Determined to leave the world behind in a better shape: Unparallel grit of Rashmi Bharti

Nestled in the impossible verdant hills of distant Kumaon and flanked by the sky kissing snow-covered hills, this distant region looks like a gem in the paradise. But, this picture-postcard perfect hill corner was an abyss of neglect and under-development and was falling off the map, until a few years ago when Avani, a Voluntary Organization, decided to ‘exploit’ nature to provide livelihood opportunities to the people, along with sustaining, conserving and enriching nature!

That’s what Neema Devi, 32, a homemaker and farmer from Banoli village, Pithoragarh district, is doing since years as she walks from her small, 10 nali (about half ha) field to Avani’s color processing unit, with a bag of pomegranate that also grow om her field, “I’m going there to make yellow color from it with others to make natural water colors, crayons and even kumkum or sindoor,” tells Devi.  Besides pomegranate, other plants like turmeric, marigold, Myrobalan, growing in the surrounding areas, are also used to produce a range of natural colors for textiles, art supplies (crayons, water colours), cosmetics, wood stains and organic or non-toxic kumkum or sindoor, while the one that most married Hindu women fill the parting on their heads has mercury, a known carcinogenic element.

While pomegranate rind and marigold flowers yield yellow, green is from basunti leaves, brown from walnut hulls, black and gray from myrobolan fruit blue from indigo. Most of these plants were grown locally, but indigo was bought from outside, mainly from Bihar, initially. But, as the ‘business’ progressed, they decided to grow it here and commenced Himalayan Indigo Project, 44 farmers took to cultivating Indigo for dye extraction. And, farmers are thankful for it, “I grew 347 kg indigo leave and earned an income of Rs. 7,278 and as it can be grown just in 90 days on my wastelands with little labour input with no monkeys damaging it, I can also grow other crops,” says an elated Savitri Devi of Maana village, Bageshwar district.

These organic dyes aren’t used just for making water colours, crayons and kumkum, but also to dye woollen and silk yarns that the local artisans convert into gorgeous and striking shawls, stoles, mufflers, home furnishings and garments for men, women and children, “We use plants growing in the surrounding area also for dyeing many fabrics that we produce. These plants are grown and collected by women’s groups, providing an additional income source in the villages,” says Rashmi Bharti, co-founder, Avani.

Exploiting nature and extracting earth alongside nurturing it was the principle on which Avani stood for, living true to its name as it means Earth! “Today, Avani creates opportunities for rural people to find viable employment through a self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable supply chain that is sensitive to the cultural context of this region as we want to leave the Earth behind in a better shape than what we found when we came here,” says Bharti.

Promoting organic Kumkum and extracting essences from the locally grown plants to make water colours and crayons and indeed sensitive to then local culture as small farms are the only source of income for most households, but they want to augment their incomes from their limited resources, without migrating and Avani provides them many opportunities through its sustainable, conservation-based livelihood generation.

When Avani was founded in 1997, originally as the Kumaon chapter of the Barefoot College, formally known as SWRC, then as a VO in1999, it spotted just not the immense natural wealth of the region, but also the craftmanship of the locals and began working with the Shauka community, also known as Johari or Johari Shauka, of the Bageshwar and Pithoragarh districts, who were nomadic and were a part of the thriving Indo-Tibetan trade before Tibet was taken over by China. As they settled down, they became increasingly dependent on spinning and weaving that they’d traditionally practiced to process animal fibre for their use and commerce.

Avani recognized their traditional, genetic skill and decided to make it more ‘modern’, market-friendly and profitable and replaced their traditionally used raw-material hemp that they were abandoning because of the ambiguous legal framework around the growth of Indian hemp and were abandoning their craft and the VO trained them to work with silk and wool, instead. The raw materials: wool, silk, pashmina and linen, are dyed using natural dies as a wide range of colours such as brown, yellow, orange, and green are extracted from locally available plants, while red and blue are made from indigo and shellac, procured from other parts of India, “Bharti tells.

Textile remains their main initiative where they work with 1100 artisans in 52 villages of these two districts and more than 63% of Avani’s artisans come from the Bora Kuthalia community with whom they are currently involved with. They are happily contended that their traditional skill has reached to the world at large, also yielding a good income to them. Hema Agri, Beladagar village, Begeshwar district says, “Today, as a skilled weaver of shawls, stoles and mufflers in silk and wool. I make a neat Rs. 5,000 in a month.”

So are others like Deepa Bhauryal, once a shy girl, joined Avani, when she just 18, is one of such life, transformed as she became an excellent weaver and works at a managerial level where she supervises other weavers at Avani as the VO is reviving the beautiful art of weaving.

This craze for weaving began when Rashmi landed at Osho’s Ashram at Pune, as she learnt there to weave her dreams in a tapestry of Mother Earth! “Osho was a big present in my formative years as my parents were her devoted bhakts. My parents took me to his ashram when I was just 10 and it was my ambition to live there forever. Osho was a big present in my formative years and all my summer vacations were spent there. I took diksha from him when I was 11 and went to his ashram after finishing my studies at 21 where I met Rajnish. It was a small community and there was lots of fraternity and I didn’t grow up with an aim to get married as my father gave me a lot of freedom and I realized that we can see ourselves as individuals and not as men and women. After remaining in the ashram for 2-2/12 years, I felt to make my life meaningful as meditation was and still is a crucial part of our lives and as Osho said, not everyone has to go to jungle, but if don’t leave your inner happiness and truth, you’ll proceed to the right direction. Thinking this, I left the ashram a month before he died and, in the ashram, I met some of the world’s best brains and although I’m a maths graduate, I learnt graphic design from very great persons in the ashram as I’m an artist by nature. So, going to the ashram was my turning point and I learnt there that there were no compartment between social and professional lives and there one can realize your full potential,” she tells.

And, her true potential was reaching out to the marginalised and just not to get married and become a housewife!

Rajnish, her life-partner and Avani’s co-director,  too landed up in the ashram in 1987 where he went for a month and stayed for three years, “My father came in touch with Osho and when I read a few books and I realized that I can get answers of many questions and many times we used to go to the Gandhi ashram in the town and were impressed by many small-small things and by nature cure. Then, we went to the ashram in 1987 for three months, but stayed for years, where I learned many manual works like electric fixing, bakery, plumbing that I really likes it and I realized I can do many things by learning and we dreamt to live in the hills. There, he learnt that there are no compartments in life as you cannot separate social and professional life. Even one’s personal life is also a part of his social life and both had immense belief in individuals from the very beginning,” tells Rajnish.

And, it can be doubtlessly said that visiting Osho Ashram in Pune was the turning point in their lives where they were destined to meet and they met, got married in 1990 and began a new life. So, going to the ashram was my turning point and I learnt there that there were no compartment between different facets of life: between personal and professional, and such a life could be realized in its full potential,” she tells.

And, her true potential was reaching out to the marginalised and just not to get married and become a housewife!

Hence, it can be doubtlessly said that visiting Osho Ashram in Pune was the turning point in their lives where they were destined to meet and they met, got married in 1990 and began a new life.

Respecting local culture was the motive behind its work as it went for the preservation and revival of the traditional craft of weaving, spinning and natural dyeing. The philosophy has been to introduce modern raw materials to make contemporary products while conserving the handicraft skills as livelihood options. Hence, spinning and weaving of wild silks such as tussar, eri and muga as well as pashmina reintroduced and today scores of women land at its three-acre campus where they die wool and silk in natural colours and take the fibre back home where they spin them on solar powered spinning wheels, developed by Avani that women are find highly convenient, “I can spin clothes at my home at my free time as I just made this stole,” tells Manju Bora, Digoli village, Pithoragarh district. This system augments women’s productivity. Her stole was stunningly bright green, made in Tibetan sheep wool and blended with the matching light green merino wool, procured from Indo-Tibetan border area, is easily spun by local people, gets softer with use and is very durable and at the VO, it is often blended with other fibres, including merino wool and silk.

Others like Kaushalya Bora, Sukna village, Pithoragarh district, prefer Harsil wool, produced in Harsil, near Gangotri in Garhwal that she spun to make eye-catching maroon coloured sweater. Others use Australian merino wool, produced in India and also imported from Australia to make sweaters, mufflers and shawls.

Besides wool, silk is another raw material, Avani indulges with and it is called Ahimsa or non-violent Silk as this wild silk—not the cultivated silk—where cocoons are collected in the wild, from local plant species and traditionally silk yarn is reeled with machines using un-pierced silk cocoons, in which the cocoon is steam boiled to kill the pupa to stop the emergence of the moth, which would have pierced the cocoon if natural processes were allowed to occur. “But, we allow the pupa to metamorphose into a moth then hand spin the silk to make Ahimsa Silk. The moth pierces the cocoon to escape, breaking the strands of the cocoon, and resulting in fibre that needs to be spun by hand, tells Bharti.

They also use hand-spun tussar silk that has a unique, pebbly texture and natural beige colour and eri silk, whose cocoons are collected in the wild from castor plants. With its success, it decided to indulge with muga silk, the most expensive and finest of India’s wild silks, collected from the forests in the North-East and naturally gold silk clothes such as exquisite saris are made and the customers just love its extremely rich texture.

Pure linen and is also blended with silk and wool and pashmina are the other raw materials procured from Belgium, Tibet and Ladakh are used to make clothes that the local weavers weave and Avani sells them nationally and internationally through a self-reliant cooperative organisation called EarthCraft, that is owned and operated by the artisans themselves.

Earthcraft markets products like shawls, stoles, mufflers, home furnishings, and garments for men, women and children in addition to organic detergent, organic kumkum, and eco-friendly art supplies from natural dyes, both locally and globally. While textile products are sold under Avani brand, kids products carry the Goraiya brand. Earthcraft became a self-sustaining business in 2009 and is now upscaling to increase its outreach. Now, it also has a sustainable fashion hub that can be found at http://www.bhusattva.com, a certified apparel brand and a series that examines shifts in the global fashion industry to more sustainable and ethical practices and processes, with a special focus on India.

 Customers just fall for the innovative and dazzling designs of textiles with exclusive colours and inimitable patterns that’s usually Rashmi’s brainchild and she has no formal training in design, but learnt through experience!

All clothes must be washed and Avani found an organic, eco-friendly detergent for it also! It is reetha (soap-nut or Sapindus trifoliatusis), an indigenous Indian tree, whose fruits contain saponin, a natural and active cleaning agent that can be used for laundry and keeps colours bright and intact. It is a natural wash with antiseptic properties, good for eczema and sensitive skin.  “We discovered that it is exported to Germany in a big way as they used it for bathing and washing and we use chemical detergents like Ariel and Surf,” exclaims Bharti.

And, they decided to market it. Today, Avani procures and processes reetha and sell its fruits abd powder. Reetha plants are grown locally and all steps like collection/ harvesting, drying, deseeding and making powder. While dried reetha fruits are sold for Rs. 18 a kilo, de-seeded reetha for Rs. 30 and reetha powder for Rs. 60.

There is another side of the coin too in Avani’s story and this is the story of Rashmi’s soulmate, Rajnish Jain’s craze with energy production. He too ‘exploits’ nature by producing electricity from pirul (pine-needles), a totally waste product and a menace in hill villages, being a major cause of forest fires. Yes, the VO has a gasifier in the village that turns this menace into electric current that is supplied to the grid of Uttarakhand Power Corporation Limited (UPCL) and pays the villagers who collect it from the fields and forests are paid Rs.2 a kilo.

The VO has a 10KW gasifier that converts pirul into since 2005 along with a by-product that is also used.  While, the electricity goes to the grid of Uttarakhand Power Corporation Limited, the by-product; tar is mixed with charcoal and is turned into coal that the villagers lap and buy for Rs. 10 a kilo.

Encouraged with its experiment in its he main Tripuradevi and another plant at Simalta village, “Avani is determined to take the electricity generation forward in four neighbouring villages of Chankana, Seli, Bhatijer, and Daangigaon, where people donated land for power plants and these villages are remote, located from 30 minutes to four hours walking distance from the nearest road,” tells Jain, co-founder, Avani. Her efforts to promote traditional weaving skills and handloom won her many accolades such as Janaki Devi Bajaj Award for Rural Entrepreneurship in 2011, Most Innovative Enterprise of the Year –Citi Foundation Award, 2012, Sustainable Fashion award 2015 for the contribution in the area of Sustainable Development in crafts by the Government of India.

As a deciding step to extend the gift of 3Rs to the villagers, the Avani campus also has a primary school in its backyard where their only daughter, Tanvi, studies in Class V, “You cannot separate social and professional life. Even one’s personal life is also a part of his social life and both had immense belief in individuals from the very beginning,” reasons Jain. The school within its campus is the reflection of their commitment of uniting their professional and social lives, so is the life in the campus as almost all of its 25 workers are locals, many of them live in the campus and eat in the community kitchen. Then, it harvests millions of litres of rainwater and all used water is recycled and used for irrigation and not a single drop is wasted and while it has the electric connection from the UPCL, it also generates 9 KW solar electricity for its uses, “As we want to leave the earth in a better condition that we got,” says the couple in unison.

Already the microcosm of earth is in a better shape since the campus now boasts of a mixed forest, having hundreds of broad-leave plants like oak, rhododendron, utis and tun, while earlier, it was had just pine.

A determined Bharti, walking with her life-long partner, step by step, would leave the earth in a better shape!

