Published On : Wed, Nov 18th, 2015

The ‘Clothes Man’ Anshul Gupta in Nagpur at behest of Lemon Endeavour

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  • “We do not claim to change lives, we only attempt to make them a little better.”
  • “We are exploring a new / parallel economy: Cash for Trash.”
  • Indians are very passive and accepting. Why don’t we ask some questions?
  • No imported model of development will work for us – till we don’t take care of Basics of majority of our people – Roti, Kapda aur Makaan. Let’s begin with Kapda.

Over 80% of Indian women do not have hygienic, clean and regular supply of sanitary napkins/ clean cloth for those ‘3 days of the month’Anshu Gupta, Founder of Goonj, and a Magsaysay award winner, had some very disturbing but also heartening stories to tell about ‘real India’ – not quite the “fastest growing economy of the world” but a country where lakhs of people still die of cold due to lack of clothing every winter; where children in villages stop going to school because they are vision-impaired, not because there aren’t enough teachers; where many illiterate poor, rural women lose their uterus’ at their prime child bearing age due to infections since they do not have a ‘clean protection’ during their  monthly menstruation cycles.

If the above were the disturbing facts, his narration of Goonj’s success stories gave hope that even one person, with an idea and a mission, can and does make a difference.

I Summit organized by Lemon Ideas

Anshu Gupta was speaking to a house full audience at Chitnavis Centre yesterday at a function hosted and organized by Lemon Ideas including Lemon School of Entrepreneurship. It was aptly called ‘I summit’ because as the founder of Lemon, Deepak Menaria explained “it always begins with I – me”.

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The Genesis of Goonj: Anshu, a one time journalist and a Corporate Executive, gave up his budding career and started Goonj about 10 years ago. Delhi was the starting place because while doing a story as a Freelancer, he was witness to a homeless man Karim Khan who made a living by collecting ‘lawaris’ dead bodies from the streets of Delhi and carting them to the morgue. He got paid Rs. 20 for every body. In winter months, he collected at least 10 – 12 bodies from a radius of 5 Kms every morning and in other seasons, about 5-7. His little daughter, slept clinging to dead bodies at night “for warmth.”

Homeless and / or poor people who die of cold every winter do not merit any compensation ( for next of kin ) since they have not died of any calamity or ‘natural disaster’.

“Poverty is actually, the biggest ongoing disaster” says Anshu.

He decided he would make it his mission to clothe as many poor people as he could across Delhi and then across the country.

He began with 7- 10 pairs of clothings of his family and then began looking for donations and hand outs from others.
“Actually, when you are handing over old clothes, it is not a donation at all – you are just getting rid of unwanted stuff” he persuaded friends.

(Today they have hundreds of tons of clothes to ‘barter’)

When he had sufficient stocks, he decided he was not going to hand over the clothes for free – and treat people like beggars, which they were not. ‘The dignity of the recipients is as important as the pride of donors’ is his motto.

So Goonj came up with a novel scheme of ‘barter’. For the clothes you need, and we give you, you donate your labour. The old concept of ‘Shramdan’. There are many deserving projects in any village – a road needs to be repaired, a small bridge needs to be built, trees need to be planted; you have villagers contribute to these activities in lieu of clothes and other necessities they are given.

Might seem like a small idea, not very practical. But, Anshul showed pictures of how tar roads, motorable bridges and an entire section of Mangroves in Bengal built from scratch with such ‘shramdan’.

The importance of Kapda: He also showed some very heartening pictures of poor people of every generation whose appearance changed miraculously as soon as they were clothed in better clothing! From looking like beggars, drunkards and sickly old people, they began looking presentable, civilized – like normal folks.
So it is not just as protection from cold that people need clothes, they need them to look and feel like citizens from normal mainstream of life.

Out of this endeavour with old clothes also came the project to give women decent substitutes for the unmentionables they use during their MCs. Old dirty rags, which cannot be washed and dried properly that all the women of the family share; newspapers, straw, sack cloth, even cow dung! He cited the case of a woman who died of tetanus from ‘using’ an old blouse that had rusted hooks; of a woman who died because a centipede entered her body through the ‘mud’ she was using.

An uncomfortable subject, that one very important and crucial to the health of majority of Indian women.

Anshu Gupta also minced no words while deriding  ‘completely wrong priorities’ of our government. “Mumbai airport is now world class – one of the best airports in the world” Indians boast. So what? You still get out of the airport and immediately see slums on both sides of the road!
“Just the money used for two chandeliers could have repaired an entire Railway station used by many more Indians”.

He also bemoaned the fact that Indians do not ask uncomfortable questions of their rulers. “Why are we quiet when we are asked to pay toll tax for pot holed roads?”  “Why are we quiet when we pay heavily for what is supposed to be ‘drinking water’ but which we all use only for bathing and washing clothes and utensils and then either purchase bottled drinking water or invest in costly RO machines?”

These companies then go and give case studies of their ‘success stories’ which are actually built on our failures and inadequacies.

“We keep coming back to the sorry fact – our basics are weak and they will remain so till we do not cultivate a habit of speaking up and asking questions” emphasized Anshul.

Anshu Gupta is on a two day visit to Nagpur at the invitation of Lemon enterprises and TIE.

The Lemon School: At the beginning of the talk, Mr. Deepak Menaria, Founder of Lemon School of Entrepreneurs and other Lemon initiatives, spoke about his vision for LSE.

“We want to disrupt our formal education system by challenging it and providing alternatives that will create job givers, not job seekers” he said.

“Embrace the ambiguity, break structures, innovate, come up with one stupid idea every day” they challenge the students at LSE.

Education there, begins with knowing yourself well first and then Reflecting on what you can do Deepak said.

The program concluded with a discussion session with Nagarjuna Prakasan, running a start up for Farmers; Dinesh Jain President of Nagpur First and Kaustav Chatterjee, Founder of Green Vigil.

Many prominent Nagpurians like Vilas and Nita Kale, Sanjay Arora, Shyamala Sanyal C&MD of Bharitya Barud Udyog, Dr. Lata Mahadevan of Herds Foundation and others were present at this very informative and thought provoking program.

– Sunita Mudaliar