A letter from ASSEFA

Dear Friends,

Greetings from ASSEFA! There are queries about my whereabouts from various quarters.

When we get old, we become either matured or childish. The pity is that I am blended with both the qualities.

On September 11, 2018, I gave up the executive responsibilities and the position of authority having held for many years. I shifted my abode to a village in southern Tamil Nadu. The decision was neither vanavasam nor Gnanavasam; it is purely for self-introspection related to my long journey along with the poor. Now I reside close to a village where Dr. J C Kumarappa, the green Gandhian lived during his last days. The campus in the village fondly called by Gandhi Niketan Ashram was with tiled roofing and considered to be the power house of Gandhian philosophy. Thousands of workers were trained and proud of having trained there in fifties and sixties. The campus now took a different avatar with concrete roofing as a memorial to Dr. J C Kumarappa and its founder.

Twenty years ago, I visited a massive infrastructure in spain which was used to train thousands of monks to take the message of Christ to various parts of the world. But now the sacred building has lost its purpose virtually It has become a museum. The purpose remains the same but the priority kept on changing. The building where I stay used to provide technical education (designed exclusively for rural areas) to thousands of rural youths, but now no takers and building virtually become a guest house. The change is taking place fast, we are not able to cope up with it.

Surprisingly, the first Sarva Seva Farm, Sevalur, is very close by. We took enormous efforts to bring the peasants together to build a cohesive community and we done with taking away bunds between the lands. Now the third generation of the same peasants control this land. Instead of considering the land as mother Earth rather they consider it being a tool for their livelihood. Consequently we could see many border bunds across the land as a mark of division. The perception of the land has gone, it became the victim of individuals’ greed and aspiration. I had the privilege of being in China ten years ago. I wanted to visit Mao’s commune. The officials reluctantly agreed to my request. I could not see Mao’s vision of commune of putting people first but now it became a tool for nation building. Being a grass-root development practitioner, I considered myself as a pawn in the process of changes. All along my development journey we committed a mistake of putting people first instead of land “the mother” which never changes its colour.

I sincerely believe based on the ups and downs of my life cycle in development field that land should be protected which in turn takes care of all living beings. Many friends in overseas and in India suggested me to get vaccinated at the earliest against Covid 19.

I wanted to check the validity and rang up to Sri. J Chandrapaul, the Chairman of ASSEFA. He spoke in a feeble voice informing me that he was in an intensive care unit for corona treatment in Bangalore. Finally he suggested that it was better to take two injections. Otherwise, it would lead to endure the pain of thirty vaccines and isolations. The next day Mr. Kumar showed me a picture of Mr. Vijay Mahajan, Vice Chair of ASSEFA.

He was lying on the bed fitted with oxygen equipments. The pity is that he is still in New Delhi Hospital. Finally I made up my mind and searched for hospitals in and around Madurai city. Everywhere huge crowd and serpentine queues. I went back to my village. A friend of mine took me to a public health centre. The Doctor is happily administered an injection and suggested me to sensitize others to avail this opportunity. The doctor hails from the rural area. He is committed and spend part of his salary to up keep the hospital. It is a green campus, hence it attracts the cattle. ASSEFA offered to put up a fence so that they can grow medicinal plants.

Rural health centres need public support to fill up the gaps to meet the necessary facilities. After vaccination, Doctor advised a brief rest is a must. I sat under the shade of trees in front of the hospital. An old man approached me and asked my credentials. I explained him the reason for sitting there and I suggested him to get him vaccinated. He simply said, “Death for a poor is incidental but great loss otherwise for others”

My thought went back to Vinoba Ashram. Vinoba was sick. He declined to take medicines. This message has gone to Ms. Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India. She rushed to the Ashram and pleaded him to take medicines. Vinoba Conveyed to her, “If the body does not cooperate with the soul, it is better for the soul to leave the Body” Next day, he passed away. Death is certain, but everybody takes it to their own perspective..

Anyhow the speculation among our members that the Executive Director would be the next hierarchical order (after chairman and vice chairman) to meet the corona is somehow avoided for the time being. Some frontline workers are also under treatment and in isolation.

These incidents prompted us to distribute sanitizers and masks to all ASSEFA units. During my visit last week to a village, an old man (again old man) was collecting medicinal plants and made a statement like Sermon on the Mount. Live on earth not on sky, the nature would take care of our body and mind. The miracles and mystery were around you and exist at your reach. In

absence of your effort, it slipped away and chasing to catch it is nothing but illusion. Though it sounds as a simple statement it sparks the hidden truth of local wisdom. We identified five herbal plants to cultivate and process them to distribute to the local population to protect against corona virus. The dilemma before us is as to which path we take whether adopting

science and technology or traditional faith and practice. One solution should be that blending both of them. We need locally rooted research and clinical  centres. Who bells the cat?

