His mission is to save snakes, rice and slum children

Rahul Prakash Suvarna

He is also working with an NGO — Akanksha Foundation — which has adopted three defunct schools and provides education to around 650 slum children. Then he fought against ‘voluntary’ dowry given in his brother’s marriage. He is a great animal lover and has saved many snakes from getting killed. He has constructed a website where one can read the old rare books of Marathi literature. And has himself adopted 56 children and is caring for them through one Rupee donations.

Meet Rahul Prakash Suvarna, the social activist based in Thane. Many people get confused with his last name ‘Suvarna’ and assume that he might be from Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka.

“My complete name was Rahul Prakash Jadhav, but then I decided to replace my surname with that of my mother’s name Suvarna. One reason was that in our society, the surname is identified with the caste to which you belong. People immediately ask whether you belong to this caste or that. When we can include father’s name in our identity, then why not name of the mother, who gives us birth and actually brings us up?” Rahul asks.

Takes on challenge

When he decided to add mother’s name, he was advised against it, saying it was not legal. But after a thorough study of relevant legal books, he went ahead. “My father was neutral, while mother appreciated my stand and fully supported me,” Rahul told Deccan Herald.

The immediate fallout was that three truckloads of relatives and villagers from his father’s native place in Satara district descended at Jadhav’s family residence in Thane and opposed any change in surname by Rahul. “They said it was the question of family prestige, but when I refused to budge, the gram panchayat of Perle village passed a resolution ostracising me,” Rahul said.

Refuses to oblige

This was not the end of the story. Rahul faced ire of the so-called progressives as well.

“Many progressive activists have changed their names to include mothers’ names to show that they believe in man-woman equality. When they heard my plan, they wanted me to include mother’s name in the middle, like one activist Vijay Rama Raghunath (Rama is mother’s name, Raghunath is father’s name). I refused to change sequence and insisted that I only wanted to replace surname with mother’s name. This way, I received brickbats from both conservatives and progressive thinkers,” Rahul chuckles.

During the interaction, his mobile was constantly buzzing and he was very apologetic about it. Then he explained that these phone calls were from parents whose children are studying in three municipal schools adopted by Akanksha Foundation. “I work as a liaison officer between municipal authorities and parents. These three schools had become defunct due to want of staff and funds. We adopted them, and now 650 children from slums are on the rolls.”

Novel punishment

What about absenteeism and dropouts plaguing the municipal schools? “We award a novel punishment to those abstaining from the class. Next day, the parents will have to sit with their child in the classroom. The parents realise the efforts put in by our teachers and their dedication, and many of them later volunteer to help us,” Rahul  claimed.

 The three schools have become such a rage that everybody in Shindewadi slum of Dadar and at Kala Chowki want admission for their children in these three schools. “But I cannot accommodate more than our strength,” says Rahul.

The young man came into lime light due to his crusade against rice, or what is called ‘Akshata’, thrown on the newly-wed couple at the marriage ceremony. Earlier, it was regular ordinary rice, and after the ceremony was over, sweepers would collect the rice and use it to cook food. But now, Akshatas are also graded. “You can have Basmati akshata and Mogra akshata, and the prices are very high. In addition, the rice is coloured, so you cannot even use it after the ceremony. It is sheer waste,” Rahul said.

When hundreds of thousands of children suffer from malnourishment, it is a crime to waste so much rice, he feels.

He got a chance to translate his thoughts into action at the time of his elder brother’s wedding in 2005. “I fought against dowry which was being offered voluntarily from my sister-in-law’s side. Their argument was that if a hefty dowry is not given, then it creates an impression that something is wrong with the girl or the family. This practice is so prevalent in the society... There is no coercion, no direct demand, but it is assumed and both sides follow the custom.

“I also told my family that rice should not be wasted during the marriage. They simply dismissed my brainwave. But then to prove my sincerity, I went on a fast. I was without food for six days, and everybody in the college, in our colony came to know about it. Finally, my family agreed that rice will not be used in the wedding,” Rahul recalled.

The young man then launched a social group, “Saavdhan”, to fight against this custom. “I have met several families in past five years in Thane and convinced them against throwing rice. Sometimes, the families are convinced by my pleadings. Sometimes, they get offended.’

One ruse offered to the families was that if they accept his suggestion, then veteran actor Shriram Lagoo, who is a great patron of progressive movements, would attend the wedding. That worked.

But it was not easy. Once, when he went to Pune, he was beaten up. “Then we devised another way of blessings. Instead of rice, I started telling these couples to use flowers or rose petals. If they insisted on Akshata, then I told them to use it symbolically, which many families agreed.”

By his own count, he has been able to stop throwing of rice in around 3,000 weddings in Thane and Mumbai.

One rupee a day

On his adopting 56 children, he wants his well-wishers to donate only one rupee a day. “I don’t want donations in bulk. Instead give me only one rupee everyday. That way, the donors know to what they are helping. My work is also done,” Rahul says.

The social activist, who is an avid reader, is currently busy with putting old Marathi classics, whose copyright has long expired, on the website, so that people can read those great works. He is also summoned whenever a snake is found anywhere near his colony. He saves these hapless reptiles and releases them in their natural habitat.

Rahul is now planning to move the Bombay High Court with an unusual request. He wants all income tax exemptions to be removed. “I want to pay income tax on my income, whatever it may be. Why should there be exemptions, everybody should pay income tax, even on a meagre income. I want income tax department to levy tax on my income, but they are not doing it, saying that my income is exempted. I want to contribute to the development of my country. But the current laws don’t allow it.” Any takers for this move?

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