A WAVE AGAINST THE CURRENT: GOVIND SINGH RATHORE AND THE SAMBHALI TRUST
Worldwide, it is a common feature for boys from male-centric family setups to grow up into active perpetrators of the very patriarchy that they were raised amidst. Add to that the socio-cultural dividends accorded to patriarchs in more conservative milieus, which further bolsters male-chauvinistic conducts of behaviours and mindsets as a widely accepted and rewarded norm. Direct and indirect references to social misconducts warranted by patriarchy pervade across class, caste, race and religious barriers in most parts of the world, but their increasing severity towards the more underprivileged rungs of every society are obvious. Not only does the lack of social mobility subject certain groups to more intensified discrimination, but also makes their redressals more elusive. And until those with socio-economic capital don’t step in as active contenders, these social evils will continue to pervade and plague our existence.
An acute exception to this standard progression of patriarchal norms in Rajasthan is Govind Singh Rathore, the elder son of a traditional Rajput family in Jodhpur City. Having had been birthed and brought up there, Govind became a conscious receptor of his family’s patriarchal ways at a relatively young age. In this regard, his experience is not very different from other boys his age, who too, receive an upbringing soaked in male entitlement and privilege. The institutionalisation of women subordination, that they witness through their family’s treatment of its female members is normalised in the very psyches of young boys and men. But Govind’s mental make-up would set him apart from other boys his age in more ways than one.
Govind was only 15 when his father died, leaving his mother hapless to contend with the stiffening destiny of widowhood. The lack of dignity that a society accorded to its women, especially those with the lack of protection of a male member pierced Govind’s heart. Even worse off than women of India’s higher castes were those from Dalit and minority communities, whose gloomy futures as women are further doused by their lower caste standing. With a lack of not just societal sympathy, but a total absence of familial support and compassion, what was their escape route from this labyrinth of misery?
After long mulling over this question, there came a day in 2006 when Govind finally found an answer. The prime and most obvious barrier to their social emancipation, as Govind identified, was their illiteracy and financial dependence. “That day, I decided to do something for the disadvantaged women and asked my house-maid Meera to bring her 2 non-school going daughters over, so that I could begin teaching them some reading and writing. To my surprise, 18 girls turned up with my house-maid the following day. Perplexed as I was, I didn’t refuse anyone and set off with the motivation of my wife Mukta and a small fund pooled in from the earning of my ancestral guest house, Durag Niwas”, says Govind.
This seemingly small philanthropic venture organically began to grow, and its overwhelming response soon led to the Sambhali Trust, which Govind founded in the January of 2007 as a non-profit organisation with an amplified resolve to provide distressed women a sense of belonging through a community that enabled their education and vocational training. Members of the Sambhali Trust devised a quest for its sustainability by showcasing their craft handiworks through the Sambhali Boutique. Over time, Govind’s humble venture has reached out to over 10,000 women and girls in and around Jodhpur through 9 empowerment centres and 2 boarding homes that provide basic education and sewing training to its inhabitants. He also led Sambhali Trust’s ripples to his ancestral village of Setarwa, wherein academic scholarships, self-defense training workshops and micro-finance projects have gathered wind to stir a gleam of hope in the lives of disadvantaged women and girls.
Up until now, Govind Singh Rathore’s passionate endeavours in the field of philanthropy sound like a much-needed fairy tale in our troubled times. However, there is a price to pay for every convention broken, and Govind shares his own consequences-"With no experience and guide to run a charity, I faced skeptical behaviour of the community being a Rajput working for the SC/ST, being a Hindu involving myself with a Muslin community, being a man working for women. Discrimination of some members in family not accepting to even drink water at our home for this, judgemental behaviour of people for NGO’s and foreign volunteers, people even thought I was involved with missionaries looking for SC/ST’s to bribe them and change their religion.”
That said, it is evident as to how Govind’s resolve to bring about change in his world proved to be far stronger than the cynicism and distrust he faced. Today, Sambhali Trust attracts thousands of volunteers and interns from India as well as around the world, and has marked its presence in 5 countries and has got an accreditation from the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
His true zeal and passion to bring about change left Govind’s resolve undeterred even during the onset of the recent pandemic. When the outspread of COVID-19 brought tourism to a complete standstill, Govind offered his familial guest house to the health administration to serve as an isolation facility, and relocated his family and some volunteers at Setarwa. For the next three months of lockdown and rampant unemployment Govind stirred through the sweltering desert heat providing ration to villagers. “I am delighted that God up there chose me for this noble work, I will not back off come what may”, Govind concludes.
In order to know more about Govind’s philanthropic work, kindly visit www.sambhali-trust.org