Investing in Payback


Dr. Sireesha Patibandla & Dr. Jas Simran Kehal

shireesha p and jas kehalGurpreet (name changed), a Dalit girl from a poor family in Punjab scores more than 99% in class XII exams and a national daily catapults her into limelight. There is social media frenzy at her achievement and a lawyer from Delhi, acting as a Good Samaritan, channelizes his contacts and lakhs of rupees are poured into her personal account to facilitate further studies.

When all seems to be set for her admission at Delhi University, the poor Dalit family breaks all contact with the lawyer and instead gets her admitted at a local Govt. college. They plan to spend that donations on building their house rather than the child's career. Eventually, all the philanthropy goes down the drain and donors are left heavy-hearted.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Unfortunately, Gurpreet's parents chose to feast for a day. The lawyer and other benefactors had plans of helping her become a civil servant come what may. At least money wouldn't have been a hindrance. Where did they go wrong? How could they have ensured a better utilisation of their endowment?

Perhaps, we all face a similar situation where we want to pay back to our society but we lack direction. For people like us who are first generation professionals and have limited financial resources, it carries a great importance how judiciously we use money to recompense the society. There are a couple of social revolutions running across the country that can provide us a clue to this puzzlement and serve as a philanthropic guiding light.

In northern India, Prabudhh Bharat Foundation (PBF) has taken on the onus of inculcating Ambedkarism in the coming generation. Spread across five states, PBF conducts a yearly exam on ideology of Dr Ambedkar and other Dalit icons. The striking feature is its magnitude and inclusiveness. Last year, more than fifty thousand students appeared for their examination on the topic of Indian constitution. These students were from different social strata, religions, languages and states but united by Ambedkarism. The year-around involvement of teachers, doctors, lawyers and other intellectuals for compilation of a different book each year, followed by its voluntary distribution across 500km and conduct of examination on a single date on such a large scale is definitely revolutionary.

Started by a group of Ambedkarite doctors from Punjab and working tirelessly in this direction since more than a decade, this organisation is already reaping its early harvest. Amongst the pioneers of this project is a surgeon, Dr Rahul who contends that PBF believes in "Appo Deepo Bhava", being a light unto yourself. The very students who appeared in the exam about 7-10 years ago have matured as volunteers and are raring to pay back to society as neo-Ambedkariites.

The concept of learn, unlearn and relearn is an integral part of PBF thereby inspiring teenagers to unlearn about fake 'baapus and chaachas' they have been taught at school and relearn about real ideologues. Years of ingression of Babasaheb's ideology into their tender minds by this competitive exam has made them equally acknowledge the importance of education as well as work-back for the community. Sadly, Gurpreet somehow missed this revolution. Had she been part of PBF, she would have not only been thinking of Harvard or Oxford after this success but also about how to help others like her.

Down south we have "Swaeroes"; the very word is a weapon of wisdom to level the prevalent social inequalities. The brainchild of a visionary IPS officer Dr R S Praveen Kumar, this organisation has a key role in inspiring the students of Telangana Tribal & Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutes Society (TSWREIS). In 2012, soon after joining as secretary to TSWREIS, he brought all the discretely functioning school alumni associations & the school students under one umbrella and gave the confluence a name, SWAEROES (Social Welfare Aero; geek for sky). As the name goes, the students in these schools are now moving ahead with extraordinary life goals.

By collaborating time, treasure and talent for the amelioration of social welfare & tribal welfare educational institutions, hundreds of committed Swaero alumni from across the globe have been stratified into various sister organisations and allotted a specified platform each to address the needs of school students. The collective effort of all the sub-organisations has brought a phenomenal change in the lifestyle and ambitions of the students. Every budding Swaero imbibes the ideology of Ambedkar to an extent that Swaeroism has become a way of living. Swaeroism believes & teaches that paying back to society is one's responsibility rather than a choice or a charity.

Beginning with beautification of schools and constructing toilets to conducting impact programs, future parenting sessions, scholarships for within and outside India, fitness programs, health network, medical helpline number, Swaero study circles, Village learning centres, fine arts training, Bheem-diksha, Swaero festivals, Swaero anthem...what not?.. their contribution is there in every frame helping comprehensive development of the students. Eventually the spectrum of beneficiaries has widened to include students' families and their communities too.

Apart from grossly improved school enrolment & reduced dropout rate, TSWREIS is now a tough competitor to Telangana private schools and colleges. With about 50 social welfare (SW) and tribal welfare (TW) women residential degree colleges, TSWEREIS has helped thousands of girls liberate themselves from the trap of early marriages, teenage pregnancies and other life struggles. There are a few, first of their kind in the history of India, special degree colleges for women which provide various routine-defying graduation courses like armed forces preparatory course, networking, journalism etc. Seeds from these colleges have already dispersed to various prestigious institutions like IISER, IIM and DU. A few of them who never even dreamt of travelling till their state capital are now pursuing higher education abroad. Every child, here, has a success story.

SWAEROES is now a new brand, a new culture and a surname of thousands of people who contribute to and benefit from this organisation. Talking about the purpose of this organisation, IPS R S Praveen Kumar proudly proclaims- "Swaeroism is all about liberating ourselves without waiting for a liberator."

Stupendous performance of these organisations has given us a clear message about why we should aggrandize our society in bulk rather than placing our bet on a single horse. What if this sole horse goes astray? There are high chances of Gurpreet joining the "crowd of clerks who are busy filling their bellies"-as described by Babasaheb at Agra in 1956. Neither was she sensitized till date on the role of giving back to society' nor is she likely to enter a Swaero like system which ensures that. Perhaps, the do-gooders were trying to capitalize on her intelligence potential while not assessing her philanthropy potential.

We would welcome her as an Ambedkariite lower grade official rather than an indifferent IAS officer who refuses to pay back to her society. There is a marked difference in sponsoring a single Dalit child for education and promoting a movement which emboldens her to help others like her after achieving success. In fact, it is a contrast. Going by limited resources we have, in terms of money and power, we need to hedge our bets.

As the revolutionary Punjabi poet "Pash" inferred in his famous poem- Sab to Khatarnaak- that "the most dangerous accident is the death of our dreams". It is not only Gurpreet's dreams which have met with the accident, but also of all those who had dreamt of providing her a great future. The only safe ride to ensure payback to society is by boarding tried-tested and established organisations. These have proved themselves over a period of time and focus on bulk elevation of society rather than supplying sole succour.

 (Surprisingly, there was an appeal to financially help Gurpreet in a WhatsApp group even today.)



Dr Sireesha Patibandla, MD (Paediatrics), is Assistant Professor at Niloufer Institute of Mother and Child, Hyderabad, Telangana.

Dr Jas Simran Singh Kehal, MS (ORTHO), is an Orthopaedics Surgeon. He also has a Masters degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Punjabi University, Patiala. He can be contacted at Kehal Trauma Centre, Nangal Dam, Punjab.

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