Advertisements
Posted in General | Leave a comment

Jo McGowan Chopra: Creating a perfect world for the lesser children of god

Anurag, just 5, ran after the sparkling, duck shaped cart sliding smoothly on the spotlessly clean floor. The cart rolled down a few feet before he could catch and sit on it. As he started ‘driving,’ Kusboo, an older girl, stood in front of him, holding a toy in her left hand. Suddenly, Tsering, a much older girl, came and snatched the toy from Kushboo’s hand as she was annoyed at her obstructing Anurag’s march. Kusboo got the message and said sorry; clearing the obstacle. Tsering returned the toy and all three dashed out to the play area on the enclosed veranda – where outdoor swings and climbing equipment were available.

These three special needs children were with ten other such kids and were having a great time at Gubbara, meaning balloon in Hindi, a new state-of-the-art diagnostic centre for children with multiple disabilities in Dehradun.

Early Intervention and Assessment Centres, though far and few, do exist in different cities around the country. Gubbara is unique in being situated in a government hospital and run as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) between the Latika Roy Foundation, a voluntary organization devoted to children with special needs, and the Government of Uttarakhand.

Gubbara is just one of many projects the Latika Roy Foundation runs for children with special needs in the city. Early intervention is a cornerstone of its philosophy: the sooner children with disability are identified and receive therapy and education, the better they will do.

A brainchild of Jo McGowan Chopra, an American by birth and a former criminal, yes a formal criminal as she had been arrested many times in the USA as a peace movement organiser.

Gubbara is the model of public-private partnership that has made successful early intervention in the lives of special kids since April, 2011, and has a spacious, beautifully designed and full of state-of-the-art equipment and brightly-coloured toys in Doon Hospital, otherwise drab and staid government city hospital.

Today, it gives a slice of happy and colourful life to hundreds of special children.

As most parents of such hapless children are very poor and cannot afford transport and stay in Dehradun, LRF provides them transport and makes their staying arrangements at a local dharamsala (charity inns). “This place should be better publicised in the remote, rural areas so that people from the hills, where no such facility exists, can also benefit,” says Pushpa, mother of Amar Chauhan, a 3-year old boy who was being assessed at the centre.

This balloon is really flying in the horizon hundreds of children with special needs in Uttarakhand who are learning to walk, talk and – perhaps – even fly.

Gubbara, along with six other initiatives of LRF has changed lives.

Thousands of less fortunate lives!

Born in 1958 in a small town, Fall River, Bristol CountyMassachusetts, United States, Jo has been a rebel with a cause and that cause is to make this world a better, more liveable place for the children of the lesser god and her parents were the real role-models for her as she has got the brainwave of caring for the disadvantages and marginalized and fighting for their rights and a just world from them. They wouldn’t not only participate themselves in such activities, but also encourage her to do the same.

They were staunch Catholics and wanted to make this world a better place. Fight for a just cause and indulge in strong social actions. She was the oldest of seven siblings. Despite of having a large family, her parents were always active in social services like taking care of elderlies and, “Even in their seventies, they would cook and pack cake and cookies to feed the old people who were often only, as if they weren’t old,” laughs Jo.

In 1978,  when she was in Massachusetts State University, she went on a protest march from Boston to Washington, against nuclear arms and demanding disarmaments, putting her study at the backburner.

Ravi was also on a protest march, but from a different direction, we collided and became life-partners in 1979,” she laughs.

That’s how she landed in India and that’s too, in Dehradun.

She got involved in yet another protest in 1978 and was arrested. In democratic America, she was arrested ten times during a four-year period; from 1976 to 1979, to beseech the cause of democracy: on charges of blocking an entrance, unlawful assembly, and trespassing.

Life wasn’t easy for the newly-wed couple after they came to India and started living in Delhi in 1982. Having no regular and steady job, she would write occasionally for Span magazine, the PR organ of the US government in India. “My first article was on cooking American food in an Indian kitchen. Avinash Pasricha, an ace photographer, shot excellent photos and the images he created were so amazing my little fluff piece ended up being the magazine’s main feature, and I there with my homemade bread on the cover,” she recalls.

The money that she got from the magazine, kept her hearth burning for a few days as they were not a typical American ex-pat, living in a fancy house with a large staff and fabulous table linens, housewares and furnishings, but lived in a two-room flat in a lower middle-class neighbourhood and, “If we had guests over, we had to go and buy ice because we didn’t even have a fridge,” she adds.

Avinash, one of India’s most renowned photographers, famous for his chronicling of dancers and musicians, became her friend for life and came to Dehradun very often after she had started Karuna Vihar and shot its calendar as, “He took photos of our children that illustrated their charm, wit and adorableness. He captured our staff in their moments of creativity, style and beauty. Year after year, Avinash got it,” she extols her long-lasting friend who keeps visiting them, even when he is 84, “Not as quick on his feet and he can’t lug the heavy equipment he used to hoist with ease. His eye is as sharp as ever, though, and his understanding of disability is more profound. And my appreciation for his art and his grace has only deepened,” she adds.

Jo never liked living in Delhi with its bourgeoning population, imploding amenities and compounding pollution and wanted to live in a quiet, peaceful and smaller city, especially after her two children: Anand and Cathleen, were born, “I chose Doon as it still had trees and places the kids could ride bicycles. I never wanted to bring them up in a huge city like Delhi,” she tells.

So, they finally shift to Dehradun in 1988, seven years after they landed here, in India and it was a deal between the two, “I had told Ravi he had chosen the country so I was choosing the city and I chose Dehradun,” she adds.

Little did she know that shifting to Doon was going to soon change her life forever and give her a sense, a goal, a destiny of living.

That was the entry of Moy Moy the very next year!

Moy Moy is from a remote village in the Himalayas. Her mother had been sterilized after her 12th baby – but Moy Moy was conceived anyway. Determined to get an abortion, she came down to Dehradun – and chose the one obstetrician in the city who doesn’t do them. The doctor persuaded Moy’s mother to give birth and leave the baby for her to find it a home – a few months later, coming for a routine prenatal appointment, she went into labour on the bus. The bus pulled over and Moy Moy was born on the side of the road, 12 weeks premature, weighing just 2 pounds.

Her mother wrapped her up in a shawl and brought her in to the hospital. There was no incubator so Moy Moy was parked in a small metal crib in the nurses’ station.

Two weeks later, they met an American couple, both doctors, was volunteering at the hospital. When they heard about the baby, the woman said her sister would adopt her. “The sister was me. And the baby, miraculously, against all odds, came into our lives and changed everything,” reveals Jo, adding, “She wasn’t meant to be conceived, but she was. She wasn’t meant to be born, but she was. She wasn’t meant to survive, but she did. She wasn’t meant to be our daughter, but she most certainly is.”

Here, she, herself, became a pathfinder for the children of the lesser God—mentally and physically differently-abled children after she and Ravi adopted Moy Moy in 1989, it touched her heart and personal became professional for her.

Jo knew from the very beginning that Moy Moy was different and now she could see the destiny of her life—to make the world better for differently-able children like Moy Moy and thus began Karuna Vihar in 1994 as an inclusive neighbourhood children’s centre for creativity and fun. Children get ample of opportunities for free expression, development of leadership, creative thought and problem-solving skills, unlike a rigid school system that discourages and often destroys creativity of such children.

Karuna Vihar is a part of Latika Roy Foundation that Jo started to honour the memory of one

Latika Roy, born and brought up in Bihar, married off at 18, just lettered, but the lamp of higher education kept burning in her heart and out of her sheer grit and determination, she taught herself English and then at the age of 22, escaped to Kodaikanal – already pregnant with her first child – to study education with the renowned Maria Montessori. Well after the baby was born, she returned to Dehradun, now a trained Montessori teacher, and started her own school. It started in a tent, but after adding rupee over hard-earned rupee and brick over hard-earned brick, she was able to construct her own school building in Dehradun.

But, she passed out in 1992 at the age of 74, after suffering several paralyzing strokes and left a will to continue the Montessori School continue. To fulfil her wish, her husband, approached Jo and Ravi, as Ravi and Dunu Roy, Latika’s youngest son, were close friends from their college days and two years after her death, in 1994, Mr Roy approached Jo and Ravi with a request offered him Rs. two lakhs as his contribution.

Thus, began Latika Roy Foundation began to form. But, the focus on helping children and adults with special needs sparked Moy Moy came into their lives that sparkled the beginning of Karuna Vihar as, “It turned out that Moy Moy needed a special school and there was none to be found in their city, so we started one,” says Jo.

There are other friends and aficionados Besides Pasricha, who became parts of her larger canvas when she started trading on a new path on which she would trade on for the rest of her life, Dr Steven Jerome Parker: a loving friend of babies boosted her confidence to make the life of Moy Moy and thousands other like her trade on a respectable and dignified path, is the another such long-lasting friend.

Steven came here when Moy Moy was four years old we she didn’t understand the real problem Moy Moy was suffering with and what exactly made hit was which made her different from our her different than her other two children. Then, Moy Moy could talk and walk and she had pretty much mastered all of the basics: she fed and dressed herself, she was toilet trained, she was cheerful and funny and busy with her life. “But something was missing and I was rather perturbed, so when my brother’s wife Sally, a nurse practitioner, suggested I take her to meet Steven, the doctor with whom she worked at Boston Medical Centre, a developmental paediatrician, having vast knowledge and experience with children like Moy Moy.

Dr Steven landed up in Dehradun and had a terrific visit in Karuna Vihar that That visit with Steven, which lasted several hours and stretched over two days, was the beginning of a whole new journey for me and for our family and even, in some ways, for Dehradun and all the children who have come to Karuna Vihar in the intervening years.

“What a great kid,” he started out. “She’s got a sense of humour which would be surprising in a child twice her age.  She’s funny, she’s curious, she’s happy and she’s obviously deeply loved.”

He was a very sensitive human being besides being a great doctor. He felt that that there was “a lot of scatter” as her receptive language was right not of her age and when Jo asked him if Moy had Cerebral Palsy, he said that if she want a term for it, she could say that Moy had CP, but she must help her to continue to develop and grow

It was a total shock for her and she felt as if she’d touched a live wire, although she had worked with these ‘types’ of kids earlier, had collected money for CP research when she was in high school, but always thought, it was a kid next door, “Not my child!” she felt like shouting.

And, it made the matter worst as slowly, Moy’s condition deteriorated. Dr Steven was always standing with them as a companion to row their boat in the rough and stormy weather supporting them with them us every step of the way as he kept on suggesting further tests, new therapies and other doctors. He was simply there: reassuring, counselling, encouraging.

While, Karuna Vihar had begun functioning that was opening a larger world for many other children like Moy Moy, her own condition was worsening and around five, she developed seizures and began to regress. By the age of ten she could no longer speak and required help from two people to get around; by sixteen she had quadriplegia, used a wheelchair exclusively and ate with a feeding tube. She is now 28 and completely dependent for all her needs.

 

Moy Moy was the reason for the very establishment of Latika Roy Foundation in 1994 that personified on ground in the shape of the special school for children with special needs, as Karuna Vihar when in 1996 Paula Hughes, a VSO volunteer from the UK arrived and helped to set it up that was supposed to be a school for Moy Moy and  now, more than 20 years later, her school serves hundreds of children from all over the state and the country. Because of her, over a 100 people have jobs and a purpose in life that has transformed them into extraordinary bearers of good news in a world desperately in need of it.

Her condition convinced Jo that to make a decisive change in the lives of such children and make them qualitatively meaningful, they must be caught young and thus begun The Early Intervention Centre opens on the campus of St Joseph’s Academy, a notable senior secondary school,  in the heart of Dehradun in 2002. The centre provides assessment and therapy services to any child under six with disability.

The centre strives for the overall development of such children, enhance their abilities to the full and endeavour to help them circumvent their disability. Their parents are also trained on early intervention strategies, so that they could effectively deal with their child’s issues. Hundreds of children have come here and learnt the tricks while playing and enjoying every moment.

It works in a holistic manner, based on three Ps—plan, partnership and play, resulting into the C—creativity!

Here, let’s first talk about Gubbara itself.

Planning, the plan to open a new world of possibilities and action for such children and their parents is passed on passing them the real information about the actual condition of their children by assessing them thoroughly. Its team gives detailed information to the parents about where and how to avail further intervention services in their areas and avail the rights of people with disabilities. They also know about government schemes and concessions with details on how to avail and get help to avail them, including the certificate as without this crucial piece of paper, nothing moves in this country. Children from birth to age six can come with their parents for an intensive assessment. A inter-disciplinary team of specialists works with the families to arrive at a holistic understanding of the child and her/his strengths and weaknesses. After this, in consultation with families, an easy-to-follow programme is developed which addresses parent concerns and meets the child’s therapy goals. They first practice it at Gubbara and then a in tutorial booklet is made for them to take home, so that they don’t forget it! Still, there are many high-risk babies, born prematurely, very much like Moy Moy and to help such parents the Foundation, “Has help-desk outside the NICU of Doon Hospital, with trained social workers and a weekly follow up programme that works to avert disabilities due to prematurity and very low birth weight and also prevent acquired disability due to lack of a nurturing, stimulating environment,” tells Jo.

It seems, Gubbara is really flying high as so far, it has assessed more than 4,000 children and has monitored 300 high-risk infants. Moreover, more than 500 from Dehradun district itself are being regularly followed up.

Gubbara is just one centre of the early intervention, running at Doon Hospital, under the PPP mode, their major work is at the EIC.

Their special educators look at all aspects of cognitive and psychological growth of the child coming there as a multi-disciplinary approach is a must here and after adopting it, an individualized education plan for each child is developed that incorporates speech and language therapy, alternative communication systems, sensory stimulation and a behaviour management.

