Giraffe Heroes India Commendation Ceremony held on 22nd January, 2015 at SOIL (School of Inspired Leadership ) Gurgaon. Sh. Vijay K. Saluja, Director, Giraffe Heroes India announced the name of two Giraffe Heroes as Sister Lucy Kurien & Subhash Chandra Agrawal.
Sister Lucy Kurien
“Maher” (in the Marathi language) means “Mother’s Home”: a haven of hope, belonging and understanding, and our mission is to help destitute women, children and men from all over India exercise their right to a higher quality of life, irrespective of gender, caste, creed or religion. “There is a huge task awaiting us, the task of changing the attitude of society, especially of men towards women. This is a gigantic task. Maher is therefore not just a project. It is a vision of a new society where men, women and children have opportunities for growth, education and happiness.” – Fr. Francis D’sa.
Sister Lucy came 1989 as a social worker to Bombay, to work in the HOPE organisation, which was founded by the Holy Cross Convent and helps abused women. One evening in 1991 a pregnant woman came to her asking for help. She believed her husband was going to kill her to bring another woman into his house and she feared for her life. Sr. Lucy was unauthorised to invite her in to spend the night but promised to try and do something for her the following day.
“I was brought up in a secure family environment and I was unaware that one night could make such a difference to the life of a woman”, says Sr. Lucy. “That very night, her husband, in a drunken rage, set her on fire. I actually saw the blazing woman and heard her shrieks of agony. We put the fire out and took her to a hospital but she died of 90 degree burns and with her died the seven month old foetus. I was devastated. I wanted to run away from the world and its cruelty. My friends persuaded me, not to retire completely. Father Francis D’Sa was a great supporter. He told me, to do something to improve the situation for women and not to run away.”
It was then, that Sr. Lucy decided she had to create a home for abused and traumatized women, where they would feel secure and cared for. Father Francis D’Sa gave Maher the financial basis, convincing many friends abroad to support Maher. It took a long time to rally the necessary support but in 1997, in the small village of Vadhu-Budruk on the outskirts of Pune the first Maher house opened its doors. Today it still serves as the main refuge for those in distress.
Maher started out as a single shelter for women in need but quickly met with an influx of underprivileged children also pressing for help and provision. These children quickly outnumbered the women and Maher found itself expanding to encompass an ever-increasing number of satellite centres within the state of Maharashtra, and more recently in Kerala and Jharkand. Their services range from awareness programmes to creches, Balwadis (Kindergartens), tutorials, workshops, and self help groups.
Maher was not only created to help victims of domestic violence but to train the poor and illiterate to become self-reliant and consequently independent of Maher. For the first time in their lives many villagers are being provided with a practical understanding of their rights, duties, and responsibilities within society and of how they can stand united against unscruplous landlords and moneylenders.
The toughest obstacles Maher had to face in establishing itself have been questions about the organisation’s finances, religious orientation and its motives. However, with steady proof of its financial credibility, non-sectarian beliefs, and unwavering commitment, Maher earned the vene ration of its local community, Indian officials and a global support network.
Maher has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1997. Today Maher is a officially from UN registered NGO – Non Governmental Organization.
Over 4000 women and children have passed through the Maher experience and come out brimming with self-confidence and dignity. Those who cannot be reunited with their families, because of a trauma or other complications, continue to be looked after under Maher’s watchful care, and many stay on, fully rehabilitated to work as housemothers or assistants. All inmates receive the highest quality diet, medical attention and psychiatric counseling available, irrespective of their caste or religion. All human beings and all religious faiths continue to be given equal weighting and all major festivals are celebrated with the same fervor. Maher is present in over 85 rural communities around Pune as well as locations in Ratnagiri, Kerala and Jharkhand. February 4, 2012 marked Maher’s Crystal Anniversary and the completion of 15 years of work for the poor and disadvantaged.
Subhash Chandra Agrawal
With a brilliant academic record, Subhash Chandra Agrawal’s observative mind inspired him to fire his first ‘letter-missile’ in a national capital-based Hindi ‘Hindustan’ in 1967 while facing pocketing of ticket-money by a Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) busconductor without giving him a proper ticket.
