Work an Hour 2002

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Sandeep Pandey: Profile of an Activist

Sandeep PandeyWhat made Sandeep Pandey give it all up? An engineering graduate of the prestigious University of Berkeley, he could have joined the masses in pursuing the American dream. What made him exchange a seemly lucrative career in engineering with a challenging life as an activist in rural north India?

Sandeep was interested in social intervention since his undergraduate days. He contested in college elections for the post of representative of engineering college and got elected. However, he quickly realized that politics was not the way to affect social change. While at Berkeley, he helped found Asha - a non-profit organization dedicated to socio-economic change through education of the underprivileged. While he did found Asha in US, he returned to India to take up teaching at IIT Kanpur. It was during his tenure there that the activist in Sandeep found its voice. He got involved with construction workers against the contracters for painting work in the university. Sandeep went on a fast to protest higher wages for contracters against the workers. A protest took place - an activist was born. To complete the transformation, Sandeep shed the garments of the average person and decided to wear kurta-pajama.

Sandeep in Ballia From that moment, Sandeep got involved in numerous struggles from worker rights, communal harmony to nuclear non-proliferation in order to protest the injustices to the underprivileged people. The engineering graduate who thought education would bring hope to the underprivileged evolved into an activist who realized that the current social structure needed to be corrected for a just social order. Sandeep calls it the Jeevan Vidya philosophy.

Sandeep talking to Rediff Jeevan Vidya begins where science and spiritualism by themselves have fallen short. Science and spiritualism have not been able to demonstrate a system which would allow us to live happily. Spiritualism is mystic and God-centric - the path is difficult and not necessarily replicable. Science, it is becoming obvious, takes care of material needs but not all needs. Jeevan Vidya is unlike spiritualism (not God centric) and science (not material centric); but puts the human being at the center. There are six levels an individual can live by - yourself, your body, your family, society, nature, universe. The biggest challenge facing mankind is in bringing these levels into harmony. Only if both material and consiousness needs are satisfied will human beings be happy. From this one derives two principles of education - (i) self reliance (swawalamban) and (ii) human values (samajikta). Education has to provide/inculcate these two principles for a just social order.

Sandeep lives in India with his wife Arundhati and their children, and continues his work at the Asha Ashrams in Lalpur and Ballia.


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