The original Bihari Babu, Shatrughan Sinha needs no introduction. His Instagram handle says: Actor, politician, Lok Sabha MP from Asansol, two-time former Cabinet minister....
Dr Geetanjali Chopra is an academician, researcher, columnist, and philanthropist with over a decade of experience in research and academics. Geetanjali left her prestigious job at the Centre for Policy Research to work for the welfare of the underprivileged, destitute and marginalized communities.
Dr Chopra discusses how her journey has helped her to understand and feel the pain and despair of the marginalised and underprivileged section of society.
Q 1: Please tell us about your journey with Wishes and Blessings NGO.
The decision to set up Wishes and Blessings is a registered NGO in April 2014 was a decision straight from the heart. Being a doctorate and having a decade long experience in research and academia, I was a fellow at the Centre For Policy Research, New Delhi when I decided to take a leap of faith. Without having any prior experience and knowledge in the field of social service or what it entails, the decision to follow my heart came with the cost of leaving a well-established career and some raised eyebrows from my dear ones.
When I first started I had no idea where it would lead or what the next stage would hold. The idea was simply to spread smiles and help fulfil the wishes of those who were unable to achieve them themselves. I started working with visually impaired children, and gradually expanded my work to include orphanages, old age homes, shelters for the homeless, education centres and food programmes for the hungry. The objective is to help anyone and everyone in need of aid without discrimination on the basis of caste, age, gender or community.
Throughout the span of 8 years, there has been a fair share of challenges and obstacles with several ups and downs. But today, Wishes and Blessings is a well-established organisation with an active presence in 5 states across the country that has touched the lives of over 10,00,000 underprivileged people. Donors and beneficiaries from all walks of life have joined the family and there is nothing that gives me more pleasure than to see the kind of work that is being carried out through the organisation.
Looking back, my journey has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. But through it all, I am happy to say that the experience so far has been immensely fulfilling, to say the least. I would not have it any other way and it is with a deep sense of satisfaction I can say that I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.
Q: How do you see the term ‘underprivileged’? In these years of experience did ever a moment come when you felt that this is what reality is, this is how deep the term ‘underprivileged’ is in itself, please share that moment with us?
The term ‘underprivileged’ is an unfortunate reality of our society. Many of us try not to look towards it or remain nonchalant about it, but the reality is that it does haunt us- to live in a society with so much disparity. Coming from a philanthropic family which has always incorporated values of charity and giving, from a very young age I was exposed to what lesser privileged children went through.
Over the years, I have realized that the gap between the rich and the lesser privileged is humongous. It is much more rampant and much deeper than what is actually portrayed. As an NGO, we do try to bridge this gap that exists on a daily basis.
A moment that stands out dates back to the winter of 2014 in December, during the Winter Relief Drive undertaken by a few volunteers and myself. On one of those ventures, I came across a young 5/6 years old girl who was sleeping with a tear-smeared face, hair scattered, clinging with her dear life on to a fragment of roti. I couldn’t help but wonder what got her in that situation. I wondered if she had fought for it… maybe somebody snatched her roti and maybe that was why she cried. That image spoke volumes of what it means to be underprivileged in our society.
This moment has played a very important role in my life as it led me to redefine the mission for the organisation. Now the NGO envisions building a world with equal opportunities where the word ‘underprivileged’ no longer exists. This was also the basis of launching our pilot project called the Daily Meals Programme which works to ensure that the poor and underprivileged do not go to bed on an empty stomach. Under this programme, with the help of our donors, we provide 3 hot and nutritious meals daily and distribute ration kits to those in need across the country.
Q: As you have considerable expertise in the NGO field, would you like to share one of your on-field experiences that remained memorable for you for years.
My journey as a social activist is full of memorable incidents which often light up my heart. It is very difficult for me to pinpoint one particular incident but if I were to choose, there is one that stands out for me.
This incident dates back to the initial days when I first started in 2015. There was a young street child called Ashna who must have been around 6/7 years of age. She was one of the beneficiaries of our ‘Street To School Programme” which was set up for street children who are given access to basic education and then enrolled in schools. This child developed a keen liking for me and I had grown particularly fond of her as well. She would follow me everywhere whenever she had the chance. In one particular instance, it so happened that I found out that some of the children we adopted had resorted to begging. It upset me and as I was trying to explain to them the benefits of education and why they should refrain from such activities, the children burst out in sudden giggles pointing toward my back. When I turned around, I saw little Ashna mimicking my demeanour and was standing in the exact way I stood with my hands on my waist as I delivered my sermon. I asked her what exactly she thought she was doing to which she softly answered, “ Mein aap banna chahti hu”(I want to become like you). She said, “If I do what you’re doing, I will also become like you.”
This incident has left a very deep mark on me and every time I falter, this incident reminds me that I am a role model for so many; people who I could not even imagine looking up to me started seeing me as an example. It gives me inspiration and is definitely one of the most memorable moments for me.
Q: How do you assess the government policies and schemes for the underprivileged people, what according to you have been the flaws that couldn’t make these policies and schemes reach those who need them.
The Government of India has initiated numerous schemes and policies for underprivileged people. However, in a country of 1.3 billion diverse people, many of whom are below the poverty line, it is a challenge for the government to provide assistance and relief to everyone. I believe the challenge is not simply that of a fiscal constraint of how much to transfer but rather of whom to transfer it to. The problem is that the programmes initiated for the poor seldom reach them because of the intermediaries between the government and the underprivileged. Despite the government’s best efforts in mitigating the effects of poverty, access to opportunities has missed the most vulnerable demographics. There should be a mechanism for a stable database to determine where the most vulnerable communities lie. Also, there is a need to spread awareness amongst the underprivileged to make them know of their existing privileges.