This article has been sponsored by the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation
In 1946, Arunaben Shankarprasad Desai was a young college graduate. Even as the entire country was in the midst of the freedom struggle, Arunaben believed that true independence would be a myth if its people, especially the marginalised sections, were not individually independent.
This thought eventually gave birth to Vikas Vidyalaya in 1946, which has been working towards achieving the welfare of women and children, living in poor social and economic circumstances.
What started in Wadhwan, with just 40 individuals, has now spread all across Gujarat with over 80,000 beneficiaries in the last 73 years.
In 2005, speaking at an award function about her journey, she had said, “I had just graduated from college when I started social work. At that time, it was very difficult to convince the society that a woman is an independent person. Nowadays it has become comparatively easier and women are participating in each and every field even though the status of women in society has not changed a lot.”
Her journey to make India a better and safer place for women and children began after she came across several reports of human trafficking in Saurashtra.
She began her research into some of the pressing issues of the time, including cruelty against women and untouchability, and Vikas Vidyalaya was established to eradicate these concerns through education, shelter and empowerment.
Under Vikas Vidyalaya, Arunaben started a primary school, two high schools for girls, a polytechnic college, a college for handicrafts as well as colleges for teacher training and vocational training programmes, focused on knitting, tailoring, and embroidery, among others.
She even started a centre that trained women in Amber and Bardoli charkhas.
She also wanted to uplift and empower women holistically. So, started a founding home to provide shelter, healthcare, education and rehabilitation through employment, marriage and even adoption (of younger girls). To bolster the adoption procedure, a rigorous process was initiated.
The founding home also provides counselling to women and helps them find practical solutions to the problems that they face in their marriage or families. So far, this service has benefitted 2,600 women. She even started a cosmopolitan hostel, that has helped more than 800 girls till date.
Extending welfare for the differently-abled, she opened several schools for them as well as students with learning disabilities. Further, to ensure empowerment through education and healthcare, she also started an orthopaedic centre, a hospital for the mentally ill, and hygiene centre.
In one of her public speeches, she shared that Jankidevi Bajaj, an Indian independence activist and the wife of Jamnalal Bajaj, provided her with unwavering support and encouragement, which pushed her to do better.
Thanks to her tireless efforts, Arunaben was conferred with the Jamnalal Bajaj Award for Development and Welfare of Women and Children in 2005.
In addition to this, she also received a State Government award, in the field of Child Welfare, in 1981, a Mahila Suraksha Award in 1989 and the Shri Rajiv Gandhi Human Services Award in 2002. Unfortunately, on February 18, 2007, she breathed her last at the age of 83, leaving the nation a great legacy of social and academic excellence.
Today, Vikas Vidyalaya is considered a ‘Fit Person Institution’ providing safe custody to children under the provisions of the Saurashtra Children Act by the Government of Gujarat.
Over the years, the numerous institutions started by her have helped hundreds, immortalising her name as one of the most prominent social workers in India.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)
Find more details about the Jamnalal Bajaj Awards here.