Changemakers stress need for debate on real issues

Changemakers stress need for debate on real issues

 High-speed internet connectivity, building large-scale infrastructure and taking India to the next level of development might be dominating the debate  of our policy-makers. Sadly, there is no talk of issues as basic as sanitary pads for women.

This focus on the social disconnect, as highlighted by Magsaysay Award winner and Goonj founder Anshu Gupta, was what made the opening day of the ‘Changemaker Week 2016’ stand out.

The event was formally kicked off at the St Joseph’s College of Arts and Science here on Monday. Arranged by the Ashoka Innovators for Public, the Week is supported by Deccan Herald.

Critiquing the system, Gupta said how, even to this day, a majority of women in rural areas used anything but sanitary napkins, simply because there was none available.

“There is absolutely no discussion about this in the country. Some of the things women use are dirty cloth, ash, used papers, rice husk and even cow dung. While there are primary health centres (PHC) in rural areas, we all know their condition,” he said.

In her address, Teach for India founder Shaheen Mistry talked about India’s youth, the ones set to take the reins of its future are still grossly uneducated. As much as four per cent of children never start their schooling and around 50 per cent never even complete their basic school education.

Shaheen’s initiative, however, aims to change things. Already, there have a number of bright spots since they started nearly 10 years ago.

Mistry drew attention to the inspiring journey of Jyothi Reddy, a slum dweller from Mumbai. Reddy was shown in a video, speaking in flawless English at the TEDx Nariman Point event in Mumbai in 2011, recounting her journey in her own words: “I am a slum dweller but education sets me apart. I chose education over marriage and over dependency,” she said. 

But Reddy is just one among many. Over a thousand Teach for India Fellows work in various remote corners of the country not as teachers but also as people trying to bring about “equity in education,” said Mistry. Inaugurating the Changemaker Week, Arghayam founder Rohini Nilekani said, “If we want a society without inequalities where everyone contributes, we have to begin with ourselves. What binds us together is our ability to empathise. We are absolutely designed to be altruistic. But we have lost it somewhere.”

Responding to an audience query, she voiced her support for free access to the Internet, free of any big corporate positioning. In an indirect reference to the Free Basics initiative of Facebook, Nilekani said free Internet access was as basic as getting free
drinking water.

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