Mumbai: The Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation honoured winners for their exemplary efforts in the field of humanitarian and social work at the 45th edition of the Jamnalal Bajaj Awards. The four awardees were felicitated today at the annual award function in the presence of the Chief Guest - Hon’ble Dr Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India; Shekhar Bajaj, Chairman, Board of Trustees of Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation, Members of the Council of Advisers of the Foundation and the august gathering. Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi is the Trustee of the Foundation and Dr. R. A. Mashelkar, Former Director General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Chairman of National Innovation Foundation also serves as a Chairman, Council of Advisers of the Foundation.
Since the institution of these awards, the Foundation commemorates the birth anniversary of Shri Jamnalal Bajaj every year. As a tribute to the great man on this special occasion, the Foundation felicitated achievers in the field of humanitarian activities and Gandhian constructive programmes by presenting them with a Citation, a Trophy and a Cash Prize.
In a special tribute to the Centennial Celebrations of the Birth Anniversary of Shri Ramkrishna Bajaj, Founder of the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation, it has elevated the prize money from Rs. 10,00,000/- to Rs. 20,00,000/- (or its equivalent in foreign exchange for the International Award) in each award category, effective from 2023 awards. The Foundation continues to serve the ideals to which Shri Jamnalal Bajaj has dedicatedly been involved during his lifetime.
Dr. Ramalakshmi Datta felicitated with Award for Application of Science & Technology for Rural Development at 45th Jamnalal Bajaj Awards |
Dr. Regi George and Dr. Lalitha Regi felicitated with Award for Outstanding contribution in the field of Constructive Work at 45th Jamnalal Bajaj Awards |
Mr Raha Naba Kumar felicitated with International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India at 45th Jamnalal Bajaj Awards |
Ms Sudha Varghese felicitated with Award for Development and Welfare of Women and Children (Instituted in memory of Padma Vibhushan Jankidevi Bajaj) at 45th Jamnalal Bajaj Awards |
CJI with award winners |
The details of the awards for this year (2023) are:
Shekhar Bajaj, Chairman, Board of Trustees, Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation addressing at the occasion said, “Each year, the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation Awards take us on a profound journey, uncovering the stories of unsung heroes committed to selfless service. Our purpose is to acknowledge and champion these individuals whose unwavering dedication propagates the noble ethos of Gandhian values. We are humbled by the substantial increase in nominations, a testament to the growing recognition of individuals who embody Gandhian values. Congratulations to all the winners; your efforts are instrumental in transforming societies, and we urge others to join in creating a better world.”
Dr. R. A. Mashelkar, Chairman, Council of Advisers stated, “Our Gandhian Warriors have made yeoman contributions in preserving, propagating, and practising Gandhian values. We salute not only their inspiring life and work but also the way. It is with such amazing perseverance and passion, they have pursued a noble purpose, to create a better world for all, with timeless Gandhian values.”
About the 2023 Winners
Dr. Regi George and Dr. Lalitha Regi
Recipients of the Award for Constructive Work
· Soon after getting their degrees in medicine, they moved to Gandhigram Rural Institute. They served for five years at the Institute and then decided to move on and set up their service centre.
· In 1992, they started the first hospital-cum-patient unit from a small hut in Sittilingi – a remote forested valley in Dharmapuri. It was built by the local people.
· Dharmapuri was one of the 5 worst districts from health point of view and in terms of infant and maternal mortality. The nearest hospital then was 48 kms away.
Reduced infant mortality from 147/1000 to 20/1000 in a decade. No maternal deaths in childbirth for over 15 years.
They further linked healthcare to economics, food and education. Also sensitized the tribal community to local governance and Gram Swaraj.
Evolved to include organic farming and community development.
THI prioritizes self-reliance in health by offering a two-year residential Health Worker training for tribal girls, evolving into a recognized Staff Nurse course.
Health Auxiliaries, selected from tribal villages, play a pivotal role in vital health services, such as nutrition education and disease treatment, significantly impacting about 15,000 tribals.
