Nana Patekar and his NAAM for Farmers, River Revival and Climate

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He ruled the screen and became an iconic figure of Indian cinema expressing angst of the society in his own effusive style. National awards, Filmfare and Padma Shri (India’s fourth highest civilian award) remain a crowning glory for his towering presence in every story he attempts to tell on the performing stage, in both Hindi and Marathi . Tracing the origin of intense emotions with impeccable dialogues and comic genius in Nana Patekar, we land on to a veritable story of an ardent boy of 13 years who would walk 10 miles each day to reach school and start earning before touching adulthood. Passion for theatre at an early age was a way to purge and at the same time draw the attention of his father, who would travel to watch him perform taking pride and reassured of his future. Oblivious to the mise en scene, the script of real life was at a toss with sudden loss of father and his business. Shocked but not shattered at life’s beating, Nana walked up to the theatrical semblance of cinema to echo those sentiments which kept boiling in the psyche of the nation, shoving his own but silencing none. Through ‘Prahaar’ he adorned a soldier’s way of life receiving four years of hardcore army training two decades ago. With the highest respect for the military uniform and service, he has acted upon his calling to address some of the most urgent issues within the boundaries of the nation including farmers’ suicides and misery of the soldier’s families martyred or killed on duty.

I had felt the stir when farmers’ suicides in the state of Maharashtra would make headlines, but a solution to the problem was nowhere in sight. The issue has since gone trans state where the distress of small and marginal farmers has been left largely unattended and lost into the din of verbosity. In the year 2015 the headlines flashed in the news rooms with Nana Patekar taking up the cause, and expressing his pain over the loss of farmers’ livelihoods due to severe drought that had hit the state. Natural disasters and climatic emergencies had forced migration leading to health and food crises. He shared his pain about poor treatment to the displaced people who have ever known to live with labour and dignity; and our respective roles in empowering people who face hardships. Without much ado, he picked up the cause and started offering support to the grieving families of farmers through the NAAM Foundation (Hindi acronym literally meaning Name).

Riddhi Siddhi river before revival efforts

As I get into conversation, I learn his simplistic explanation about individual actions at the core of which is personal satisfaction with what you do with your own strengths and sense of power. His philosophical fabric back stitched into discussions with people, officials and volunteers working closely with the farmer community, makes a serious attempt to nail the root of the problem. Sharing his concern about choking natural paths of flowing water as an extension of disruptive human tendencies, he cautions against not prioritizing restoration of water bodies in the villages as they remain central to the human civilization. Every other aspect of our social-economic well-being and self-reliance gets automatically addressed if we care for and conserve our local resources that nature has endowed upon us, he expounds.

Riddhi Siddhi river after revival

NAAM’s role in changing lives and social dynamics is not something Nana is boastful about. His humility and reticence could appear to be unusual but it’s also because of his complete attention to the current crisis of flooding of villages and loss of precious human lives and habitats. He pays personal visits to the flooded areas of the state without media glare and his team works day and night for rescue and relief operations. On one hand is relief, on the other is preparing ground to plug the impending climate crisis through river-revival drives. As I delve into the details of water-centric works my count reaches up to 400 rivers and local water bodies desilted, catchment paths cleared, small dams constructed and plantations along the banks to check soil erosion. Spread across more than 350 villages of Maharashtra, rivers coming back to life and irrigation activities getting normalized with better water management and improved ground water levels is not a work which could possibly go unnoticed. Lockdown period also couldn’t dampen the speed of work as consistency is the value the ground team is trying to inculcate among participating forces.

Dham river before revival efforts

It is work with complete community participation where the needs are identified by the villagers, and NAAM Foundation mobilizes resources from community, government and corporations. The team closely working with the families who underwent traumatic experiences of suicide committed by the bread earner, shared that improved financial conditions, young generation opting for farming and dairy as a remunerative activity; and reversal in the trend of migration to cities in search of work is boosting the village economy. When people become part of such transformation, collective consciousness for self-awareness is a bigger gain.

Dham river Wardha after revival

Climate change is on top of the agenda for the United States and India is seen as key contributor in achieving Climate neutrality by 2050. India is not ready to buy the idea of net-zero easily seeing its own development pace and priorities. The underlying meaning of cooperative partnership between the two countries could, however, be further emphasized by bringing to light the relationship between large scale water conservation efforts and thereby reduction in energy consumption. Measuring  the work of community-based organizations from the yardstick of reduction in climate footprints and attaining sustainability could be an added perspective to the water-oriented works with an engaged grassroots population, who contribute least to the climate crisis but get most of the burden through adaptation and mitigation efforts imposed on it. India is already leading from the front with state level climate action plans and policies. Rivers, fields and soils are climate sinks coming alive through consistent community driven works taken up with a vision. This must find more meaning in the larger climate discourse having potential to pull curtain from enigmatic and tech heavy climate dialogues which go beyond the common man’s intellect to be felt and acted upon.