After such a programme has been planned, therapists and special educators join hands with the parents of such children and they become partners and regular counselling based on expressed and assessed needs are conducted and then the plan is executed. “In fact, we play—playing the plan on the ground as have a bagful of strategies to work with little children and we keep adding new, innovative ones as it could be a theatre for a child with Cerebral Palsy or Picture Exchange Communication System to help a child with autism express himself, we use the most appropriate ways to help our children,” tells Jo.

The interplay of three Ps yields creative games and specific exercises that need to be performed by the children to help them develop functional skill. These children also get orthopaedic aids like footplates, AFOs and Swedish Knee Braces that help them becoming independent and functional.

Thousands of such children, mostly suffering with dreaded cerebral palsy are smiling today, Vicky, a bright child, who could neither speak nor walk, is one such kid, who came here when his chacha (uncle), a cook in the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand’s office, had heard about the EIC through its awareness work and brought him here.

In spite of being unable to walk, he had developed his own innovative style of moving and got around by lying on his back and scooting his bottom along the ground. He could not speak, but communicated his needs through his own signing system. Vicky’s parents were unable to care for him and his uncle, though himself unmarried, volunteered to adopt him and was shocked to learn that Vicky had CP.

Vicky responded quite positively to the therapists’ plan and within a few months of regular physiotherapy, he began standing with support and quickly progressed to standing on his own. At the age of five he graduated to Karuna Vihar School where he has continued to develop his communication skills. After a year of steady, hard work, Vicky finally mastered walking unassisted.

“The day he took his first steps, he was so delighted with himself that he walked in circles round and round the room, laughing out loud for joy. Vicky is now a happy, charming boy who loves playing and learning,” recalls Jo joyfully. Although still non-verbal because of his Cerebral Palsy, his receptive language skills are excellent and he understands most concepts that a child of his age should.

Simran is the other child who has now bright days ahead in her life, whereas when he came here in 2006, her life was just a black as she wasn’t dark abyss. During the first week of her life Simran suffered from severe sepsis and had repeated seizures. She was still unable to hold up her head when she was a year old, reach out for toys, or manage semi-solid foods. At 14 months Simran’s parents took her to meet a paediatric surgeon who referred them to Karuna Vihar where it was found that she had Cerebral Palsy.

A home programme was developed for her. Her family quickly realized the value of therapy and discovered that she was a very bright child who understood far more than she was able to express. Simran soon learned to sit unsupported, play with a range of toys, feed herself, and get up and walk with minimal support. She began communicating well using gestures and learnt to use a communication board. Simran’s parents are devoted to her and optimistic about her future.

Now her proud parents have encouraged a number of others to bring their children to Karuna Vihar and her progress and their commitment have been an inspiration to many families.

If EIC is the first step, Karuna Vihar Child Development Centre (KVCDC), is the next where such children and imbibed with strength and hope carry on the long journey of life.

Here, groups of parents are formed and they regularly meet and discuss common issues and concerns. Also, specialists from different fields meet them and make them more aware and equipped to deal with the challenges of parenting a special child.

And, such children aren’t ignored either as the centre has skilled physiotherapists and occupational therapists who look at the unique needs of each child and develop a special plan of therapy and sensory activities that helps the child to lead a rewarding life.

Children coming here, any special child from the age of three to 14 can join the KVCDC, learn ho to deal with this cruel world by indulging in group activities that are carefully planned and held to improve their interactive skills and develop their livelihood potentials.

Their livelihood potentials are further accentuated when they upgrade to the Karuna Vihar Centre for Vocational Training (KVCVT), open for young adults from age 16 to 21 who receive not just vocational training but skills to deal with the growing demands of adulthood, building confidence and hope by sessions on embroidery, teacher assistance skills, paper conversion, gardening, office-work skills, computer skills. Our hope is that by enabling will set them on a path of meaningful employment.

Hundreds of such youths today have gainful jobs a shy, quiet, Raju is just one of them, who joined Karuna Vihar School at the age of eight. As he had repeatedly failed in mainstream school, his parents finally brought him here in despair. His father, bit of a tyrant, with little understanding about learning difficulties, found him, Raju simply a boy who wasn’t trying hard enough.

The Centre worked with Raju on basic skills like comprehension, following instructions, simple arithmetic, reading and writing. Though he was a slow learner, he was diligent and determined and over the years he grew more and more confident about his own abilities.

At the age of 14, he graduated to the transition class of the College for Livelihoods Training and by 15, he began to express a clear preference for working. He was not interested in many of the activities like candle-making, bag-making, masala-packing, household skills – they all bored him as he wanted “a real job.”

And, that job was to work in a shop!

The Vocational Coordinator worked with his class teacher to develop the skills he would need to be successful in his chosen career and also found a shop in the local market which was willing to take Raju on as an unpaid intern.

For six months, Raju continued coming to the College for Livelihoods Training in the morning, but spent the evenings working in the store. Constant training and interaction of the Centre’s staff with the shopkeeper resulted in a wonderful news after the six-month period when an overwhelmed Raju learnt that the shopkeeper wanted to give him a full-time, paid position.

Not only that. The shopkeeper has become a spokesperson for our campaign to employ people with disabilities in Dehradun. At a recent workshop, that was held for other potential employers, he spoke about his experience with Raju as a turning point in his understanding of what people with special needs

 

2011 was the big leap year for Jo as, “This year, we began our first public-private partnership with the Govt with the setting up of Gubbara at the Doon hospital,” she informs

 

Funded by National Rural Health Mission, Gubbara provides an intensive assessment and a home management plan by an interdisciplinary team of specialists to families from around the state.

Start of the follow up of the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) babies at the Doon Hospital. Premature and at-risk babies discharged from the NICU are enrolled for a follow-up programme at Gubbara to monitor their development in the first year of life.

 

It was the Special school that initially began for Moy Moy and now, it has become the special school for thousands of special children.

The Karuna Vihar Special School (KVSS), a school for children with special needs is an innovative centre for activity-based learning. Here children from 7 to 14 years learn to deal with their world independently. They develop academic skills as per their levels and grow into happy and confident youngsters.

Children who come here, are a happy lot as they have lots of fun, play and learn. First, the physiotherapists of the Foundation, make the therapy sessions so much fun that the children get more strength in their limbs and mobility and flexibility without even realizing that they have been through a physiotherapy session. They learn correct postures and movements in all activities. Children slowly, but surely, understand these processes and as these are activity based, they love to perform them outdoors and also in kitchen and classrooms. At home, parents take charge and follow the plan, resulting into such children becoming independent to lead their shattered lives.

Shefali is one of the thousands of such children. She came here when she was six, as a dirty and unkempt child was completely dependent and understand only her most basic needs – hunger, using the toilet and that’s too, only by indicating. After a series of therapies and activities sessions, within a month, she was so changed that her mother couldn’t believe and asked the school director. “Are you giving her drugs or Injections as she is not the same girl?” Naturally, she was dumbfounded and couldn’t think that a drug-less therapy can change her special child just within a month as Shefali had begun to take in her surroundings, the increasing efforts made to communicate and, most especially, her eagerness to go to school every morning. On Saturdays and Sundays, she insisted on being taken to the bus stop in spite of being told it was a holiday. One Saturday, returning home disappointed, she slipped away and made her way back to the bus stop herself, just to make doubly sure. As she was incapable of sitting still for more than a minute and her social skills were non-existent, she was allowed to set her own pace for integrating into the school routine. As each new activity was initiated with the other children, she was encouraged to join in, but the moment she lost interest, she was allowed to go off where she pleased with a staff member for company. The slightest overture toward the group met with praise and encouragement from the teachers. Over weeks, the loving, accepting environment of the school began to work its magic with Shefali. More and more, she joined in group activities, responded to the teachers’ directions and reacted in a friendly way to the other children. Today, Shefali is a happy, sociable young woman who loves to help around her house in a variety of useful ways. She has learned to wash dishes, chop vegetables, make chapattis and run little errands for her mother. She can dress and feed herself and is able to take her own bath. Her speech is still limited, but she can make herself understood to her family and close friends.

Then, there is Latika Vihar, bearing the original name of the Foundation, for children between 3 and 15 years of age. Play is the language spoken here and the rule is—everyone is someone and full freedom is extended to those who have extra disabilities. The counsellors hold sessions with the children and their parents to discuss their concerns and they realise that others are also having these problems and they are not isolated and can cope with their problems in their own unique ways. Soon, children learn to plan organise and execute their creative ideas in a way that includes everyone.as children need time to discover their own creativity and imagination with no adult interference. Here they are free to explore toys, books, dance, music, pottery, drama, sports and story-telling at their own pace, as little or as much as they like. In the process they become effective leaders and managers.

Here is the story of Hema, who joined Latika Vihar at the age of 11, as a scrappy and tough girl and was assigned to hold the punching bag for the martial arts class to practice their kick-boxing on. One child after another ran up and landed their ineffectual, feathery little kicks on the bag and Anand, Jo’s ‘normal’ son, was holding it up with only half his strength, so that is wasn’t kicked off and children could have fun! Suddenly, Hema emerged from the pack like a cannonball, raced up to the bag and kicked it so hard he was knocked right over.

That was Hema: grabbing her life in both her hands and engages with it. As a child at Latika Vihar, she was full of energy and vitality, a lively sense of humour and fun. She was always ready to take risks, totry new things, to challenge assumptions and set her own course. Now, she has grown as a fearless and passionate adult, full of ideas and sparkle, still taking risks, still setting her own course.

In 1999, she started working as Moy Moy’s carer, a job she held successfully and with great dedication for three years. She then moved on to a full-time job at Karuna Vihar as an assistant teacher. And finally, full-circle, she was appointed coordinator for the littles at Latika Vihar, planning and conducting the activities she once participated in as a child herself.

Jo’s obstination to expand the world for the differently-able persons received a pat when in 2011,  Latika Roy Foundation was selected as the ‘NGO of the year’, an award by the National Trust- an autonomous group within the Government of India’s Ministry of Social Welfare and Empowerment that was further boosted when the CNN-IBN, a major news channel. honoured them with Real Hero Award.

Then, Vodafone included the Foundation in its World of Difference programme and so far, its Gujarat Circle of Employees has raised over two lakhs ($5000) for them.

 

But, establishing LRF and running it for about quarter of a century as an effort to create an inclusive world for the excluded people, isn’t the end of the road for Jo, but the beginning, the beginning for building a truly best-of-the-world, campus that would be like a monument, having state-of-the-art facility and all paraphernalia for these children, for which she has to raise a big amount of Rs.30 crores.

This monument for the differently-able persons will be an integrated one-stop centre for disability services will improve usage and access as it would increase access and quality by transforming the system into one of high-quality institutions will require consolidation of capacity. “The current system limits our ability to innovate, undertake regular monitoring and surveillance of our programmes and increase flexibility in service delivery. Senior professionals, currently limited by geography, will be able to provide their inputs and supervision efficiently across centres. It would also bring all seven centres together in one place, that will reduce spending on transportation from one centre to the other, increase opportunities for organizing coordinated activities between different centres and give more time to staff for providing high- quality services and will ensure an effective utilization of resources. Then, it will have a user-centric design: “We envision an infrastructure designed for the changing needs and requirements of a rapidly evolving sector. The building, which will be state-of-the-art, will incorporate Universal Design features and demonstrate a high degree of human and environmental sustainability through workers’ safety and well-being during construction and employment of solar technology, rain-water harvesting systems and waste management. The campus will be a model of inclusion for the entire country, showcasing how architecture and design can reduce and even eliminate barriers for people with disabilities,” tells Jo.

In short, it will be a monument of unified approach to disability as under the current fragmented system of the Foundation, there is limited scope for communicating or sharing ideas – both among staff as well as between families using their services. A single consolidated campus will increase chances of targeting users as services for both persons with disability and their families will be provided under the same roof. Besides, it will demonstrate institutional maturity and integrity as well as long-term sustain- ability and reliability. Such a purpose-built campus will allow staff to showcase best practice and compete on a world stage, will give them pride and a sense of u . We dream of a building which staff bring their families to see. We want them to say proudly: “This is where I work. This is the best there is.”

That monument, rather a net of love, understand and care would be indeed a big leap forward towards creating a holistic and inclusive society for the differently-able children not just of Dehradun, but for the entire state of Uttarakhand, and may be for the entire country. Already, until now, thousands children and young adults have walked in seven centres of the Foundation and walked out as skilful, competent and talented citizens of tomorrow, besides hundreds of medical, para-medical and community workers besides teachers, educators and caregivers have been trained and sensitized, gratifying Jo’s philosophy, “Indeed, whenever something needs to be done and the way looks dark and the task seems impossible, we think of the child whose whole existence has been a series of impossibilities and we realize, once again, that all things are possible with faith, love and the willingness to leap into the unknown. Just leap. The net will appear.”

Her entire world was shattered when Moy Moy said adios to this mortal world on the wee hours of 30 July, 2018. But she re-lived as she & Ravi are sure that she has gone elsewhere to enlighten other lives, sine Jo believes what the great American poet Ben Jonsonn said:

A lily of a day,

Is fairer far in May,

Although it fall and die that night—

It was the plant and flower of Light.

In small proportions we just beauties see;

And in short measures life may perfect be.

Moy Moy indeed lives in thousands of lesser mortals of God that Karuna Vihar has nourished!

