‘Women power is one of the most important power..’

‘Aamir Khan’ in conversation with ‘Divya Solgama’

 Divya Solgama – Aamir, you recently went to Pune, how was it? What was the response among the youngsters?

Aamir Khan – It was great. I got a very good response at Symboysis and the essence really is that it was a specific activity in which we were reaching out to students. Student fraternity in Maharashtra by going to Symboysis was a symbolic gesture. Reaching out to students across Maharashtra, encouraging them to join us on 1st may, when and where we are organising a ‘Mahashamdhaan’ as 1st may is Maharashtra Day. So we want people from cities to travel to villages on that day and work for 3 hours with villagers and be a part of this and contribute to this process.

Divya Solgama – In comparison with today’s youth, were you socially aware when you were a college kid?

Aamir Khan – I think I was fairly aware. To be honest I rarely spent any time in college because I didn’t study beyond 12th and after 12th I was mostly doing theatre and all of that. But I was socially aware and I used to respond to similar causes like this

Divya Solgama – Do you agree to the fact that your super stardom has benefited you in grabbing the attention of the people better towards his cause?

Aamir Khan – I have to say, first of all, the idea has to have a merit and I think the idea and concept behind what we are trying to do, which is actually has been designed by Satyajit Bhatkar(CEO, Paani Foundation) has got merit in itself. And this concept was first tried 3 years ago when we started in 3 ‘talukas’. I think if the concept doesn’t have a merit then no matter how many celebrities try pushing it, it won’t work! So the fact that it has work indicates that the concept has got merit and then certainly there are celebrities like me and other celebrities from Marathi cinema who have been actively endorsing it, pushing it, working with people over the last 3 yrs. It’s not just me but number of celebrities from Marathi cinema who have come forward to do this. So first I feel concept has to have merit and then celebrities can give it weightage.

Divya Solgama – Aamir, does this cause gets affected when it doesn’t rain as much as expected?

Aamir Khan – It’s very rare that it doesn’t rain at all. In these draught areas typically they have 300 mm of rainfall which is very less, sometimes in case of severe draught, it drops to 270 mm or 250 mm, in rare cases it drops to 200 mm which is very unlikely. In 200mm of rainfall, you would have roughly 5 showers in whole monsoon season so what happens is that typically when villagers come for training they are taken on a walk around the village and they are told to identify just through visual what is the difference you see between your village and the village you have come to, so they identify some structure, there is greenery and there is water. That is obvious observation they make. First question, we ask them is why do you think there’s water here and not in your village? They say that it didn’t rain much in our village, then we pull out figures that in your village it rained 300 mm last year and there are 40 trainees, so each trainee we tell and in this village it rained 250 mm which is less than your village and now why do you think this place has water and yours doesn’t? There could be a case that it doesn’t rain at all like hardly 1 shower. But that is very rare and unlikely. When we say that it didn’t rain at all, what we mean it rained very less but if you have done water shed management then even in less rain it would be of much benefit. So one of our program is Jalmitra, log onto –jalmitra.paanifoundation.com, and when you tap on language, you fill a form, you become a jalmitra, you can come on 1st May to do Shramdhaan, you will be told precisely what to do, you can do 3 things that you can do, you can donate money as well with Bhartiye Jain Sanghatan which helps villages which are not able to raise funds. Having seeing their work last year, if you want to donate money then donate to BJS which has shown the strength to do shramdaan as they are working efficiently. To give an example, if you give 1000 to BJS, it’ll buy 14ltrs of diesel for one hour. In one hour, the machine digs 5 CCT, each CCT has capactiy of 20,000 ltrs. 5 of them makes it 1 lakh ltrs. In a year, you have atleast 5 rainfalls, that means 5 rainfalls will give you 5 lkh ltrs, 5 lakh ltrs of water if you fill in tankers, each tanker costs Rs. 2000. So 2,000*50 is 1 lakh. So your Rs. 1,000 which you have donated to BJS, it’ll be value of 1 lakh to the village. Water shed management is a very dynamic work. In the 1st year, in the 3 talukas the amount of water storage capacity created was Rs. 272 crore worth of storage capacity, in 2nd year it was like an insanely high number I remember the visual, if we put it in 10,000 tankers it’ll go around the earth 1.2 times when we place these tankers one behind the other. So those villages which have done the water shed management work benefit a lot and they become tanker free. Their agriculture improves, their women don’t have to walk long distances, kids who are supposed to go to school don’t have to wait in line for the tankers because lots of times kids are given the job to fill the pots.

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Divya Solgama – You were saying contribute 3 ways, what are the other ways?

Aamir Khan – You can donate money and you can do Shramdaan on 1st May. You can do shramdaan on any other day between now and the 22nd of May, until the competition gets over. You may not be free on 1st May, so you can go on any other day and the 3rd option you get is to do more. Suppose you want to do more than this, then we train you as a volunteer to do more. For example, we train you to how to use our app, we have an app for the competition, that app is an app which villagers need to fill up because when they finish work they have to take a picture and upload. Then they have to show us before and after images of the area. They have to log all the work, but many villagers find it difficult to use the app, if you want to do more one thing we teach you is how to use the app and go out and help the villagers to fill in the details, get them used to the app. Also, we train you how to sensitize school and colleges. In short burst like a couple of hours. You can go to school and colleges and do a presentation, do more has number of options.

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People have asked us what is your hope I have said that in 5 years we should not be relevant anymore. Paani foundation should cease to be relevant and all villagers should have known how to do it and they shouldn’t need us anymore. We should become usless in 5 years.

Divya Solgama – Aamir, will this cause help in preventing the suicides of farmers?

Aamir Khan – Yes, it has certainly. Water is not the only reason for farmer suicide.

Divya Solgama – In earlier times, there used to be fund raising concerts or events to support such cause. So will be see something similar from your end?

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Aamir Khan – No, concert! We are funded by the 5 funders. We don’t need concerts which is why we don’t take money directly.

Divya Solgama -What’s the response from the women for this campaign?

Aamir Khan – Oh! Women are the main guys. Women power is one of the most important power. As a story from last year, when we went to a village we saw women who doing shramdaan everyday, working very hard while the men were lazying around, making excuses, they used to play cards all day, eat paan and all. So the women decided that they won’t go home, after shramdaan they went to temple and they slept over there and told their husbands that they weren’t coming home. They said, if you’re not coming for shramdaan, we are not coming home. So what it resulted in 24 hours is that the men cracked and they said no we’ll come for shramdaan. What women did was to take the initiative to make them first sign the register and write names and then they would come and then they began working together. This effort is not only to solve the water problem, it is also ending up you know adressing social issues on its own organically and I strongly recommend you all that you visit our website and watch our show on zee marathi ‘Toofan Aaliya’ at 9:30 on Saturday, do watch that or you can catch the episodes on YouTube because all these stories you will see over there and on our website you will see these stories and please help us in communicating to people that on 1st May we need more and more people from cities to sign up for Mahashramdaan. 25th is the last day of registration, 1 lakh have registered so far but we need more and more people to register please encourage them to register because whatever we do in these 3 hrs will really be a big help to the villages. I personally feel it’ll help the city folks eventually.

Divya Solgama – Do you feel a movie related to such social cause will be helpful?

Aamir Khan – We are working on ground with villages. We are doing a TV show which comes every week in Marathi because we are addressing the Marathi audience. I don’t think a movie can do anymore. We are already doing much more than a movie can do.

Divya Solgama – Lastly, Aamir how much Junaid and Ira are contributing?

Aamir Khan – Ira is not in India right now. She’s studying abroad. Junaid is very much working in Paani foundation. He sits in the paani office only!