If the Shakespearean phrase of ‘violent delights have violent ends’ be seen as prophetic for our world where flooding and vanishing water both play havoc with lives, we cannot go on a consumerist-capitalist spree as before. We cannot live in harmony if human societies are at loggerheads with nature. Climate emergencies can only be tackled with the interplay of community initiatives, policy support and informed choices. Just as Nana’s NAAM Foundation is doing with the firm belief in the power of each one, we need to wake up from the slumber and shake up our immediate world.

About the author

Author profile

Dr Shipra Mathur is the Consulting Editor.

Academic Background: PhD (Journalism), First candidate in Rajasthan to clear UGC - NET in Journalism year 1997, MJMC (Gold Medal), BJMC - President University Dept Student Union, MA (English Lit), BSc (Bio) – Vice President College Student Union, Diploma (Violin)

Fellowships/Scholarships: IVLP (3 weeks International Visitor’s Leadership Programme invite, US State Department, 2017); Media Strategies for Social Change (3 weeks programme invite Israel Agency for International Development Cooperation – MASHAV, 2013); Sacred Groves (2 year fellow Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 2010)

Action Campaign Editor (National): A unique designation which she chose for herself with role in decision making and breaking glass ceiling. With 20 years in Journalism (half in academia half in active journalism), she is now leading innovative - collaborative solution driven Journalism. Her key role is to plan News Campaigns, innovate for new approaches, take up issues; build linkages for Action and Impact. She has always followed unbeaten track with beginning phase as reporter then founding media departments in university affiliate colleges, later taking crucial role for launching evening newspaper, founding journalist training division of a media house, and now in her most crucial role since 2009 as founder of a division called Media Action Group (MAG) ( in the newspaper group embedded into core editorial. Her focus remains voiceless people, inspirational work, collaborative approach and people engagement to lead with passion and compassion. She has also been reaching out to grassroots people through speeches and her media programmes/platforms to help each of them become Changemaker. She is recipient of Women Icon Award – 2015 and recently Sriphal Award – 2016 for Public Service Journalism and Innovation Award - NIF, 2014. On the board of Amity University (JMC School), SWARAJ grassroots organization and many more.

Consulting Editor: India America Today

TV Show (Weekly) conceptualized, named and presented by her #SOULgers for Patrika Rajasthan TV. This is with a purpose to cover work and philosophy of people who listen to their soul, walk on unbeaten path and work like a soldier.

As resource person had opportunity to share experiences on invitation of FICCI, CII, UN Women, UNFPA, UNICEF, IIM-A, RMP, ISKON, Artha, Skoll, CSO/VO consultations/ trainings, UNESCO, PLAN International, Govt of India platforms, Print Media Houses (esp Regional Language newspapers) and other discussion forum to propagate the idea of Public Service Journalism and to share about Empathy, Importance of Meaningful Work, Public Education, Collaboration and Change.

She founded PEN media foundation to build dialogue for better ways of People’s Engagement with News world. She is also Founder Secretary deeply involved with a cause to support Disabled (amputee animals) by installing Prosthetic (Artificial Limb – KRISHNA Limb) as service (non - profit).

Area of Work She has done major work for the benefit of the underprivileged, voiceless, marginalized or deprived community. Her major achievements have been in the areas of Right to Education; Democracy Drives during assembly and general elections (won National Media Award by President of India); Civic Engagement for Expression of Development ideas and Initiatives; Street Vendor Policy; Camel Trafficking, Gender Issues including female foeticide (won Gender Media awards for Teams at different editions), Sex Selection (she represented her state before Prime Minister of India’s dialogue with Women Sarpanch (8th March 2017 showcasing remarkable improvement in sex ratio), Child Marriage, Female Voices; Inclusion, Empathy and Accessibility for People with Disability, Environment Conservation; Awareness and Access to Ayurveda; Hindu Refugees (Religious Persecution) and Govt Schools among others. Govt School and Gender campaign (engaging more than 200 civil society groups) is closest to her heart with huge impact – policies, mind sets and practices. All these issues have been taken in campaign mode with critical engagement of all the stakeholders. It was always an ecosystem which operated underneath with experts, development sector, social workers, social jurists, active citizens and sometime the actual sufferers or beneficiaries also, which added desired direction and force to all what she undertook. She always took driver’s seat and designed ways, decided nomenclature, planned steps, facilitated engagements, offered slant and edited stories and fanned public movement keeping her teams in the fore front. Now writes only when it boils within and if it at all supports the cause, else invisible force is what she prefers to remain as.

In past 2 years she has built a dialogue forum called KEYNOTE Idea Fest for Patrika mentoring and curating it for different editions and suggesting/inviting people who have worked with profound sense of commitment and who inspire with their work or thoughts.

Impact Campaigns (her brain child) in past years: Neenv, Ahsaas, Laado, Tabran ro Byaav, Bitiya Bachao, Vision – 2025, Vajood, Bitiya Padhao, Vanshalika Betiyan, Aao Padhayen Sabko Badhayen, Feri Walon par Fanda, Doob Raha Jahaaz, Ayushmaan, Live Park, Gamechangers

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