-seal latrines and the scavengers transferred to non-scavenging jobs.

Despite his 32 years of activism, Mr. Wilson says challenges remain in putting an end to the practice. “No thorough survey  has been conducted as yet to enumerate manual scavengers though State governments have been promising one since 2010,” he said. Expressing scepticism over the implementation of the government’s flagship Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, he said the scheme did little to address the plight of manual scavengers and only sought to build more and more toilets.

Mr. Wilson formed the SKA as a network of activists in 1993. A PIL he filed in the Supreme Court, naming all the States, Union Territories, and relevant government departments as violators of the 1993 Manual Scavenging Prohibition Act, produced positive results. In 2014, the SC ruled in his favour demanding that all States ban manual scavenging and even fixed a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh for families of scavengers who had died on the job.

“In 2014, we gave the Centre a list of 1,073 people who had died while cleaning sewers, but the families of the dead are yet to be compensated fully. Only 36 people from the families of dead sewer cleaners have been compensated, but they did not get the full amount prescribed by the court.

Jadish Lal Ahuja ( People Heroes Amongst us)


Jagdish Lal Ahuja has been serving free meals to the needy for decades. For the last 12 years, there hasn’t been a single day when Chandigarh’s Jag-dish Lal Ahuja hasn’t donated food outside the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) hospital. Every evening at 7 PM, the 77-year-old and his helpers lay out a wholesome meal of aloo choley, roti, rice. halwa and banana to feed the needy families that have to wait for long hours at the government hospital before consulting a doctor or receiving treatment. The idea of running this free service vice struck  Ahuja, popularly known as Babaji Langarwale, around 32 years ago on his son Girish’s eighth birth-day. “We would always celebrate his birthday with so much fanfare, but suddenly I started feeling that my real happiness lay in sharing it with the children of the labourers who toil at the sabzi mandi. I noticed those poor children used to go hungry for days,” says Ahuja. From then on, he instructed his family to organise a bhandara every year on his son’s birthday. After seeing the difference it made to their lives, he decided to convert it to a daily service. “I distributed food in the sabzi mandi and in some colonies every day till I met a gentle-man who told me that he donates rice to the relatives of PGIMER’s patients outside the hospital. I wanted to do something similar, so I started my langar there,” says Ahuja, who also serves outside the Government Medical College in the afternoon. Over the years, Ahuj a had gathered up to 20 helpers to cook the meals, but now the number is down to five as many have started branching out. “I hired people on monthly wages but when they got better paying jobs, I encouraged them to move on;” says Ahuja, who puts almost all the money he earns as a commission agent in the local fruit market to run this service. In times of crisis, Ahuja has even sold some of his property to raise funds, but never considered stopping the langar. Ahuj a credits his family with motivating him and keeping his dream alive even when he was battling cancer. One-and-a-half years ago, he underwent chemotherapy for which he was admitted at PGIMER. “My wife and daughter-in-law took charge of the langar for the eight days I was in hospital. That was enough to show me how committed they were to my cause,” he says, adding that even the rain gods have always encouraged him to keep strong. “It never rains around the time I start my langar. The whole city will be drenched but the areas in which I cook and serve remain totally dry!”

A PEOPLE HERO is one who is elevated from ordinary to extraordinary by actions which are both noble and inspirational. Jagdish Lal Ahuja has been avoided many  Honours  by the state government  Chandigarh Administrations    and  several other agencies  and organisations  of national repute.

-Reenu Bahal People Mag, April 20,2012

Social Worker- Dr. Saraswati Gupta

saraswati gupta

Dr. Saraswati Gupta

A dedicated worker, very energetic and agile, after retirement as professor from Punjab University, Chandigarh: Dr. Saraswati Gupta is presently working as the Executive Director of a voluntary organization- National Rehabilitation Institute. The position is honorary but Dr. Saraswati Gupta works full time for the disabled, specially the poor deaf and mute children. She also gives counseling and training to the caregivers of the children with different disabilities.

A Doctorate in Medical Sciences (Ph.D). Dr. Sarawati has worked as:

Senior Technical Officer, Panjab University, Chandigarh, Technical Assistant G-II, Panjab University, Chandigar and Junior Technician at PGIMER, Chandigarh in the fields of pharmacology, biotechnology and biochemistry.

Her motive is to train the caregivers of the disabled, specially children so that their parents, siblings, neighbourers and school teachers are able to provide support to such children, and empower them towards independence.

Parmod Sharma quest for peace

Parmod Sharma quest for peace

Parmod Sharma is popular with his International Peace festival organized around Gandhi Jyanti, each year; Inviting deligates from around the world and undertaking activities with the youths of different countries to create a bondge and understanding for lasting peace in the world. With little financial help from the administration, Parmod Sharma raises donations for hosting the International deligtes Parmod Sharma is the promoter of Yuvsatta, a society working for the community at Chandigarh. Born on_______the bio sketch of Parmod Sharma is given below.
I come from a middle class family from erstwhile east Punjab (now Pakistan), and presently settled in Chandigarh in India. Overcoming the travails of partition of India, my family started with modest means. Coming from this background, I groomed through grassroots problems of poverty and middle class families. Having experienced rigors of life, it became a passion to be helpful to others. The idea goaded me to start activities beneficial to the common man. And unlike any formally educated young man, I choose the road towards slums and dedicated my life for the marginalized people and promoting the spirit of volunteering and culture of peace amongst young people worldwide.
I hope you’ll note that activism in developing societies in general and India in particular, is not a paid vacation, unlike in the developed societies of the west. One is not paid to do so; rather one has to pay to engage in any kind of activism, so did I. I started a youth club in college, then a newspaper which frequently changed its periodicity depending upon the resources, founded a non government organization, started a ‘Girl Star Project’ for ‘Girl Child Friendly Cities’, counseling centre’s, created waste management mechanisms, initiated the concept of peace clubs in Schools and above all organized ten international youth peace fests to unite the young people beyond borders to promote nonviolence, volunteerism and work for common good of all.
I am a firm believer in Gandhian ideas of Constructive Programmed based on voluntary effort plus individual & community action, I had also edited two books on the theme of ‘Millennium Without Violence’ and ‘Need for Afro-Asian Dialogue’. Presently working as Coordinator of a Chandigarh based NGO-Yuvsatta (youth for peace), I had done my Master and later M. Phil. from Department of Gandhian & Peace Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India.
Awards& Honors
-ACHAPeace Star Award 2012, Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (ACHA), USA, for promoting peace, harmony and empowering the marginalized
-Education Department, Chandigarh Administration, 2007 & 2008
For working for children from slums & promotion of Peace education in Schools.
– Gandhi Smriti & DarshanSamiti, New Delhi, 2000
for successfully organizing aWorld Youth Conference;
– Blood Bank Society, Chandigarh, India, 1996 and 1999
for the promotion of Blood Donation Movement;
– Vir Deva Foundation, Chandigarh, India, 1997
for social work and humanisticendeavours;
– College Colour,Government College, Chandigarh, India, 1986
for distinctive achievements inNational Cadet Corps (Army Wing).
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