Crusader, Social Worker Honored by ICA
--Nandita Verma
India-West, Oct 3, 2008

Milpitas, CA -- Nipun Mehta, an engineer turned fulltime charity volunteer, and Madhu Kishwar, a veteran Indian social worker, were the winners of this year's Indians for Collective Action award for their work in inspiring volunteerism and improving the lives of India's underprivileged.

The awards, presented in a dinner gala Sep 28, marked the 40th anniversary for the Bay Area non-profit that aims to make development a youth focused issue, and has made a bold call to Bay Area's younger generation to revolutionize society, change the world, and demolish what they see as mechanical individualism.

Setting the bar was Mehta's personal journey in realizing the power of the greater good, and the remarkable financial sense of his "gift economy" that has debunked many an economic theory by successfully supporting his fully-volunteer run organization, CharityFocus.org, on nothing more than acts of kindness.

A computer science graduate from UC Berkeley, Mehta gave up his dot-com career when he was just 25 years old and chose instead to do whatever it takes to brings smiles in the world.

The endeavor has since led to millions of dollars worth of pro bono Web-related services to the nonprofits of the world, and a chain reaction of countless pay-it-forward generosities that resulted in Warren Buffet receiving a box of chocolates and spurring a kindness competition at Yale.

"It was humble experiment. We had no idea what we were doing and it really wasn't about the doing and the impact but the transformation inside," Mehta told his audience.

"I saw that being very me-centered wasn't as satisfying and it's not meaningful ... how about trying the other approach, and we soon realized that life is richer once you're we-centered and connected to everybody. Do something for the love of it, do it with no strings attached. When you do that, enough of somebody's cup of gratitude will overflow, and you'll be taken care of," said the keenly read Mehta, who in his talk quoted Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda, and recalled instances of their lives many thrice their age would not know about.

"I present this award as an ordinary man to an enlightened soul," added ICA founder P. K. Mehta, who was moved to tears by Mehta's talk.

ICA's second awardee, Madhu Kishwar, founder of the social and human rights magazine Maushmi, gave a shocking wake-up to the Bay Area expatriates about the still rampant abuse of civil rights in India as she presented as an example a case study on the harassment of rickshaw pullers in New Delhi. The situation, she said, only barely reflects the scope and magnitude of abuse happening in the world's second most populous nation.

Kishwar raised alarm at the rampant femal feticide and declining sex ration in the country, and said people the world over must act to saving the girl child in India.

"What was a localized phenomenon for small regions of India till the early 20th century is now spreading across the continent," the activist said. "It surely points to a cultural devaluation, and I don't think just passing laws can solve the problem. We have to spend effort and time in thoroughly understanding the factors that devalues females in our society. A large of it has to do with crime, corruption ... in any society when crime and corruption come to dominate, women are inevitably marginalized," she added.

India's patriarchal society has traditionally preferred sons to daughters and the preference continues to be strong in the country's rural and semi-urban areas. Boys are preferred by parents as breadwinners and because families often have to pay large dowries to marry off daughters.

Despite laws banning sex determination tests, one study published in British medical journal, the Lancet, in 2007 said about 10 million female fetuses may have been aborted in India over the last 20 years.

Bhupen Mehta, ICA's president, said they are actively supporting many girl child education and women empowerment projects, and one of their most ambitious initiatives has been to steer youth towards these initiatives.

'Inspire', an ICA program that helps college students connect with non-profits in India, has been bearing fruit as a group of young talented individuals who traveled the subcontinent on an awareness trip recently returned home with a deep commitment to help out those in need.

"It was a journey of self realization. I took interest in alternative education programs, and the experience has made me more passionate about life," said Raj, one of the participants in Inspire.

Mehta said that ICA is extending their outreach programs to working professionals and families who on their visits to India could donate just a part of their time to any initiative of their choice.

"We have three groups now ... the youth, the adults and the families. Once they are connected and involved with the projects and have first-hand experience of how their efforts are helping, then they come back as catalysts for developing those projects. New ideas, new people ... this is what can keep us going," he said.

Founded in 1968, ICA supports development projects aimed at providing healthcare, education and sustainable, community based income earning opportunities to India's poor. The group provides seed funding and moral support to innovative development projects, and has spawned successful non-profits like ASHA and SEVA.

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