I bow my head in respect and admiration for Preeti Kumbhare and Abhay Devare who have together set an example of social responsibility in the true sense of the words. The two have sacrificed the pomp and glamour of a wedding to wipe the tears from the eyes of families whose bread earner committed suicide because of crop failure.
This I believe is true compassion for fellow beings. This is what CSR, I would like to call their act PSR (Personal Social Responsibility) is all about. Marriage in India is a one time in a life time affair. A day to be cherished throughout a couple’s life. People spend crores to impress their guests and friends producing albums which in years to come will continue to impress many others, including their children.
Not so Preeti and Abhay the two decided earlier on that they will use the money they had set aside for their wedding to help the less fortunate in society. The two have donated Rs. 20,000 to each of 10 families of deceased farmers and books for competitive examinations to five libraries in Amravati worth Rs 52,000. The money came from their savings that was kept aside as their marriage fund.
According to Abhay the idea germinated in their mind after he met President Pranab Mukherjee during his field visit. “He advised us to become an agent of socio-economic change. Fortunately, even my wife was having similar thoughts. My in-laws also supported us and they were the ones who took the lead in finding out families where farmers had ended their lives…”
Said Preeti “If educated youth like us can’t start such things, there is no use of our education. We must realize that we carry a certain social responsibility for the society.” Priti has laid out their plans for paying for the entire education of farmer’s children including their coaching classes for 10th and 12th standards.
The scourge of crop failures and resulting suicides seems to have become an epidemic in Maharashtra According to figures revealed in the Rajya Sabha by the Minister in 2015 2282 farmers committed suicide across Maharashtra. Amravati, which is possible the home district of the couple, recorded the second highest number of deaths totaling 1179.
Over the years thousands of farmers in Maharashtra are resorting to suicides because the failure of their crops has made it impossible to repay the large loans secured to buy expensive inputs. In neighbouring Yavatmal, which has earned the dubious distinction of being called the Suicide District of the country, in the last 15 years, beginning 2001 over 3465 farmers ended their lives, including 311 women because of crop failure.
Heavy investment on inputs secured on credit from traders, crop failure, because of insufficient knowledge about planting procedures for the new seeds, failure of the monsoon resulting in failure of the crop have been quoted as reasons leading to suicides. The irony is that a majority of farmers who ended their lives had pending non repaid loans adding up to just Rs 10,000. Evidently the Indian farmers has a better sense of morality than the likes of Vijay Mallya, the King of Good Times, who despite unpaid loans amount to over Rs 5000 crores does not seem morally inclined to pay up.
The amount donated by Preeti and Abhay is small compared to the need. It is however a path makers, possible an act which might inspire others to pitch in. Like the young couple A.N.Roy, a high profile retired Mumbai police commissioner has embarked on a mission to rehabilitate widows in suicide prone Yavatmal and Wardha districts. Immediately after he retired Roy undertook a survey of the families of aggrieved farmers in the two districts.
“As a police officer, during my official visit to Yavatmal and Wardha districts, I was moved by the plight of the farmers. In fact, much before retirement, I had decided to draft an action plan to tackle agrarian crisis. I felt that there was urgent need to rehabilitate widows, who were in large numbers,” Roy has said.
Along with his daughter Somya and members of the Vandana foundation, an NGO he has set up, he undertook an in-depth survey of about 200 villages in the two districts. “We identified the widows who urgently required rehabilitation. There was no short listing, as we had decided to extend financial assistance to the maximum widows,” he said.
His NGO has drafted a simple financial plan for the widows. “We have a separate rehabilitation plan for individual widow. Interest free financial assistance ranges between Rs 5000 to Rs 15000 and the repayment is on a weekly basis. He says either the widow submits her own plan or the NGO suggests a feasible rehabilitation plan. “We extend financial assistance to the plan accepted by the widow. So far, we have successfully rehabilitated nearly 1000 widows in 200 villages in Yavatmal and Wardha districts,” Roy said.
Some widows have used the funds to start a grocery, stationery, tailoring, bangle and vegetable shops in their own houses. A large number of them are on working on the Charkhas – the spinning wheel. Roy says the business is indeed on a very small scale, requiring very small investment. This results in quick repayments. “From my last five years experience in the rural areas, I found that the requirement of people is very small. They are comfortable if they earn between Rs 250 to Rs 500 per day.
These are two instances of how individuals moved by the plight of the suffering farmers have pitch in to provide some relief. There is need for much, much such efforts. My study of the situation in Yavatmal indicates that government efforts are insufficient. Programmes are being drafted which do not take the needs of the victims into consideration. Almost all schemes are prepared in government offices with nil inputs from the stakeholders. When implemented, most of the benefits are cornered by the middleman.
Here is a good area which could do with increased funding and management support from the Corporate sector. An excellent area where company CSR can bring relief to the poor and deprived. Are any CSR managers listening?
(Suresh Kr Pramar is a renowned journalist and consultant writing on CSR issues.)
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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR.