Given the Chhattisgarh capital’s notoriety for its apathy towards social values and wanton disregard for a large section of society which is often bracketed as ‘have-nots’, I had, when asked to contribute to this series, asked a group of senior journalists and public figures to point to an organisation engaged in selfless social service.
“There certainly must be one, but you should not expect charity without pomp and commerce involved in it in Raipur, a city which has a little or no regard for philanthropy, honesty and simplicity”, one of them, a senior city-based scribe, remarked. It was Vijay Jaisinghani, a young politician, who led me to Devendra Nagar crematorium, a part of which acts as ‘Badhte Kadam’s office because many of their services are related to the final journey of a person.
The brainchild of Anil Gurubaxani, also fondly called Guruji, who died at the age of 47 in 2012, ‘Badhte Kadam’ certainly is quite in contrast to the image of a ‘ruthless money minting city’ which Raipur has gained over the years. “Mr. Anil Gurubaxani began social service way back in 2001 by organising successful community marriage programmes.
He founded Badhte Kadam on 9 January 2005 with the guiding principle of ‘Helping hands are better than praying lips’. Since then our organisation has entered several untouched avenues of social service”, says Badhte Kadam president Raju Jhamnani. “Guruji was peeved at the way ‘Pagadi Rasm’ or turban ceremony (at the death of a male member), prevalent among migrants of Sindh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, used to be muddled. Hordes of shoes scattered around, people busy on their cell-phones and pushing one another, tea and water glasses were thrown here and there”, the organisation’s General Secretary Mr. Rajkumar Mangatni said.
Gurbaxani along with some friends devised a way to bring relief to bereaved families by volunteering to put the messy ceremony in order. The experiment proved to be successful and with that came fame, accolades and new comrades in the flock. The active members of ‘Badhte Kadam’ has gone up to 72 since then, Mr. Mangatani stated.
What makes ‘Badhte Kadam’ unique is their daily midnight exercise of collecting leftover food from marriages and other functions and distributing it to the destitute, beggars, and mentally challenged people found at places such as the Railway and Bus stations, hospitals and temples, Mr. Ashutosh Mishra, a city based journalist said. Badhte Kadam has for the past four years providing at least one meal to 17 mentally challenged people, whom they call ‘Darvesh’ (ascetic).
Volunteers of ‘Badhte Kadam’ clean these mentally challenged people up every week, get them shaved from time to time, give them sweets and clothes on festivals and have their health check-ups done regularly. Realising the countless miseries the healthcare sector in Chhattisgarh is faced with, ‘Badhte Kadam’ pressed six ambulances into round-theclock service. This service is free of cost to the poor.
The organisation has a huge Blood donor base and it can arrange blood within 20 to 30 minutes across the city. “On an average we are providing blood to at least 100 patients in a month and it has been going on for the last 10 years”, Mr Jhamnani proudly explains. Charity begins at home, Badhte Kadam’s founder Anil Gurubaxani declared in 2007 and donated his mother, Mrs. Rukmini Devi’s body for medical research after her death that July. It paved the way for enlightened citizens to shun their dogma about organ and body donation.
Today, number of bodies donated to the organization stands 134. All major medical colleges in Chhattisgarh and other central Indian provinces are recipients of these bodies. Almost 300 more people have pledged body donation, Mr. Jhamnani said adding that the Chhattigarh Human Organ Transplant Act will further ease restrictions attached with body donation. Mr. Mangatani himself came forward to donate his aunt Mrs. Yashoda Devi’s eyes in 2007. Since then 623 people have donated their eyes and thousands more have pledged their willingness.
Other challenges too were faced with fortitude. ‘Badhte Kadam’ found that the mortuaries in Government hospitals and medical colleges truly in bad shape. Management committee of the organisation moved a resolution to set up a private mortuary. This mortuary has the capacity of keeping 12 bodies intact for at least 10 days. This apart, at least 10 ‘coffin freezers’ have also been pressed into service. Relatives of deceased persons take these coffins to their homes to preserve the body, if a funeral is delayed.
Volunteers provide free food and shelter to the relatives of martyred security personnel and those deceased persons whose families reside in distant places. Badhte Kadam has also ventured into the service of the elderly through the ‘Sanjeevani’ old age home.
Some 28 veterans reside in the ‘Ashram’ while 42 have been sent back to their homes after volunteers mediated and persuaded family members to resolve disputes amicably. Other activities include financing entrepreneurs through its ‘Rang De’ scheme; serving 260 non-milch cows; a physiotherapy centre aimed at providing free treatment to the poor; a scholarship and coaching centre for bright students of economically weaker sections; arranging pilgrimage for elders and food and water for birds.
They are also planning a ‘Day Boarding Old Age Home’, an ‘Ashram for mentally challenged people’ and a ‘Cornea collection Centre’. The journey was not always so easy, Mr. Mangatani said.
While families of volunteers were generally supportive, “they found it irksome when we would be out of our homes every night to collect leftover food for distribution or when we went out at odd hours to donate blood.” However, their anger and unease receded after witnessing the impact made by Badhte Kadam and the love and affection we got from society.