By Yatti Soni:
Siddharth Agarwal is an engineering graduate from IIT Kharagpur and also, an avid traveller. Fresh out of college, he and his friend (Ujjwal Chauhan) cycled 2120 km from Kolkata to Mumbai. They named it – ‘Madness Project‘. This project helped in raising INR 80,000 for CRY (Child Rights and You) and INR 1.2 L for Rang De impacting more than 200 lives. These funds were used to ensure 100% enrolment in 6 villages that they visited.
Last December, Siddharth attempted to walk almost 600kms in Rajasthan but had to abandon the walk at 450km. This December, he is doing it again.
Why would you do that?
Siddharth: We need to start seeing things, whether cultural or social. ‘Walking Back To My Roots‘ is an attempt to highlight social issues and lead a cultural revival in India.
Siddharth is resuming ‘Walking Back To My Roots’. A project aimed at drawing attention to Shekhawati Architecture in Rajasthan. An art form that has been long ignored. As he tells me, there are hundreds of havelis being completely abandoned by society. His past attempt raised INR 30,000 through Rang De.
And, art is not the only thing that we have stopped noticing. Every other day, India gets a new topic to rave about; debates on Intolerance, Narendra Modi’s foreign trips, celebrity interviews or a new tech startup. But amidst all this bustle, are we missing on the critical issues?
Siddharth: Most of us do not even know about the various social problems. To find solutions, we need to first acknowledge the problem. During my walk across Rajasthan, I saw more shops selling chilled beer than I saw schools. We used to come across children working with truck drivers or dhabas. And, if asked about their age, they’ll murmur 14, when you can easily tell that they are 8 or 9.
In Maharashtra, we got to know about the exploitation of factory workers. Officers of a reputed FMCG firm controlled worker’s cash flow and charged high-interest rates on their microloans.
In a country ingrained with such major issues, most of us believe that urbanisation is development. A new innovation in Virtual Reality, another doorstep service, cheaper Taxi rides and we think our country is progressive. It’s true that we are the third largest economy, but we are also a 0.5 on the scale of Human Development Index.
As the citizens of a country where 70% population contributes to only 20% of the national GDP, where do our people fail?
Siddharth: There are a couple of things that seems funny to me:
1. In a supposedly progressive society, we need to find time for social work. It somehow is a holy thing to do, rather than being an obvious task that we must undertake.
2. A large section of our society still remains blissfully ignorant of the struggles that low-income families face.
3. Present day tech trends are creating enterprises to offer solutions that are not necessarily required.
How do you propose to change this mindset?
Siddharth: I want to remove this ignorance, to speak in the language that people understand. I want to make social activity an obvious thing to do as opposed to being a holy/special activity. This is the sole reason behind starting a social enterprise cum media house, Veditum. We need to create a better generation of people, a generation with much more empathy than us. It would be great to see tech-entrepreneurs solve problems of the poor.
What is it like to be a social entrepreneur?
Siddharth: It is a pretty difficult choice to pursue social entrepreneurship. Especially when there is no dearth of job opportunities all around. I’m still not sure how things are going to shape, this is the beginning for me too, but I’m willing to take the risk. One thing that traveling has taught me is that – the problem is not in our failing, it is in us not trying.