Quick response by DTC authorities made him realize the impact of print-media, which resulted in his achieving “Guinness World Record” as he began writing almost daily to the “Letters to the Editor’ column in different newspapers and magazines, highlighting the areas concerning the woes of the common man.
Over the years, the authorities in legislature and bureaucracy began admiring his suggestions through his letters which carried no personal agenda. Once, the then Vice President of India, Mr. M. Hidayatulla, gave him a unique honour by sending him a handwritten letter saying that “…because you think so seriously and sincerely in public interest, you are my personal friend, and I will not use official machinery in communicating with you!”
Agrawal’s numerous suggestions were implemented by various public-authorities even before Right-To-Information Act 2005 came into operation; for example, change in design of Railway Coaches; change in size and metal of coins; publication of Readers’ Digest in Hindi, improvement by Johnson & Johnson in Band-Aid, entry of women in Rotary International etc.
May it be the constitution review, finance, banking; communications, posts, railways, transport, consumerism, radio, television, civic problems or any other field, his suggestions have been appreciated and recognized at highest levels as well as by the public.
RTI Act added more shine to his passion for letter writing for public causes, and he started using it from October 2005 itself when the Transparency Act came into force. He utilized the RTI Act to reveal crucial information from all wings of governance including judicial system, having filed about 6000 RTI petitions, all in the public interest, with about 600 of these having reached to the Central Information Commission (CIC). It is a matter of fact that almost all the CIC verdicts have gone in his favour – a remarkable achievement indeed!
Response to his RTI petitions is being regularly and prominently highlighted in media. He also interacts with the Public Information Officers at various platforms, learning further by their experience and dealings with various kinds of problems in the RTI petitions. He has been recently awarded an award of rupees twenty five lakhs (one crore prize-money shared amongst four) by Sitaram Jindal Foundation for his crusade against corruption.
He has been invited by several prestigious organizations including Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy (Mussoorie), Railway Staff College (Vadodra), Defence Research & Development Organization (New Delhi), National Academy for Defence Production (Nagpur) to educate their officers handling the RTI petitions.
Indian School of Mines (Dhanbad) invited him to give a key-note address on the RTI Act. He has conducted seminars at educational institutions like Birla Institute of Technology (Pilani), Delhi University’s Law Faculty, Miranda House, Delhi School of Social Work etc., to educate students about RTI Act. He has addressed gatherings at the Rotary Clubs and other social organizations. He is a regular invitee at National Law School (Dwarka – New Delhi) to speak on RTI-related issues. Only recently he was invited to be in a panel at annual convention of Central Information Commission being held in September 2013. He was also invited for key-note address and Chief Guest at prestigious Symbiosis International University Pune. He was amongst the six nominees for ‘Indian of the year Award 2013’ by CNN IBN.
Law schools’ text-books have prominently included his RTI petitions especially relating to the Supreme Court. His RTI petitions have resulted in landmark reforms including like introduction of ‘Judicial Accountability Bill’ in Parliament.
He has always utilized the RTI Act with a positive attitude for reforms which is admired by all Central Information Commissioners (past and present). The media trusts him for his independent and professional views on the Transparency Act as well as aspects of corruption and irregularities in different forms of governance.
So, the scribes are constantly after him to interview him for their newspapers and magazines or get his ‘sound bytes’ for their television channels. He is also a regular writer for newspapers on various issues related to the RTI Act. These write-ups are also uploaded on CIC website. He is also a regular invitee of several TV channels to participate in their panel discussions.
Soon after their marriage in 1975, they took a bold decision of not to have a child. The cheating in family business by his uncle made him rise above the materialistic world, and he started liking the philosophy of the Parsi way of life – work for the society, and not for yourself. His wife supported him in adopting ‘no-child’ policy.
It gives them sufficient time to devote themselves for taking up public-interest causes through letters to the media and the RTI queries. For powerful mediums – letters to the Editor and the RTI applications – Subhash says: “No subject is too trivia – small-small corrections in the society can make a big difference.”