How it began at Rajasthan Mahila Kalyan Mandal Sanstha (RMKM)

It was a natural disaster that lead to the setting up of Rajasthan Mahila Kalyan Mandal Sanstha (RMKM). Back in 1975, a flash flood hit Ajmer.The city was submerged and as recourse, the district administrator had provided relief to the affected in a secondary school – the Topdara Senior Secondary High School; as it was built at a height according to British architecture, its upper floors were not affected by the waters.

With the basic motive of being a good citizen, RMKM’s founder, Mr. Sagarmal Kaushik decided to volunteer for the relief efforts. In his little spare time outside of work (he used to work with the Indian Railways), he helped mobilize relief material. His volunteering took him to the temporary-relief secondary school, where he saw the bare, basic setup that had been provided to the people. On seeing the conditions, a sense of guilt overcame him – while he and his family, neighbours etc. were living a comfortable life (as their part of town had not been badly affected by the waters), the people here were living in absolute squalor! He felt a sense of uneasiness and unfairness; this motivated him to encourage his neighbours to lend their support too. It turned out that more women came out to help the victims; further, they reached out first to women and children. Thus was born the banner RMKM, under which relief work proceeded.

While the relief activities gave birth to the name of the organisation, it was only at the end of these activities that it was officially registered. Right upto 1987, Mr. Kaushik continued to help others in need, after relief activities ended; done on an adhoc basis, out of his own home, which was a rented one. On weekends, for example, he helped people fill forms correctly in order to get their due pension. He also set up a Savings and Thrift Society, through which members contributed Rs. 10 a month each into a pool. Interest from this combined principal was then divided on the basis of individual contributions. (In fact, Mr. Kaushik’s son, Rakesh, used to contribute the Rs. 25 he earned from giving tuitions into this fund too.) Most families at that time were either poor or just about comfortable, so helping them save money for the future was a much appreciated value add.

In 1987, Mr. Kaushik met a certain Mr. K.K. Mukherjee through the district collector. Mr. K.K. Mukherjee was a Delhi Social of Social Welfare graduate, whose was then a social work with Gram Yojna Kendra, Ghaziabad. He was travelling to many districts to better understand the drought and find a solution. A random conversation about NGOs in the area lead to the district collector ( who knew Mr. Kaushik through the pension work he was doing) connecting the two men. Mr. K.K. Mukherjee motivated Mr. Kaushik to officially register RMKM – as donations cum funding would increase and the number of people he could reach out to, as a result. (until this time, there was no planning of activities. Help was being funded through members’ contributions.)

After this incident right up to 1987, you can say that, RMKM’s activities truly started. All activities of the organization have been a result of a “perceived need”. Similar was how the HIV/AIDs programme came about. The neighboring town of Pushkar combined with Ajmer’s dargah attract a fair number of tourists. This results is fair amount of drug usage as well asw spreads HIV/AIDS amongst sex workers (from the Pali district). Their HIV/AIDs project infact was selected for support by NACO.

There was another moving incident. At that time, Mr. Kaushik’s neighbour, Mr. Rao who was the tehsildar of Ajmer district, had a special child, named Gopal. This child was always kept locked up in a room by his parents. He seemed to be a social misfit and his behavior was rather aggressive and incomprehensible to others. It was this behavior that promoted others, including his parents to think that he was pagal (mad). Mr. Kaushik pointed out that the child’s symptons showed that he was certainly different – but not mad. Around that time he saw an advertisement in the local newspaper. The advertisement had been placed by NIMH – the National Institute of Mental Health. As Gopal’s symptons seemed to match those mentioned in the ad, Mr. Kaushik wrote to the school. It turned out that he was a special child indeed! It was this particular incident that lead to RMKM working for people with disabilities.

In 1992, when he retired, he received Rs. 4 lacs from the Government as pension. While his family and close friends advised him to divide the sum between his children (3 daughters and 2 sons), they were grown up. He had educated them and his family duties were over. He was more keen on doing something for RMKM, the organization that he set up. His pension money was thus used to purchase 3.3 acres of land, on which the RMKM building (and hostel) stands today. It is for this reason that the organization is located away from the city – as land in the city was too expensive. Of course, unlike earlier days, concrete roads lead to RMKM and infact the area, along with the neighbouring villages is now considered a part of Ajmer too.

Mr. Kaushik is 83 years old today and serves on RMKM’s Board. Day-to-day activities are now managed by his son Rakesh, along with his wife, Kshama.

Infact, Rakesh came on board fulltime in 1993. In 1992, his dad retired from the railways and dedicated all his time to RMKM’s activities. At that time Rakesh had just completed the 12th standard and was working with a firm – to earn money for further education. Post work, he recalls, he used to take his dad to the villages on his sister’s scooter (with age catching up, it was getting difficult for Mr. Kaushik to walk, as he previously used to do.) From an initial observer, he slowly got involved in odd jobs too – photography, typing out letters (which at that time was on a typewriter) and even motivating people to become part of the SHG. It was a particular incident in the SHGs that motivated him to quit his finance-related job and join his dad fulltime. A staff member of the SHG team ran away with the money the villagers’ SHG-contributed money one day. He says, “My dad was working honestly and hard and all because one staff member, his work was badly hampered.” So he came to lend credible support to his dad’s efforts. His full time involvement encouraged him to gain a B.Ed in MR from Ujjain.

His wife Kshama, on the other hand, came to RMKM in 2000 through PAVA (Professional Assistance to Voluntary Association). A TISS graduate, she was placed at RMKM as 19 others were placed at different organizations. When she joined, RMKM was still in its Thrift and Savings mode. As she got more involved in its activities, she got more involved with the growth and mission of the organization too. Sharing the same passion brought Rakesh and Kshama together; the two got married in 2001. He looks after livelihood and health projects at RMKM; while she manages special education related projects.

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