The actor explains how he is helping drought-hit farmers
Geetanjali Minhas | March 14, 2016
Veteran actor, writer and filmmaker, Padma Shri Nana Patekar is known for leading a simple life. In September 2015, along with noted Marathi actor, Makarand Anaspure, he started Naam Foundation to aid families of farmers affected by drought in Maharashtra. Talking to
Geetanjali Minhas, he tells her what made him start the foundation.
What made you and Makarand Anaspure come together to aid the farmers?
A farmer had committed suicide and his family was being interviewed on television. It pained me to watch this and I thought as to how I could be of some help. I had Rs 1-1.5 crore with me and I asked Makarand to distribute the money to the families of farmers who had lost their breadwinners. But he said I must first come to Beed and meet 170-180 widows of farmers. When I went there, I realised that one day [one time help] was not enough. After this, I got involved in this work.
How did you come about with the name ‘Naam’?
In Marathi, before you embark on something, you put a ‘tika’ on your forehead in the name of god which is called Naam. In olden times too, the Rajputs used to wear ‘kesariya’ before going to the battlefield. But people think it is an abbreviation of Nana and Makarand’s name.
People in villages feel that with Nana, good days will come back. How do you live up to their expectations?
We will work together on this. Everyone’s problems are the same. They [donors] trust us and that is why they have given us '22 crore. They feel that there will be no scam and money will reach the right place. We still don’t know in what direction we are headed, but we will
continue with our work. We will keep trying to discover things along the way. Only one or two people cannot do this work, many have to
join hands. And this is happening. Villagers are also joining in. This year rain gods will definitely smile. We will have surplus rains. But it is our responsibility to preserve that rain water. When a person in the family is sick, we have to give priority in providing him medicines and taking care of him even at the cost of ignoring others for a while who are healthy. But at present, the mentality is to let the sick die. This cannot continue. Farmers feel they are alone, they are losing self-respect and are compelled to commit suicide, which is a crime. We have to give them strength and opportunity. From the beginning, farmers have been exploited. For them, tolerating further abuse has become difficult and they are ending their lives. I am no magician. I am going to people with folded hands and asking them to give a helping hand in this work. And people are helping us. We have now taken it upon ourselves to make this happen and it will happen.
But is this not the job of the government?
If we start thinking whether it’s the job of this government or the previous one we will never be able to work. It’s better to concentrate on your work and set an example, show them that despite being a big government with vast infrastructure and wherewithal at their disposal, they
have not been able to help poor farmers. But Naam has done it. It is about your will. Where government spends '10 crore, we
do [the same work] in Rs 25 lakh.
How are you planning to utilise the donated amount?
Right from the start we have been giving Rs 15,000 each to widows of farmers who have committed suicide. Though it is not enough, it is to help those with less than five acre land to sow seeds. We want to regenerate old rivers and lakes that have been neglected due to years of inaction. At present, water does not collect for percolation and gets flown out. Water stocks runs out by January and by April, May, and June
there is no water even to drink. In such a situation they [farmers] will migrate to cities. They will sleep on footpaths and resort to crime. It is not the farmers’ right to live wretched lives as is the present case. They deserve much more. Even after 68 years of independence we cannot fulfill their basic needs of water and electricity.
You are adopting many villages. Whatdo you do after adopting a village?
In villages, gutters are either open or there are no gutters at all. People defecate in open. Villagers drink contaminated water and fall
sick. For treatment, they give more amount of money to the doctor than they spend on farming. We will cover the gutters, build roads, and
plant trees. In Gogalgaon our work is 80 percent complete. It is now absolutely clean and people are not sick. Alcohol is not permitted in the
village and there are no fights on religion and caste issues. You will not see animals loitering and villagers keep them confined to an area of the house. With Naam, villagers feel there is someone thinking about them. Self-respect makes all the difference and it is here that Naam will do something for them. Makarand and I along with others are working on it. My job is to ask for money and I have no qualms in begging for people.
You earlier said that Naam will have a think tank. What will be its objective?
It will identify problems and give solutions. Naam will take help from experts who have retired from the government. Merely adopting a village here and there will not help much. We have to adopt thousands of villages. We will have to generate awareness and awaken our government to various problems so that it has no choice but to act.
You have seen hardships earlier. How has it impacted you?
Because of that, maybe, I can connect with these people. I was sailing in the same boat as them earlier. When I look at them there is an instant connection.
What is Nana Patekar like?
Earlier I was content with so many awards, money, respect and accolades but I felt there is a vacuum. This work is of greater satisfaction.
There comes a turn in life that changes your perspective towards things. This work that I am doing at present is the real Nana Patekar
(The interview appears in the March 1-15, 2016 issue)
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