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Even In Most Difficult Conditions People Can Create Beauty

Anil K Gupta s pursuit to find innovations in the rural hinterlands has brought both glory and money at the doorsteps of so many poor but creative people His intellect and keen eye for detail has brought a revolutionary change in hundreds of lives in some of the remotest parts of the country and he doesn t want any credit for it In an freewheeling chat with R M he shares more about NIF Shodh Yatra and beyond


Prof. Anil Gupta
Executive Vice Chairperson, NIF
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Shodh yatra is now over one and half decade old and you along with other yatris have covered many thousand kilometers of rural India. When did you think of starting it and what prompted you to do that?
The thought for shod yatra came into my mind almost 15 years ago when we were in a meeting and idea was that can’t we learn together and collectively? Sometimes life becomes too fast that small things get ignored and there is a need for slow-paced learning. I travel a lot and I realized if I continue like this then I’ll disconnected from the roots and unless your roots are deep, you can’t bring about any change  in society. So we decided that we will walk together. In the first few years we used to have 25o km of walk for 10 days.

Covering 250 kms in the span of 10 days must be a tiring task. So, generally how many people are there in a group of yatris and what do you and fellow shodh yatris look for during the yatra?
The numbers of shodh yatris sometimes go upto 100-120 and sometimes it is 40-45. When we go in some of the most difficult areas, like when we were in Bastar, there were only about 25-30 shodh yatris. Through shodh yatra, we try to honour them at their doorsteps. The whole point is that when someone has solved a problem, he deserves to be honoured. More than that we also try to understand why many times the creative people remain unrecognised in their own communities. 

Why do they need an outsider to come and recognise them?
For this, they should be recognised by their own peers. We talk to people on the streets and when we come across something interesting we ask them ‘why do they do it?’ We look for crazy people, odd balls. When we look for them, we also try to understand whether people know about it and if they don’t know about it, then we also look for reasons which come in the way that obstructs it from reaching other people. What makes people who are aware of something either not to share or they will share and other people don’t want to learn it.

How do you involve rural people to participate and what has been the response of the masses you meet during the yatra?
We go from village to village and live there. In summer we go to the places which are hot and in winter we go to the places which are cold. The idea is that we should suffer and when you suffer, you realise and connect to the poor’s problems. Communities have to be convinced about our ideas and objective. By doing that we are able to convince and generate respect for our purpose in their minds. We also organise bio-diversity competition and recipe competition. The recipe competition is for capturing and learning from culinary creativity. When there’s a cultural diversity, it is always accompanied by culinary diversity.

And many times what you notice is that rich people eat poor food and poor people eat the rich food. This richness that is there is not because people spend lot of money, no, they can’t afford. In most of the cases, not all cases, they are able to find nutritional value in uncultivated plants and that’s very important for climate change when it takes place.  Then we also have idea competition for children to identify the creativity for children. We look for local institutions and common property institutions. We look at how people use water and other natural resources. We also look at aesthetics of survival. So even in most difficult conditions people can create beauty.

Was there any specific reason to name your non-profit organisation Honey Bee and how does this organisation contributes in the upliftment of the rural poor?
Honey Bee does what we intellectuals don’t do. It cross-pollinates. When we take knowledge form one community or one person, we should give it to another community. We should cross-pollinate ideas. Flowers attract bees, they don’t avoid bees. So when we go to people and take their knowledge, they should not feel that they have been shock changed. We should acknowledge their knowledge, we should acknowledge their identity. They should not become anonymous. If any benefit is generated and value is added through their contribution; a reasonable share should go back to the people. In Honey Bee newsletter, whatever we publish, we publish with name and identity of people and nothing is published anonymous. Secondly, we also protect their Intellectual Property Rights. NIF has filed more than 500 patents. We believe that in one resource, in which poor people are rich is their knowledge. If you’ll take away the resource in which they are rich, what is left with them? So we create IPR but we also don’t want these rights to be used to stifle the livelihood of other people.

Intellectual Property Rights is a complex subject for rural people. So how do you tell them about the benefits of it and who does it for you?
It is true that most of the times farmers and artisans may not understand patents, but by now many people have started to understand patents because of the awareness that has been created. But still many people don’t hear about whether patents are granted or not. What their concern is how this knowledge can be useful to others. So many times we advise them to file patents for them. We have been taking help of various attorneys who provide pro-bono help and we file patents for them. We have licensed 68 technologies so far. If any industry has to invest, they may not invest without self interest. We file the patents for these rural people and for that we take their prior-informed consent. Nothing is done without prior-informed-consent of the people. Whatever knowledge we collect has to be taken to the permission of the people and when we file patents we take their authorisation.

How this initiative of filing patents for these rural ‘poor but innovative’ people have helped them in economic empowerment? What are other awards and recognitions they are receive for their work?
For example there were two brothers form Assam, who developed a bamboo windmill for Rs 5000 and when the windmill was improved it became Rs 60,000 in Gujarat. We have already installed 40 of them. These poor farmers get royalty of Rs 82,000 every year for it. This became the source of earning for them, who only few years ago didn’t have money for a pump set and used to irrigate their four bighas of land through hand pump.
This was made possible by the use of technology transfer and Intellectual Property Rights and it is possible to enrich people only by virtue of their knowledge. We have licensed their technology. We have micro venture innovation fund (MVIF) with the help of SIDBI. MVIF is a risk capital to help innovations to go to the market.

There are awards for creative people and are given by the president of India. NIF awards are biennial but Ignite awards for creative children are organised every year. So many people have contributed and helped us in this endeavour. People who are associated with us are from different walks of life like we have farmers, artisans, labourers, fishermen, tribals, designers and of course scientists. This is not one man or organization’s work and can’t be either. Honey Bee network in that sense is the collective effort of large number of people. It will continue even after me.

In one of your interviews you said that ‘minds on the margin are not marginal minds’.  Can you please elaborate more on this?
Many people who are on the margin of the society. They may be living in slums, in the small villages or may be repairing your car or motorcycle on the roadside. People are not at the bottom of innovation pyramid, they are not at the bottom of ethical pyramid. They are only at the bottom of economic pyramid. So, we should be very careful while using the term ‘at the bottom of the pyramid’. Though popular, this is not a good term and generally
offending. It indicates what people are poor in, but it’s not just the economic resources which matters you know.  People may have lot of money but they may have no ideas. So top of the pyramid people if they had all the wisdom, then the world would have been different.

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