58 Years Of Social Service In The Temple Town Of Karnataka
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Born in pre-independent India, Surendra Koulagi lived in a world greatly different from ours today. It was time when India and Pakistan were still more than a decade away from their painful birth as independent nations. But turmoil had already begun.

As a child growing up during the freedom struggle, Koulagi lived among inspiration. The people he spoke to, the ones he heard stories of and the ones he watched growing up had a similar motivation in their beings – an unparalleled love for the country and the desire to live freely. From a very young age, Koulagi had an idea of what he wanted to achieve.

When India finally gained independence from British Raj, he saw how the country changed. There was a lot we had achieved and a lot more left to pick up from. Koulagi spent the prime of his life in the 1960s – a remarkable period in the history of India. It was a time of notable reforms that uplifted women’s rights in the Indian society, attempted to eradicate caste-based discrimination and untouchability and encouraged education. It was also a time when the country’s relationship with neighbouring China suffered a blow when an unprepared India stood against 80,000 Chinese troops for the war of 1962.

In the 1960s, the first Prime Minister of the Republic of India advocated a socialist model for the economy. It was the ‘60s that marked the end of the post-independence Nehruvian era. Inspired by Gandhian philosophy, Surendra Koulagi wanted to be actively involved in the country’s social sector.

An inspirational journey

Born in Bailahongala, North Karnataka, Surendra Koulagi’s thoughts were inspired by the many people who participated in India’s freedom struggle from this small village in southern Karnataka.

Both north and south India played massive roles in India’s freedom struggle but the southern experience was different in many ways. The south had its own Dravidian movement led by Periyar which failed to gain the needed support. Despite the distinction, India fought as one against its colonists, inspiring a young Surendra Koulagi from Karnataka to join hands with a freedom fighter in Bihar.

During his 20s, Koulagi went to Bihar to serve Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly known as JP. He worked as his secretary for nearly 8 years. JP was paramount to India’s freedom struggle, working alongside Gandhi, Nehru and other prominent nationalists.

Surendra Koulagi

Working closely with JP made Koulagi’s inclination toward the social sector grow stronger. He came back to Karnataka to practice JP’s and Gandhi’s ideology thus, giving birth to Janapada Seva Trust in 1960.

“He was brought up during the freedom struggle and had seen the whole atmosphere of India’s rise to independence. From a very young age, he had acquired the qualities of becoming a social worker,” said Santhosh Koulagi to The Logical Indian.

That same year, Surendra Koulagi met his wife Girija Koulagi.

Surendra and Girija Koulagi

Janapada Seva Trust

Melkote – the Temple town of Karnataka – was known for its handicraft, handloom, traditional silk, cotton weaving, pottery, basket weaving and oil-pressing. A young couple – Surendra Koulagi and Girija Koulagi – decided to dedicate themselves to keeping this village alive. They settled down in Melkote for the Janapada Seva Trust.

“Back in the ‘60s, there were no schools or nurseries in Melkote,” says their son Santhosh. Both his parents passed away and the Trust is run by the third generation – Santhosh’s son.

The Koulagis saw a Lord Krishna Temple in Melkote that had a big courtyard. They used it to work with children from all religions and castes alike giving it the name – Shree Krishna Nursery. It was their Trust’s very first initiative.

Shree Krishna Nursery

Janapada Seva Trust got its social recognition through a centre it ran from 1963 to 2000 called ‘Karunagruha’. Back then, polio was rampant in the country. Many handicapped children from rural areas were housed in Karunagruha – their limbs were treated and remedied through surgeries and they were provided education and employment.

At a time when polio received much stigma and the ones with the condition suffered social boycott, the Koulagis decided to help and uplift people’s social status.

Differently-abled children of Karunagruha (1970)

Karunagruha started with one child in 1963 and rose to uplift hundreds of others – some have grown up to become college principals, bank officials, etc. They helped the children till they got married and had their own children – being in contact with three generations. By 2000, a lot of government centres started working toward the eradication of polio.

In 2005, the Karnataka government approached the Trust for starting an adoption centre in Mandya district for orphaned children. Thus, Karunagruha was transformed into a shelter for orphan children as old as a day or a week.

“These babies are cared for an made available for adoption legally,” says Santhosh Koulagi. “Till now 60 children have been adopted by families from various parts of Karnataka.”

The Koulagi couple had expanded their reach to other social causes as well.

Empowering young girls

“A program called ‘Kasturba Condensed Courses Centre’ was run,” says Santhosh Koulagi.

For the 10 years that the program was alive, around 250-300 girls were benefited. These girls, many hailing from poor backgrounds, some windowed with no means of earnings, were sheltered for two years and given education. Many of them continued their studies after leaving the Trust, completing their post-graduating and Ph.D. Many others went on to work as teachers or factory workers.

1st batch of the condensed course program

But the Trust realised that there were still others who remained unemployed after leaving the program. They needed skills to be employed and the creation of a job suitable for them. That is when Janapada Press was started – much before printing press made its way into rural areas. Around 30-40 girls received training to use the printing press.

Women working on the printing press

“We have no aspirations on taking on ultra big or numerous projects. Our primary intention is that there should be new ruminations here and those must continue to grow elsewhere,” says Janardhana C S, President of the Trust.

Current projects

Janapada Seva Trust worked in several areas, including education. For 20 years, their primary school provided education to hundreds of children and their pre-university college functioned under Gandhian ideas of education. Due to state and bureaucratic interference, both had to be shut.

Group reading

Presently, the Trust runs education programs.

“We are doing a lot of training programs – not as formal schools that we previously used to run but we run a lot of education programs where we teach development issues, political issues, among others. We don’t have a formal school or college anymore,” said Santhosh Koulagi.

Another area where they have substantial presence is Khadi. The Trust is striving to revive and popularise this local tradition. The Trust is a recognised khadi institution by Khadi and Village Industries Commission of Government of India. It seeks a minimum support from KVIC and is focusing to make khadi products market savvy and built a loyal client base from among urban community, says its website. This has helped the Trust to reduce the state support to a minimum. Local rural women and traditional weaver community manage all the activities.

Khadi weaving

Finished organic Khadi fabric

All of their programs are people supported and the funds come from individual donors.

What began in the ‘60s, has its impact felt even in 2018. Surendra Koulagi started Janapada Seva Trust to help people come out of societal shortcomings. For generations, the Trust has uplift hundreds of individuals who came from difficult backgrounds and grew up to become able citizens who now spread the values they learnt under Koulagi’s guidance. Janapada Sena Trust continues to be a beacon of hope for many, now run by the third generation of Surendra and Girija Koulagi.

You can reach out to the Trust here.

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Editor : The Logical Indian