Girija and Satish first met in 8th standard of a school in Ranchi. They have been very close friends since then. What has held them so close together for almost six decades is a deeply held concern to work for reducing distress and injustice in society.
They were still in school when they volunteered to take up difficult work of drought relief, first in Kalahandi and then in Bodh Gaya. They were still in an engineering college in Sindri when ( apart from opposing the exploitation of workers by their own Professors!) they met their biggest source of inspiration Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) and declared their determination to devote their life to social change.The first step they took after giving their final B. Tech. exam was to again visit JP to seek his blessings for starting their social organization. JP not only blessed them but also arranged for some land for their newly set up organization Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra (NBJK). But before they could stabilize this work Satish was arrested for association with JP movement and Girija was badly victimized too. But once the emergency ended they could embark on their dream of a life devoted to fighting injustice and implementing many-sided welfare activities, a journey which made it possible for them to reach out to over a million people, most of them from weaker sections,with a message of hope. Both of them are now in their early seventies, and I had a chance recently to speak to them regarding their lifelong journey of social commitments. I was trying to look at their life’s experiences from the perspective of elderly activists, now managing the affairs of a leading organization of Jharkhand and Bihar, recalling their dreams as very young activists and then trying to see to what extent these dreams could be actually realized in real life.It is obvious that they have at least succeeded in the main objectives of working for weaker sections, bringing hope to a large number of them and spending their entire life in the middle of these commitments. But is their some sense also of missing out on a part of the young dreams?When we were young we thought of changing not just the country but even the world, Satish says. But then the realities of life struck and Satish was in jail even before the NBJK could change a single village. However the post-emergency days were more open and conducive for struggles against injustice and this enabled NBJK and its sister organization Lok Samiti to be involved in several struggles against injustice. This work was more close to their young dreams. In a later phase , due to a number of constraints and problems, this work became more difficult for them. But already the struggles had built a relationship of trust with villagers, particularly weaker sections. This established the foundation on which many diverse kinds of welfare activities could be supported and could spread fast, progress well.But it is the firm commitments adopted so early in life which kept them steadfast in pursuit of some basic aims aimed broadly at helping the weaker sections and also contributing to meaningful social change in various ways.
In the villages where they worked on various useful projects, they also helped to reduce discrimination based on caste, religion and gender, reduce superstitions, promote rationality and settle village disputes by mutual discussion and understanding. It is again a mark of their commitment that when an important and useful welfare project ended, they somehow tried using internal resources to continue the work to some extent so that the benefits and services which were reaching people were not stopped arbitrarily.Yet another important aspect of their work was to try to remain close to the priorities as perceived by the people for whom they are working, by understanding them and their needs better and involving them more closely in work and projects.Hence while the dreams seen in young days may not be realized completely, but as long as the basic values behind those dreams are maintained, an important part of what was sought to be realized can still remain within reach. With more effort and better planning, what is actually achieved is also very valuable.There is much to learn from such journeys of lifelong social commitment.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives. His recent book on survival issues and people’s response titled Planet in Peril has been published by Vitasta, Delhi.