"Working with Madia Gond for over 47 years is an eye opening journey for us. We did help them to join the mainstream, but at the same time learned how life can be enjoyed with simplicity and without expecting anything in return," says renowned social workers Dr Prakash Baba Amte and Dr Mandakini Amte. They were speaking at Moneylife Foundation's 10th Anniversary function at Mumbai.
Elaborating on "Odyssey of Community Service: A Personal Reflection", Dr Prakash Amte says, "Our second patient was brought on a bed (khatiya) and left by carrying the bed on his back. He neither looked back nor uttered a simple thank you to any of us. At that time we felt bad. But then after learning about their lifestyle, we realised, this is a community that stands for each other. When someone is need, all he or she has to do is ring the bell and everybody chips in helping. In return this person too helps others. So there is no thanksgiving in their lives. We are also doing the same and do what ever we can without any expectations."
"During all the years we are working with the Adivasis, we never came across a single rape case. They would remain hungry, but would never steal. And when someone needed something the entire community stands behind the person and helps. Not to forgot the great tolerance these people have, which is rare among the people who live in the cities, " he added.
According to Dr Mandakini Amte their work is result of a teamwork. She also shared several touching moments from her lives together. Describing her marriage with Dr Prakash, she says, "Love is an accident, but what followed is more of a positive, well-lived life. I was doing my post-graduation in anaesthesia in the Government Medical College (GMC) at Nagpur, while Dr Prakash was pursuing his post-graduation in general surgery in the same college. We met for the first time in an operation theatre and then decided to get married. Baba (Amte) called me over to Anandvan and asked if I was ready to live with Prakash in a jungle for the rest of my life. When I assured him that I was, he gave his consent."
Recounting their initial days, Dr Mandakini says, "Our first patient was a 10-year boy, who was almost 40% burnt due to epilepsy. The Adivasis had tried to treat him with their regular 'mantrik' but it failed and the boy was left alone to die. We requested the Adivasis to allow us to treat him, which they readily agreed to. We cleaned his wounds, wrapped bandages and gave him antibiotics for two-three days. Since this was the first time in the boy's life to get an antibiotic, its results were fast and very good. He was fully cured."
Quoting Baba Amte, Dr Prakash says, “My father had a very simple definition of social work and life. He followed only one religion, the religion of humanity and serving needy people. Baba had no political philosophy and thus he used to meet people from all political ideologies with ease. We too follow the same principle. Simplicity is the mantra that we follow at Hemalkasa, and Anandwan.”
"We need more dedicated workers to build a humane community where people can live in peace and harmony. We need to build bridges between the haves and have-nots, in every sphere," the Ramon Magsaysay-awardee added.
Both Dr Prakash and Dr Mandakini Amte are well known for their philanthropic work, Lok Biradari Prakalp, in the tribal areas of Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra. They now run, a school of 350 students, and tend injured wild animals.
The famous biographical film "Dr Prakash Baba Amte: The Real Hero" starring Nana Patekar and Sonali Kulkarni is based on their life story.
Dr Amte shared the story of how his journey started. He said that the idea of setting up a centre for the tribals of Gadchiroli had taken root in Baba Amte's mind when he saw that huge social injustice was being done on them by the government. Baba required someone who was dedicated and willing to stay in the area, preferably a doctor.
He mentioned how in 1970, Baba took him to the forest for a picnic. "What you see at Hemalkasa today is outcome of that picnic," he says.
Dr Prakash knew his father well and realized that Baba was testing him. He promised Baba he would work for the tribals. Thus a young surgeon studying in his second year of post-graduation left his college and entered the forest, never to return and make his work internationally-known.
The work was started modestly with the only objective to somehow survive for the day, however he has walked a long road and reached where he never sought to reach. Thus, Lok Biradari Prakalp (LBP) was established in 1973.
He explained how Madia Gonds were virtually cut-off from the outside world; their only contact was with unscrupulous forest contractors and forest guards who exploited them, ruthlessly.
When Dr Prakash Amte first came to live in the forest in 1973, he had trouble even approaching the tribal people. The tribals would run away in fear as soon as they saw him in his modern clothes. Any person wearing modern clothes was only there to exploit them as far as they were concerned. To gain their trust, he decided to shed his modern clothes and dress like them.
The most challenging part of our work in those days was to diagnose a patient without any investigations. Dr Prakash Amate says, "There was no electricity, so the question of X-Ray machine or any other diagnostic equipment was out of question. I was surgeon, while (Dr) Manda was anaesthetist, and had no knowledge about treating other diseases. But problem was either we treat the patient or he/she would die. So we studied books to learn treatment of various ailments and treated the Adivasis.
