It was with utter shock and a deep sense of sadness that we at the Rotary News Trust absorbed the news of the untimely demise of past director Yashpal Das. There wasn’t a single RNT meet that he attended at our Chennai office without first going up to the staff members and enquiring about their welfare, before heading for the conference room. Over the six years I knew him, it was with the utmost courtesy and respect that he always treated me as editor of the magazine. His gentle demeanour and quiet charm won him many friends. A relentless worker for Rotary, who can forget his contribution to the Ambala Hospital, the meticulous execution of those beautiful schools in the flood-devastated Garhwal region, or his passionate work for tuberculosis eradication. This perfect gentleman will be missed sorely as his loss is irreplaceable, and we join his family, friends and thousands of Rotarians in India and overseas to mourn his passing on.
It is always the human mind’s capacity for a contrarian viewpoint to commonly accepted views that makes a person stand out, and achieve great heights. The cover story of this issue highlights one such person, whose capacity to think differently… to advocate that the poor people of this world are basically honest, and hence bankable, that led to the ushering in and huge success of microcredit in this world. It also resulted in the man, Bangladesh’s Muhammad Yunus, bagging the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2006. Because poverty causes strife and conflict and absence of poverty makes it possible for people to live in peace, said the citation.
The very same Yunus has once again forced us to sit up and take note of his contrarian views on the corona pandemic. Addressing a virtual meeting of the Rotary Club of Madras, he wondered at the anxiety of millions to revert to the pre-corona pandemic era at the earliest. But, he says, the world prior to the pandemic was a terrible one on so many fronts — global warming due to the destruction of the environment; inequitable distribution of wealth in too few hands leading to mass poverty and hunger, and rising unemployment.
He believes the pandemic has given us a fantastic opportunity to set right the mess we have made; the details are in the cover story but one point that struck me the most needs to be highlighted. Referring to the pathetic plight of the millions of migrant workers who were left to fend for themselves after the sudden lockdown India announced, he argued that they were “on their own” because they belong to the “informal sector” towards which nobody has any responsibility. But we should formalise this informal sector, call them micro entrepreneurs, because after all they bring their skills or goods to sell in our towns and cities. And set up a Ministry of Microenterprise, akin to the Ministry of Labour which every country has for those employed in the formal sector. Then governments will be forced to formulate plans and policies for them. An exciting idea and, as Yunus says, an opportunity provided by this horrific pandemic to governments to take “outrageously bold decisions”.
But this will take time, and meanwhile with every passing day India continues to be hit harder by this virus, with the poor and the underprivileged being the worst hit, losing whatever ill-paying jobs they had and struggling to survive. It is heartening to watch the comfort and relief thousands of Rotarians across the world are bringing to these people, risking their own lives in the process.