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Leaving the earth behind in a better shape

Nestled in the impossible verdant hills of distant Kumaon and flanked by the sky kissing snow-covered hills, this distant region looks like a gem in the paradise. But, this picture-postcard perfect hill corner was an abyss of neglect and under-development and was falling off the map, until a few years ago when Avani, a Voluntary Organisation, decided to ‘exploit’ nature to provide livelihood opportunities to the people, along with sustaining, conserving and enriching nature!

That’s what Neema Devi, 32, a homemaker and farmer from Banoli village, Pithoragarh district, is doing since years as she walks from her small, 10 nali (about half ha) field to Avani’s colour processing unit, with a bag of pomegranate that also grow om her field, “I’m going there to make yellow colour from it with others to make natural water colours, crayons and even kumkum or sindoor,” tells Devi.  Besides pomegranate, other plants like turmeric, marigold, Myrobalan, growing in the surrounding areas, are also used to produce a range of natural colours for textiles, art supplies (crayons, water colours), cosmetics, wood stains and organic or non-toxic kumkum or sindoor, while the one that most married Hindu women fill the parting on their heads has mercury, a known carcinogenic element.

While pomegranate rind and marigold flowers yield yellow, green is from basunti leaves, brown from walnut hulls, black and grey from myrobolan fruit blue from indigo. Most of these plants were grown locally, but indigo was bought from outside, mainly from Bihar, initially. But, as the ‘business’ progressed, they decided to grow it here and commenced Himalayan Indigo Project, 44 farmers took to cultivating Indigo for dye extraction. And, farmers are thankful for it, “I grew 347 kg indigo leave and earned an income of Rs. 7,278 and as it can be grown just in 90 days on my wastelands with little labour input with no monkeys damaging it, I can also grow other crops,” says an elated Savitri Devi of Maana village, Bageshwar district.

These organic dyes aren’t used just for making water colours, crayons and kumkum, but also to dye woollen and silk yarns that the local artisans convert into gorgeous and striking shawls, stoles, mufflers, home furnishings and garments for men, women and children, “We use plants growing in the surrounding area also for dyeing many fabrics that we produce. These plants are grown and collected by women’s groups, providing an additional income source in the villages,” says Rashmi Bharti, co-founder, Avani.

Exploiting nature and extracting earth alongside nurturing it was the principle on which Avani stood for, living true to its name as it means Earth! “Today, Avani creates opportunities for rural people to find viable employment through a self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable supply chain that is sensitive to the cultural context of this region as we want to leave the Earth behind in a better shape than what we found when we came here,” says Bharti.

Promoting organic Kumkum and extracting essences from the locally grown plants to make water colours and crayons and indeed sensitive to then local culture as small farms are the only source of income for most households, but they want to augment their incomes from their limited resources, without migrating and Avani provides them many opportunities through its sustainable, conservation-based livelihood generation.

When Avani was founded in 1997, originally as the Kumaon chapter of the Barefoot College, formally known as SWRC, then as a VO in1999, it spotted just not the immense natural wealth of the region, but also the craftmanship of the locals and began working with the Shauka community, also known as Johari or Johari Shauka, of the Bageshwar and Pithoragarh districts, who were nomadic and were a part of the thriving Indo-Tibetan trade before Tibet was taken over by China. As they settled down, they became increasingly dependent on spinning and weaving that they’d traditionally practiced to process animal fibre for their use and commerce.

Avani recognized their traditional, genetic skill and decided to make it more ‘modern’, market-friendly and profitable and replaced their traditionally used raw-material hemp that they were abandoning because of the ambiguous legal framework around the growth of Indian hemp and were abandoning their craft and the VO trained them to work with silk and wool, instead. The raw materials: wool, silk, pashmina and linen, are dyed using natural dies as a wide range of colours such as brown, yellow, orange, and green are extracted from locally available plants, while red and blue are made from indigo and shellac, procured from other parts of India, “Bharti tells.

Textile remains their main initiative where they work with 1100 artisans in 52 villages of these two districts and more than 63% of Avani’s artisans come from the Bora Kuthalia community with whom they are currently involved with. They are happily contended that their traditional skill has reached to the world at large, also yielding a good income to them. Hema Agri, Beladagar village, Begeshwar district says, “Today, as a skilled weaver of shawls, stoles and mufflers in silk and wool. I make a neat Rs. 5,000 in a month.”

So are others like Deepa Bhauryal, once a shy girl, joined Avani, when she just 18, is one of such life, transformed as she became an excellent weaver and works at a managerial level where she supervises other weavers at Avani as the VO is reviving the beautiful art of weaving.

Respecting local culture was the motive behind its work as it went for the preservation and revival of the traditional craft of weaving, spinning and natural dyeing. The philosophy has been to introduce modern raw materials to make contemporary products while conserving the handicraft skills as livelihood options. Hence, spinning and weaving of wild silks such as tussar, eri and muga as well as pashmina reintroduced and today scores of women land at its three-acre campus where they die wool and silk in natural colours and take the fibre back home where they spin them on solar powered spinning wheels, developed by Avani that women are find highly convenient, “I can spin clothes at my home at my free time as I just made this stole,” tells Manju Bora, Digoli village, Pithoragarh district. This system augments women’s productivity. Her stole was stunningly bright green, made in Tibetan sheep wool and blended with the matching light green merino wool, procured from Indo-Tibetan border area, is easily spun by local people, gets softer with use and is very durable and at the VO, it is often blended with other fibres, including merino wool and silk.

Others like Kaushalya Bora, Sukna village, Pithoragarh district, prefer Harsil wool, produced in Harsil, near Gangotri in Garhwal that she spun to make eye-catching maroon coloured sweater. Others use Australian merino wool, produced in India and also imported from Australia to make sweaters, mufflers and shawls.

Besides wool, silk is another raw material, Avani indulges with and it is called Ahimsa or non-violent Silk as this wild silk—not the cultivated silk—where cocoons are collected in the wild, from local plant species and traditionally silk yarn is reeled with machines using un-pierced silk cocoons, in which the cocoon is steam boiled to kill the pupa to stop the emergence of the moth, which would have pierced the cocoon if natural processes were allowed to occur. “But, we allow the pupa to metamorphose into a moth then hand spin the silk to make Ahimsa Silk. The moth pierces the cocoon to escape, breaking the strands of the cocoon, and resulting in fibre that needs to be spun by hand, tells Bharti.

They also use hand-spun tussar silk that has a unique, pebbly texture and natural beige colour and eri silk, whose cocoons are collected in the wild from castor plants. With its success, it decided to indulge with muga silk, the most expensive and finest of India’s wild silks, collected from the forests in the North-East and naturally gold silk clothes such as exquisite saris are made and the customers just love its extremely rich texture.

Pure linen and is also blended with silk and wool and pashmina are the other raw materials procured from Belgium, Tibet and Ladakh are used to make clothes that the local weavers weave and Avani sells them nationally and internationally through a self-reliant cooperative organisation called EarthCraft, that is owned and operated by the artisans themselves.

Earthcraft markets products like shawls, stoles, mufflers, home furnishings, and garments for men, women and children in addition to organic detergent, organic kumkum, and eco-friendly art supplies from natural dyes, both locally and globally. While textile products are sold under Avani brand, kids products carry the Goraiya brand. Earthcraft became a self-sustaining business in 2009 and is now upscaling to increase its outreach. Now, it also has a sustainable fashion hub that can be found at http://www.bhusattva.com, a certified apparel brand and a series that examines shifts in the global fashion industry to more sustainable and ethical practices and processes, with a special focus on India.

Customers just fall for the innovative and dazzling designs of textiles with exclusive colours and inimitable patterns that’s usually Rashmi’s brainchild and she has no formal training in design, but learnt through experience!

All clothes must be washed and Avani found an organic, eco-friendly detergent for it also! It is reetha (soap-nut or Sapindus trifoliatusis), an indigenous Indian tree, whose fruits contain saponin, a natural and active cleaning agent that can be used for laundry and keeps colours bright and intact. It is a natural wash with antiseptic properties, good for eczema and sensitive skin.  “We discovered that it is exported to Germany in a big way as they used it for bathing and washing and we use chemical detergents like Ariel and Surf,” exclaims Bharti.

And, they decided to market it. Today, Avani procures and processes reetha and sell its fruits abd powder. Reetha plants are grown locally and all steps like collection/ harvesting, drying, deseeding and making powder. While dried reetha fruits are sold for Rs. 18 a kilo, de-seeded reetha for Rs. 30 and reetha powder for Rs. 60.

There is another side of the coin too in Avani’s story and this is the story of Rashmi’s soulmate, Rajnish Jain’s craze with energy production. He too ‘exploits’ nature by producing electricity from pirul (pine-needles), a totally waste product and a menace in hill villages, being a major cause of forest fires. Yes, the VO has a gasifier in the village that turns this menace into electric current that is supplied to the grid of Uttarakhand Power Corporation Limited (UPCL) and pays the villagers who collect it from the fields and forests are paid Rs.2 a kilo.

The VO has a 10KW gasifier that converts pirul into since 2005 along with a by-product that is also used.  While, the electricity goes to the grid of Uttarakhand Power Corporation Limited, the by-product; tar is mixed with charcoal and is turned into coal that the villagers lap and buy for Rs. 10 a kilo.

Encouraged with its experiment in its he main Tripuradevi and another plant at Simalta village, “Avani is determined to take the electricity generation forward in four neighbouring villages of Chankana, Seli, Bhatijer, and Daangigaon, where people donated land for power plants and these villages are remote, located from 30 minutes to four hours walking distance from the nearest road,” tells Jain, co-founder, Avani.

Her efforts to promote traditional weaving skills and handloom won her many accolades such as Janaki Devi Bajaj Award for Rural Entrepreneurship in 2011, Most Innovative Enterprise of the Year –Citi Foundation Award, 2012, Sustainable Fashion award 2015 for the contribution in the area of Sustainable Development in crafts by the Government of India.

As a deciding step to extend the gift of 3Rs to the villagers, the Avani campus also has a primary school in its backyard where their only daughter, Tanvi, studies in Class V, “You cannot separate social and professional life. Even one’s personal life is also a part of his social life and both had immense belief in individuals from the very beginning,” reasons Jain. The school within its campus is the reflection of their commitment of uniting their professional and social lives, so is the life in the campus as almost all of its 25 workers are locals, many of them live in the campus and eat in the community kitchen. Then, it harvests millions of litres of rainwater and all used water is recycled and used for irrigation and not a single drop is wasted and while it has the electric connection from the UPCL, it also generates 9 KW solar electricity for its uses, “As we want to leave the earth in a better condition that we got,” says the couple in unison.

Already the microcosm of earth is in a better shape since the campus now boasts of a mixed forest, having hundreds of broad-leave plants like oak, rhododendron, utis and tun, while earlier, it was had just pine.

The determined couple, indeed, would leave the earth in a better shape!

Posted in General | 1 Comment

आवा म्यार पहाड़ – सीखो सिखाओ, करो कुछ नया!

अतीत में  हम सब संस्थाओं ने बहुत से सुंदर कैंपस बनाए, संवारे, बड़े जतन से | कई सम्मेलन, गोष्ठियां, विभिन्न कार्यक्रम किए; और भी बहुत कुछ किया, इन्हीं मनोरम प्रांगनो में बैठ कर, ताकि ग्रामीण समुदाय और विकास की ताकतें आपस में मिलें, एक दूसरे को समझें और जमीनी स्तर पर बदलाव का आगाज़ करें |

वक्त बदला, तकनीक  बदली;  वीडियो कॉन्फ्रेंसिंग ने जगह ले ली, गोष्ठी और आँगन की; दानदाता की प्राथमिकता बदली;  हम भी बदले; सब कुछ एक नंबर गेम बन चला; विकास के पुरोधा ‘दुकाने’ संभालने में लग गए; उस पुराने आंगन के इर्द-गिर्द बसे गांव हाशिए पर सिमट गए; विकास बाईपास सर्जरी की तरह ग्रामीण समुदाय को बाईपास करता बढ़ चला | वे पुराने कैंपस बेमानी हो गए;  एक  रात गांव में बिताना, लोगों से गपशप करना, चाय पीना – वह सब बीते युग की बातें बन गई | इनकी जगह ले ली –  9 से 5 के अति-व्यस्त कार्यकर्ताओं ने, प्रेजेंटेशन, गूगल डॉक, ईमेल, कांफ्रेंस कॉल आदि आदि …डोनर ने हमें राह दिखा दी, और हम चल पड़े उसी राह पर, सब कुछ भूल कर;  आंगन विरान हो गए, मिलना जुलना भूली बात हो गयी | गाँव के बीच हमारा वजूद एक फंतासी सा लगने लगा | आखिर इस ग्रामीण अंचल में बैठे हम कर क्या रहे हैं ?