"We treated one patient who was attacked by a bear. His skullcap was fixed with about 100 stitches and after few days, he recovered. However, in the attack, the bear had punctured his eyes and we had no cure for this. The patient left Hemalkasa. After few months, we equired about him since he was saved and completely recovered from ghastly bear attack. We were told by the Adivasis that he died as he could not gather or get sufficient food due to his blindness from the bear attack," he added.
Blindness, especially from cataract was a major problem and used to be a threat to life for the Madia Gonds. "We then learnt to do surgical procedures for cataracts because a blind person was a liability in the family and would die due to lack of food."
"The testing moment during our initial days was when Digant, our son, became unconscious and started having convulsions. It was very difficult to treat our own son without investigations or specialist facilities. Somehow, we made a probable diagnosis and treated him. Since we had treated similar patients earlier, we diagnosed it as cerebral malaria. He regained consciousness after a few hours, but later, developed focal epilepsy and had to be on anti-epileptic medication for the next seven years. May be it was due to delay from our side in diagnosing and treating him in time. But today, Digant is a doctor and along with his wife Anagha, a gynaecologist, are looking after the Lok Biradari Hospital" Dr Prakash Amte says.
In 2008, Dr Prakash and Dr Mandakini Amte received Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.
The citation of the Award states: "In electing Prakash Amte and Mandakini Amte to receive the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes their enhancing the capacity of the Madia Gonds to adapt positively in today's India, through healing and teaching and other compassionate interventions."
“We need to have more transparency and the citizens of India deserve proper access to justice and legal transcription services are a very important addition that is needed in our judiciary,” says Amrish Kilachand while speaking at an event organised by Moneylife Foundation on the importance of legal transcriptions.
Mr Kilachand, a businessman by profession, had filed an intervention application in the Supreme Court to move the court to approve transcription services for all courtrooms in India, similar to what they have in Canada, the US, UK, Canada, Australia and other nations. The original petition, Mr Kilachand had joined as an intervenor, was filed by senior advocate Indira Jaising. Mr Kilachand was represented by Advocate Jamshed Mistry in the Supreme Court, who was also present for the session at Moneylife Foundation.
The event started with the presentation of two short videos, which showed how live steaming of court proceedings take place in Canada and more recently on a trial basis at Madurai in Tamil Nadu.
Using these videos, Adv Mistry explained how a live streaming of courtroom proceedings is truly seamless and to the point without any interruption from the recording systems.
During his talk, Adv Mistry explained how he was surprised to receive transcript of court proceedings from a Canada court. He said, “We had a two or three hour hearing and in the evening when I met my client, he suddenly pulled out a sheaf of papers. It turns out he had the order sheet and legal transcriptions of the entire proceedings of what had occurred in the court earlier in the day. Everything, including name, date and time.
Every single word was recorded. It is beautifully bound and given to you. There it was available in electronic form or in paper, and you can print it out if you wanted.”
Comparing this particular transcription to an ordinary copy of the order that you get in a court in India, Adv Mistry explained that in India we only get very basic details - “matter heard on so & so; order passed on so & so”.
“The stenographer in Indian courts takes down only what he or she has been told to take down and not the entire transcription of the case. The Judge reviews it and sometimes you get what you said or what you did not say at the end of the day,” he said.
Furthermore as we file our appeals based on what the Judge has put forward, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation, he added.
Mr Kilachand has been a litigant in all manner of court cases for the past almost 22 years and has experienced legal proceedings from the lowest to the highest courts across several states as well as the Supreme Court in India. He explained that the legal system is completely clogged in India with people very rarely going through “final hearings, when everything is stopped by motions that themseleves take 10-15 years”.
Elaborating on the problem he explained, “You cannot blame the judges either, because in reality a judge has over 100-150 cases before him. To actually expect him to read this kind of paperwork and come prepared the next day is ridiculous. We also have a system where judges change frequently, so there is no continuity. Counsels also change all the time.”
It is very difficult to get justice when there such problems in the judicial system. Mr Kilachand presented legal transcriptions as one means to resolve these issues. The primary advantage a legal transcription provides is transparency; it also binds all the parties involved - the litigant, the lawyer and the judge, he added.
He says, “Everyone will have to careful in what they say when each and every word they say is being transcribed. You cannot come next day and say that I did not say this or that. It will inevitably clean up the whole system.”
Even the problem of frivolous litigation will disappear as it will put pressure on the lawyers and litigants when every word said in the courtroom is being recorded, he added.
In India we established court system of a plethora of judges, litigants, advocates, and witnesses appearing on a daily basis and expect that they all carry out their functions effectively while being well acquainted with the rules and regulations of the courtroom.
