Swapnil has rescued troubled families, befriended naxalites, given a marketing platform to endangered artisans, brought people from the brink of suicide and much more. Here is his larger-than-life story which will leave you more spellbound than any Bollywood movie script!
Everything that Swapnil Tewari does is beyond a regular life. Someone’s most adventurous day might be the dullest day of his life. His story sounds like the script of an action-packed movie, and it is even stranger that he is still alive, in one single piece!
But Swapnil was not always like this. Born as a dyslexic child, he had a difficult childhood. But things got worse when his father died in a car accident. Swapnil was just 13 and could not deal with the emotional burden. He became suicidal and almost popped his mother’s sleeping pills.
“As I was about to take those pills, a thought struck me. I realised that all my heartbeats, my body parts – everything is alive. And they want me to live. Since that day, I decided to give a chance to happiness,” he recalls.
After finishing his graduation and MBA, Swapnil started working with Bank of India and then moved on to RBI. Having an urge to do something better with his life, Swapnil started a socio-creative venture for tribal artisans.
This is when a phone call completely changed his life. He called an artisan one day and the man’s daughter picked up his call. When he asked for her father, the girl replied, “Daddy is dead.”
Before Swapnil could process the information, the girl further added, “The Pradhan of the village takes mummy every night to his house and leaves her back in the morning. She keeps crying all day.”
This was more than what Swapnil had expected to hear from a little girl. He could not make peace with the situation and kept thinking about it. One fine day, he decided to stop just thinking about it and planned to take some action to rescue the family.
“There are so many problems in the world. Of course, for many issues, I can’t do anything. But this one I could. Only I knew about their troubles so I felt like it was my responsibility to help the troubled family,” he says.
He then quit his job and went to Madhubani to locate the family. After spending a big part of his savings and facing a lot of troubles (including being chased by gunmen from the village) he managed to bring the lady and her two children to Delhi. In order to sustain the family, he asked them to continue making their traditional art of Madhubani and helped them to market the paintings.
He started a company called Naked Colours in 2011 to support the struggling endangered tribal artisans of India and give them their share of credit. Naked Colours had an interesting business model, where 1/3rd of the total profits made on each painting would go to artisans, 1/3rd was used by him to sustain the company and the remaining 1/3rd was given to a school for underserved orphans and children with special abilities.
After successfully bringing the amazing Madhubani, Tanjavur and Gond artisans in the limelight, Swapnil wanted to do more. “I knew the condition of Naxalites. They are totally cut off from development. They do not even have basic facilities. I thought to go to one of their areas and intervene. I knew it would be difficult but I always believed in going to places where there are more difficulties,” he says.
He was just 23 when he first went to a Naxalite area. Maybe it was his dedication to bring a change or his lack of knowledge about the danger he might face, but whatever it was, Swapnil was determined to bring a change in their community.
As soon as he entered the naxalite area, his nightmare started. He was kidnapped by them and tortured for several days. He still has marks on his body that remind of the physical and mental pain he must have faced.
“Those guys would torture me for several hours and then go out. And while I was still there, I would teach their kids and spread awareness about hygiene among the ladies. I think they gradually started accepting me. They realised they have captivated a wrong man and finally freed me,” he recalls.
Today, one of those naxalites who attacked Swapnil has come out of that dark life. He owns a tea shop in a nearby town and his kids go to school too.
Having gone through many near-death experiences, Swapnil came back to Delhi and started working on his new idea for women safety – The Pink Whistle Project. He has designed a whistle called Shakti which can be worn as a bracelet. When you feel danger and press a button on the whistle, a 2 inch knife comes out of it which is sufficient to wound the attacker. The prototype of the whistle is ready and Swapnil is looking for potential partners to market it.
He has been extensively working with women of GB Road, red light area of Delhi, and giving them various sessions on behavioural psychology and positive thinking. Swapnil is also a great support system and inspirational figure to people in depression and he has successfully managed to bring over 150 people out of suicidal tendencies.
“Several times, people call me when they are about to commit suicide. To understand them and make them quit the idea over the phone is a challenge. But I guess it is love that binds us all together and that only makes a difference,” he says.
He has touched over 10,000 lives through his sessions and keeps on inspiring many more.
At 25, Swapnil was the youngest Social Entrepreneur in the world to be featured in Forbes magazine’s Changemaker list. He is currently working with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for AIDS prevention. His invention is an oral external contraceptive for HIV & STD prevention, and has reached Phase 2 of the challenge.
From being rejected by a prestigious B-school for his disability which he calls “this ability”, to giving a talk in the same school in front of the same people who rejected him, Swapnil has come a full circle.
“I am not working for my life. I am working for my death. When I die, I want people to remember me for the love that I shared and the work that I did,” he says.
Swapnil is nothing less than a larger-than-life character, who has defeated all odds to follow his passion. We are still processing the amazing work and the adventures he has undertaken in his life. When we spoke to him, he was still recovering from a bad road accident but sounded more energetic than anyone else in the room.