IMG_20170508_162729184_HDRमैं खुद कम से कम 6-7 संस्थाओं को जानता हूं जिनके खूबसूरत कैंपस आज भी चहल पहल का इंतजार कर रहे हैं – एक अर्थपूर्ण संवाद का; और मेरा यह मानना है कि यह  सब थोड़े से प्रयास से संभव है |

इस दिशा में, हिमालय ट्रस्ट और समता  (विकास नगर) एक संयुक्त प्रयास  कर  रहे हैं | हमारा लक्ष्य है ऐसे ग्रामीण सुविधाओं को पुनर्जीवित करना जहां स्कूल, कॉलेज, विश्वविद्यालय और अन्य संगठन (देश और विदेश से भी) अपने समूहों को भेज सकें; संवाद, अनुभव और सेवा के लिए; ऐसे कई संगठन रुचि तो रखते हैं पर अपने समूह कहां भेजें, इस पर बहुत स्पष्ट नहीं है |

ऐसी एक छोटी सी शुरुआत हमें कहां कहां नहीं ले जाएगी यह कहना मुश्किल है! कुछ भी मुमकिन है ! मगर मेरा यकीन है कि ऐसे क्रिया-कलाप न केवल संस्थाओं को कुछ आय देंगे बल्कि विचारों के आदान प्रदान और नए वालंटियर्स की तलाश में एक महत्वपूर्ण कदम हो सकते हैं |

मेरा कोई साथी जल्दी ही आप से इस बारे में मिलेगा |  पर इससे पहले मैं आपसे फोन पर इस बारे में विचार विमर्श करना चाहूँगा | अगले 6 से 8 हफ़्तों में हम इस प्रयास को आपके सहयोग से आगे बढ़ा सकते हैं |

तब तक ढ़ेर सारी शुभकामनाओं के साथ,

भवदीय

सीरिल रफेल (सचिव – हिमालय ट्रस्ट) और डॉ. सत्येन्द्र श्रीवास्तव (सचिव –  समता)

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Hosting Miscellaneous Groups – An invitation to work together

Over the years, many of our organizations have developed rather lovely campuses that in the past hosted all sorts of functions that brought together organizations and the communities they served to celebrate and to discuss all sorts of issues from which we could all learn and stay in touch with each other.

As time has passed by, new age technology has taken over, less and less importance is given to face to face contact/interactions, communication between development investors (donors) and development implementers (social organization) has been reduced to a number game (marketing). The result is that now you have a rather cold hearted, impersonal touch as opposed to caring warmth in civil society groups who have preoccupied with keeping open their “Dukans” and working on personal survival rather than promoting the needs of neglected and marginalized people.

Suddenly, the hard work and investment many of us put into developing our campuses into being places that could bring in the corporate and government agencies closer to the rural people so that their lives could develop in a context to their realities, were derailed by the introduction of “fast forward” methodologies that simply left simple people gasping in their inability to understand what was happening.  Suddenly, the smart vested interests in society (both organizations and sections of rural society) grabbed everything with both hands and weaker ones were weakened further. The donors who were in a hurry to show results and the implementers who did not have too many scruples in taking “shortcuts” pushed the more sustainable but more thorough models into the background which as a result, left those in the villages who really needed help further into the margins of have-nots.

The age of spending nights in a village, chatting with and encouraging people to understand the changes that were necessary, was replaced by the 9-5 pm social workers who now rush through their prepared texts and formats – not to mention bundles of money of incentives – that actually serve the donors agenda more than those of the people. All of this leaves the voluntary sector as it used to be known at the bottom of the respect ladder.

IMG_20170508_162729184_HDRLet’s do something about this………………. I can think of at least 6-7 voluntary organizations with lovely but almost defunct campuses lying vacant that have the potential to be vibrant once again.

The Himalaya trust (THT) and Society for Motivational Training and Advancement (SMTA) have come together in association on the SMTA campus in Vikasnagar, Dehradun, to start places where schools, colleges, universities, summer study camps, misc. focused groups, etc. (both from India and abroad) can send their groups. Many groups are interested but do not know where to go. “Some of us have done this kind of work in the past and if I can say so – very successfully”. We can raise good resources on our own and break the dependence on the largesse of donor agencies. These revived campuses may be very modest places to start with, but soon they can learn how to go from being sort of home stays into “think-tank” kind of places dotted all over Uttarakhand that allow noble thoughts to come to them from every side – thoughts and activities that can inspire and guide Uttarakhand in the years to come.

Soon, I hope that someone will visit you personally to discuss all of this. But before that, I look forward to a chat on the phone in this regard.

Stay well my friends and in the next 6-8 weeks, let’s get this off the ground.

In solidarity,

Cyril r. Raphael (Secretary – The Himalaya Trust) & Dr. Satyendra Srivastava (secretary – SMTA)

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Back in the field!

IMG-20171126-WA0001.jpg

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Gender discrimination thrives in Uttarakhand as well

The hill state of Uttarakhand is largely the result of a struggle lead by women who fought for a separate state that was carved out of Uttar Pradesh on 9 November, 2000, just about 17 years ago and when we had just ‘celebrated’ the State Foundation Day, it would be pertinent to look at the prevailing status of women in the state.

It will be pertinent to look at the status of women in Uttarakhand as they have always been at the forefront of any struggle to secure people’s rights; be it fighting the colonial regime over their forest rights that ultimately culminated into the formation of van panchayats, the famous Chipko Movement, or anti-alcohol or anti-mining movements that continued till date.

Although considered as the backbone of the state’s economy, they are under heavy work pressure, especially in the hills, where besides taking care of almost all household chores, they fetch biomass, fuelwood and water and except ploughing, carry out almost all other farming activities, but don’t have the status of farmers and have little say in marketing the farm produce.

And, men plough the fields as the earth is considered a female and ploughing means making it fertile, so it is a taboo for women, since it the ‘sacred duty’ of men to make a woman fertile!

Hence, it is pertinent to look at the prevailing status of women, without whose struggle and sacrifice, the very existence of Uttarakhand wasn’t possible.

As per the figures of 2011 census, there were 963 women per 1,000 men in Uttarakhand, making it better that the all-India figure as gender ratio in the country was a low 939. But, when we look at the child gender ratio (below five), it was a shocking 908. Clearly, gender discrimination prevails in the length and breadth of this hill state and despite of the PNDT Act that had made the revelation of the foetus’s sex in an ultrasound test of a pregnant woman, this is observed more in breach than in strict observance and many unscrupulous doctors must be happy to reveal it for a few thousand rupees!

Even if we look at the overall gender ratio, it was highest in a hill district: Almora, where it was 1142, followed by Rudraprayag, where it was 1120, then 1103 in Pauri Garhwal. Except in Uttarkashi, where it was 959, it was well above 1,000 in all hill districts. In plain districts, the picture was reverse. In the capital, Dehradun, it was just 902 and in Haridwar, it was much worse, at 879. Even in two plain districts of Kumaon Division-in Nainital and Udham Singh Nagar, it was 933 and 919 respectively.

 

Why is it so? Is it because hill people love girl child and sustain them? After all, all laborious tasks are performed by women in the hills, so they must be valuing their daughters!

Or, is it because a very high degree of male out-migration both within and outside the state? To Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar and plain areas of Nainital within Uttarakhand and to cities like Delhi and Lucknow where most hill men rush to eke out a living, often doing menial jobs and daily-wage labours?

 

Instances like a recent incident in Panuanaula area in Almora district where a man was arrested for marrying off his minor daughter and widely prevailing incidents of female infanticides in Garhwal hill districts are enough to tell the tale!

How the hill men take care of their women is clear when we look at its Fertility Rate which was Fertility Rate of 3.6 in 2006, when the national figure was 2.7; meaning an average hill woman bears a child in her foetus 3.6 times in her life, facing avoidable risks every time she becomes a mother. Little wonder, Uttarakhand is cursed with a higher Maternal Mortality Ratio at 440 in 2006, which is significantly higher than the National average of 254.

This is the high time when we make women the torch-bearers of change again as we have just entered into the 18th year of its existence as a separate hill state of the country, as without women who  have always fought to secure their rights over the natural resources like water, land and forest because their survival and livelihoods depend on the proper management and sustainable harvesting of these resources and the very establishment of this separate hill state, are still treated as a second class citizens, deserve a state of their dreams that’s still a far-cry.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Development or destruction?

Destruction in the name of development continues in the fragile hills of Uttarakhand as a huge maga-dam, world’s second highest: 315 metres above the sea level, comes in the remote corner of Kumaon hills, on Indo-Nepal border, where no attention is paid to its ecological and social impacts that are quite consequential. The Dam was given a green signal by India’s Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) that eases India-Nepal Pancheshwar project assessment guidelines and fulfilling the Prime Minister’s promise to the people of Kumaon during his election campaign in January 2017.

While the MoEF’s expert panel waved off the requirement of joint mechanism to assess its environmental impact to expedite work on it, people’s protest against it intensifies as it will directly affect 134 villages and 31,000 households in Pithoragarh, Champawat and Almora districts, besides indirectly affecting many more and will submerge 11,600 ha land (7,600 in Kumaon and 4,000 in Nepal).
Of these 134 villages, 123 will be resettled, not rehabilitated, in make-shift camps where they would live like animal. Villagers, fearing displacement, have started protesting and have burnt copies of the Detailed Project Report (DRP) that was recently made public.
Residents of the affected villages have formed a protest forum to give voice to their movement against this in India. Viplab Bhatt, a resident of Jhulaghat village on Indo-Nepal border, Pithoragarh district, quips, “Resettlement villagers is not the solution. How will they earn a livelihood after being resettled?” adds, Padam Singh, gram pradhan (village-head), Draulisera village, “No survey was conducted to rehabilitate the ousted families and no government or Pancheshwar dam authority representative visited our village. This DPR is based on a survey that was conducted 30 years back and land rates were peanuts then.”

Villagers also submitted a memorandum to the district magistrate and asked for public hearings first and then DPRs.

And, the public hearing was conducted that turned out a complete sham as was abandoned amidst massive protest by the villagers and activists as for the people of these villages, it is a curse, “Public hearings are just formalities and most things have already been decided. The common people were not taken into confidence before announcing the project,” pointed out Rajiv Locan Shan, editor, Nainital Samachar, a Hindi weekly and an activist.

The only political party opposed it was the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD), the lone regional party in the hill state, has threatened protests after a team of officials from India and Nepal inspected the site of the Pancheshwar hydropower project planned on the Mahakali river, called Sarda in Nepal, “The world over countries are adopting run-of-the-river schemes to produce hydropower but here we are making a huge dam in the fragile valley that falls in the earthquake-prone zone,” Kashi Singh Airy, a founder of the UKD and ex-MLA, pointed out.

He also blames the existing BJP government, “Ever since this government took office, destruction in the name of development continues unabated. First, they sacrificed thousands of evergreen trees to widen national highways connecting char-dhams (four adobe of gods), then displaced hundreds of households and submerged vast amount of land for the 125 km long Rishikesh-Karnaprayag Railway Line and now this mega-dam,” blames Airy.

The Pancheshwar project, a part of the 1996 India-Nepal Mahakali Treaty, has been opposed by environmentalists, anti-dam activists, and Maoists in Nepal.

The UKD plans to get in touch with activists in Nepal and start a protest. Airy said the project will not only harm the environment but will also submerge the “river valley culture” of both the countries.

 

While Kumaon will face the devastation, thanks to this mega-dam, Uttarakhand will get just 12% of electricity. As this dam is being constructed in a high seismic zone, the policymakers ignore this fact, at the peril of local residents as between 1992 and 2006, over 10 earthquakes with a magnitude exceeding 5 on the Richter scale have had their epicentre within a 10-km radius around the Pancheshwar dam site, according to a 2010 research report.

Although, the officials claim that 123 villages will be ‘rehabilitated,’ they are silenced over the question of the livelihood of the displaced villagers. The Pithoragarh Pancheshwar Dam project bears an uncanny resemblance with the Tehri Dam project – thousands of villagers facing threats of displacement and loss to over hundreds of local temples and deities. Anti-dam activists and environmentalists have been up in arms for long regarding the project. The three above mentioned districts are inhabited mostly by farmers and their lands will be ruined if the project comes up. And, this dam would be seven times stronger and if Tehri Dam victims haven’t yet been rehabilitated, how long will the people kicked out by this dam would take to re-start their life is an open question. Also, while contrary to the planned installed capacity of Tehri Dam of 2400 MW, it produces less than 1000 MW in reality, how much will this dam of its installed capacity of 5040 MW would produce at what cost, no one can tell. In addition, it will have huge ecological adverse impacts like submergence of a huge area of forests and wildlife and as the Himalayas are formed by the sedimentation of rivers, thus it is very fragile. Big lakes of the dam will increase the capillary movement of water in nearby areas, resulting in frequent landslide. Also, the water of small tributaries of river Kali, which get filtered due to their downstream movement, will get spoiled, because of the backwater force of dam.

Little -wonder, the residents are no-longer, ready to be sacrificed at the altar of the so-called development anymore and have launched protests against building the dam and vouched to oppose the construction of the Pancheshwar dam tooth and nail if their rehabilitation is not taken care of. Affected villagers have also expressed their resentment before the members of the India-Nepal Joint Action Forum. The villagers expect proper rehabilitation, right compensation, employment options and residential accommodation. They have emphasised that employment and rehabilitation should be stressed upon.

The public hearing was a total deceit as Shah pointed out when he began speaking about the vices of the Pancheshwar dam following which a clash broke out. The administration then dragged Sah out of the auditorium, “It is unconstitutional to not allow somebody to speak in a public hearing. The administration is toing the government line is not allowing anyone to speak against the dam,” Shah said, adding, “We are concerned about our society and the environment and, hence, are opposing the dam.”
Shamsher Singh Bisht, president of Uttarakhand Lok Vahini said, “It is very disturbing that the people who are actually raising the concerns of the affected people are not being allowed to speak. This is not a public hearing at all.” P C Tiwari, leader of Uttarakhand Parivartan Party has also raised question on the procedure of the public hearing and asked why it is being conducted during the monsoon season.

As expected, the only politician supported this menace, belongs to the ruling BJP and its MLA Raghunath Pratap Chauhan loaded it as a dream project for the country and suggested the authorities to properly rehabilitate the affected people.