A video recording of court proceedings, can play a crucial role in creating awareness among everyone involved and would in turn regulate the behaviour of the masses in the profession. It would also undoubtedly benefit in increasing transparency in the judicial system, both Adv Mistry and Mr Kilachand opinioned.
Although it may not seem like it, even with the Metro constructions and other ongoing projects Mumbai still has a lot of open space. It is just not being utilised in an efficient manner. Even with availability of space, Mumbaikars have not been able to enjoy a few basic facilities such as pedestrian safety and well designed footpaths. With this in mind, Moneylife Foundation had invited architect Pranav Naik, founder of Studio Pomegranate to share the successes he has had working on projects for private companies and many other interested parties.
One such project involved financial services firm Motilal Oswal in improving the open space around their office in Prabhadevi, Mumbai. “They were interested in improving some of their space and get some publicity as well, because they are paying for it and also achieving their goals for Corporate Social Responsibility for tax cuts etc.” said Pranav.
At the most basic level, this project involved improving the pedestrian walkways around the office and placing trees or lights at the appropriate places, essentially maximising the available space.
Pranav explained that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is happy to be involved in such projects as well because it is in a way free publicity for them as well. The entire process of beautifying and making efficient use of the open space around Motilal Oswal’s office, “involved different parties which included, professional RTI activists, politicians, local mafia and other Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) departments who want to come and extort some sums of money from you anyway.”
In his talk, Pranav gave several examples comparing Mumbai’s streets of the past with those today. “The surface of Bombay’s streets was for 100 years paved with limestone from Shahbad. The 21st century however saw the proliferation of the interlocking paver blocks in the city. Good limestone was removed, and replaced with poor quality uneven concrete.”
To solve the issue outside of Motilal Oswal, the limestone was brought back, with a slight change in the format - a 7x7’ size and an increased thickness. According to Pranav, placed on a levelling layer of concrete, it makes the walking surface free of potholes, kinks, and is virtually indestructible. The stone is not treated but is set in with 6mm grooves, 6mm deep.
Speaking on another project which they took up under the Tulsi pipe road in Lower Parel, Mumbai, Pranav reiterated how there was an interested party in this case as well but instead of a company, this time they were the local public. There was also additional interest from the local companies from the area - Phoenix, Lodha, HDFC bank etc.
This particular area is plagued with every kind of establishment on the road with insufficient infrastructure and is over saturated. As expected, pedestrians are most affected by this situation as they have to squeeze through leftover pockets, stumble on uneven or non-existent footpaths.
Studio Pomegranate started work on this project in March 2016 with a thorough study of the area. A sample count of vehicles, interviews, visual inspections, and measurements were taken at every junction, level change, crossing, and physical divisions. Observations were noted, and solutions brainstormed in conjunction with municipal officers, traffic police, and other stakeholders.
Pranav explained that “part of the solution calls for increasing pedestrian crossings, making existing crossings safe, accessible, adding public toilets, and dustbins.” Further design strategies made in conjunction with the traffic police include changing some U-turns, tweaking traffic signal locations, and adding traffic-calming measures. Making the space easily walk able, and instilling a sense of safety.
“The idea was, let it be an open space. Let the people do whatever they want,” explained Pranav. Emphasising the benefits, he reiterated how people can now wait, listen to music, play cricket and have a good time all simply because of open spaces. He also stressed that there have been no issues of vandalism in the area.
Shockingly, the cost of doing such projects is well within the budget of the BMC, according to Pranav. He explained, “Mumbai has 2000 kms of road network, that’s 4000 kms of footpath. Assuming the cost the Studio Pomegranate incurred in repairing the footpath in our project, the total cost of fixing all the footpaths in Mumbai would be around Rs6000 crores. This is only 10% of the BMC budget in 10 year’s time.”
In his third example Pranav shared Studio Pomegrante’s work on the Nepean Sea Road. In this area there is a lack of pedestrian infrastructure, leading to confusion, and a dangerous walking environment. The lanes are 4m wide, while cars and buses are all less than 3m wide which leads to inordinate amount of space for vehicles, and a shortage of space for non-motorised users, and pedestrians.
This area also has BEST bus stops that are poorly designed as they occupy entire footpaths, forcing pedestrians to walk on the road. Further issues in the region were taxi stands not having lanes, and occupying road space as well as vehicles being given priority at all junctions, leading to unsafe crossings for pedestrians, while also being confusing.
Pranav shared some of the solutions which have been proposed to be implemented at the Nepean sea junction. They are thinking of having sheltered crossings at appropriate locations and moving the BEST bus stop to the middle of the junction. This way, the traffic is streamlined and more space is available for pedestrians.
Pranav hopes that the work his company is doing is in a way an eye opener for the public and perhaps for the BMC as well, to bring about important changes for the city.