While passing through a hamlet, the people were taking bath in the water from the broken pipeline which brings drinking water from the far away river bed. The pipe bringing precious drinking water was either might have broken by accident or people did it for their own convenience. We repaired it and organised a meeting in the village We observed that other than village deity all other community assets are considered to be a no man’s property.

The elected local body is unable to govern the community since the community itself became a fractured one after the election. We decided to work closely with the communities as a cementing force to bring in everybody together to work for their village betterment. Earlier in the initial phase, ASSEFA used to form “Gram Sabha” (means village assembly) under which activity based groups to look after the respective activities. This system made everybody being proud of their contribution to their communities.

ASSEFA has to restart this process to sustain those unaccomplished mission. Is it not too late?

An old man stopped our vehicle. It was usual people stopping our vehicle either to greet or to make some demand. The old man‘s intension was different. He took us around the village.

His trembling index finger pointed a huge dilapidated construction built with uneven broken stones and mud mortar. What was it? It was a granary. We kept all agriculture products here A portion was for the Zamindar, the remaining for the consumption of the locals. Now all the

products being taken away from village and come back again for consumption. He continued and said that the tank in the southwest corner used to be surrounded by tropical fruit trees considered to be the shelter for birds, which come from faraway places.  In the western bank of the tank a tiled roofed shed, inside an idol of Goddess Kali. This temple was being worshipped by all communities. The priest was from low-caste family, well trained in herbal healing system and took care of religious activities as well.

He held high esteem among the people. He was called “POOSARI” and “VAITHIYAR” (Priest and Healer). After the explanation, his body was shivered, eyes shed tears and sat down on the muddy ground. After a while, he said “Generation to Generation my family held this position. I

was the last one. Why did it happened? The village was divided on community-basis, being a low caste, I was thrown out of this campus. We helped him to stand up. He balanced himself with the support of a stick. What do you expect from us? Nothing, is it possible for me to see my village being a Garden of peace before I die? The drizzle started and we were in a mood to leave. We told him. Yes it is possible if you were to get back your childhood. He couldn’t understand what we meant. He saw us off with folded hands, wiping his tears rolling down to his cheeks. We came to know that the great soul of the old man has gone. It is pity to note that the produces taken away from villages while return back for their consumption have to be pay three-fold cost. We decided to start on experimental basis, “Production for local consumption and surplus to the neighbourhood community”. Is it worthwhile attempt to enable the community rally around this initiative?

We put on the TV. A well-dressed young lady artificially smiling displayed the number of causalities, state-wise, district-wise due to pandemic sweeping. An interview followed.

The wise man said, “People are irresponsible” The politicians said, “Government is ineffective”

A sadhu said, “The world has come to an end. It is Kaliyuga” The old women on the street said, “The God is impartial, I am waiting here for long” A rickshawala (tri-cycle rider) said, “Free drive to hospitals for corona patients” The rainbow illuminated in many colours. The next day a group of workers met at our Centre. We were all with mixed perplexed feelings. Should we continue our designed activities planned for the year? Very few takers for this idea. Someone suggested that this was the time to be closer to the people rather than with our near and dear. We were listing on the names of the Gram sabha leaders who could help in mobilising the people.

We received a message that one Mr. Velmurugan, a young dynamic man, recipient of Bhoodan land, always be with me whenever I visit his village is no more. He became the victim of corona.

It is a news for many, but a loss to ASSEFA. I vividly remember as to how he organised our tree planting activity few weeks ago. I was shocked and desperately cancelled the meeting.

The next day the new government introduced part-time lock down for two weeks. The same party condemned the lockdown while it was in opposition bench. The people by and large continued to stay inside their home. We decided that this was the time to reaching out the public. To my surprise about 40 workers from the nearby areas assembled in a short notice. Unanimously, we decided that each one should meet atleast 500 families to share their grievances, collect small donation as a mark of solidarity to provide assistance in the form of Food materials for aged women, milk for young infants, provide homeopathy pills and herbal drinks as preventive and protective measures. The workers started their mission. We are receiving good and bad human stories. ASSEFA is pledged in its mission statement assured to be with the vulnerable. Since Sixties, ASSEFA continues its journey with steadfast conviction.

The poem on “Brooks” by William Worsworth, memorised in primary school still vividly remember. Men may come and Men may go but l will go on ever…


S. Loganathan

Executive Director


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