Ratan N. Tata
Chairman, Tata Trusts

The Tata Trusts have been working with numerous social workers who engaged in contributing to making a difference to the communities with whom they worked. Such social workers have indeed made major contributions to the mainstream of public development programs and shaped the narrative in a number of social development fields, transforming traditional ideas of philanthropy to drive sustainable development in the lives of the communities served. These individuals have also often made huge personal sacrifices to wipe the tears of the poor, to enlarge their food basket, to heal the sick and to rid the society of ills.

Executives of the Trusts have prepared profiles on the life and work of 22 select individuals. This book of profiles of social workers succinctly narrates both the work done by these individuals and the struggles they went through while making their contributions. Each profile narrates in fair detail the complexity of the social development work undertaken by the concerned person. The Editors have dedicated the book to the memory of Late Mr. Madhukar Dhas. He was a social worker who came from a humble beginning but through his concern for the society and his dedicated hard work was able to make a difference to thousands of people living in the very conditions from which he came. His contribution to the cause of water conservation and harvesting in the drought-hit Marathwada continues to inspire many other workers. The Trusts were associated with many achievements of Dilasa, the organization which he established and managed till his death in December 2016.

Individuals who selflessly work for the society not only benefit those for whom they work but they also set an example for others to emulate. They become polestars showing directions to the young men and women contemplating their careers. Working hard to create and run commercial enterprises helps bring in prosperity for individuals and the society. Working hard to alleviate the sufferings of less fortunate people helps create a caring society. Progress on both these fronts creates a balance in the society.

I commend this book to all the young persons who are exploring their calling. They stand to gain by learning the wonderful impact they can bring about in the society should they choose to follow the path of these 22 persons.

December 2017

The Idea:

Motive for this research

Gems of Purest Ray Serene profiles 22 persons who have dedicated their lives to work for the society on issues they considered very important. In our judgment, they selflessly work for the society, often giving up comfortable lives and foregoing good career opportunities. Three motivations led us to initiate the research that led to the present book. The first is our sense of appreciation for the contribution of social workers represented by the 22 profiled here. The second is a rueful realisation that the number of people who appear to take to social work of the nature undertaken by these individuals is perhaps not keeping pace with either the need for that or with the number of youth having the benefit of education in the country. We elaborate on these two motives.

Working with the Tata Trusts for a decade since 2007 gave us a huge opportunity to interact with a large cross-section of development professionals in India. The work allowed us time to visit sites where the professionals and their organisations serve. In a large number of cases we felt overwhelmed by the sheer pathos of the people for whom the work is being done as well as the dedication with which the organisations and the pioneer founders work. In a majority of the cases, the pioneers or leaders come from a socioeconomic background not too dissimilar from our own. They perhaps face the same sort of challenges and pressures of society and family as we do in our lives. And yet here they were, working for an income smaller than ours, working in conditions much tougher than ours and working for causes that were truly humane and philanthropic in nature. We kept wondering what made these individuals tick. It is not that we knew all of them intimately. While we knew some of them personally, we did not know anyone intimately. So we had limited opportunities to gauge their motivations, their ambitions and the way these fitted or did not fit with their other roles as breadwinners or community persons. Yet to us, it appeared important to let today’s youth know about how people not very unlike them are doing such meaningful and relevant work and yet leading lives that are reasonably satisfactory for them as well as their near and dear ones.

Let us turn to the second point. We do not wish to commit the well-known logical fallacy ‘after it therefore because of it’. Hence we will not emphatically assert that the end of primacy of socialist thought around the 1990s had the unfortunate consequence of ending the era of idealism in the country. But a series of connected events perhaps has culminated in the fact that money seems to dominate the minds of youth today. Liberalisation in India gradually led to two consequences. In the first place, governments reduced educational subsidiessubstantially. Institutions of postgraduate learning thereafter increased their fees many fold. That required parents to spend so much more money on their wards’ education. That in turn led the young people to think of money as the prime aim of their careers. After all, they would naturally think of return on investments! Those who thought of anything else necessarily became outliers. Perhaps such strong domination of money prevailed before too; but the escalating cost of education certainly acted as a force to increase the lure of the lucre.

