Angel: Neha Singh, Author, Theatre Artiste and Founder of the Why Loiter campaign
Endorser: Geetanjali Kulkarni, actor
A theatre practitioner, author, activist, and filmmaker, Neha Singh launched her ‘Why Loiter’ campaign in 2014, based on the book of the same name. In 2012, Neha joined protests against the Delhi gangrape (December 16) and, keen to contribute something more lasting, decided to put in practice what the book argued, that women should get equal access to public spaces.
Through ‘Why Loiter’, every month, a group of women do midnight walks, sleep a few hours in parks, cycle around the city, play antakshari on metro trains, and invite men to join them, dressed in women’s clothes, for the ‘walk like a woman’ sessions. The play ‘Loitering’, directed by Satchit Puranik, had several shows across the country.
On December 16 every year, she organises midnight walks or board the last train or bus home with women. This year, her group will mark the day by flagging off an all-women, 10-day biking festival from Mumbai.
Apart from loitering, Neha runs a theatre company called ‘Rahi’ where she produces, directs, writes and acts in plays with women in central roles. As a children’s author, she has written 11 books and 25 stories in English and Hindi for children, all with girls as protagonists who are not waiting for prince charming. Her book ‘I need to pee’ is about a girl who always has to pee and fights for her right to safe toilets.
Angel: Ramaswami and Lalitha Radhakrishnan, Founders of Shreeram Radhakrishnan Memorial Trust, Nerul
Endorser: K A Vishwanathan, former trustee of SIES Group of Institutions
When their 19-year-old son Shreeram passed away in 2012, Nerul residents Radhakrishnan and Lalitha Radhakrishnan decided to start a trust in his memory. As a Class 2 child, Shreeram had convinced his parents to donate money for the education of first one and then two girl children. When they were struck by tragedy, the Radhakrishnans decided to honour Shreeram’s memory by sponsoring the education of underprivileged children. The first year, they supported 24 students. In 2022-23, the number will be nearly 300. The trust has sponsored, partially or fully, school and college fees for over 1,600 beneficiaries. Some of these students are from single-parent homes or orphans. Over 50 per cent of the mothers are rag-pickers, casual workers or work in the dumping ground. Apart from financial assistance for education, the trust, which runs on donations and the couple’s savings, runs six coaching centres for underprivileged students in Thane, Rabale, New Panvel, Ghansoli and CBD Belapur. A seventh is about to open in Khandeshwar. At these centres, children are taught during non-school hours by instructors paid by the trust. In addition, the couple has given awards to meritorious students, initiated a computer literacy programme in two municipal schools and established a science club for them. They are about to restart tuberculosis awareness drives, also in memory of Shreeram, who succumbed to multi-drug resistant TB meningitis.
Angel: Dr Sam Taraporevala, Founder of Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged
Endorser: Kanchan Pamnani, lawyer-solicitor specialising in corporate, intellectual property and disability law
Started in 2003 as an effort to create an inclusive environment for students with blindness and low vision at St Xavier’s College, the Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC) is now a major national advocacy centre for those with disabilities in general and visual impairment in particular. The brain child of Dr Sam Taraporevala, the XRCVC offers a range of support services to persons with disabilities, their caregivers, educators and institutions. These include volunteers for reading, writing during examinations; training in the use of computers, assistive devices, Braille and life skills. It also offers assistance in finding or creating books in accessible formats such as Braille, audio and E-text, and the opportunity for employers, government bodies, and persons with disabilities to explore the latest in assistive technologies. Dr Taraporevala, who retired as associate professor and head of the Sociology and Anthropology department at the college, has been on key academic committees and disability bodies including the Braille Council of India and National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, Dehradun. XRCVC’s flagship awareness and sensitisation initiative, Antarchakshu, is a one-of-its-kind simulated disability experience to spread awareness about the lives of persons with disabilities.
Angel: Haimanti Sen, Founder of Junoon
Endorser: Manoj Kori, entrepreneur and CEO of BDS Systems
Haimanti Sen was only 22 when she came across street children at traffic lights. When she realised most of them didn’t go to school, she turned the Kandivali railway station skywalk into a classroom for a small group of them.
