If you think of women’s empowerment, Gujarat isn’t the foremost State that comes to mind. But a quiet gender revolution is taking place in the State known for its business savvy and enterprising people.
On a recent visit to RC Vapi, District 3060 and chatting with the principals, students and faculty at the several colleges put up in and around Vapi by ROFEL (Rotary Foundation for Education and Learning), it comes as a breath of fresh air to note that 65 per cent of the 2,025 students at the colleges offering Arts, Science, Commerce and Business Administration courses are girls! In some of the courses they
go up to 80 per cent; in one classroom I found only three boys.
“This year, when I was handing out awards, I saw only girls coming to receive them,” recalls PDG Ashish Roy. For a while he was spooked but then “a few boys came forward and I heaved a sigh of relief,” he smiles.
On two-thirds of her students being girls Principal Hemali Desai says, “We all know that Gujaratis love to set up their own businesses; so while young men go into business, young women, when given an opportunity, excel,” she says.
One man’s vision
But that is not the real story at the clutch of educational services Vapi Rotarians have set up here. As PP of RC Vapi and ROFEL Trustees Praful Dewani puts it, apart from these courses, ROFEL runs also a Pharma college and a state-of-the-art hospital. “We have set up a few Trusts in Vapi to take care of different activities. Ours was the first college set up in Vapi in the 1980s, with help from United Phosphorous Ltd (UPL). Later more colleges were added and also the hospital came up. All of these are the brainchild of PRIP Kalyan Banerjee (a member
of RC Vapi and Director of UPL). It is his vision that we follow till today.”
But the college, started to help students in Valsad and neighbouring areas didn’t have its own premises, till a Rotarian’s father in Valsad donated land, and the first building came up. Over the years, as the Nagarpalika and the GIDC (Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation) gave them more land, other buildings, specialities and the hospital came up.
The ROFEL campus has 10 acres of land and the green landscaping creates a serene spot of beauty in an ordinary Indian industrial town. Even more heartening than girls constituting 65 per cent of the colleges’
strength, is that OBC, SC and ST students are there in large numbers. “This is a tribal belt and children come to us from 108 villages, and many of them are first generation learners. Till Rotarians set up this college, they had to travel 30 km to go to colleges in Valsad for quality education,” says Hemali.
Thanks to a lot of time put in by ROFEL Trustee Bharat Patel into administrative matters, this is a “disciplined and well managed institution,” says Roy.
Supplementing family income
On why they don’t offer residential facilities despite having the space, the Principal says free transport is given to the students, but “most of them are not interested in staying on the campus because many of them do part-time work.” While some work in offices, others sell vegetables and some help out their parents on their farms. As there are two shifts, this is possible.
The good news is that many girls, after passing out, go for jobs; while the arts and science and commerce students begin with a salary of Rs 6,000–10,000, the B Pharm or M Pharm get around Rs 12,000–15,000. The MBA students begin with an annual package of Rs 3–4 lakh. “Keeping in mind the demand of the times, we have introduced English medium last year,” says Tanveer Rana, a faculty member. Of course those from poorer backgrounds and SC/ST groups often have to work very hard to catch up with the others.
Many of these students get scholarships. Even in the MBA course, where the fee is Rs 40,000 for a semester — decided by the Government; no capitation fee is charged — “we help them with a fee waiver or scholarships. Even when they leave this campus, we try and help some for higher education,” adds PDG Roy.
First generation learners
I ask for girls already doing part-time work and meet Dimple Prajapathi, a III Year B Com student whose father works as a gardener, and that too on a part-time basis as “his health is not good. He earns barely Rs 3,000–4,000, so the Rs 2,000 Dimple makes by working for three hours in a local company helps run the household.
Khusbu Sharma is 19, an M Com student and her father works in a bank; her part-time work fetches her Rs 3,000. She is hardworking, focused and after completing M Com wants to do her ICWA course. Both are OBC, and first generation students. Hemali adds that “in these areas, parents are reluctant to send girls for higher education with the mentality being that after all a girl has to do household work after marriage. But once they get the opportunity to study, they work so hard and do so well that it makes us happy. All over Gujarat, the general trend has changed; in many areas girls are doing better than boys.”