The second consequence of Liberalisation has been in unmitigated and unbridled explosion in consumerism. We remember having cycled to college and today it would be very rare to find a parent who would allow his ward to do so, even if the city traffic allowed it. The appearance of mobile phones, and now smart phones, and the information explosion caused by the internet have contributed to consumerism to no small extent. Clearly one needs money if one wishes to consume! This again reinforces the attraction for money. Whether as a direct fallout of this or a mere incidental consequence, the flow of competent and dedicated youth who wish to work for the betterment of society has reduced to a trickle.

The third influencing factor was the fact that stories of good work done by dedicated individuals do not appear in the mainstream media. During the 1980s and 1990s, the mainstream media did cover the contribution of social activists and movements led by them. Individuals and organisations working in the voluntary sector did find some mention. Thereafter what seemed to have riveted the attention of the media was a range of scams, immediate damages and long-term consequences of insurgency, terrorism and violence of all sorts. These two, together with the target rating point (TRP) or eyeball fixation in the visual media, meant that there was no space or time left for paying attention to constructive work in the country. New role models of constructive work therefore do not seem to get created by the media.

Hence we discussed the idea of preparing profiles of individuals who have done very commendable work for the society and yet are not very well-known or recognised in society; because neither their work nor their profiles have found sufficient place in media till date. Our colleagues in Tata Trusts had been facing the situation of dwindling flow of high quality human resource in the world of civil society for constructive work. We are glad to say that most of our colleagues who thought about the factors found our idea good. We hoped that by creating such profiles and making them known to people, particularly youth, we would contribute to creation of role models of people with whom the youth could relate. The point is this: all the great persons about whom students and youth learn in their school or college days are of a generation gone long time ago. While we all respect, say Bal Gangadhar Tilak or Raja Ram Mohan Roy, we find it difficult to relate to them. Their world was very different. The social and family demands made on them, the milieu they lived in, the economic conditions they faced, etc. are of a totally different genera than what our youth face today. That is why the youth cannot relate to them. But here were people whom they could meet if they so chose, who lived in this world of blue jeans and smart phones, of internet and fast bikes, of Facebook and Twitter and yet in that world they did things that were remarkable for their worth in terms of benefitting the society around them. Surely, they would be discernible to the youth. And this ability to personally relate to them would carry much greater conviction and hence a possible desire to learn more, and perhaps emulate them.

The process of selecting the persons profiled deserves a word. Right at the start we would like to make it clear that we may have committed acts of omission. What we did is the following. Since Tata Trusts was connected with over 500 different social service organisations when we worked at the Trusts, we asked our colleagues in the Trusts for suggestions. Our insistence was that to the extent possible they should be people who started their work much after the last major wave of NGO leaders ushered in after the end of Jayprakash Narain’s movement around the time of emergency in India. We suggested that we would like names of persons closer to 50 than to 60. We are aware that one or two persons are older than that, but a majority fit the criteria of age and time at which they began their work. We received a good response from our colleagues. Of the fifty-odd names suggested, we shortlisted, considering factors such as significance and quality of work done, regional affiliation, sector of work and access. We sent the list to some well-known and respected individuals, not directly involved with the Tata Trusts, requesting them to help us choose. Our request was for them to apply a range of criteria such as high integrity, significance of work and apolitical work. After such a process, we identified the people chosen here. We do have people from all the regions of the country in our list. We have people belonging to three different religions. We have looked at people working in diverse thematic areas. We have included men as well as women. We thus have diversity in this set.

There perhaps are numerous more people who have done similar good work but whom we have not included. Our only plea is that we were limited by our knowledge, out time, budget and our world view. We would be most happy to help anyone else who wishes to cover more persons for a similar purpose. However we are certain that very important lessons are to be learnt and rich insights to be gained by perusing the profiles contained herein. We do hope that these profiles will reach the youth and the youth will read them with interest. In fact, to facilitate the reading, the profiles have been abridged from the original, much longer versions. The longer versions explore the motivations, life trajectories and the work of these individuals at greater depth. These will be made available by way of a downloadable, web-based publication. While this shorter version will hopefully make for easy reading, the longer version will provide more granular information that may encourage people to visit them, and may perhaps be useful for research purpose. That version will do much greater justice to these lives that are being very well spent. We found these individuals very inspiring and we hope to help many more people to be inspired. Naturally, we will be most happy to facilitate interaction with the persons profiled, should anyone so desire.

