Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Unity in Adversity

“Don’t go the way life takes you… Take life the way you want to go. Remember, you are born to live and not living because you are born”. This quote on the bulletin board of Support, a center for AIDS victims’ in Summanhalli sums up the spirit infused in its inmates. Summanahalli has transformed itself into a social hub in Bangalore where different socially committed groups work for marginalized people under the umbrella of Sumanahalli Society. The 50 acre campus has an orphanage for girls (predominantly those with a leprosy background), a center for people suffering from HIV, a home for juvenile delinquents, a home for street children and a leprosy home. Set in a serene and soothing environment amidst lush greenery, the campus is equipped with infrastructure for rehabilitation of the affected.
In 1944, the Maharaja of Mysore is said to have gathered about 365 acres of land from farmers to set up a colony for beggars. This land was then utilized by the Central Relief Committee (CRC) operating under the aegis of the Department of Social Welfare to establish a shelter for rehabilitation of beggars. In 1977, Devaraj Urs, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka requested Dr. P. Arokiaswamy, the then archbishop of Bangalore to set up a leprosarium at Summanahalli. For about twenty years, the work of Summanahalli Society revolved around leprosy. Over the last decade, the services have been expanded to reach out to the homeless, the differently-abled, the ailing and the destitute.
People inflicted with diseases like leprosy and AIDS are often abandoned by their families due to the social stigma associated with their ailments. With nowhere to go and no one to look up to, their life and death matters to none. Heartrending stories of undying hope amidst pain and suffering pour out from all quarters. Among the many success stories that have emerged from the philanthropic work at Summahalli is that of a couple united by adversity. Vijay is visually impaired and Revathi has suffered severe burns. She was a social outcast and was forced to wear a burqa to conceal her distorted appearance. Both of them are employed at the garments factory where Vijay works on thread sucking machine and Revathi is in housekeeping. Together they are striving to make ends meet and have even moved out of their respective shelters to set up their family. Another inspiring story is that of Ranga who came to Summanahalli as a homeless child suffering from leprosy. Cured by the dreadful disease, he is now pursuing his studies in law and is also a budding artist and a talented dancer. About 500 people have managed to land government jobs. Community weddings are conducted at Summanahalli where some are between induviduals who are HIV positive.
Medical treatment combined with sessions in counseling, occupational therapy and vocational training has given a ray of hope to the downtrodden. The government recognized St Joseph’s School at Summanahalli educates about 200 under-privileged children, 60 of whom are directly or indirectly affected by leprosy.
Training in printing, book binding, carpentry, welding and tailoring have enabled school drop-outs to earn a living. Ahalli, the garments manufacturing unit at Summanahalli has provided employment for several people who are physically challenged. At the candle making unit, it was heartening to see colourful candles made by people suffering from AIDS and leprosy.The work begins with identifying the needy and continues as long as they require a support system. The infected are not only given treatment but also encouraged to grow in their own right. Their families are also looked after. Children of leprosy patients are highly susceptible to the infection and are kept away to prevent infection. The young ones go to school, the grown up are given vocational training, the elderly are looked after. Counseling and tips for prevention of contagious diseases are part of the awareness initiatives. Some people are placed in jobs outside while the others work at the campus.
Over the years the Summanahalli Society has developed its campus which includes a school, shelters and training centers in the fifty acres of land leased by the Government of Karnataka. However, dark clouds have been hovering over Summanahalli for the past few months. Bangalore City is constantly expanding and the government is now eyeing the land at Summanahalli which is estimated to be valued at 500 crores. The foundation of the social set up at Summahalli where the homeless and hopeless thrive has been shaken by the decision taken by the State Cabinet on July 7th 2009 in which they propose to reclaim the land. There has been stiff resistance from the Summanahalli Society supported by leading NGOs in Bangalore to prevent this land grab. “We have not gone to the city, the city has come to us”, says Fr. George Kananthanam, the Director of Summanahalli Society. Why should the sick and needy always be thrown outside the city? Aren’t they the ones who need to be within the city so that immediate medical assistance is accessible to them?

Quick Facts:
Summanahalli Society has won 11 National Awards and 7 State Awards including the prestigious Rajyotsava Award.

The Government of Karnataka leased 63 acres of land to Summanahalli Society for a period of 30 years starting from the 30th of December 1977. The campus of Summanahalli Society occupies 50 acres and 13 acres have been used for the construction of roads.

Over 700 people are making use of the campus and about 360 are residing in the campus.

Summanahalli Society is a non-profit organization and the land has never been used for commercial purposes over the past 30 years. The recent decision of the government to reclaim control for the land and use it for commercial activities violates the original purpose and intention of use of this property.

This article was published in Deccan Herald on the 29th of September 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

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