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ENGAGED CIRCLE   What’s Right About India


‘Being outraged isn’t enough’

Actor-activist Rahul Bose recently teamed up with social worker Shalini Sachdev and journalist Gauri Bhure to set up The Foundation, an NGO whose “one-point agenda” is to work for the removal of discrimination. Under The Foundation’s first endeavour, the Andaman Nicobar Scholarship Initiative, six children from the islands, which were devastated in the 2004 tsunami, will be selected each year for admission into mainland schools. Rishi Valley in Bangalore is one of the first mainland participants in the project. Working with educationists, teachers and a psychologist, The Foundation will continue to support these children’s education till they pass Class XII.

Bose, who is also an ambassador for both the American India Foundation and the World Youth Peace Movement, spoke to Shalini Singh about the initiative and The Foundation.

Not just dreams: Bose with Gauri Bhure at The Foundation’s launch
The marathons in Delhi and Mumbai are one of the most equal spaces — you have people running in their Nikes and people running barefoot
You’ve been active with women’s rights movements in Mumbai since 2001; you also pitched in with relief work after the 2004 tsunami. Was setting up your own NGO a natural progression from all this?

I didn’t see it as a logical process; I’ve been involved with various social work initiatives and this wasn’t a ‘progression’ in that sense. But, yes, having your own NGO gives you that fleet-footedness and flexibility to intervene quickly in the areas where one wants to. For instance, I really wanted to help this peon who was the only eyewitness in the Prof Sabharwal murder — he had been threatened and had gone into hiding; in fact, he was hiding in a water tank for six days. To help him, I had to find an NGO that was politically neutral and financially transparent — that was important. But these issues take their own time to sort out and you lose valuable time.

What are the broad areas that The Foundation is going to work with?

I naturally gravitate to gender equality, youth, sports and communal harmony. One of our first projects is the Andaman Nicobar Scholarship Initiative, where our basic idea is to select children from the islands based on their academic proficiency and talent, and get them admitted into mainstream schools. The Andamans don’t even remotely figure on the psychological radar of mainland India — we just have no idea of anything about the people here, how they live, what their culture is like. The tremendous ignorance levels are understandable because of the geographical schism — there is no Indian Idol coming out of there, no Reality TV, nothing — but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to bridge the huge and very real psychological and emotional schisms that exist. Ours is just an attempt to provide that bridge.

So, just how does The Foundation propose to go about its work?

It’s a trust, with two trustees, and me and two directors. We got very lucky — we didn’t have to hire anyone, a close friend owns a pr agency and they’re letting us use their office and people for our work. Shalini Sachdev is the director working on the Andaman project, and the other director, Gauri Bhure, is in Mumbai, shepherding the long-term vision of the foundation. What really got us all together was a sort of dismay at the direction things are taking today — I guess it is something that many of us feel, but if you notice, there was no sense of caste or creed in the schools and times we grew up in and now it’s everywhere. We really want to work to bring in an ethos of non-discrimination; as part of our next step, we’ve evolved an initiative with Teesta Setalvad and Communalism Combat.

What’s your vision for The Founda-tion? Where do you see it headed?

It has to be fearless and robust, of course, but it’s not something that works only out of a sense of outrage and a desire to see justice, but is at the same time measured and loving as well.

Do you think people who are prominent in the public eye should lend more support to similar causes?

Not necessarily, because it places an added responsibility on them. The same charter of ethics doesn’t always apply to public service — it’s something that can genuinely come only with a pure and loving space. To produce great art, one doesn’t necessarily need great people. The social contract is a deeply personal thing, it has to come from within.

Why do celebrities in the West seem to be more engaged with this sense of a social contract?

I think it’s all about the society that one is a part of at a point of time. Hollywood, and what construes it, has grown to include social responsibility. Some of them do it to raise their brand equity and some do it out of a deeper sense of responsibility. It depends on what point you’re at in your cycle of civilisation. This country is coming out of its lowest cycle, and that upheaval is going to take a long time. What The Foundation is trying to do is bring the two Indias together. Kherlanji is an hour’s drive from Mumbai — one is already aware of the vast difference between these two places. The two Indias have never been further apart and that difference is phenomenal. Yet, if one sees the marathons that happen in Delhi and Mumbai, they’re one of the most equal spaces — you have people running in their Nikes and there are people running barefoot.

Jan 20 , 2007

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