How Santosh Thorat is helping rebuild homes, increase literacy in Mumbai’s Dalit colonies

By Shiva Thorat, TwoCircles.net

Mumbai: The idea of working for your community does not necessarily mean that you have to be at the forefront of something revolutionary: even simple ideas and honest effort in addressing the issues at hand can go a long way in helping the downtrodden sections of society. Santosh Thorat is a person who may not own much, but when it comes to giving back to his community, his efforts are second to none. Thorat is a 46-year-old resident of Mandala area of suburban Eastern Mumbai, where we find the dumping ground in close proximity to the Vashi creek. The family of Thorat, a Matang (Dalit), migrated from Ghetuli village, Jalna district of Marathwada 30 years back because of the drought in their area. He sustains himself by doing odd jobs like that of a security guard, operator, and garment suppliers and so on. But it is his efforts beyond his regular schedule that is inspirational.

Thorat’s foray into helping others came after a personal tragedy that has for long affected thousands living in Mumbai; Thorat’s house which was in Annabhau Sathe Nagar of Mankhurd was demolished by the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) in 2004. Since then, he has been a part of the ‘Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao Andolan (Save the House, Built the House Movement) started by Medha Patkar, a social activist, also known for Narmada Bachao Andolan. Santosh. Mankhurd area forms one of the essential core areas for this initiative.

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On a rainy day in Mumbai, Thorat, in a meeting with this correspondent explained the issues of education and its importance to the area. He says, “It is because of illiteracy that real estate goons take advantage of the residents”. Thorat interacts with nearly 500 residents of his area every day, and this in part explains why residents of the area also approach him to solve their domestic problems like ration cards, voting card, Aadhar (UIDAI) card or school admission. “An urban centre like Mumbai where 70 percent of the migrated probably cannot afford housing, Mankhurd becomes important for the migrated masses”, he explains.

How does he connect to the Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao Andolan? He responds. “Wherever demolition happens I reach the place, help the residents take their goods and help them build another house. At the time of demolition, the owner of the residence does not know how to act to the government or real estate goons”. But Thorat’s role goes beyond the initial help. He has emerged as an impactful and powerful personality to the area of Annabhau Sathe Nagar, where 60-70 percent of the residents belong to the Dalit community and others are Muslims. “He is the rising leader who addresses the day-to-day problems of the Annabhau Sathe Nagar”, says Abhishek Tiwari, Editor of the monthly magazine The Sabha.

“Lot of people think I am a Buddhist, I am not a Buddhist but I believe in Buddhism. They actually think I am from the Mahar community, but in reality I belong to the Matang community. There are few differences between both these communities. Among the differences, education is the most important indicator. Here in Annabhau Sathe Nagar, literacy is low, I want to increase this rate”, he expressed. It was for this reason that Thorat, with the help of Smile Foundation of Mumbai initiated computer classes for the disadvantaged children of the area. Now he has a class of 30 children. In future, Santosh Thorat plans to work systematically and make the area a substantial base for education.

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