When Priyadarshni Academy was founded, it represented a spirited take on institution-building, social change for the better, creating educational opportunities from the grassroots, launching many crusades against evil and outmoded cultural practices and mindsets. Here is a quick overview of some of the other initiatives of the Academy over the years.
Swami Vivekananda famously said, “There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing.” Priyadarshni Academy observed that dowry, bride-burning and other abuses against women have been intrinsic issues particularly in rural society, and decided to set up an Anti-Dowry Committee, under the Chairpersonship of activist and renowned cine-artiste, Ms. Shabana Azmi, who played an active role from 1986-89.
This initiative was supported by then Maharashtra Minister of State for Education Ms. Chandrika Kenia, theater artiste Ms. Dolly Thakore, swimming champion Ms. Anita Sood, wife of Maharashtra Chief Minister Mr. S B Chavan - Ms. Kusumtai Chavan, renowned lawyer Ms. Anustrya Dutt, activist Ms. Sonal Shukla, and Editor of Femina magazine Ms. Vimla Patil.
The Academy’s Legal Aid Cell was headed by the former minister, Government of Maharashtra, Mr Marzban Patrawala, to offer all possible support to women at the receiving end of dowry demands and other abuses, with police protection as well.
While in principle this did offer harassed and threatened women an option, the logistical issues of providing them with accommodation and their children with education, became a major stumbling block. The movement also faced a major backlash from the families of the victims. Social workers were threatened with acid attacks. Many women from distress relief centers were parceled off into prostitution. Unfortunately, the initiative was unable to sustain because of legal hurdles.
In the late 80s, aggressive drug peddling on college campuses had seen a tidal wave of drug issues with the youth of the country.
So followed a sustained effort by the Academy to educate the youth about the evils of drug addiction via a series of seminars, debate competitions and the establishment of an anti-drug award. As Mr. Nanik Rupani says, “They should be aware that at first they consume drugs and then the drugs consume them.”
Mr. Rupani took this issue up at the Ministries level. Meetings were organized with the police and with the efforts of the Academy, a special DCP was appointed to regularly visit schools and colleges in Mumbai and rout out the peddlers.
As part of its awareness drive, the Academy, in collaboration with Drug Abuse Information Rehabilitation & Research Centre (DAIRRC), unfurled the World’s Longest Banner with anti-drug messages. A human chain of over 10,000 student volunteers from schools and colleges of Mumbai, along with 700 DAIRRC volunteers, held the 5km long banner (from Nariman Point to Walkeshwar), made from 44,000 sq. feet of cloth, aloft. Several Maharashtra ministers, the Mumbai Police Commissioner and many prominent citizens of Mumbai participated in the event.
The Academy went forward to address this issue at a global level, in collaboration with the United States Information Service, organizing a high-powered Round Table discussion on “Current U.S. and Indian Drug Abuse Laws” at the American Center, Mumbai. Amongst the dignitaries who participated were, Mrs. Lois Herrington, Chairperson of the White House Conference for a Drugfree America (1988-89); Mrs. Prabha Rau, the then Maharashtra Minister for Revenue and Cultural Affairs; Mr. Madhav Gadkari, Editor of Loksatta; and Mrs. Bakul Patel, Social Worker, to name a few.
Whenever disaster of any kind has struck in India – be it communal riots, terrorist attacks, earthquakes, droughts or floods - the Academy has endeavored to donate and raise funds to assist the most vulnerable.
While the mid-80s saw donations for drought relief, the early 90s saw members of the Academy visit and aid bomb blast victims of Mumbai at the St George’s hospital. Donations of essential food items and even equipment for the storage and refrigeration of blood was organized.
The Latur earthquake struck many a vulnerable family in the state of Maharashtra and the Academy donated funds to help victims get back on their feet. Similarly, when floods affected students in 2005, the Academy extended financial aid to students of both the University of Mumbai and SNDT University.
But easily the most shocking manmade disaster of them all struck Mumbai in 2008 – the 26/11 terrorist attack that wiped out 175 lives and left over 300 injured in just a matter of hours. The Academy donated funds to ‘Give India’ in 2010, to assist families of staff members at the Oberoi hotel, who lost their lives in the attack.
Enabling The Differently Abled
While slogans of ‘inclusivity’ may be highly popular today, the Academy has been working to make the differently-abled relevant to the workforce since 1990, when it sponsored an MTNL phone booth at Worli. This booth was managed by a polio-affected girl, Ms Sangeeta Jadhav, and helped her earn her livelihood. On April 20, 1990, renowned actress and danseuse Hema Malini inaugurated the booth, and speaking on that occasion, Mr Rupani announced that the Academy would sponsor 25 more booths for the physically-challenged. Priyadarshni Academy did follow through, opening and sponsoring the running of 25 Private Communication Centres employing differently abled individuals to run them.
India’s core cultural value system embraces ecological sensitivity. Nature is worshipped as Prakriti and a manifestation of goddess energy, or Shakti. While industrialized society studied nature to exploit her, ancient Indian civilizations always sought to respect her.
Way back in 1992, the Academy started a forum to tackle garbage dumping into the sea, locate waste management solutions, control traffic pollution and supported an awareness campaign to protect the environment.
In addition to dialogues with global leaders in sustainable development, like Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Mr. Rupani also arranged to screen former United States Vice President Al Gore’s acclaimed documentary, An Inconvenient Truth: A Global Warning twice over; once with the IMC Chamber of Commerce & Industry and once with the US Consul General. The Academy had instituted ‘Afforestation Awards’ early in its history, to create mass consciousness and support those leading ‘plant more trees’ initiatives.
As the former Indian Prime Minister, Late Mrs. Indira Gandhi used to say, “If you have to pull down 100 trees [for a building project], you must instinctively deem it your responsibility to plant 200. This is a practical need.” It is with pride we saw how, in 2022, India has taken the lead globally to ‘Save Soil’ from losing its rich organic content, with Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev taking this message to 27 countries in 100 days.
Today with forest fires raging through the United States and Europe becoming a frightful annual reminder of climate change, we must all do our best to preserve and grow new forests.
Health & Wellness
Over the years, Priyadarshni Academy has undertaken a variety of initiatives to improve the health of India’s citizenry.
Much before the current World Yoga Day was announced, the Academy organized a series of yoga and meditation camps.
The Academy arranged workshops on nutrition and hygiene, and provided nutrition aid to less privileged communities. It donated food and other essential items to various charitable organizations. The Academy has also provided aid to several individuals for medical treatment of various illnesses.
The Academy is closely associated with and supports Vision Foundation of India which provides free cataract surgery to the underprivileged.
As the highly disruptive nature of our modern world has multiplied stress for all sections of society, Priyadarshni Academy has held awareness seminars on mental health. The idea was to change people’s attitude and encourage them to seek help on mental health issues.
In the 80s and 90s, Priyadarshni Academy was the pioneering force behind the idea of Laughter Clubs around the world. The concept of de-stressing through laughter is part of India’s age-old Yogic tradition, known as Hasya Yoga.
Mr Nanik Rupani founded the Priyadarshni Laughter Club International, and was pleasantly surprised at how, within a short time, laughter clubs quickly sprung up not just within Mumbai and all over India, but also gathered momentum internationally and spread to USA, UK, Japan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, etc. It caught the attention of the global media as well. Mr. Rupani found himself talking to the BBC channel about this phenomenon! Says he, “I told the media that case studies involving 1500 volunteers, showed a reduction in blood pressure, migraine and many other health issues.”
Seeing so much interest in the subject, the Academy published the book Laughter Therapy - Information Guide to Hasyayog.