Unsung heroes: The champions of change
India Today Group Editor-in-Chief talks about people who are ushering in a quiet revolution across the country, in the December 30 edition of the India Today Magazine.
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The Preamble to the Constitution of India is unambiguous in its aims. To secure justice — social, economic and political — for its people. As we head into the third decade of the millennium, it is time for a reality check on how successful we have been in achieving our people-centric goals. The United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index (HDI) statistically measures a country's overall economic and social aims. It is arguably the best tool to judge where our country stands. India's GNI (gross national income) increased by a staggering 266.6 per cent between 1990 and 2017. But, in 2018, it was still in 114th place out of 179 countries in terms of GNI per capita. Its current HDI rank — 129 out of 189 countries — is even less satisfactory. Wedged between Namibia and Nicaragua, India shares space with some of the poorest countries in the world which have reported medium human development. There is a silver lining, though-a 50 per cent HDI value increase, from 0.4 to 0.6 per cent — which indicates India's remarkable achievement in lifting millions out of poverty. Much more needs to be done. We can be said to have arrived as a nation only if we continue to pull more people out of poverty, educate them and give them livelihoods.
State-run programmes to provide clean drinking water, toilets, houses and healthcare for all are committed to reducing these gaps in healthcare, job generation and education.
Whether because of its inadequacies or its inefficiencies, the government is simply unable to fill the yawning gap. We could keep waiting or, better still, be inspired by what former US President Barack Obama said: "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change we seek."
India Today's 44th anniversary issue, 'Unsung Heroes', decided to seek out the remarkable individuals who are bringing about small changes around them, improving their environment and the lives of their fellow people.
We have compiled a heart-warming and unusual collection of stories of hope — from the bureaucrat who has spearheaded the government's move to build toilets and dramatically reduce open defecation, to the banker from Pune who quit his job to help more than 10,000 tribal farmers access markets for their produce, or the delivery executive from Kolkata who runs an informal school on a railway platform for street kids. A widow in Himachal Pradesh runs an NGO that fights for the rights of poor widowed, divorced, deserted and unmarried women while a social worker in West Bengal runs a micro-credit cooperative society which supports women. In Gangtok, a former bureaucrat looks after more than 50 orphaned children while an oceanographer turned RTI activist is educating thousands of people across the country about the Right to Information. There is the activist who is setting up libraries in jails to improve literacy among prisoners and reduce violence and suicides, and a shipping magnate who is helping distressed Indian seafarers across the globe.
Our special issue, curated by Group Editorial Director (Publishing) Raj Chengappa, saw our bureaus across the country send in over a hundred case studies. This list was then whittled down to 44 profiles. The selection was difficult because, as we discovered, there are a lot of good samaritans out there.
Many of these narratives are stories of personal triumph over adversity, for instance, the differently-abled CEO from Kerala who manufactures solar-powered products, the Dalit writer who gives voice to people on the margins or the Muslim social activist from Bareilly who has risen from victimhood to provide legal assistance to women of her community who have been victims of regressive social practices.
While we seem to be surrounded with gloom and doom, be it the slowdown of the economy or the latest battle over who can be an Indian, these Indians are showing us the way out of the darkness. They are not waiting for the state to act nor are they particularly concerned about publicising their efforts. Instead, they just get on with the job of making a difference to society.If there is one lesson these positive, inspirational stories bring to mind, it is this: Be the change you want to see.
(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for the cover story, Unsung Heroes, for December 30, 2019)