RAVI KUCHIMANCHI conceived AID while earning his Ph.D. in Physics. Inspiring the Indian community through poetry, skits and weekly community service hours, he instilled in them a resolve to visit villages and work for holistic development.
THERE ARE TWO FEATURES of development – internal development and external development, or micro issues and macro issues. At the macro level we think of the scale of development – if we do anything to develop a village of India, will it really reach the full scale?
One of the things we say is that any effort by a group of people like us is like a drop in the ocean of things. I want you to think about this statement. Let us consider a group of a thousand people – maybe the size of an organization as it grows big. The population of India is about a billion people. So how can the effort of a thousand people really be called a drop in the ocean? If you think about it, efforts by people like us are not drops in the ocean but more like a drop in something of this size [draws] – more like a water tank.
The idea that efforts by individuals or a group of people like us is a drop in an ocean is completely wrong. Let us say the size of a drop is one mililitre. Using a meter by meter by meter tank you can see that a one millilitre drop is 1 millionth of it, and therefore comparable to a thousand people out of one billion. Therefore I want to point out that our efforts are not comparable to a drop in the ocean but actually to a drop in a water tank.
We also have to think, what is development? The scope of development is much more than what we might originally think. When we think of ourselves as individuals who are powerless in a world that is not developed in the sense that we might be thinking. Is development consumption? Is development having more and more motorcars? Displacing people in order to build a dam?
Or look at the west – what is happening? The Gulf war and educated people are participating in it. Uneducated people can at most learn to fire a gun. But beyond that uneducated people cannot do any more damage in this world today. It is educated people who are the cause. Radioactive waste dumping, even India is doing these things. This has come out after the Indian nuclear tests. Nuclear material was used in the gulf war by US and European groups – this was in the paper the other day and I was really surprised. We hear that we should say no to nuclear war, but radioactive substance is used to coat the weapons that were dropped.
The scope of development includes all this. It includes the scale – the scale of one person is also very big. It is like a drop in a water tank. Basically you won’t be disheartened if water comes in drops in your house, you will think at least water is coming and you know that if you really need a glass of water you can fill up a glass with clean water and you will go fill it.
Development starts happening when individuals start doing things, they form groups, then the group philosophy overtakes the individual philosophy and the individual actions. If the group is doing something on the environment like tree planting, then you may think that I am involved in the group which is doing something but at the individual level the development may not be happening, the individual is no longer developed.
Development is also a personal thing. It must start with the individual. While we join groups, it is important that we follow in our own lives principles like reduce, reuse, recycle.
For example the children’s science congress took place recently. One day I was a reviewer, and of course many of you worked hard at this congress. The talks given by children were excellent. I was thinking that in my 7th standard we had only elocution competitions, there was nothing that made us (children) talk about important issues, but these children completely opened my eyes. They were talking on tribals and project tiger. Children can appreciate these complex issues. At the same time the tea was being served in plastic cups. By the end of three days an entire pile of plastic garbage has piled up.
This is what is wrong with development. When we ask our children to participate in the children’s science congress with an environmental theme, simultaneously we ourselves do not arrange to avoid plastic trash both in our homes and in conferences and other things that we organize. We should carry our own bags instead of using plastic bags, if we see others throwing away plastic we should approach them, we should also make the government responsible for these.
We should also stand up for our rights. This is an important part of development. Because people get taken over by groups, which get taken over by communities, and by the state; the rights that people had as individuals have to be taken back. If we see that the society is not, e.g. setting up a recycling center whereas in individual houses we are doing it, then we have to demand that from the government.
Anshu: I really like this analogy of our efforts being a drop in a tank and not in the ocean. It really makes me more optimistic. There is also another aspect which is very important. The flip side of the coin in working for development is, what is your role? From this perspective it does not matter if you transform a billion lives or the whole world. It matters that you do what you feel is your duty and your opportunity, what you want to do. That is very rewarding in its own right.
Ravi introduces Dilip Veeraraghavan, Professor of Humanities, IIT: He has helped AID a lot, maybe unknowingly. In USA we noticed that all the people from IIT Madras who came were already quite prepared to work with AID, and all said their inspiration came from Dilip.
Self introductions of: Ranjit (Bangalore), Suresh (BCT), Prakash (ASHA), Dilip (IITM), Arvind (AID), Kiran (AID), Ramani (AID-Bangalore), Krishna Kumari (Rajahmandry), Manjusha (Visakhapatnam), SaratKumar (AID-Chennai), Sanjay (NBA & NAPM), Ravi R (AID-Cincinnati), Deeptha (AID), John (San Fransisco), Anshu (New Jersey), Dr. Rajagopalan (IIT, Foundation for Sustainable Development), Sridhar (Bangalore), Sukumar (AID Bangalore), Sudhakar (AID), Madhusudan Das (Abhijaan), Hemavati (Pondicherry Science Forum), (some IITM people – inaudible), Gopalakrishnan (NSS), K. Susila (AID, BCT), Gabriele (Pennurimai Iyakkam, NAPM), Anuradha (AID-Dallas), Rajesh (IITM), Mashood (AID Chennai), Ellen (BCT), Kalpana (TNSF), Ramaswamy Iyer (Center for Policy Research), Ramanjuam (AID-Boston), Abirami (OUP, AID Chennai), Shrinaath (AID-Boston), Ravi (AID Mumbai)