Two persons from Assam — one who has been tirelessly working to curb the rising population in the state and the other who is known for his ingenious innovations — have been awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award given in India.
DR ILIAS ALI — SURGEON AND POPULATION EXPERT
Since 1993, Dr Illias Ali has travelled on bullock carts, motor bikes and country boats from tea gardens in upper Assam to the hills of Karbi Anglong to the char chaporis (riverine islands of the Brahmaputra), convincing people of the poorest, most backward regions to adopt family planning and birth control measures.
“Many years ago, I read the book The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich. It said, if we don’t diffuse this ‘population bomb’, the earth will be destroyed. That left an impact on me,” said Dr Ali, who is also the Chairman, Population Foundation North East.
Dr Ali says that the only way India can progress is if the country prioritises the issue of population. “Like Indonesia and China, even India has to take serious measures,” said Dr Ali, who is also known for speaking out against polygamy and child marriage.
“But the journey so far has been rife with hurdles. Especially among the Muslim community in Assam, who consider children as ‘Allah’s daan’,” said Dr Ali, who then went from village to village, quoting verses from the holy Quran. “I told them what is the point of giving birth, if one does not have the resources to take of the children.”
On receiving the Padma Shri, Dr Ali said, “I am happy the government has recognised this war I have been fighting. Now the responsibility is to cater to the population which exists. To ensure that they have basic food, education and are healthy and happy.”
UDDHAB BHARALI: INNOVATOR
Even if it’s something as mundane as deseeding a pomegranate Lakhimpur’s Uddhab Bharali’s motto is to make the job simpler. The innovator, who finished his 150th innovation on January 25, is known for his ingenious contraptions: garlic peeling machine, paddy thresher, cane stripping machine, brass utensil polishing machine, passion fruit juice extractor, trench digger, to name a few.
But the 57-year-old has also dedicated his life to serving Persons with Disabilities — apart from making tools (for those who require “assistance beyond a wheelchair”) that can be used by them, under his financial care are seven families, who face such difficulties. “Apart from that, 25 families — who are extremely poor — are under my care, and I run a destitute home too,” said Bharali.
This drive to do philanthropic work is rooted in Bharali’s own childhood — in 1988, he dropped out of engineering college in Chennai because his family, under a debt of 18 lakh, couldn’t afford to support his education. That is when he came back to Lakhimpur and got involved in the innovation sector.
“Many people start their journey from ‘zero’. I started mine from minus 18 lakhs,” he said, admitting that he has always been a somewhat “eccentric person” since childhood. “I would always ask what people considered the most absurd questions.”
On receiving the Padma Shri, Bharali says it is an honour that such an issue is getting national recognition. “Very few people are in the line of innovation. It gives me inspiration to keep working,” said Bharali, who received President’s award for Grassroots Innovators in 2009.
Bharali now runs UKB Agrotech in his hometown in Lakhimpur, a machine design and research centre. “Today I might have a lot of commercial orders but I dedicate and prioritise my time for social issues. Helping these people makes me feel good. I might die a poor man, but at least it will be for a rich reason.”