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7th March 2011

posted 10 Mar 2011, 11:16 by Narssimhan Kannan
Today was the beginning of yet another project with respect to Commit Cares. We have had the privilege of a collaborative effort with an NGO called Rajarambapu Patil Dyanprabodini to try and help the below poverty line (BPL) families in and around Islampur, Maharashtra.

In this direction (no pun intended) me and my colleague (Rajesh Panicker) drove down to Islampur. I was coming back to Islampur after a gap of nearly 14 years. The place had been completely transformed in these interim years. We first met Mr. Mokashi, the IT head of the NGO and all the other associated companies of the Rajarambapu Patil group. We met him because one of our greatest tasks is going to be to improve and transform the existing website (www.povertyeradication.info) into something that will make a huge difference. He explained to us his vision of the new website. After an hour with him, we had lunch and met the team.

The poverty eradication program is a personal mission of Mr. Jayant Patil and his elder brother, Mr. Bhagat Patil. Poverty is a huge challenge in our country and to alleviate at least some of the families in his constituency, Mr. Jayant Patil has started this endeavor. For this purpose there is a team of 12 people, who go to each family in the region, find out what their problems are, try and help them as far as possible, get them fast access to the various government schemes that are tailor-made for such families and ascertain the truth of these families. When we met with the team, each member, introduced himself and later briefed us about the way they work and their challenges.

They told us how they have categorized all the BPL families into Class A, B and C. Class A families are the ones that have been erroneously reported as BPL. Class B families are BPL, but may not need immediate assistance. They have, due to previous efforts or due to their own work, alleviated themselves. Class C families are the worst, who are completely destitute and have an income that is lesser than Rs. 20,000 per year ($ 444). These families do not have any source of regular income, may have alcoholism problems, the women do not get regular skilled jobs, children cannot go to schools and any health hazard has the potential of ruining the entire family. One of them showed me the case of a 4 year old who has brain tumor but did not have the money to get a MRI done. The trust is taking the responsibility to get the same organized. The team also informed me that the entire region had been divided into several clusters and each one of them was responsible for one cluster. Totally, they were responsible for around 15,000 such families! And this was just a small region in and around Islampur. I wondered, what about the rest of Maharashtra? What about India? What have we done in 60 years? Anyway, I stopped my chain of thoughts and came back to the meeting.

After hearing them all out, which in itself was quite depressing, we suggested to them that we meet a few BPL families. We thus set out to see the stark, blatant, truth. I had never met a BPL family before. I had seen several of them on the pavements in Mumbai, but never had an opportunity to meet them, go to their house (or shanty rather) and look at their lives. This was going to be a tough one, I was sure. I braced myself and started. One of the team members had a Bajaj scooter. Since I started my career on one of them, I requested that I ride it myself. So, six of us, left on three two-wheelers, similar to the scene in Swades.
We met around 10 families in a span of two hours. All of them had just a shanty, a few vessels, a small corner for a kitchen and a few clothes hung on a wire. No bed, no electricity, no toilet, no bathroom, no floor, not even a leak-proof roof. Nothing!

The first family we met had just received a grant from the government to make a proper house for themselves. The head of the family had just undergone a cataract
operation recently, thanks to our team. The second family was not eligible as the government rule says that for you to be eligible for a grant you should own some land. This family did not own any land and thus could not get the grant. The lady had a sewing machine and earned 50 - 80 rupees by doing stitching jobs for the villagers. One family had lost the head of the family in an accident. The lady had three daughters and worked as a casual laborer in the fields. She wanted us to do something ASAP. In the next family, the husband begged at the ST bus stand while his wife worked in the fields. The only silver lining for this family was their son, who was studying in the 9th standard, thanks to the support of our NGO. One family had 17 people in one open tent. And out of that 17, at least six were small children. The team told me that these people were even worse than category C.

By the time I had finished, I was questioning HIS will and design. How can human beings be subjected to such conditions? What was their fault? Why are we so helpless? I wanted to go back. Mr. Shinde, our coordinator asked me if I wished to continue. I replied in the negative. I wanted to go back to the office. I had seen enough.

Back in the secure confines of the AC office, we discussed the technicalities of how we were going to track all these families and the information that we needed to process and put it up on the website. All this while, a separate track was playing the scenes that I had just seen. It was difficult for me to pause that DVD track and concentrate on the current one. I managed, somehow.

We finished the day by having a light dinner. Both me and Rajesh were very silent. There was nothing much to say. What we had seen and experienced, normal to the team at Islampur, was extremely disappointing and disheartening to us. Where is India shining? What progress are we talking about? Where is the progress? One of the team members said it beautifully. "Sir, the progress is just in the cities. Just outside the cities, the situation is bad. In the interiors it is worst. All of the state is like this. The rest of the country is even worse."

I wanted to switch on the AC and get some sleep. I recalled the first hut that I saw. Felt guilty, did not start the AC but resolved to do something for the families along with the team. Fell asleep...