Monthly village visits, antenatal checkups, and under-5 clinics, coupled with Health Education, have notably improved antenatal checkups to 95% and reduced malnutrition by 80%.
In 2004, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Dandi March, THI embarked on a transformative journey. The padayatra led to the inception of organic farming initiatives, with farmers forming groups supported by THI.
The craft revival project in Lambadi villages empowers women in embroidery and tailoring, contributing to a turnover of close to Rs 2.5 crores, last year.
THI, embracing modern culture, introduces health insurance schemes, including a special initiative catering to the neglected elderly citizens at a nominal Rs. 200/- per year.
Tackling drought impact: In response to a four-year drought, THI expanded its efforts to include watershed and water management in the Sittilingi valley, fostering awareness about local governance.
Dr. Regi George & Dr. Lalitha Regi, the doctor couple is an ideal role model for young medicos.
“It is the recognition of a tumultuous journey where we stumbled and fell many times, but persisted to experiment a unique vision on what doctors could do if they wanted to. From starting off with a mud and thatch hut built by the Adivasis, to a fully-fledged secondary care hospital, from working with women to empowering them in health, we have come a long way. We sat down with the community and extended our work to include an Organic Farming Collective, a Women Entrepreneurship Society and the Porgai Artisans Association. We have the Adivasis now governing themselves sans any political affiliation. We stepped back and realized that perhaps this was what Gandhiji meant by Gram Swaraj.” Dr. Regi George and Dr. Lalitha Regi.
Dr. Ramalakshmi Datta
Recipient of the Award for Application of Science and Technology for Rural Development
She joined Vivekananda Institute of Biotechnology (VIB) in 1997. After the establishment of the Plant Tissue Culture Unit at VIB and involvement of the rural girls in the laboratory work, she started realizing that her desire to work in the rural area for the rural people is turning into reality.
At the time, electricity was erratic, facilities were poor and life difficult in the village. Dr. Datta would take boats through the Sundarbans estuaries and nearly used to fall into the muddy forested tracts. She had to be lifted and taken through these areas. Every time she met farmers, they asked how she could help them improve their crops. It helped Dr. Ramalakshmi to realise that her scientific training was of no use if it didn’t help poor farmers.
· As a committed scientist, community mobiliser and a self-motivator, she has taken the application research in biotechnology to the Sundarbans for rural development. Thus, demystifying the intricacies of tissue culture in particular, with the participation of the village people.
Dr. Datta and her team's work is mainly technology generation, modulation, adoption, and diffusion to the people, particularly women of Sundarbans.
Created awareness of the concept of plants being grown inside closed bottles.
Awareness programmes were conducted in selected remote areas through “reaching the unreached” programme, to demonstrate that these banana plants were like the other banana plants that they grow in their backyard.
The work on Banana Tissue Culture has evolved as Banana Technology.
The Rural Youth – the para workers – getting trained at VIB - are empowered with knowledge and skills.
Dr. Datta’s contribution has reached over 17,000 people across 273 villages in 19 Districts of 4 States of West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand.
Dr. Ramalakshmi Datta's lab is a hub for Science & Technology (S&T) programs, emphasizing competency-based training for rural youth, enabling them to establish microenterprises through skill development.
She connects with community-based organizations (CBOs) in Eastern States, leveraging technology for livelihood improvement, sanitation, and youth empowerment. The goal is to bridge social gaps through S&T and empower CBOs for a sustained community betterment.
It is rare to find scientists who innovate in lab conditions and follow it up on the land with social group mobilisation. It is a perfect example and initiative of lab to land research programme.
