Sometime in 2008, Reeta Gupta had a chat with Ajit Ranade, who has founded the Association for Democratic Reforms. He told her about the electoral apathy in Indian society and then they went on to work on a campaign, ‘It’s cool to vote’, which was targeted at youth.
“We had worked with some fashion brands at that time to make some cool posters which were posted across several Indian cities. The satisfaction which I got at that time was immense. You feel that you are a part of something that is greater than yourself and that’s what advocacy is all about,” says Gupta, who has spearheaded several campaigns since, all aimed at changing the mindset.
If you are following actors and celebrities like Esha Deol, Dia Mirza on their social media accounts, you would have seen them lending support to Rev Up campaign, which has been conceptualised by Gupta.
Gupta, who has founded The Network, a firm that specialises in content and brand building methodologies, tells us more about her ethos.
“The crux of my work,” says Gupta, “is bringing about a change in the mindset of society. India is a democracy with 1.3 billion population and we have no dearth of problems. Having said that, you can open schools, but you cannot tell the fathers to send their daughters to school without a mindset change. The schools can go empty, the toilets that have been built can be used as storerooms. Every facility that is made available, whether by legislation or private participation via philanthropy, cannot be fully utilised in a nation such as ours without a mindset change. So the focus of my advocacy has always been mindset change. Recently, we did a campaign around ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. It was called Samne Aa and it said ‘allow the girl child to emerge’.”
Gupta and her team champion the cause of gender sensitivity. She has also worked in the field of disability and that is reflected in her new campaign Rev Up.
Says she, “Rev Up is Register, Enable, Vote. Register person with disability, enable them to reach polling booth and ensure that they cast their vote. Rev Up also means to speed up the process and increase engagement, in English. So the first part of Rev Up campaign encourages an able bodied individual to take a person with disability with him/her to the polling booth and ensure that they cast vote. The second part, which we will be speaking about in the coming days means, that people with disabilities should also participate as candidates in the electoral process. If their voice is heard in Parliament, then that’s the time change will take place.”
What does it mean to be disabled?
Gupta has worked in the disability sector for about 15 odd years. She came into contact with Javed Abidi, head of Disabled People’s International, a global body. “Abidi passed away in 2018, but till his last breath, he fought for the cause of disabled people. What I have realised in my work is that our problem lies in the built infrastructure. A person with disabilities born in the West leads a very different life from his Asian counterparts. His/her parents don’t cry when such a child is born. They know the path s/he will trod on and the kind of education and career opportunities the child will have. So the child will live a fulfilling life. In India, the parents feel terribly sorry for themselves in this situation. That happens because the path isn’t there, educational institutions are not accessible, trains, bus, auto service — nothing is accessible for such children. These are the facts and hence parents feel disappointed and have to run from pillar to post,” explains Gupta, who has also written a book, Re-Script Your Life.
Coena Mukherjee, a girl with cerebral palsy, interns at Gupta’s office. She is part of the Rev Up campaign. “Coena and people like her need access to education and opportunities. Arman Ali, who is Abidi’s successor, says that visually impaired girls with mental health problems get raped and then become pregnant. They don’t know what has happened to them. This is a matter of mindset change. We must know that we can’t violate the space of these men and women. There is a lot of work to be done. And, the government is doing what it can. We as people, should strive to be a part of this change-making process,” she adds.
When asked about divisive tendencies which are on the rise in society, the Mumbai-based activist says that ultimately we have to build peace. Her book was presented at Unesco, Geneva in June 2018 and the organisation’s tagline is — Building peace in the minds of men and women.
“Peace is an intangible concept. Peace, of course, is a state of mind. But peace is also an obligation that we have towards each other. It essentially implies, that we are one, one world, one people. Dalai Lama has said, ‘When you have to choose between being right and being kind, choose kind’. It means, ‘I might have hundred reasons to dislike someone but when I know what the consequences of that can be, I have to choose to be kind and I have to hold myself back. I choose to not make the differences between you and me concern me or affect me. I choose to respect your way of life. That is what building peace in the minds of men and women means,” says Gupta, who is currently working with filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra on his autobiography.