Rajshri Deshpande: We need to have more people working to uplift villages
“I cannot handle everything, but a hundred Rajshris can handle a hundred villages, says actor Rajshri Deshpande, a big believer in the strength that lies in rural development and in empowering villages to self-reliance. And all the more during these distressing times when migrant workers across the country are returning to their villages, where resources and opportunities are already limited or depleted.
She reminds you of Shyam Benegal’s Manthan (1976), which reaffirmed the need for people to become village warriors, and helping to show the way to empowerment to the underprivileged. “We have to empower our villages. It’s a long process, but we should have more volunteers, and they have to be consistent in their efforts,” says the actor, who is trying her best to mobilise relief efforts amid the Covid-19 crisis through her NGO Nabhangan Foundation.+ +
Beyond her on-screen work in Sacred Games, McMafia and Manto, Deshpande has been actively working to alleviate a Pandhari village in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, giving her a better pulse on the trials and tribulations of people there. In an Instagram post after the recent Aurangabad train accident, she steered attention to the growing fears among farmers and the administrative hiccups that make life tougher for them.
Few among the film industry are walking the talk as far as on-ground work is concerned, but Deshpande feels it’s her “responsibility to work for the nation”. She was stuck unfortunately stuck in Kunnur, Kerala for over 60 days. Otherwise, she says, “I would have been on the field. I am blessed with some great volunteers. They are the heroes, I am not. I’m only facilitating and co-ordinating everything,” she adds modestly, expressing hope to help to at least 40 nomadic communities in Marathwada.
Once travel restrictions were eased out, Deshpande was able to travel to Aurangabad, where she could then oversee the relief work. And she is now finally back in Mumbai.+ +
Raising some basic concerns, Deshpande, who belongs to a farmer’s family herself, says, “We have not made our villages self-sustainable. We are not empowering them with small scale industries so that people don’t have to be dependent on factories or going to a bigger city to work. So then what do people do? That’s why they travel from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Marathwada, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh to metro cities or to tier two city from villages.”
And now that migrant workers are going back to their villages, she wonders about the health facilities -- or the lack thereof. Which is why, Deshpande feels, that the crisis is a reminded of the need to “make our villages sustainable, to empower them, to create leaders in our villages, and give them basic facilities like education, water, hygiene and sanitation”, apart from a co-operative movement.
“Why would anyone leave their village if farming is working well for them for four months, and the rest of the months we are giving them something else to do? There’s so much progress in technology nowadays, and we are still not helping them. Why are they making themselves labourers?”
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