When this public hearing began at Dhauladevi in Almora district, people started protest as the villagers from the project-affected villages reached there in a large number and accused the administration to deceive people about this project. This public hearing too was conducted by the administration only after Uttarakhand High Court issues an instruction for it and even then, the administration just did the formality and did everything to mislead people.

This dam would also submerge properties worth several hundreds of crores and many temples, including the famous Pancheshwar Temple and monuments, crucial embodiments of Kumaoni culture. But, this project, costing a massive Rs. 40,000 crore that is bound to multiply many times by the time it is completed, means a huge cut to policymakers and bureaucrats, so they are ‘dutifully’ supporting it. Little wonder, the administration did everything to sabotage the public hearing conducted on 9 August, 2017 at Chapawat and the process was repeated on 11 Aug at Pithoragarh and on 17th at Dhauladevi, “The administration chose these dates in the midst of the monsoon as most roads are disconnected in the month of August to discourage people reaching at the district headquarters which are far away from the submerging villages,” pointed out Shankar Khadayat, coordinator, Mahakali Ki Avaz, a congregation of affected villages. But, still, determined people reached there in a large number and showed their resolve to oppose its work that would start in 2018 and water would start filling its reservoir in 2026, while the work would be finally over two years later, in 2028.

Indeed, people’s anger and opposition is so widespread that the policymakers will not it find easy to pass it on to the people as a milestone of development.

People of Kanadi village, Pithoragarh district, were up in arms against the government, “The government has totally ignored our rehabilitation and we won’t let them go ahead,” wows a resolute Parvati Devi, 34, a village resident. People from Majirkanada village are also determined to oppose it and demanded to modify the DPR, so are those from Garjia village who demanded to cancel this sham public hearing. Even traders are opposing it as those from Jauljibi, a village on Indo-Nepal border in Pithoragarh district burnet the BJP Government’s effigy and now politicians like Mahendra Singh Mahra, a Rajya Sabha MP opposed it, “It will devastate this seismically sensitive zone.”

As there is a wide-spread opposition of this dam by the people of Kumaon also now politicians chipping it, it will not be easy for the policymakers to pass it on as a failed model of development as now the world over, big dams are being discarded, as more than 1,000 dams have been dismantled in the USA alone and in Australia, a mega-dam, being constructed, costing two billion dollars, is being pull apart, so why they are being promoted here?

Could it because huge amount of money is used in their construction, meaning everyone, from a mere peon to the PM gets a cut?

Posted in General | Leave a comment

पगडंडियाँ Hue, Cry and Whispers from Uttrakhand by Kusum Rawat…13

‘फर्स्ट वूमन फौरेस्टर’: वीना सेखरी

आईए! देश की पहली महिला डी.एफ.ओ. से मिलें। इस जंगल कलक्टर की पहली पोस्टिंग गोरखपुर हुई जो उस वक्त अपराधों के लिए मशहूर था। मैंने यह लेख पिछले साल बीरा पत्रिका में लिखा था। इसे पढ़ उत्तर प्रदेश के तबके सांसद और आज उत्तरप्रदेश के मुख्यमंत्री योगी जी की प्रतिक्रिया थी इनको बोलो अब मैंने गोरखपुर सुधार दिया है। तो सुनें पहली जंगल कलक्टर के ‘जंगल- वाक’ का सफर…

वीणा

वीना सेखरी

 ‘फर्स्ट वूमन फौरेस्टर’… आज भले यह सुनने में अच्छा लग रहा है। पर 1980 में कोई महिला डाक्टर व टीचर के बजाय  जंगलात में आ गोरखपुर के जंगल माफिया से भिड़े तो कौतूहल होता है आखिर वह है कौन? मैंने पहली महिला आई.ए.एस. व पुलिस अधिकारी के बारे में सुना था पर पहली महिला डी.एफ.ओ. को ‘गुग्गल सर्च इंजन’ भी नहीं खोज पाया था। मैंने ही पहली बार पिछले साल इस ‘जंगल कलक्टर’ की कहानी 35 साल बाद लिखी। हमारे लोकगीतों में ‘पतरौल घसियारी औरतों’ की नोकझोंक, औरतों का दर्द, जंगल कटने की पीड़ा, सरकार से उम्मीदें और आत्मीयता का रिश्ता छिपा है, जो जंगलात में ‘पतरौल’ (फौरेस्ट गार्ड) से ‘डी.एफ.ओ’ तक पुरूषों के वर्चस्व का जीवंत इतिहास है। ऐसे में एक महिला का जंगलात में आना नियति की साजिश से कहीं ज्यादा पुरूष प्रधान व्यवस्था में महिलाओं का सेंध लगाना था। तो आईए देश की पहली महिला ‘जंगल कलक्टर’ उत्तराखंड काडर की 1980 बैच की वीना सेखरी से मिलें। जो वन विभाग की खाकी टोपी पहन देश के सर्वोच्च पद- प्रमुख वन संरक्षक से फरवरी 1916 में रिटायर हुई। वह देश की दूसरी महिला प्रमुख वन संरक्षक हैं। उनकी इस पोस्टिंग के वक्त भी उत्तराखंड में जमकर खेल हुआ? नहीं तो वीना सेखरी देश की पहली महिला प्रमुख वन संरक्षक होतीं।

‘जंगलाती खाकी कैप’ पर अथर्ववेद के 12:1: 11 की पंक्ति ‘अरण्यः ते पृथिवी स्योनमस्तु… लिखी हैं। ऋषि कहते हैं कि ‘जंगल पृथ्वी के लिए कल्याणकारी हैं। वनस्पति व पशु पृथ्वी का कल्याण कर उसे शुद्ध करते हैं। इस पंक्ति में जीवन का गृढ़ रहस्य है कि- जंगलों के बिना धरती पर जीवन का अस्तित्व नहीं है। शास्त्रों ने जंगलातियों से उम्मीद की है कि वह बिना लालच व डर के जंगल और वन्य जीवों की सेवा करेंगे। यह तो आप तय करें कि वन विभाग शास्त्र की कसौटी पर कितना खरा उतरा है? पर वीना सेखरी की कहानी जंगल के रखवालों को अपने कर्तव्य याद दिलाने को एक कसौटी है। आईए वीना सेखरी की जंगल वाक उनसे ही सुनें।

मैं 1980 में भारतीय वन सेवा में चुनी गई। लोगों की प्रतिक्रिया थी जंगल की नौकरी! अरे दूर दराज में काम करना होगा। क्या तुम कर सकोगी? किसी ने कोई खुशी जाहिर नहीं की। उस बैच में 3 लड़कियों का चयन हुआ। मैं ट्रेनिंग के लिए देहरादून आईं। साथियों की टिप्पणियां थीं इन्होंने 3 नौकरियां खा लीं। ये छोड़ कर चली जाएंगी। पहली एक महीने में, दूसरी तीसरी महीने में व 6 माह में तीनों घर होंगी। लोगों को औरतों से कुछ ज्यादा ही उम्मीदें होती हैं कि यह कर भी पाएंगी या नहीं? हम सबकी नजरों में रहती कि हमने पी.टी. या पैदल चालन किया या नहीं? ना हमने हिम्मत छोड़ी और ना किसी से पीछे रहीं। धीरे धीरे सब सामान्य हो गया। जंगलात में औरतों के बस का नहीं है। इस सोच के बीच ऐसे भी लोग थे कि जो मानते थे कि महिलाओं के आने से विभाग के काम काज में बदलाव आयेगा। एक तरह से वीना सेखरी ने जंगलात में लड़कियों के लिए दरवाजे खोले। इस कड़ी में 2013 में महाराष्ट्र वन विभाग में एक साथ 36 महिला अधिकारियों का चयन एक सुखद मोड़ था।

मैं जंगलात में आऊँगी? यह मुझे भी नहीं मालूम था पर मुझे पिता के केन्द्रीय सेवा में होने का फायदा मिला। मैंने वनस्पति विज्ञान में एम.एस.सी. के बाद वन सेवा का फार्म भरा। सब हैरान थे। हंसते थे कि एक लड़की वह भी जंगलात में। मैं बचपन से निडर थी। मैं किसी की परवाह नहीं करती थी। मैं ऐकला चलो रे….की लीक पर चलती बशर्ते कि वह बात मन को गवारा हो। मैंने बिना किसी उम्मीद के लिखित, पैदल चालन, मेडिकल टेस्ट, साक्षात्कार पास किया। मैं सलेक्ट होने पर खुश थी पर ऐसा कोई भाव मन में नहीं आया कि कुछ बहुत बड़ा कर किया हो। ना ही किसी ने कोई खास खुशी दिखाई। वह सहजता से बोल चुप हो गईं। वीना सेखरी अपने इसी ठहरे व गहरे व्यक्तित्व लिए वन विभाग में जानी जाती हैं।

मेरी पहली फील्ड तैनाती उत्तर प्रदेश के गोरखपुर जिले में हुई। गोरखपुर की पोस्टिंग आज भी चुनौती मानी जाती है। सोचिए सन् 1983 में क्या हाल होंगे? गोरखपुर तब माफियाओं का गढ़ था। तब दुनिया में शिकागो के बाद सबसे ज्यादा अपराध वहीं होते थे। मैं छोटे कद व दुबली काठी की थी। मेरी उम्र 27 साल की थी। मुझे दिल्ली से बाहर का अनुभव नहीं था। सीनियर अधिकारी भी लकड़ी लाट की नीलामी में होने वाली माफियागिरी के कारण गोरखपुर जाने से बचते थे। गोरखपुर तराई का इलाका है। वहां जंगलों व डी.एफ.ओ. की तैनाती के बहुत मायने हैं। उसे वहां ‘जंगल कलक्टर’ कहा जाता था। मेरी पोस्टिंग पर लोगों व स्टाफ की प्रतिक्रिया थी कि अच्छा ही है- औरत है। डर के मारे फील्ड में नहीं जाऐगी। यह हमारे हित में होगा। उनकी उम्मीदें गलत सिद्ध हुईं। मैं पौने दो साल गोरखपुर रहीं। मैं पूरे विभाग की आंखों में थीं कि क्या करती है? कैसे करती है? कब तक टिकती है? अरे कर लिया इसने! पर मेरा कार्यकाल बिना विवादों के निकल गया। इससे विभाग में औरतों के प्रति धारणा बदली।

गोरखपुर में ‘टौंगिया प्रथा’ थी। अंग्रेजों के समय से अपराधी बीहड़ जंगलों में काम करते। टौंगिया लोग साल के जंगलों में पौधारोपण व खेती बाड़ी करते। यहीं इनके गांव थे। हर पांच साल बाद इनको दूसरी जगह शिफ्ट कर दिया जाता। मेरी तैनाती के वक्त टौंगिया पौधारोपण हटा अतिक्रमण की कोशिश में थे। वन विभाग ने टौंगिया समस्या को विभाग की समस्या नहीं समझा। इसका स्थाई हल खोजने के बजाय इसको वहां तैनात अधिकारी की व्यक्तिगत समस्या समझ उसको ही हल खोजने हेतु छोड़ दिया। यह एक मुश्किल दौर था। कई दौर की बातचीत के बाद अतिक्रमण की समस्या शांति पूर्वक खत्म हुईं। टौंगिया कहते कि इसे हमसे निपटने को ‘इंदिरा गांधी’ ने भेजा है। मेरे बाद अतिक्रमण क्षेत्रों में कई बार गोलियां चलीं। गोरखपुर के बारे में मशहूर था कि वहां से कोई भी अधिकारी बिना विवाद के नहीं लौटता। मैंने टौंगिया के साथ बिना लाग लपेट के सहज व सीधे तरीके से बात कर हल खोजा। मैं स्टाफ के साथ निष्पक्ष काम की रणनीति बनाती। इस वजह से जंगल माफिया चुप रहा। गोरखपुर में वन विभाग के दो डिवीजन थे। एक बार दूसरे डिवीजन में लकड़ियों की नीलामी होनी थी। आधी रात को जंगल के ठेकेदार शराब पी बंदूकों से लैस हो हल्ला मचाते मेरे घर में घुसे कि हमें बात करनी है। मैं भी बिना डरे बाहर निकली। उनको समझाया कि नीलामी दूसरे डिवीजन में है तो वह चुपचाप चले गये। मैंने जब यह बात सीनियर को बताई तो बजाय ऐसी घटना की पुनरावृत्ति रोकने के लिए रणनीतियां बनाने के मुझे ही तंग किया गया कि एफ.आई.आर. क्यों नहीं की? कई बार प्रभावशाली माफिया जंगल काटता। मैं लकड़ियां नहीं जाने देती। मुझे दबाव में लेने की कोशिश होती पर मैं डटी रही। वहां स्टाफ जाति के आधार पर बंटा था। जातिगत राजनीति के कारण कार्यालय में गोपनीयता नहीं थी। सारी सूचनाएं लीक होतीं। एक बार किसी क्लर्क का ट्रांसफर हुआ। वह ‘शैडो’ लेकर आफिस आता। उसने मुझे हर तरीके से प्रभावित करने की कोशिश की। मैं दबाव में नहीं आईं तो माफी मांग तबादला करवा चला गया। यह वहां काम का सामान्य माहौल था कि कोई भी, किसी भी हालत में, कभी भी आ धमकता। मेरे पास ना कोई गार्ड था और ना ही सुरक्षा व्यवस्था। ना मुझे जाति की राजनीति का अनुभव था। ना ही फील्ड पोस्टिंग का कोई अंदाजा पर ऐसे में मेरे किसी रिटायर्ड सीनियर की सलाह बहुत काम आई कि वीना तुम निष्पक्ष रहना…। मेरे तटस्थ रवैये के कारण लोगों व जिला प्रशासन ने सहयोग किया। इससे स्टाफ की राजनीति खत्म हो गई। मेरी तैनाती के वक्त गोरखपुर में टौंगिया धरना चल रहा था तो कंजरवेटर ने लिखा कि यहां किसी अन्य की नियुक्ति करें। एक महिला इस जटिल समस्या को हैंडिल नहीं कर सकती! जब मेरा गोरखपुर से तबादला हुआ तो रिलीवर ज्वाइन करने में आनाकानी करता रहा। मुझे मातृकालीन अवकाश पर जाना था। मैं मुश्किल से रिलीव हो पाई। इसके बाद मेरी छवि रफ-टफ हो गई कि गोरखपुर में काम कर चुकी है सो कुछ भी कर सकती है।