“The challenge was to simplify and demonstrate the relevant agribiotech technologies, especially plant tissue culture and make the rural girls realize that they can use it for their benefit and for the betterment of the whole community. `Try to bring out the best in yourself, as well as in others. The future depends on what you do at present. Try to be the best in whatever you are and wherever you are.’ These thoughts I always try to follow while skilling, reskilling the village girls and making them meticulously keep the necessary record and data.” Dr. Ramalakshmi Datta
Recipient of the Award for Development and Welfare of Women and Children
Sudha Varghese stands as a living embodiment of the Gandhian principles of service, empowerment, and self-reliance. Born into a privileged family, she chose to follow her heart, leaving behind a life of comfort to serve the marginalized and dispossessed. Sudha Varghese’s journey of over six decades has been a profound testament to the transformative power of Gandhian ideals in shaping lives and communities.
As a schoolgirl in her native village in Kerala, Sudha Varghese read something about a poverty-stricken community called Musahar, in Bihar.
The young girl firmly decided that she will work for their welfare. A distant dream, shared with the family invited denial. But Sudha Varghese was firm.
Her journey began in the 1960s, responding to the call for service in Bihar's Munger district.
Committed to living Gandhiji's philosophy, she spent two decades immersed in hands-on humanitarian work, from teaching underprivileged children to addressing the challenges of Naxal-affected villages, embodying the belief that service should address both immediate and long-term community needs.
In 1986, after 21 years of service, Sudha Varghese embraced her true calling by settling in a Musahar slum, symbolizing her commitment to social justice through self-sacrifice.
She used to cycle for almost 40-60 kilometres at times to meet and understand the community and their situation. For which people started calling her cycledidi.
At the heart of Varghese's work was education and empowerment for the Musahar community. Her innovative approach focused on Prerna schools and alternative education centre, nurturing self-sufficiency and providing tools for empowerment.
Spearheading initiatives beyond traditional roles, Varghese guided Musahar women towards self-reliance through skill training and agricultural programs, transforming them from landless laborers to proud landowners and pioneers in unconventional fields.
Her mission is to uphold education as the basis for change and development and to make it possible for children, women and especially for girls.
Promoting reproductive health especially among Dalits and economically weaker sections of society.
Her NGO, Nari Gunjan, has provided bridge courses to over forty thousand children, ensuring access to education for the marginalized communities.
Sudha Varghese has exhibited immense courage by organizing Musahar women to protest rape and sexual harassment through Gandhian methods.
Her initiatives, such as supporting the creation of the “Sargam Band” all-women music band in Bihar and facilitating the entry of the first women-driven auto-rickshaw driver in the region, has challenged traditional gender norms and paved the way for women's empowerment.
· She is a champion of Gandhian philosophy and social transformation who discovered her true calling to uplift the Musahar community from their depths of miseries. Her work revolves around education, holistic empowerment and guiding the youth in the right direction.
“My journey with the most marginalised Musahar community people has impacted my life as a person. We concentrated on the women and oriented them for educating their children and to learn the habit of saving. My community women did not know rape is a crime, so I had to explain this to them and took them to the police station to file the first rape case of an adolescent girl. Over the 21 years, I lived with this community, I have lived a thousand deaths and lived a thousand lives. Being with my people, my life has become very meaningful, and I can say YES to any circumstances that may come.” Sudha Varghese
Raha Naba Kumar
Recipient of the International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India
After completing his education, Raha Naba Kumar started his professional career in 1985 at Noakhali. During that time, he had the opportunity to meet many Gandhians including late Padma Shri Jharna Dhara Chowdhury, then Secretary of the Gandhi Ashram Trust (GAT) who came with Mahatma Gandhi to Noakhali.
· He draws inspiration from qualities of selflessness, adherence to peace and the freedom movement. He continues to work in Noakhali to revive Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts and to apply the constructive work programme with people’s participation for their benefit.
· Joining Gandhi Ashram Trust in 1989, brought along challenges of revitalizing the Ashram. Through his perseverance and consistent efforts for more than three decades, he has been able to overcome its financial constraints, negative treatment of the people around, continuous life threats from the illegal occupiers of the Ashram properties, etc., to change the situation. Through the Land Reclaim Project, his team under his leadership was able to provide 3000 acres of khash land (the abundant land owned by the Government) to 1000 landless people.
