First Anniversary Post: How to be a citizen-activist

The first post on Proactive Indian was published on June 15, 2013. Thus, Proactive Indian completes 1 year today. Coincidentally, today’s post is the 200th post.

I decided to make this, the First Anniversary post and the 200th post, special by making it a Guest Post by Nagesh Kini, a truly proactive Indian in thought, word and deed!

Regular readers of Proactive Indian would have read Nagesh’s comments on almost all my blog posts. His comments are often hard-hitting, but as Nagesh himself says, his bark is not half as bad as his bite!

Nagesh Kini is proof that the saying, “Empty vessels make the most noise” is not always correct! Nagesh makes an immense amount of noise, but he is no ‘empty vessel’! He is a Chartered Accountant who took to part-time activism in his early 40’s, and became a full-time activist after retirement.

Activism is not a pastime for Nagesh, it is a mission! He is extremely passionate about his activism, and his passion is infectious! He is a great source of inspiration to me even though we have never met or even spoken over phone despite having each other’s phone numbers! Of course, we correspond regularly by email.

In today’s Guest Post, Nagesh shares with us his journey as a citizen-activist, and explains how every citizen can easily be a citizen-activist.

From accountant/auditor to citizen-activist
by Nagesh Kini

My relatives and friends know me as a concerned citizen-activist who always works for the betterment of society and speaks out in support of any good cause and against wrongdoing of any sort. They also know that I can never be a silent onlooker, and that I strongly believe in the Hindi adage, “Laathon ke bhooth baathon sey nahi maanthey,” meaning you can’t simply afford to be polite at all times, sometimes you have to give a kick (figuratively, not literally!!) to ensure that the message is effectively conveyed. That’s exactly what I sometimes do to achieve results, though it means treading on some toes. For example, when citizens’ meetings did not commence in time because the chairperson or a civic official was late, I would take the chair and start the meeting. Now, they start in time, particularly if it’s known that I’m attending!

Believe it or not, till I was 40, I was not like this. My life revolved around my profession as a Chartered Accountant, my family and my social life. It is just by coincidence that I turned into a concerned citizen-activist.

My first foray into cause-related public life began in 1991 when the Trustees of GSB Scholarship League, Mumbai (a charitable public trust founded in 1912 by the GSB community (to which I belong) with the object of providing scholarships and rendering other suitable help to poor and deserving students) invited me to join their Managing Committee. I accepted the invitation and became a Managing Committee member, later elevated to Trustee. The GSB SL provides scholarships to over 3,500 students every year. The total amount disbursed in 2012-13 was Rs. 50 lakhs, while the corpus was Rs. 5.50 crores on March 31, 2013. All Trustees and MC members contribute actively in terms of administration, development and fund raising. The attendance at the monthly meeting is almost always 100%.

My first year as a GSBSL MC member opened my eyes to the fact that I could make a significant contribution to social causes by spending a small part of my personal time and without compromising my family and professional commitments.

In 1992, I joined 4 other residents of Mahim-Shivaji Park area of Mumbai to form an NGO called Kridangan Sangopan Samiti, KRISS for short, to preserve, protect and maintain public open spaces. KRISS is best known for managing, developing and constantly upgrading, in the truest spirit of Public-Private partnership, a public recreation ground/park called Dhote Udyan (earlier known as Scottish Park) situated opposite Bombay Scottish School and the Hinduja Hospital on Savarkar Marg/Cadell Road on the Dadar-Shivaji Park sea front.

KRISS enhanced the facilities at Dhote Udyan to include a ramped entrance for wheel chairs and prams, unidirectional soft surface walking-cum-jogging track, separate children’s corner with play equipment and sand pit and exercising bars, a central Mexican grass lawn for barefoot therapeutic walking and Mumbai’s only open-to-sky Olympic-sized skating rink. Strict discipline is enforced: walking only in the anti-clockwise direction, no eating, drinking or littering. The entire park is now illuminated by a synchronized combination of sunlight, solar-powered lighting and LED lights. Two ring wells and rain water harvesting, along with drip irrigation ensure round the clock water supply without using even a drop of potable water supplied by the Corporation. In-house composting of garden waste ensures year-round supply of compost. All this has been done by KRISS with active participation and support of neighbourhood citizens and sponsorship support from various corporates.

In 1998, KRISS was awarded the prestigious Citizens’ Award by the Mumbai Chapter of the Indian Heritage Society ‘For the initiative and action taken to create a much needed green open urban space for the benefit of the public in the face of high odds and challenges.’

KRISS’ Trust Deed stipulates that trustees must compulsorily retire after 2 terms of 3 years each, a rule meticulously followed to this day. Accordingly, I retired as a trustee in 1998, but continue to be an active member. I attend all the meetings and participate enthusiastically. If I see anything while walking in the park, be it a tetrapack pouch or even a slip of paper, I pick it up and throw it in the dustbin. If I miss my walk any day, I get enquiries from the daily walkers the next day: “It appears you were absent yesterday, I saw a lot of uncleared/unpicked up litter!”

Apart from my involvement with GSB SL and KRISS, I associate with causes that are after my heart and conducted by persons with impeccable track record. Since 2010, I have been associated with Moneylife Foundation, an NGO that is dedicated to the cause of spreading financial literacy and rendering assistance in matters of banking, insurance, consumer and environment protection, RTI and Right to Services. I have been writing articles regularly for publication in their weekly newsletter.

Needless to say, I always keep speaking up in support of any good cause and against any wrongdoing of any sort.

Whatever I do is no big deal. Anybody can do it. But, I’m sorry to see that most of my fellow citizens always wait for an opportunity to shoot from others’ shoulders even for their own problems. I keep telling them that they have to work to address their own concerns; of course, activists and NGOs will render all assistance and support to ensure that justice is done. Somehow, they don’t understand this.

Another concern is the apparent apathy of youngsters. For example, in both GSBSL and KRISS, the average age of the Trustees/Office bearers has been 60+. Getting younger people to come aboard on the Trust/Managing Committee is almost impossible. In fact, they don’t even seem to find the time to even attend monthly meetings, even though these are held on Sundays. Just making donations simply doesn’t work. NGOs need donations, but they also need intellectual inputs as well as participation. Is it so difficult for any person to spare 2-3 hours once a month to attend a meeting?

Most frustrating is the fact that most problems are caused by citizens, single-handedly or with the active cooperation of politicians and officials. For example,
Citizens spit on staircases and walls.
Citizens urinate in public places.
Citizens pay bribes to politicians and officials.
“Citizens” includes the so-called civilized educated citizenry!

After over 20 years of activism, it is my considered opinion that every citizen can be a citizen-activist by spending a small part of his/her personal time and without compromising her/his professional commitments. All (s)he has to do is:
1. Be a law-abiding citizen.
2. Speak up in support of any good cause and against wrongdoing of any sort.
3. Devote some time and effort to follow up the matter till the desired result is achieved.