Deepak Shah, PP of RC Vapi and Trustee, adds that after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ call, there had been a spurt in the enrolment of girls in educational institutions. “My maid servant’s two daughters are now in Class 8 and 10, so the next generation is getting better education across classes.”
In the lab of the pharmacy college, many smart young women pharmacists of tomorrow are doing practicals. Here too the girls dominate; 65–70 per cent being female! Mukti Davda is from Vapi and plans to do M Pharm after completing B Pharm.
Pooja Chowdhary, also from Vapi, is from OBC and doing M Pharm, and plans to take up a job, so does her friend Vishala. Subodh Agarwal, a male student of M Pharm, will either take up job as a drug inspector or “I might even prepare for the IAS exam; I am yet to decide.”
Dr Arindam Paul, Principal, says proudly: “Right now, in the Valsad Drug office, there are three drug inspectors who have passed out from our college.”
This college offers four different specialities in Pharma and as Gujarat is a major pharma hub “all of our students get placement in the industries, starting with a package of around Rs 12,000–15,000,” he adds.
At the plush 200-bed multi-specialty Haria Rotary Hospital, run by the Rotary Charitable Trust, Superintendent Dr S S Singh, who has been here for 30 years, says it was started by the Trust in 1984, and over the years has added almost all specialities. These include neurosurgery, joint replacements, maxillofacial surgery, corneal transplants, etc. “Except for open heart surgery we do other cardiac procedures such as angioplasty. Between Surat and Mumbai, this is the largest hospital and patients, particularly those involved in accidents on NH8 that links Vapi and other towns to Mumbai, are rushed here. We also give free treatment to about 20 children under the Smile Train project.”
While there are beds reserved for poor patients, even other costs at this state-of-the-art and spanking clean hospital put together at a cost of nearly Rs 8 crore, are nominal. A knee replacement costs around Rs 1.25 lakh and insertion of a stent Rs 1.05 lakh, and other charges are nominal too, almost 50 per cent of other private hospitals providing quality healthcare, he adds.
Ramesh Desai, a Trustee of ROVADAN (Rotary Vapi Dangs Development) Trust, which has done phenomenal work in transforming some of the villages in Dang district, says that dialysis here is totally free. There are five dialysis machines. “Even the rich are given free dialysis but they can donate, and if somebody donates Rs 5,000, we acknowledge that the day’s dialysis has been sponsored by him/her.”
More than medical care
That this hospital does much more than just clinical or surgical intervention is seen from Dr Singh’s simple statement. “Most dialysis patients get financially exhausted, so to the needy ones we also give, along with free dialysis, some ration, such as 5 kg of rice, wheat, one litre of oil and some other ingredients.”
Roy adds that for none of the four charitable Trusts run by RC Vapi, any matching grants have been taken from RI, except for some small things such as an ambulance. Also, 20 RI Presidents have visited this flagship Rotary project of District 3060 over the years, inaugurating some new ward or facility.
I know PRIP Banerjee, whose hometown is Vapi, is somewhere in the hospital, and wonder where he is. “Oh, he must be checking out the toilets. Kalyanbhai is very particular about clean toilets,” quips RC Vapi President Jayesh Kansara. As if on cue, Banerjee emerges, and smiles, “Yes, I have checked the toilets and they are clean!” He is accompanied by Retd Major General Tsheri, who heads the Sandra Shroff ROFEL College of Nursing, which is training 106 nurses. Needless to say her nurses get instant placement “not only in Gujarat or India but all over the world,” she beams.
No prizes for guessing that once again, girls dominate. The last batch of 40 nurses that passed out had only 6 men!
I come away from Vapi with vivid memories of Ramesh Desai’s video presentation of the way in which Rotary has transformed farmers’ lives in Vapi. “We work with the Gujarat government and Ph Ds in Agriculture work with us to bring in change.” Well, Vapi deserves another visit, as the best stories can be related only from the spot.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat