Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received gives you unique status, and unique responsibilities. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government has an impact way beyond your borders. If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change.

– Excerpt from J.K. Rowling’s (Author of best selling Harry Potter book series) speech at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association, 2008

Back in January 2013 when I first found about Swaniti Initiative, I was quite content with my corporate job. Growing up in the age of social media, internet boom and RTI, there was a constant exposure to developments in politics in India and world over. Understandably, the area of governance and policy making became close to my heart –  I had my own perspectives of what is right and wrong about our country today and being very vocal about it when needed, but the rest of the time busy living my life shuttling between work and home.  Fortunately, Swaniti Fellowship came my way and was too good an opportunity to let it pass! In addition to the exposure, networking and awareness about the opportunities in governance space, the idea of using my skills and experience to make a contribution at the grass root sounded personally very fulfilling for me.  I believe the aforementioned quote by J.K Rowling is a very powerful and true statement. It is one thing to use this education as a means to livelihood for self and but I think we will lead a meaningful life only when we also use our knowledge, wisdom and skills in dealing with the problems pervading our society today, and improving the lives of not-so-fortunate and in the process envisioning a better world.

It has been close to two months in Kolkata now where I am working on the Barrackpore assignment to support Mr. Dinesh Trivedi in improving the health condition of the Jute Mill Workers. The crux of the problem is around reducing the respiratory morbidities faced by these workmen due to prolonged exposure to jute dust. Now, as I approach the fag end of my fellowship, I look back at the time spent here and ask myself – “What has been my contribution and how has my experience been?”

The scope of my fellowship requires coordinating with various government bodies, NGOs, mill owners and other stakeholders to ensure the execution of the ideas envisaged – a detailed study was conducted and a few possible solutions were previously evolved. A multi pronged approach was adopted targeting different stakeholders that includes health camps for Jute Mill Workers in the district of North 24 Paragans – Two health camps were conducted and a few more are in the pipeline over the next couple of weeks; we are also in the process of submitting a petition to the Parliamentary Standing Committee to bring about an amendment in the ESI Act for including preventive health care under its ambit.

Now, it is a known thing that execution is where the rubber meets the road and while we might have the best of the plans, executing them as planned in the biggest challenge. While I always had the complete freedom to come up with my own solutions and test their feasibility, my primary mandate was to materialize the ideas and set the foundation for having a sustainable system in place. In this regard, it has been a good learning experience in terms of the fact that one gets a good exposure to the working of the government machinery, on the ground realities & bottlenecks and of course, a sense of gratitude that most of us have been naturally endowed with lot of opportunities and facilities. Talking to the jute mill workers and getting a firsthand experience of their dwelling place & working conditions, visiting the ESI TB hospitals and studying the patients’ condition are all a humbling experience – making me realize how fortunate some of us have been that we don’t have to endure what quite a few people in our country today are going through on a daily basis!

Where are we today? Have we managed to address the issue?  No, we are far from complete. There is a need for increasing the awareness in the workforce and having sufficient checks and balances through various Government and Jute Bodies as a way ahead for having a sustainable solution in place. Nevertheless, the process has been initiated and it is a long march before we reach our destination, but as it is said – a journey of thousand miles starts with a single step. We have taken the steps in this direction and when the change finally happens, I know I did my bit of contribution to that change and it will be a long lasting feeling!