It all started in the year 1974 when Mr. Ram was pursuing his college studies and there was a tussle for the Kanyakumari district between Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Unfortunately, the youth of the region were affected the most. When the youth went to Kerala for employment opportunities, the government officials would send them away referring to them as Tamil Nadu people. This resulted in high levels of unemployment amongst the youth of the district.
“There was a time when the army was recruiting youth. My friend had applied and he dragged me along asking me to do the same. I was never really interested, but I went along with him. There were three bus loads going from our district. When we reached the venue, the interviewing officer was recruiting applicants from everywhere except those from Kanyakumari. When he approached us, he asked where we were from and when I mentioned Kanyakumari, he asked us to leave the venue. We were shocked,” explains Ram
Ram was not about to let himself be treated unfairly. From amongst hundreds of youth present, he took the bold step of standing up for all of them by going on to the stage to question the officer. “Actually I was quite nervous. I asked the officer three times why we were being ignored for the jobs and he replied quite sternly. He told us about how we can’t fight for our own rights and our center was in Ernakulam for the training.”
Not satisfied with the reply, Ram decided to start a movement against this discrimination and discussed the issue with the entire gathering of Kanyakumari youth present. He then decided to take a written petition to government officials with the signatures of all those affected. Not very fluent in English, Ram wrote out the petition in Tamil and then got a professor of his to translate it into English. It was during this exercise that one of the professors who was helping with the petition suggested to Ram that petitions never really worked. He urged Ram to start an organization for development of skills of the neglected youth. The professor’s name was Syed and he sowed the seed into Ram’s brain about such an organization.
Ram had no idea how to set up an organization and went about gathering the information on the norms and registration process diligently. This lead to the foundation of Kanyakumari Youth Development Program in 1974, which was later renamed the ‘Center for Social Reconstruction’ (CSR).
CSR started with a non-formal school, which helps kids with their homework, makes parents aware about cleanliness etc. Ram used to conduct annual days for his organization. At one of these functions, he invited a government official from the Department of Social Welfare as the chief guest. That official appreciated the work of Ram and asked him to apply for a government project of starting creches for the village laborers’ kids.
From then on, Ram started to get government projects helping the organization expand. Meanwhile, Ram was also pursuing his degree in the year 1975 while running the organization. “There were hardly any funds,” says Ram.
Most members of Ram’s family work in the electricity board. His elder brothers were keen that he take on a similar job. He was reluctant and politely refused explaining his vision to serve and help the youth. Sadly, his family didn’t share his vision. They even gave him an ultimatum asking him to go with their suggestion or leave the house. Ram chose the latter severing relations with his family. Short of funds, his friends however came to his rescue, paying his college fees. He later on started a small business which clicked and he used the profits for the benefit of CSR.
Once he had to go for a 3 months training to Delhi. He was in a dilemma whether to go, because going meant neglecting the business and then funds would be a problem. But, one of his close friends offered to take care of the business which only proved to be a problem. Once he got back from Delhi he had to attend to notices from income tax, sales tax etc for misappropriation of funds. This, he says was the major hurdle in his lifetime. He then took the help of his friends to repay the money and left for Madurai to work for some other institution leaving CSR to his friends for a while.
Being a bright student, he was the chosen one for all the seminars and trainings. He represented his college everywhere and was the one who was approached when there was a problem that had to be solved. This gave him a lot of experience and he finally went back to revive CSR.
In the year 1992, when he went to Delhi for a training programme, he met this lady named Shyamala Nagarajan who was also an active social worker who helped create awareness about HIV/AIDS projects. This caught Ram’s attention and he asked her how he can be of help. Shyamala invited Ram to be a part of the project and carry on the same at his district.
Part of his responsibilities was to distribute condoms to the sex workers in lodges and other places. “It was a very risky project. All my friends disapproved. People never opened up. But I wanted to help with this project. One day Shyamala came for evaluation. We took her around the villages and showed her where we were working. She wanted to meet a sex worker herself and talk. This was when the police walked into the room and started to arrest us. When we explained our project to them, they immediately withdrew their action and asked us to counsel other members in the jail too. That is how the HIV project was taken up,” explains Ram.
What just started as a Youth Development program now has touched thousands of lives in the district and everyone know what CSR activities are and how beneficial they are.