The Power of One – 2

As I stated in my previous post  titled ‘The Power of One‘, there are so many people in this world who have made a positive difference. People who have not allowed themselves to wallow in misery or focus entirely on what’s wrong with this world. They have built a vision of how the world should be and they have worked hard to bring that vision into reality. More often than not, their work has benefited hundreds of other people. I’m going to take advantage of the serial number here to present a double dose of inspiration that can rightly be classified as one. This post is about people that I didn’t know were husband and wife. But India is truly lucky to have such a duo. They pack quite a punch! The stars of this post are – Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy and Aruna Roy.

Sanjit is popularly known as Bunker Roy and while most people strive to rise up to the higher echelons of society, this person had the courage to follow his convictions and go down to work at the grass-root level. His mother apparently retired as India’s trade commissioner to Russia. Obviously, that’s no small post and it tells me that he came from a fairly well-off and stable family position. He studied at very prestigious institutions such as The Doon School and St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. What I’m intrigued about is how a person who came from such an illustrious background had the courage to drop everything and work in the villages. I find it astonishing that while most institutions, people look for the very ‘best’ talent to work with and reject so many until they find the finest pedigree they can find, this person decided to work with ‘ordinary’ people with no stellar academic degrees or fancy backgrounds, sort of making an evangelist out of a fisherman, if you will.  Bunker Roy set up ‘Barefoot College‘. It is a non-government organisation that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities since 1972, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable. This college turns the old-fashioned idiom ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ on its head. Here is what Barefoot College does…

“Rural men and women irrespective of age, who are barely literate or not at all, and have no hope of getting even the lowest government job, are being trained to work as day and night school teachers, doctors, midwives, dentists, health workers, balsevikas, solar engineers, solar cooker engineers, water drillers, hand pump mechanics, architects, artisans, designers, masons, communicators, water testers, phone operators, blacksmiths, carpenters, computer instructors, accountants and kabaad-se-jugaad professionals.

With little guidance, encouragement and space to grow and exhibit their talent and abilities, people who have been considered ‘very ordinary’ and written off by society, are doing extraordinary things that defy description.”

Barefoot College - An institution that builds hope!

It is little wonder then that in 2010  TIME magazine named him one of 100 thinkers who most affect the world. Here is what they say about Roy:

“Roy combines humanitarianism, entrepreneurship and education to help people steer their own path out of poverty, fostering dignity and self-determination along the way. His simple formula holds a key to what nations and aid organizations might do to build a more just world.” I agree. Every person born in this world has something beautiful to offer. Institutions like this one build skills, self-reliance and offer so much hope to avoid wasted human potential!

His spouse Aruna Roy is just as accomplished. She was an IAS officer (Indian Administrative Service) for seven years before deciding to become a full-time activist in the 1970s. Ever since, she has been fighting tirelessly to ensure the ‘democracy’ in India remains meaningful. She started the The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) which roughly translates into “Organisation for the Empowerment of Workers and Peasants”. Thanks to this organization and its work, all Indians today can benefit from the ‘Right to Information Act which was passed by the Indian Parliament in 2005. It has been used widely to bring accountability and expose corruption in public administration, transforming governance and deepening democracy. Yet, she won’t take credit for it. She calls this act the gift of peasants and workers like Kesar Singh and Lal Singh and hundreds of others like them to the general population of the country. She rightly says the whole business of social transformation has not come from the educated middle class in the last 50-60 years. This act began as a fight of peasants and farmers to see records of wages when they sat on a 40 day strike.  The Legislation was then drafted by the Press Council of India within 3 months of that strike. Since 2005, four hundred thousand people in rural India alone have used this act successfully. Her views on participatory democracy are fascinating. Listen to her in the video:

If you’d like to know more about the RTI Act, watch this interesting video. Love how they say ” Pepsi-Cola, Mein Nahin Maanga (I didn’t ask for it), Coca-Cola, Mein Nahin Maanga (I didn’t ask for it), Limca-Shimca, Mein Nahin Maanga (I didn’t ask for it), Mango-Phrooti (Frooti ;-), Bisssleri, Mein Nahin Maanga (I didn’t ask for it)…. Watch:

Our world needs more couples like this, don’ t you think?

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