The recipients of the 45th Jamnalal Bajaj Award awarded by the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation are field workers who take Gandhian ideals to remote areas of the world. They go to places where government help is scarce or delayed.
Awardees at the press meet | Ma
Dr Regi George and Dr Lalitha Regi, who won the 2023 ‘Award for Constructive Work’, run the Tribal Health Initiative in Sittilingi, a hamlet in an isolated valley in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district. Dr Lalitha, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, and Dr Regi, an anaesthetist, met when they were medical students. They had a common dream – to work in villages.
Working together for a dream in tribal areas
After five years at Gandhigram Rural Institute in Madurai, they decided to move to a more remote area. Dharmapuri, which they chose as the base for their work, was one of the most deprived areas in the state when they first arrived there in 1993. “The infant and maternal mortality rates were high. The nearest resident doctor was 45 km away and the closest large medical facility was almost 100 km away,” said Dr Lalitha.
Dr Lalitha Regi and Dr Regi George |
Health indices in the area have improved, with Infant Mortality Rate dropping from 147 per thousand to 15. Their medical facility includes a secondary care hospital with 35 beds, a labour room and a neo-natal unit. But their work is not just limited to the medical field; they also run a collective to promote organic farming and women’s self-help groups. When asked about their work, Dr Regi said, “We are just facilitators; the local people have done the good work,”
Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India
Recipient of the ‘International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India’ award, Raha Naba Kumar is associated with the Gandhi Ashram Trust in Bangladesh’s Noakhali, an area that Mahatma Gandhi visited in 1946-47.
Raha Naba Kumar |
Before joining the trust, Kumar taught Bengali literature at a university and worked on a project by the Netherlands and Bangladesh governments to reclaim land in the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta. The trust, which is now an autonomous body under a law passed by the Bangladesh parliament, has various projects, including schools, skilling programmes and water sanitation.
The group was also instrumental in the creation of a Right to Information Act in that country. Talking about his work, Kumar said, “To be a Gandhian is difficult, but truth, honesty, peace and non-violence are philosophies that I want to introduce to people.”
Using biotechnology to improve Life in the Sundarbans
Dr Ramalakshmi Datta, who received the ‘Award for Application of Science and Technology for Rural Development’ uses biotechnology to improve the lives of people living in 54 villages in the Sundarbans estuaries. She helped the creation of a Plant Tissue Culture Unit for the Vivekananda Institute of Biotechnology and while working with rural women in application of the technology, found that this was her calling. Dr Datta said that the riverine area is bearing the brunt of climate change.
Dr Ramalakshmi Datta and B K Datta |
Cycle Didi's Nari Gunjan in Bihar
Sudha Varghese, who was given the award for ‘Development and Welfare of Women and Children’ works with one of the most deprived communities in Bihar – the Musahars or rat-eaters. Much against her parents’ wishes but with the support of her maternal grandfather, Varghese travelled from Kerala to Bihar after seeing photographs of marginalised families.
Sudha Varghese |
There are around 1 million Musahars and a majority own no land and have no regular employment. She set up Nari Gunjan in 1987 to help them. She is called ‘Cycle Didi’ by the people she works with. “In a way, it (the award) is a recognition of the work I do for women and children. Any award that I get is because of my people,” said Varghese.
The awards were presented at a ceremony on Friday evening where Chief Justice of India, Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud was the chief guest. Shekhar Bajaj, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation, Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, and Dr R A Mashelkar, chairman of the Council of Advisers of the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation, were present at the event.