Even though I was born and brought up in Adoni, Andhra Pradesh, my ancestors came from a small village, around 150km from Udaipur. Just like the other cities of Rajasthan, Udaipur evokes a sense of beauty and romance. So does my village Kalandri, a quaint, sleepy little place, home to around 10,000 people.
Over the past 20 years I have made it a point to visit Kalandri every year and my fondness has only grown for the place my forefathers called home. I acquired land there and became a recreational farmer.
Today the farm provides water and grass to over 100 cows, that pass by everyday on their way to graze (https://rkscolumn.wordpress.com/2020/06/03/when-cows-come-calling/#more-320). As an initiative to develop the village, Kalandri Foundation was set up under RK Trust. A tennis court has been donated to the village. We have recently given a proposal to the Zila Parishad for developing the local gaushala. It’s my desire to support different aspects of the village, where needed.
As the interaction between people increases so does familiarity and one comes in close contact with the realities of everyday existence. The great divide between urban and rural, the haves and the have-nots.
As per the principles of Jainism there are many ways of giving back to society. Thus far, in my inclination to support people my philosophy had largely been “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
The aftermath one is witnessing with the Corona pandemic in cities, the unfortunate situation of the migrant workers, made me sensitive to the hungry. And my thoughts were at once with the people of my village. How were they faring during these times? I soon realized that I needed to modify my modus operandi and actually give a man a fish.
We did an extensive recce of the village to find those who were most in need. The stories which came up were heart rendering and finally we identified 31 such families in distress.
It is now our commitment to ensure that these families never go hungry through the efforts of Kalandri Foundation.
To give you a flavour of the situation at hand, meet Laxman Ram son of Raoji Vagri and his wife, he is over 60 and uneducated.
The makeshift plastic structure behind is their dwelling. They have no children, no land and hence live on the banks of the river. The lady receives Rs.500 per month as part of the Mahamantri Pension Scheme. Started by the state government it has been running since the past six odd years. Luckily she has an Aadhar card, her husband unfortunately doesn’t have the necessary documents to procure an Aadhar card. Furthermore in Rajasthan, applying for an Aadhar card is a long meandering process which takes its own bureaucratic time. I often wonder what karma they are negating for having such a lamentable life.
Or meet Hanja Devi wife of Babu Lal Bhil, 60 years of age. Her husband died around 15 years ago and she has no children. She lives in a dilapidated house and receives Rs.750 per month under the same scheme. There are 31 such stories to tell, the pictures itself evoke strong emotions.
Another such story is of Manjudevi, widowed at the young age of 25. Her husband succumbed to cancer 4 months ago, leaving her behind with an 18 month old infant. She is reeling under the weight of repaying loans taken for her husband’s treatment. Her whole life in front of her and no support of any kind from any quarter, including the government. The Mahamantri Pension Scheme only covers two age groups 40-60 year olds get Rs.500 and 60+ get Rs.750.
These individuals really have a tough life carved out for them. Some of them come under the Mahamantri Pension Scheme some don’t, some have documents some don’t. Even then Rs.500-750 is a pittance, hardly sufficient to cover a sustainable diet for a month. What about healthcare, clothing, toiletries, just basic stuff to keep body and soul together?
They have no option to beg or rag pick like in cities. No other avenue to earn a livelihood, what do they do, who do they turn to?
In our endeavour to bring some relief to these families we put together a ration bag containing the basics essentials for sustainability
15 kgs Wheat Flour
2 kgs Rice
1 kg Lentils
1 kg Salt
1 kg Jaggery
100g Red Chilli Powder
100g Turmeric powder
100g Coriander powder
1 Litre Mustard Oil
This will be supplied to them every month till the end of their days.
My intention of writing this post was not to draw attention to the philanthropic work I do, but to inspire people to go back to their roots. Go back to their villages and identify such gaps in the system. Today we spend Rs.50,000 per month on this initiative. There will be those who can do more than and those who can cover less. However that is not the point, 31 is just a number. Reach out to 1 family or 1 individual but reach out. If this blog inspires people, I would say a big part of my life’s objective would be met.
Just to end with some food for thought, as per GOI census of India conducted in 2011, we have 5.89 Lakh villages with a population less than 10,000. In these reside, close to, 50% of India’s massive population. We indeed have a long way to go.
Opinions in this piece belong to the author: Ramesh Kumar Shah
Ramesh Kumar Shah is the founder of the RK Group, founder of RK Trust (rktrust.in) and co-founder of Harvard Business School Angels of India. Apart from being a businessman, he is keenly involved in making as much of a difference in people’s lives as he can, most recently through the Let’s Mask India initiative, that provides a free mask to all the residents of Bangalore.