Convinced that change starts with a few committed individuals, Haimanti quit her job and worked to establish Junoon, her non-profit. She now runs classes for street children at five different locations in Mumbai, with 85 children currently enrolled, either preparing to be enrolled in formal schools or attending Junoon’s classes for additional learning and extra-curricular activities. She welcomes volunteers who contact Junoon through its website.
Haimanti’s team runs classes at five public locations — Pai Nagar in Borivali, Phulpakhru garden in Magathane, and the skywalks at Borivali (East), Kandivli (East) and Grant Road (West). Once the children are enrolled in schools, Haimanti’s team monitors their attendance, helps with academic work and continues to engage them in extra-curricular activities including music and art. In addition, Haimanti provides daily meals, monthly health check-ups, ration distribution drives, assistance with school admission and field trips.
Angel: Sabah Khan, Founder member of Parcham
Endorser: Chetna Gala Sinha, Founder of Mann Deshi Foundation
Sabah Khan is a founder member of Parcham, an organisation committed to justice and respectful of diversity. Parcham’s football programme was initiated to bring Muslim and non-Muslim girls together in one team. Starting in Mumbra in 2012, Parcham has gone on to train nearly 1,500 girl footballers in the eastern and western suburbs of Mumbai. They have hosted tournaments where the focus is on cooperation, not competition.
Parcham created history with India’s first-ever reservation by a municipality of a sports ground, especially for girls. Through a signature campaign and lobbying with elected representatives and bureaucrats, they managed to reserve a ground exclusively for women and girls in Mumbra.
The other difficulty Parcham had was finding coaches to train girls in informal settlements. Male coaches were often condescending towards the girls. Parcham is now training 10 women footballers to become licensed coaches, offering women a non-mainstream livelihood. Sabah and her team also plan to establish a football academy for Dalit, Muslim and Adivasi girls. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, she has worked for more than two decades on issues of urban poverty and minority rights.
Angel: Deepa Pawar, Founder-director of Anubhuti Trust
Endorser: Shweta Damle, Founder of Habitat And Livelihood Welfare Association
Over 22 years, Deepa Pawar has worked with youth, women, communities, colleges and government agencies on issues of gender, health, rights, leadership, sanitation, and more. Since 2018, Deepa has also operated a mental health programme for communities that have poor access to public or private healthcare for mental illness. Founder-director of Anubhuti Trust, Deepa is perhaps the only woman from a nomadic community, to train, counsel and provide mental health support to youth and women of Maharashtra’s nomadic and denotified tribes. She came up with the unique concept of ‘mental justice’ that posits mental health as a matter of social justice. Based on this, she developed ‘Mann Mela’, a ‘mental health fair’ where games, songs, discussions, etc, are used to take the subject to youth in a fun, accessible way. Over 500 youth and women in colleges, rural areas and Adivasi villages have benefited from this initiative.
Anubhuti Trust has provided mental health awareness and counselling services to students, corporators, government officials, teachers, healthcare providers, sanitation, and other informal workers, and diverse community members across Thane and Mumbai districts.
Angel: Vandita Morarka, Founder and CEO of One Future Collective
Endorser: Dr Aarti Shyamsunder, Organisational Psychologist
Since 2017, Vandita’s organisation One Future Collective (OFC) has worked as a feminist and youth-led non profit. In 2021, OFC launched a Covid-19 mental health rehabilitation programme to ensure equitable access to mental health services. Initiated during the second wave of the pandemic, the first target group consisted of frontline workers, including medical professionals, support staff, municipal and government staff, journalists, etc, most of them facing collective suffering, grief, trauma, and working in dire circumstances, fighting fatigue and burnout. Over time, OFC’s counselling and therapy services were opened up to everyone. This entailed free mental health support including therapy; support groups that are safe and confidential spaces to share, listen, process, and work through emotions; advocacy including easily accessible resources like blogs, videos, Instagram posts and reels; and a research study on compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress among Covid-19 workers.
The project supported more than 1,500 people with sustained mental healthcare, they roped in 50 mental health professionals, and three partner organisations. They trained over 40 peer counsellors in techniques such as active listening and building an empathetic alliance. Over 25,000 people benefited from OFC’s mental health resources and talk shows with Covid-19 workers. Enthused by its success, in March 2022 OFC began a fundraiser campaign to broaden the scope of the project, to provide free and subsidised quality mental healthcare services to urban youth.