मैं गोरखपुर के बाद प्रमुख वन संरक्षक कार्यालय लखनऊ में दो साल रही। मैंने वहां कम नोटिस पर पंजों के बल खड़े हो बिना दबाव में आये काम करना सीखा। मैंने सीनियर से काम की वो बारीकियां समझीं जो लोग कैरियर के अंत में समझते हैं। इस अनुभव ने मुझे परिपक्व बनाया। वनकर्मी बताते हैं कि वीना सेखरी सोच समझकर जनहित में सख्त निर्णय लेने व भावनाओं पर नियंत्रण रख विवेक से काम लेने हेतु जानी जाती हैं। उन्होंने उत्साही, कर्मठ व ईमानदार वनकर्मियों को प्रोत्साहित किया। विपरीत उदंड, कामचोर व भ्रष्ट कर्मियों से सख्ती से निपटा। निष्पक्ष काम व वार्तालाप उनकी कार्यशैली रही है। उनसे दबाव डलवाकर कोई नियम विरूद्ध काम नहीं करवा सकता। ज्यादातर विभागीय जांच उनके पास ही आतीं क्योंकि वह निष्पक्ष जांच कर तथ्यों को एकदम खोल देती थीं।

वीना सेखरी बताती हैं कि मैं पहाड़ी पृष्ठभूमि हिमांचल प्रदेश से हूं। सो मैंने अपने आई.ए.एस.पति पी.सी.शर्मा के साथ उत्तराखंड काडर चुना। मैं उत्तराखंड में डी.एफ.ओ. केदारनाथ, कंजरवेटर शिवालिक वृत्त व यमुना सर्किल व चीफ कंजरवेटर गढ़वाल क्षेत्र रही। यहां के शांत माहौल में कोई दिक्कत नहीं हुई। मैं फील्ड में खूब घूमती। स्टाफ भी सहयोग करता था। इस दौरान विभाग में वीना सेखरी की सख्त छवि बकरार रही। जंगलात में वीना सेखरी वह नाम है जिससे विभाग नीतियों के अनुपालन व सख्त अनुशासन के कारण सहमता था। मैंने 2003 में एक अंग्रेज महिला मित्र से सुना कि वीना सेखरी उसे तंग कर रही है। प्रदेश के एक उच्चाधिकारी ने मुझे इसकी मदद करने को फोन किया। मैं इतना उखड़ी कि मैं टिहरी से देहरादून आई। हमारी मुलाकात नहीं हुई। मुझे बाद में पता चला वह  जंगलात की सम्पति बचा रही थीं। मेरी दोस्त अपने हाई प्रोफाइल सम्बधों के दबाव में गलत काम करवा रही थी।

नियति का खेल बड़ा निराला है। मुझे नहीं मालूम था इस जंगल कलक्टर की कहानी लिखने का मौका मुझे मिलेगा। मैं 2009 में वीना सेखरी से मिली। मुझे उनका सपाट व्यक्तित्व, खरा व नपा तुला बोलना पसंद आया। वह थोड़ा सख्त पर कम शब्दों में अपने सत्य को कहने वाली लगीं। मैंने सुना था वह बहुत अक्खड़ हैं। किसी की नहीं सुनती। लेकिन मैंने वीना सेखरी को एक बेहद भावुक इन्सान के रूप में देखा। मुझे उनके अधीनस्थ बायोफ्यूल बोर्ड में कुछ शौर्ट टर्म मूल्यांकन करना था। मैंने मना कर दिया। पर जब उस साल बोर्ड में हुए पौधारोपण के भुगतान हेतु चौतरफा नाजायज दबाव की रणनीति में बीना सेखरी को अकेले खड़े देखा तो बोर्ड में रूक वीना सेखरी का साथ देने की सोची। वह एक लम्बी कहानी है। बोर्ड में मैंने समझा कैसे लोग निजी हितों हेतु सरकारी सम्पदा को किसी भी सीमा तक क्षति पहुंचाने पर उतारू होते हैं। यह एक कठिन निर्णय था। मैं उस वक्त मशहूर पर्यावरणविद डा. वंदना शिवा के साथ काम कर रही थी। एक ओर मेरा कैरियर था और दूसरी ओर अकेले लड़ती वीना सेखरी। मेरी गुरू कहती थीं- जब बात ‘औरतों के सम्मान और सत्य की हो’ तो उसके पक्ष में खड़ा होना ही असली धर्म है। में बोर्ड मैंने एक बात समझी कि जब लक्षित वर्ग, कार्यदायी संस्था, मानीटिरिंग के लिए जिम्मेदार तीसरी पार्टी और प्रभावशाली लोग एक स्वर में बात करने लगें तो कोई कुछ नहीं कर सकता? यही उत्तराखंड में तमाम विकास योजनाओं का भी ‘नग्न सत्य’ है। ऐसे में अधिकारी कितना अकेला पड़ जाता है? क्या उसके अंतर्मन की पीड़ा कोई समझ सकता है? यहां स्थिति थोड़ा अलग थी कि मैं वीना सेखरी के साथ तीन साल तक चले नाटक की साक्षी थी। मुझे इसका खामियाजा उठाना पड़ा। बायोफयूल कंपनी ने मेरा 6-7 माह का वेतन रोका। मुझ पर दबाव था कि वीना सेखरी का साथ छोड़ दूं। मेरे पास कंपनी की गाड़ी थी। मुझे तीन दिन का वक्त दिया कि इनका साथ छोड़ो नहीं तो गाड़ी ले लेंगे। इनसे दूर हो तो सैलरी दोगुनी होगी। मुझे वह दिन याद है। मैंने सोचा अरे तीन दिन तो क्या मुझे तीन सैंकेड भी नहीं चाहिए। मैंने चुपचाप आफिस छोड़ा और पैदल निकल गई। मुझे दबाव में लेने को रोकी सैलरी पांच साल बाद भी नहीं दी गई। मुझे काफी समय खाली रहना पड़ा पर सिद्धांतों के चलते ऐसे नुकसान उठाने ही पड़ते हैं। हां नुकसान की भरपाई बीना सेखरी के साथ गहरी दोस्ती के तौर पर हुई।

मुझे आज भी दुख है कि यह देश का एकमात्र बोर्ड था जिसको सी.डी.एम.(क्लीन डवलपमैंट मैकेनिजम) के अंतर्गत ‘होस्ट कंट्री एप्रूवल’ मिला था। यह आई.एस.ओ. प्रमाणित और 37-AC सार्टिफिकेट प्राप्त बोर्ड था। जिसका सीधा फायदा उत्तराखंड को होना था। मैंने इसका क्रियान्वयन माडल समझा। तत्कालीन राष्ट्रपति डा.अब्दुल कलाम की टिप्पणी थी ‘कि उत्तराखंड का यह माडल पूरे देश में दोहराने लायक है’। यही वजह थी कि मैं व्यक्तिगत खतरे उठा वीना सेखरी के नहीं बल्कि ‘सत्य’ और अपार जनहित से जुड़े एक ‘उद्देश्य’ के साथ खड़ी हुई थी। जमीनी क्रियान्वयन सही ना होने पर ग्रामीणोन्मुखी वैकल्पिक ऊर्जा का यह कार्यक्रम निष्क्रीय हुआ। व्यक्तिगत हितों के कारण इसका खत्म होना एक अजन्मे बच्चे का मां के गर्भ में ही अंगड़ाई लेते हुए मौत होना जैसा है। यद्यपि आज बोर्ड क्रियाशील नहीं है पर बोर्ड के अपने कडुवे अनुभवों के बाद बोर्ड ही नहीं पूरे देश में कदम-कदम पर सक्रिय ऐसी क्रूर ताकतों के बारे में मेरी यही टिप्पणी है कि ‘हे ईश्वर उन्हें माफ करना जो यह नहीं जानते कि वह यह सब क्या और क्यों कर रहे हैं? और इसका असर किस पर पड़ रहा है? हे प्रभु उनको सद्बुद्धि दो जो गरीबों के हक का निवाला अपनी शान शौकत के लिए छीनने से जरा भी नहीं डरते!

ऐसी गहरी सोच और ठहरे व्यक्तित्व वाली महिला का उत्तराखंड काडर चुनना सुखद था, जहां जंगल औरतों का मायका व जंगलों को बचाना उनका धर्म है। पहाड़ की हर औरत ‘नंगे पांव चलने वाली बिना डिग्री की अनुभवी फौरेस्टर’ है। मुझे बीना सेखरी से बहुत उम्मीदें थीं। मैं सोचती थी कि ऐसी ‘वूमन फौरेस्टेर’ हमारी ‘बेयर फुटेड वूमन फौरेस्टरस’ के साथ जल, जंगल, जमीन और औरत की जिंदगी पर आधारित ‘आफ्टर चिपको’ की एक जींवत दास्तान औरतों के हक में लिखेंगी। और मैं भी उस सुंदर स्क्रिप्ट की भागीदार हूंगी जिससे हमारी ‘फागुनी देवी’ अपने हिस्से का घास, लकड़ी, पानी और धोती के पल्लू की गेड़ में थोड़ी ‘आजीविका’ बांध मुस्करा सकेगी. पर अफसोस! उत्तराखंड में सिर्फ वही होता है जो राजनीति चाहती है। खैर…! आज वीना सेखरी जंगलात के पचड़ों से दूर आराम से रिटायरमेंट की जिंदगी बिता रही हैं।

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in General | Leave a comment

पगडंडियाँ Hue, Cry and Whispers from Uttrakhand.. 12

 

 

19148905_139910586559396_7763556920055007458_n

अन्तर-बोध

घर की तलाश…
एक चिड़िया के बच्चे चार, घर से निकले पंख पसार
पूरब से पश्चिम को जाते, उत्तर से दक्षिण को आते
देख लिया हमने जग सारा, अपना घर है सबसे प्यारा!

मैंने ये पंक्तियां पहले-पहल स्कूल की देहलीज़ पर सुनी थीं. मैंने सरस्वती शिशु मंदिर टिहरी में पढ़ा. कक्षा ‘शिशु क’ में कोई दीदी जी ने सिखाई थी. उनका नाम कभी याद नहीं कर पाई पर कविता याद है. मुझे याद है पहली बार स्कूल जाना. बच्चे माता-पिता से पहली बार बिछुड़े परिंदों की तरह चीं-चीं कर रहे थे. रोने धोने का ये सिलसिला हर बच्चे की अपनी पूंजी है. कोई एक दिन तो कोई अपने महफूज नीड़ की तलाश में महीनों रोता रहा. रोते बच्चों को देख सब सामूहिक रोने लगते. मैं कभी रोई नहीं. एक ओर ये रोने-रुलाने सिलसिला चलता तो दूसरी ओर टीचर ने सस्वर कविता पाठ सिखाना शुरू किया. इस उन्मुक्त रुदन और क्रंदन के बीच बेचारी क्लास टीचर क्या करे? तो वो चुप कराने-बहलाने-फुसलाने को ये कविता ही रटाती ना.

तो दोस्तों! कविता की ये चार लाइनें मेरी जिंदगी की पहली कविता है. और जीवन यात्रा में मेरा ‘पाथेय’ है. मुझे याद है हमको ये कविता सिखाई और गवाई जाती. हम जोर-जोर से उछल-उछल परिंदों के माफिक हाथ हवा में उड़ा-उड़ा कर ये गाते. गाते वक्त हमको सिखाया जाता कि सोचो तुम एक सुन्दर रंग बिरंगी चिड़िया हो. तुम को माँ बाप ने घर से बाहर खुले आकाश में उड़ने को छोड़ा है. घर से बाहर तुम्हारा स्कूल ही आकाश है. चलो स्कूल के इस आकाश में उड़ें. आजाद मैदान से पहले हमारा स्कूल जैन बंधुओं के बगल के मकान में था. हम दूसरी मंजिल में होते थे. उसका फर्श लकड़ी का था. लकड़ी पर कूदने में जो आवाज होती उससे डरकर बच्चे चुप हो जाते. दीदी कहती ज्यादा जोर से नहीं उड़ो. कहीं तुम्हारे पंख न टूटे. कहीं तुम फर्श न तोड़ दो. फिर सब नीचे गिर जायेंगे तहखाने में. हम डर कर उतना ही कूदते जितने में फर्श न टूटे. वो कहती अपने हाथ हवा में उतने ही ऊपर उड़ाओ जितने से किसी दूसरे से न टकराओ. किसी दूसरे को तुमसे चोट न लगे. तुम्हारा संतुलन न बिगड़े और तुम गिरो ना. तुम्हारा गीत गाना भी उतना ही ऊँचा हो जिससे वो सुनने में मधुर लगे. तुम्हारी आवाज नीचे सड़क चलने वाले लोगों को तकलीफ न दे. बच्चे रोते रहते और टीचर की हिदायत पूरी करने की कोशिश करते. पूरा दिन इसी को गा उछलते-कूदते रहते. लगभग पूरा एक महीना ये खेल तब तक चला, जब तक हर बच्चा चुप हो बैठना नहीं सीखा. याने हम पछियों की तरह दोनों हाथों को पंखों की तरह उड़ा ये लाइनें गाते. साथ ही रोते रहते. महिना भर रटते-रटते ऐसा घोटा लगा कि बस बचपन का ये सबक आज तक पत्थर की लकीर की तरह दिल दिमाग में बैठ गया है. क्या सुन्दर तरीका था बच्चों को स्कूल में बांधने का और हरेक को साथ लेकर चलने का.