Tata Trusts generously supportedthe entire work done in connection with the preparation, editing, publication, etc. of these profiles. Those who wrote the profiles were employed by the Trusts during the period they did this work. We remain indebted to the Trusts for this kind support.


About Tata Trusts

Tata Trusts that completed 125 years in 2017, is amongst India’s oldest, non-sectarianphilanthropic organisations, working in several areas of community development. Since its inception, Tata Trusts has played a pioneering role in transforming traditional ideas of philanthropy, to make a positive impact in the communities served. Through direct implementation, co-partnership strategies and offer of grants, Tata Trusts supports and drives innovation in the areas of education, healthcare and nutrition, rural livelihoods, natural resources management, culture, governance and media, arts and crafts, besides enhancing civil society. Tata Trusts continues to be guided by the principles of its founder, Jamsetji Tata. Through his vision of proactive philanthropy, Tata Trusts catalyses societal development, while ensuring that initiatives and interventions have a contemporary relevance to the nation.

The shared vision outlines broad guidelines for the Trusts’ engagement over the next ten years in a five-point checklist of facets that the Trusts would endeavour to incorporate in all future engagements it supports. The guidelines such as (a) Scale (b) Measurable impact (c) Finite exit route (d) Sustainability and (e) Adoption and contextual application of global best practices, are now used to evaluate every intervention that the Trusts wishes to engage in.


About the Editors

Sanjiv Phansalkar

Sanjiv Phansalkar is a Programme DIirector at Tata Trusts and currently leads VikasAnvesh Foundation, an associate organisation supported by the Tata Trusts. He was earlier a faculty member at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). Phansalkar is a fellow of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad.

Ajit Kanitkar

Ajit Kanitkar is a Consultant with Tata Trusts and a member of the research team at VikasAnvesh Foundation. Prior to this, he was Programme Officer at Ford Foundation, India office, and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, both in New Delhi and a faculty member in IRMA.

List of Contributors

  • Sanjiv Phansalkar
  • Ajit Kanitkar
  • Abhijeet Jadhav
  • Ajit Kanitkar
  • Aneka Paul
  • Ateeque Sheikh
  • Bikalp Chamola
  • Jayeeta Chowdhury
  • Jitendra Nayak
  • Nachiket Sule
  • Meghna Mukherjee
  • Minaj Ranjita Singh
  • Nirmalya Choudhury
  • Sandeep Chavan
  • Sanjiv Phansalkar
  • Soumi Kundu
  • Tasneem Raja
  • Vivek Kher
Copy Editing
  • Jency Samuel
Photo Credits
  • Rongmei Baptist Association, Jalukie, Nagaland
  • Proliferation and Preservation of Rural Resources and Nature, Gaya, Bihar
  • Jan Sahas Social Development Society, Dewas, Madhya Pradesh
  • Action for Social Advancement, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
  • Eleutheros Christian Society, Tuensang, Nagaland
  • Megh Pyne Abhiyan, Patna, Bihar
  • Shaheen Women's Resource and Welfare Association, Hyderabad, Telangana
  • Christian Hospital, Bissamcuttack, Odisha
  • Dilasa Sanstha, Ghatanji, Yavatmal, Maharashtra
  • Samaritan Help Mission, Howrah, West Bengal
  • Caring Friends, Mumbai, Maharashtra
  • Digital Empowerment Foundation, New Delhi
  • Society for Assistance to Children in Difficult Situations, Raichur/Bengaluru, Karnataka
  • Gramya Vikash Mancha, Nalbari, Assam
  • Ibtada, Alwar, Rajasthan
  • Grameen Sahara, Chhaygaon, Assam
  • Iswar Sankalpa, Kolkata, West Bengal
  • Prayas Centre For Labour Research And Action, Udaipur, Rajasthan
  • Institute of Palliative Medicine, Kozhicode, Kerala
  • The Banyan, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
  • South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies, Thiruvanathpuram, Kerala
  • Jan Swasthya Sahyog, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh
Abridged print version of this publication

Samakaleen Prakashan, Pune.
(December 2017)
ISBN: 978-93-866622-37-2

Cover design of the print version
  • Sandeep Salunke
e-book design for website

Vijay Nandgaonkar

Website development

Dimakh Consultants Pvt. Ltd.

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