Son of the Soil: Meet Joe Madiath, the Man who has watered a Hope
Joe Madiath, cycling to his office situated in village Mohuda, Ganjam district, Odisha.
The quintessentiality of his character lies in his deep determination and nonpareil potential to fight discrimination. The depth of his dedication is directly proportional to the height of his vision. His peerless passion to bring change in the lives of the most marginalized sections of the society having infinitesimal visibility area of humanity has indeed been phenomenal.
The humility appears to be the hallmark of his personality. He is as humble as high. Each one of us must have heard the phrase – Simple living, High Thinking – he is a man who lives by this statement every minute, every second and in fact every moment of his life. The man who once cycled the entire India solo to see and understand the abject poverty and the pathetic state of the poor, particularly in rural India, can still be spotted cycling to his office from his house daily.
The constitutional character of his personality that impressed me the most, among others, is his quality of being a patient listener. It may probably be because opposite qualities attract each other as myself being a lawyer have tendency to tattle continuously for long. He speaks less and listens more, and therefore, when he says something, it carries a great meaning and considerable weight behind it.
He has spent his whole life battling social injustice and fighting for the most subaltern sections of the society to have them access to clean water and sanitation. Since, for the most part of his life, he has worked on the grass root level in some of the most secluded parts of the Country for the upliftment of the most suppressed sect of citizens, for me; calling him a son of the soil is the most suitable epithet that comes to my mind in the first place to pay him my obeisance for the immenseness of changes he has brought in the lives of the poor people.
Gram Vikas High School, Kankia, one of the four Schools founded by Joe Madiath.
The impact of his works can be seen and felt in four African countries too, apart from India. It is true that in India, because of the paucity of resources, his primary focus has been Odisha only, but the states like Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh too have got adequate attention in the recent past, though it is indisputably true that he has been able to water a hope for the rest of Country to take the clue from him and march forward. I tell you this tale from the life-story of none other than Joe Madiath, the man who has marvelously managed to uplift the life-standards of the people being counted as the most impoverished and the most marginalized people of this Country.
Born on December 3, 1950, in the Indian State of Kerala, Joe Madiath had a rebellious instinct since his very childhood. In his adolescent itself, at an early age of 12, he had rebelled against his father for what appeared to him to be grave injustice with the working class people. Deeply anguished by the inhuman working conditions of the workers toiling on his own family’s farms, Joe organized those workers to stand up to the injustice and fight for the better working conditions.
Sensing his dissentient character and similar possible predicaments in future, his father thought it better to put up him in a boarding School in Kolkata. In an interview with the Nation’s leading English daily ‘The Hindu’, Joe reminiscences this episode. He says, “That attempt to unite the workers employed by my father was, looking back, an exaggerated perception. I was definitely influenced by the Communist Movement. That was the time when the EMS Ministry was voted to power and there was this call for social equality. Of course, I was witness to this very obvious social ostracism, especially in my mother’s place, Kuttand.”
Joe Madiath, during his Ted Talk.
Having stayed in the Kolkata’s boarding School for around two years, Joe later returned to complete his Schooling at Infant Jesus Anglo-Indian Higher Secondary School, Thangassery. Later, during his days at Madras University, he became president of the students union at Loyola College, Chennai, and formed the Young Students’ Movement for development abbreviated as YSMD. During these days itself, he decided to travel solo across length and breadth of India on a bicycle. This provided him an opportunity to accumulate a firsthand experience of the pervading poverty, social injustice and rampant discrimination existing in the Country. This journey possibly played a paramount role in shaping the objectives of his life. Probably, from here itself, the purpose of his life had become a life of purpose.
Joe’s life witnessed a crucial phase in the year 1971 when he had to lead a team of 400 YSMD volunteers in cyclone ravaged West Bengal to extend assistance in relief camps for refugees coming from Bangladesh, as a result of the then ongoing liberation war. However, later on he realized that the humongous destruction caused to the State of Odisha because of the then unprecedented cyclone had received little attention compared to West Bengal, and therefore, he decided to shift to Odisha along with his 40 volunteers from the YSMD. Some of his colleagues later left after the situation turned normal but Joe decided to stay back. In 1976, on an official invitation from the State government to initiate development activities among the indigenous communities, he and his team moved to Ganjam district situated in southern district of Odisha. Joe’s decision to stay back in Odisha and to work for the upliftment of its poor people culminated in the establishment of Gram Vikas, on January 22, 1979. He still resides in this village named Mohuda that is so endearing to him as it sits in the lap of nature surrounded by the hills of eastern Ghats.
The mission of the Gram Vikas is – “to promote processes which are sustainable, socially inclusive and gender equitable to enable critical masses of poor and marginalized rural people or communities to achieve a dignified quality of life” reveals its official website. It primarily works in the field of water and sanitation but it also extends to livelihoods, social housing, community health, education and renewable energy. It also runs four Schools in three different districts of Odisha including one in Kalahandi.
Joe Madiath addressing the Jagriti Yatris (2017 Batch) at the Gram Vikas headquarter, Mohuda
Gram Vikas, the organisation founded by Joe Madiath, has impacted over 400,000 individuals and 70000 families through different program and interventions. According to the information available on the organisation’s official website, it has been able to impact over 1200 villages in 25 districts of Odisha and has started projects in 5 other states that include Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.
Joe Madiath in his personal capacity alone has received numerous national and international recognitions and awards for his tremendously incredible works that shall inspire generations to come. These awards and recognitions, inter alia include, Asian Development Bank’s Water Champion award, Schwab Foundation’s Outstanding Social Entrepreneur, Godfrey Phillips Red and White Bravery award, Lok Samman award and Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, Gurukul Lutheran Theological College.
Joe, in one of his interviews says, ‘At the end of the day, neither missiles and motorcades, nor cars and computers, can confer prestige on nations without taps and toilets. He has been making the changes he aspired to see sometime in past, and therefore, future too belongs to him. His commitment is an inspirational standing statement of his life for everybody to emulate. He has proved what the noted English poet William Blake had once said that, “What is now proved was once only imagined”.
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