मेरी तो ऊम्र बीत ही गई इन चार लाइनों और टीचर के सिखाये अर्थ को समझने में. अब जाकर समझ आया कि वो ‘अनाम टीचर जी’ हम बच्चों को जीवन में ‘संतुलन में’ रहने की जरूरी सीख मुद्दतों पहले दे गई थीं. टीचर के लिए मेरा सर झुक जाता है.

20x30

मैं घर जा कर भी यह गाती रहती तो माँ ने इन लाइनों को ‘गुणना’ सिखाया. वो छोटी ऊम्र में ही इसके गहरे मतलब समझाती. मैंने कितना समझा ओर कितना नहीं ये तो नहीं पता पर ये चार-पांच लाइनें कब मेरी जिंदगी की ‘पंच लाइनों’ में बदल गई पता ही नहीं चला. माँ उस वक्त वक्त बहुत बीमार पड़ी. बचने की कोई उम्मीद नहीं थी. वो कहती कुसुम जब मैं मरूंगी तो सुन्दर पंछी या रंग-बिरंगी तितली बन आकाश में उडूँगी. फिर पंछी बन सारे दुनिया जहाँ को देखूंगी. वो बोलती तुम्हारी ये कविता बहुत सुन्दर है. वो मुझे कविता से चारों दिशाओं के बारे में बताती. वो बिलकुल पढ़ी लिखी नहीं थी पर उसको दुनिया जहाँ की पूरी खबर थी. उसकी दुनिया जितनी बड़ी थी वो सब कुछ मुझे बताती. उस जैसा ज्ञानी मुझे दोबारा नहीं टकरा. वो बहुत खामोश थी. उसका नपा तुला बोलना और एक-एक अक्षर मैं उसके जीते जी नहीं समझ पाई. इसका आज बड़ा अफसोस होता है.

खैर…कविता की ये चार लाइनें हमारे बीच बातचीत का मुद्दा होती. हम पुरानी टिहरी में  बस अड्डे के ऊपर नेगी हॉउस में रहते. गंगा किनारे ये बहुत बड़ा और सुन्दर घर था. मेरी माँ ने उसे फूलों और साग सब्जी से सजा धजा रखा था. उसके चारों ओर की मुंडेरों में बैठ हम दोनों की दुनिया जहान और दुनियादारी की पाठशाला चलती. वो हर रोज नया सबक सिखाती. माँ ने ही टिहरी के बारे में, टिहरी के वाशिंदों के मजबूत सामाजिक ताने बाने और इन्सान की अन्दरूनी सुन्दरता को समझने की संवेदना दी. माँ ने दुनिया को समझने-बुझने का सलीका सिखाया. जिंदगी का हिसाब किताब, गणित- गुणा- भाग-जोड़- घटाना, इतिहास, भुगोल, जिंदगी और कुदरत के नियम कानून, भाषा, गीत संगीत, सब कुछ इन चार लाइनों में मुंडेर पर बैठ अपनी पाठशाला में बिना किसी तख्ती-पाटी के सिखाया. उसने मुझे इन पंछियों और तितलियों की उड़ान से सृष्टि, विज्ञान और मानवता के सुन्दर पाठ पढाये. इस कविता से हमारी उड़ान शुरू होती और धर्म और अध्यात्म की रहस्मयी और रोमांच की दुनिया में ख़त्म होती. वो घर गाँव की और पुराणों की कहानी सुनाती. वो मुझे पहाड़ी गीत सुनाती. उसने मुझे पहाड़ के लोक नृत्यों-लोक गीतों का पहला सबक ‘बेडा लोगों’-लोक कलाकारों को नाचते-गाते देख सिखाया था. वो भी क्या दिन थे. पूरी एक उस पर किताब लिख सकती हूँ. मेरी माँ सही मायने में एक बहुत अच्छी खामोश दोस्त थी. लोग उसको उसके गुणों के कारण बहुत याद करते हैं.

550px-IMG_2587

हिलांस (काकू/हरियल तोता )

माँ उस वक्त तो बच गई पर 2004 में चुपचाप सुन्दर पंछी की तरह उड़ गई. माँ को सलीके से रहना-पहनना- खाना- बोलना पसंद था. सलीका और बेहद शांत स्वभाव उसकी खास पहचान थी. मुझे याद है आखरी दिनों में एक दिन मेरी बहन नई टिहरी के घर के बरामदे में बैठ माँ के बाल बना रही थी. वो उन दिनों बहुत बीमार थी. वो बहुत कम और धीमा बोलती थी. गुस्सा या नाराज होना तो वो जानती ही नहीं थी. अचानक टिहरी झील की ओर खुले आकाश को देख बोली मेरी बिंदी और सिन्दूर कहाँ है? फिर अचानक बोली- कुसुम तुझे याद है ना जब मैं मरूंगी तो मैं सुन्दर पंछी या तितली बन आकाश में उडूँगी. जब कभी मेरी याद आये तो आकाश में उड़ते परिंदों को देखना…तितलियों को उड़ते देखना. न जाने क्या क्या बोलती रही…. मैंने माँ से पूछा क्यों? क्योंकि परिंदे आजाद होकर दुनिया जहाँ में बिना ‘बाउनडरी’ के घूमते हैं. पंछी आकाश में उड़ते वक्त लाइनें नहीं खींचते. चुपचाप मुक्त हो मीलों उड़ते  जाते हैं बिना कुछ कहे और किसी पर हक जमाये….उसको खुला आकाश, बादल, खिलते रंग बिरंगे फूलों की क्यारियां, रात को खिले तारों की ‘टिमटिमाती फसल’ और खेतों में ‘लहलहाते गेहूं’ बहुत पसंद थी. उसके अचानक कहे इन शब्दों ने मुझे फिर से अपनी बचपन की कविता और नेगी हॉउस की मुंडेरों पर माँ के साथ बैठे दिन मुद्दतों बाद याद दिला दिए. अब मेरे लिए बचपन की कविता की लाइनें और उसके अर्थ और गहरे हो गए थे. तब से ये आकाश के परिंदे मुझे माँ की याद दिलाते हैं. मैं अक्सर इन चार लाइनों में माँ के शब्दों की गहराई को समझने की कोशिश करती हूँ …पर और उलझती जाती हूँ. मैं जानती थी अब माँ के पास वक्त नहीं है. 10 सालों से हर रोज उसे बीमारी से लड़ते हम देख रहे थे. पर बीमारी न उसकी मुस्कान लूट पाए न उसे मरते दम तक खिजा पाए. वो वैसे ही शांत और खामोश पथिक की माफिक अपने ‘उस घर’ चली गई. जिसके गहरे अर्थ का सबक उसने मुझे बचपन में सिखाया था. माँ की ये तस्वीर सालों की बीमारी के बाद जाने से कुछ वक्त पहले की है. उसको ये हिलांस पंछी बेहद पसंद था.

मेरी जिंदगी में कदम-कदम पर सब कुछ बदला पर ये ‘चार पंक्तियां’ दिल के किसी कोने में जिंदगी के कम्पास यानि ‘दिशासूचक’ की तरह राह दिखाती रहीं. ऊम्र के हर मोड़ पर इन पंक्तियों के मायने मेरे लिए कदम-कदम पर बदलते रहे. पर यह पंक्तियां सिखाने वाली मेरी गुमनाम टीचर और इन लाइनों के मायने ओर उनको गुणना सिखाने वाली मेरी ‘माँ’ मेरे मन अन्दर की परतों में मेरे अपने ‘घर’ में एक तिलिस्म की माफिक कैद हैं. मैं जब-जब बहुत थकती हूँ तो इनको याद कर इसके गहरे अर्थों में डूब बहुत सुकून मिलता है. उस वक्त लगता है आज मेरी टीचर और माँ जिंदगी का कुछ नया गहरा फलसफा सिखा रही हैं. मैं भी सुकून से तरोताजा हो अपने ‘घर’ से वापस ‘बाहर’ की दुनिया में उड़ने चली आती हूँ फिर से दुनिया में अपनी टीचर और माँ के गहरे शब्दों की रूह पकड़ने को…

मेरी ‘घर’ की तलाश में मैं जब भी अंधेरों से टकराई किसी ‘अनजाने फरिश्ते’ ने अपने किसी ‘नायब बन्दे’ को भेज मुझे नई ‘पगडंडी’ दिखा मेरे ‘असली घर’ का रास्ता दिखाया. मैं भटकती रही इस उम्मीद में कि कभी तो जन्म जन्मातर से चली मेरी अपने ‘असली घर’ की तलाश पूरी होगी. कोई तो मुझे ‘घर’ के असली मायने समझाएगा? मैं यही प्रार्थना करती- हे प्रभु मेरी अपने घर की तलाश मुझे अकेला नहीं छोड़ना. मैं उन्मुक्त पंछी की तरह अपनी ‘चार लाइनों के पखों’ पर खुले आकाश में आजाद उड़ना चाहती हूँ. बिलकुल अपनी ‘माँ और टीचर के ख्यालों’ की माफिक….अपने ‘स्व’ की खोज में शरीर और मन के बंधनों से कंहीं बहुत दूर बिलकुल आजाद!

मेरी ‘घर’ की खोज जारी रही. यह कोई अप्रैल 2010 के कुम्भ की बात होगी. मैं जूना अखाड़े के आचार्य स्वामी अवधेशानंद गिरी जी के आश्रम में अपनी किसी प्रिय माई दोस्त के साथ रुकी थी. स्वामी जी शाम की पारी में उपदेश देते थे. एक शाम मैं महामृत्युन्जय शिवालय की मुंडेर पर खड़े हो उनके ‘पाथेय’ उपदेश को सुन रही थी. स्वामी जी की शब्दों को बाजीगरी मुझे बहुत सुन्दर लगती है. वो कुछ बोल रहे थे. अचानक मुझे लगा मेरे बाजू में मैंने स्वामी रामतीर्थ को खड़े पाया स्वामी जी के रूप में…मुझे झटका लगा. स्वामी राम मेरे पहले मानस गुरु हैं जिनके व्यावहारिक वेदांत के रट्टे लगाते-लगाते मैं बड़ी हुई. मुझे कुछ ऐसे करंट लगा कि बचपन की ये चार लाइनें फिर से मुझे तंग करने लगी. मैं सोचती रही फिर से ये चार लाइनें क्यों? मेरी इस सोच के साथ मेरे हमेशा के सर्व प्रिय सुर-कबीर-रहीम-मीरा जेहन में आ खड़े हुए….जिनको मैं भूल सी गई थी. अचानक स्वामी जी के ‘पाथेय’ ने ऐसे मोड़ पर ला खड़ा किया. वो मुझे मेरी इन चार लाइनों में बसे ‘घर’ का अर्थ का एक नया गहरा अर्थ समझा गए महाकवि सूरदास की इन सुन्दर पंक्तियों में-

मेरो ‘मन’ अनंत कहाँ सुख पाए जैसे उड़ी जहाज को पंछी पुनि-पुनि ‘जहाज’ पे आये…मैंने भाव विभोर हो अपने स्वामी जी को प्रणाम किया पर मेरी घर की तलाश जारी रही. 2013 में अचानक एक अनाम साधू की दिल को छूने वाली किताब ‘टिया’ ने मुझे मेरी ‘घर की तलाश’ को नया मोड़ दिया. ये बहुत सुन्दर पुस्तक है. इसकी प्रस्तावना मेरे पसंदीदा डॉ. अब्दुल कलाम साहिब ने लिखी है…कभी हाथ लगे तो जरूर पढ़ें.

बचपन की इन चार लाइनों के साथ मेरी अपने ‘घर’ की तलाश अपने गुरुजी के साथ जारी है. बस यों ही आपके साथ ये चार सुन्दर लाइनें बाँट लीं. आपको पसंद आयें. सरस्वती शिशु मंदिर स्कूल के पहले दिन ‘टीचर जी’ से सीखा और अपनी ‘माँ’ से साल दर ‘गुणा’ कविता की इन चार लाइनों का ‘घर’ का ये सबक कब जिंदगी का सबक, सबब शऊर और तलाश बनी पता ही नहीं चला. मेरी ये पोस्ट मेरी माँ, अनाम टीचर जी, शिशु मंदिर के दोस्तों की बाल टोली मसलन कल्याणी सकलानी, अनीता भट्ट, डॉ शिखा कुकशाल, अनीता नौटियाल, और मेरे गुरुजनों समेत तमाम उन लोगों के लिए, जो ‘घर’ के असली मायने समझने-समझाने के कठिन सबक में मेरे बहुत करीब खड़े हैं…

Posted in General | Leave a comment