Aruna and Bunker Roy.

India has always been a favorite destination for tourists. This country, with its ancient civilization, culture and heritage, is a paradise of diversity. This country is diverse in all aspects, such as ethnicity, religion, language, culture, climate, and lifestyles.  All the fragments of human civilization are hidden within the shell of India.

In Rajasthan

I have been fortunate to visit Rajasthan several times. It is the largest Indian state in terms of area. My Rajasthan photo album is a collection of pictures of dense forests, the desert, birds and camel herds, the Aravalli hills, and people wearing very colourful clothes.

Those who want to know the pulse of Indian rural life should visit the rural areas of Rajasthan. It is from the journeys to such places that we, who pride ourselves on being ‘modern’ and ‘educated’, can realise that we have a lot to learn from traditional societies in terms of practical wisdom, philanthropy and aesthetics. Rajasthan came to my mind when I thought of a journey to meet with people who had preserve ancient folk traditions and rural innocence.

A friend of mine who was a sociologist and used to travel a lot. He loved to live among poor people, to know more about them and write about them. While I was thinking of traveling to Rajasthan, he called me and said that he was planning a trip to Rajasthan and would go together with me if I was interested. I happily set off with him, by bus from Delhi.

Tilonia

Tilonia is a village located around 50 kilometres from Kishanganj, in Rajasthan’s Ajmer District. One of the main reasons for its worldwide renown is its association with a couple, Bunker Roy and Aruna Roy, who revolutionized the concept of social work in India. The main purpose of my trip to Tilonia was to get to meet the couple, who have dedicated their lives to working for others, and to visit some of the places where they work.

When we got off the bus at Kishanganj, Tejaramji was waiting with a jeep to pick us up and take us to Tilonia. The journey passed through farmlands and fields. Along the way, we saw women workers in brightly-colored skirts, with lots of jewelry, and men who tended sheep and farmed.

Barefoot College is an ashram-like institution spread over 8 acres in Tilonia. Bunker Roy founded the centre in 1972. In this institution, one can experience a calm, rustic atmosphere with meditative serenity, simplicity and fusion with Nature. Barefoot College is distinguished by its social service, job training and teamwork programmes that provide solutions to the crises experienced by poor people.

Bunker-Aruna Couple

Bunker Roy is a visionary. While studying at the University of Delhi, he dreamed of doing what he could with his life to serve the marginalised. He wanted to empower people who had no access to clean water, proper nutrition and decent medical treatment and to give them a chance to live with pride.

A girl studying at the University of Delhi had the same mindset. Her name was Aruna. Aruna, who comes from a Tamil Brahmin family, was determined to dedicate her life to the poor.

After his studies, Roy became a Reserve Bank official. Aruna, on the other hand, joined the Indian Administrative Service, at the age of 21. But their jobs and high salaries could not satisfy them. The two were determined to dedicate their life to  serving the marginalised. Aruna resigned from the IAS and moved to Tilonia. The couple decided that simplicity should be a way of life for them. Both were followers of the Gandhian lifestyle.

Aruna Roy is one of the most famous civil activists in India. She has many great awards, including the Magsaysay Award.  When Bunker was focused principally on the Tilonia-based Social Work and Research Centre, Aruna expanded the horizons of her work. She widened her focus from social work to social activism. One of the key benefits of that expansion is the Employment Guarantee Scheme, which is being implemented across the country today. Aruna Roy argued that employment and information were the right of citizens and worked hard to get this approved by the Government. The Right to Information Act, which led to major changes in India, was another result of their struggle. Aruna has been collaborating with other women’s organizations since 1983. An organization called ‘Mazdoor Shakti Kisan Sangathan’ was formed in 1990 with the aim of uplifting the poor. It has thousands of members today. The organization focuses on ensuring labor justice, enforcing the minimum wage, starting a co-operative movement involving workers and improving their living standards.

Meeting Bunker and Aruna at Barefoot College was a great privilege for me. There are thousands of leaders and movements in our country competing for money, status, wealth and fame. But how many Bunkers and Arunas are there among them?

Mujeeb Rahman Kinalur is a writer and journalist based in Calicut, Kerala.  He may be reached at kinalur@gmail.com


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