Angel: Bhavana Issar, Founder & CEO of Caregiver Saathi
Endorser: Dr Rajiv Sarin, Professor of Radiation Oncology & In-Charge Cancer Genetics Unit at Tata Memorial Hospital & Advanced Centre for Treatment Research & Education in Cancer (ACTREC), Mumbai
Formerly a management professional, Bhavana Issar believes there is a common denominator in all chronic and terminal illnesses—the family caregiver, who is also invisible and unrecognised. When she established Caregiver Saathi, over three years ago, her core objective was to convince people that the well-being of the care-giver, who may undergo intense trauma, is pivotal to the healing of the patient. She had watched her mother’s journey as a caregiver before they lost her father to a rare neurological condition, and she knew caregiving is particularly hard on women who tend juggle professional and personal responsibilities.
Family caregivers have unique challenges including inability to access reliable information, needing a respite and lack of emotional support. Caregiver Saathi shines the light on caregivers, helps them recognise their needs. It provides caregivers an ecosystem of support, a community and support groups. Since their inception, outreach work by Bhavana’s team has reached over 33,000 people, over 1,500 volunteers joined them, and over 520 caregivers’ lives were touched. During Covid, when they saw large numbers of Indians experiencing caregiving challenges, they set up a verified repository of leads for oxygen cylinders, hospital beds, ICU beds, medicines, etc, and vaccination and blood donation drives.
Angel: Nitika Nagar, Founder of Healing Dove Foundation
Endorser: Dr Richa Singh, public health expert and social entrepreneurship consultant
Nitika Nagar was still in law college when she began to work with juveniles in conflict with the law, and went on to set up Healing Dove Foundation. It is a safe haven for underprivileged youth from adverse backgrounds, who are seeking direction in their professional lives. She first began to work on mainstreaming youngsters living in a government home for juveniles by providing them with mentors and guidance. Through the pandemic, Nitika initiated various projects to conduct capacity-building activities to equip youth-oriented and youth-led organisations with mental health counselling skills and career counselling.
Through a collaboration with the ICHARS Support Foundation led by Nitin Shah and Misba Shah, they trained staff and volunteers of partner organisations to conduct counselling and therapy sessions for their beneficiaries. They set up support groups at Siddharth Memorial Charitable Trust, Ashraya Initiative for Children and Snehasadan, where staff and beneficiaries had suffered grief due to the death of loved ones, loss of income and anxiety. In some cases, this collaborative effort also provided one-on-one sessions with trained psychology professionals, either in person or virtually. They also provided online training programmes to help youth develop skills that enable them to manage their mental and emotional state effectively, and provide emotional first aid to their friends and family.
Angel: Dhammarakshit Randive, Cultural Activist
Endorser: Dr Sameena Dalwai, professor at Jindal Global Law School
Growing up in Satara surrounded by Ambedkarite music, his dad’s performances as a lok shahir and the Muktiwadi Sangathan, Dhammarakshit Randive knew when he came to Mumbai to pursue cultural studies that he wanted to work as a cultural activist. In 2014, he and a group of theatre artistes, who were fellow students at Mumbai University and some performers associated with Mumbai’s revolutionary theatre and music, set up Yalgaar Sanskrutik Manch.
The Yalgaar group continues the tradition of Maharashtra’s shahirs, but with strains of experimentation. Apart from performing, Dhammarakshit teaches children through workshops and informal sessions, seeking to build young teams of performers while also initiating discussions among young people on sensitive topics including caste, class, gender, religious fundamentalism and all forms of inequality. Since 2017, they have conducted nearly 700 such sessions with different groups of children and others across Mumbai’s suburbs and in other parts of Maharashtra. In 2021, they ran the ‘Artistes for Constitution campaign’, asking artistes across forms to work on Constitutionalism. They hold weekly sessions of art, music and discussions in Kandivli’s Kranti Nagar slum and in an adivasi hamlet near Kashi Mira. Dhammarakshit’s latest venture is Nirmik Arts and Media Centre, aspiring to be a production house for “people’s media” (films, short films, songs) to promote Constitutional values. His group has performed over 300 shows called ‘Jaagar Samtecha Shahiri Jalsa’ across villages, inspired by Ambedkar, Phule, Annabhau Sathe, the Marathi saints and others.