Along with building self-sustaining villages, actor-activist Rajshri Deshpande’s organisation is focusing on school development, water conservation, community sensitising and awareness, and social enterprise.
Rajshri Deshpande has gained huge popularity in recent times as Subhadra in the Netflix blockbuster Hunger Games, her role in the recently released Manto, and as a versatile theatre and film actor.
But beyond the screen avatar, it’s important to celebrate and understand the woman behind many projects impacting social change.
Rajshri, who has always been inclined towards community services, has been associated with organisations like Dharavi Dairy, Boodhnoor Vaidyashala, and SOS Papa with whom she worked in Nepal after the earthquake. For the project ‘Beach O Beach’, she joined hands with people from all walks of life to gather every Sunday morning to clean up city beaches. Currently, Rajshri is supporting the Girls of Rescue Foundation that rescues and rehabilitates girls from human trafficking. More recently, she founded Nabhangan, which helps to build self-sustaining villages.
Speaking at TechSparks 2018, YourStory’s flagship event, the actor/activist spoke on why it’s important to go back to our villages and empower them in different ways in her talk, “Let’s Rethink Villages’.
Rajshri explained at the outset that she was here to talk about villages and why they needed to be accorded top priority in the larger scheme of things.
And talk she did, with passion and emotion as she explained how the Nabhangan Foundation, which she founded, is following its vision of “rethinking villages”. The foundation has worked in Pandhari, a village in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, which in a small period has transformed from drought-hit to one that is self-sustaining and a model village for others in the region.
Rajshri hails from a farmer family and though she moved to Mumbai for her career, she said her heart was still in the villages where she was rooted. But the villages in the region were not the same anymore, she said. Villages were perishing because of drought and other issues and, according to her, it was time to “go back and do something”.
She started by researching villages in Nanded, Parbhani, Nagpur, and others before she zeroed in on Pandari as a small step towards converting India’s villages into self-sustaining ones.
“What really spurred me was an interaction with an old lady who accused me that I was just going to listen to them and not do anything about it. I didn’t want to be that person. I went back to Mumbai, continued my research, talked to environmentalists and other experts. I realised that water, sanitation, or education were not the only areas to look at for solutions. It was important to get all of them together,” she said.
Initially, Rajshri faced skepticism and criticism, but she continued, undeterred. She got young people on board and after six months of interaction with the villagers, and with Rs 1.5 lakh donated by a few friends, she was instrumental in getting the village river cleaned in less than 15 days.
That was just the beginning. With irrigation now taken care of, farming of pomegranate and mosambi began in right earnest. Sanitation came next; this time, flush with government funds, 200 toilets were built.
That’s when Rajshri’s foundation was set up and forged ahead with its development plans. These included school development, water conservation, community sensitising and awareness, and social enterprise.
It also has a plan in place for the next eight months. “Empowerment of women is also high on our agenda. When women come together, change can really happen. I had a designer friend who contributed some cloth and the women fashioned some bags out of them that I supplied to a cafeteria I knew. What began as a small initiative has grown to more than 50 women now on board for various programmes, “ she said.
She pointed out that drought is not the only reason for backwardness in the region. “We have become lazy and are always blaming others for problems. We need to have more ideas and act on them,” she added.
Villages have expanded to towns and then become cities. But why can’t we have more joy in our villages, Rajshri asked. “Let’s work in our villages, make the lives of people better, and make India proud,” she said.
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