· Forming small groups of poor people, training them in different skills, creating awareness of human and women rights, providing support for education of the poor students, ensuring safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, agricultural activities, helped create accessibility for Raha Naba Kumar and the Ashram in the community.
· The Ashram has set up 76 non-formal primary schools which has benefited around 22,000 poor and dropout children with basic education.
Initiated the process of reviving a school (inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1947, in Jayag, Noakhali which had stopped functioning during the Pakistan period) to a well-established school known as the Gandhi Memorial Institute, from Class 1 to Class 10.
GAT installed approximately 18,000 deep hand tubewells and 4,70,000 low-cost toilets and constructed 36 public toilets. This role model initiative in Bangladesh, benefited approximately 7 million people leading to better living conditions.
Under the leadership of Raha Naba Kumar, GAT upholds activities related to human rights, good governance, and justice for all.
People first approach GAT before taking any legal action. To date, GAT has helped resolve about 28,000 cases related to domestic violence, community litigations, communal instability, and other violences that destroy the peace and harmony in the society.
The establishment of the 'Gandhi Memorial Museum' at the present campus of GAT is one of Raha Naba Kumar’s great achievements. It is the first and only recognized Gandhi Museum, in Bangladesh.
Raha Naba Kumar has provided livelihood opportunities to the poor and vulnerable women and the young students, by setting up a handloom and handicraft center to train in various activities including bamboo, cane, tailoring, loom management etc. GAT showroom markets the products to domestic and foreign tourists and caters to the orders received from Dhaka and across Bangladesh.
In the 90s, to address the issues of water logging, salinity, poor vegetation and aquaculture and significant imports of food, Raha Naba Kumar focused on the development of agriculture in this area immediately after joining GAT. Through extensive research, GAT was able to identify suitable varieties that could be produced more efficiently with the help of local technical knowledge.
It was instrumental in setting up 9000 household gardens for poor families and in creating 300 village nurseries to support those gardens. At present, 70 per cent of the vegetables and fish are produced locally.
Organized many interactive popular theatre and video shows, cultural events to raise awareness of Gandhiji amongst the children, youth and community people. Through dedication and persistent endeavours of Raha Naba Kumar, 50 out of 64 districts commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s anniversaries, every year, in Bangladesh.
· Towards rejection of violence and embracing peace and brotherhood Raha Naba Kumar initiated nationwide peace campaigns, covering more than 1000 schools, colleges, and universities. A nationwide mobile museum exhibition on Mahatma Gandhi and meetings with stakeholders, training on peace, conflict resolution and transformation, formation of “Peace Committee” in every union, etc. are also some of his many activities held in the region.
His support to and association with the other Gandhian organisations in Bangladesh and abroad, respectively is helping propagate Mahatma Gandhi’s ideologies and work effectively.
Organizing seminars, conferences, meetings have helped build friendly relationships between Bangladesh and India, over a period.
“About 34 years back, I joined the Gandhi Ashram. From then I am working to promote Gandhian ideology in Bangladesh. Initially, my journey was not so pleasant. Sometimes it was life threatening. I had to cross so many obstacles, but finally community people chose me as their friend. But there is still a long way to go for the sustainability of our activities. I have a plan to establish an educational institute where people will receive higher studies in Gandhian studies, peace, non-violence, etc.” Raha Naba Kumar
About The Jamnalal Bajaj Awards
Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation continues to work towards propagating Gandhian values and Jamnalal Bajaj’s ideologies. The awards for Constructive Work and Application of Science and Technology for Rural Development, instituted in 1978; and Development and Welfare of Women and Children, introduced in 1980 in the memory of Padma Vibhushan Jankidevi Bajaj, wife of Jamnalal Bajaj, are given to Indian nationals. The International Award, instituted in 1988 in commemoration of the birth centennial of Jamnalal Bajaj is presented to an individual with foreign nationality for promoting Gandhian Values Outside India.