He is often seen sitting on the park bench with a sheaf of papers and a pen, making quiet notes as the rest of the world goes about its everyday business. Or, if you happen to be visiting Aashirvad Apartments in Sector 16B of Dwarka, you can catch him lost in his world of paint and canvas on the corridor leading to his home. Let me introduce you to Ramesh Mumukshu, general secretary of the society RWA. I can also introduce him as a social worker, an RTI activist and an environmentalist, for he is all this and more.
Not many of us know this, but it is through Mumukshu’s repeated RTI appeals that Delhi has its land records digitised. He has been an active voice in several campaigns to conserve Uttarakhand’s valleys, and has passionately worked to spread awareness of Aids and HIV across northern India.
“I was inspired by my father,” Mumukshu says. “He was a government employee and a strong voice against corruption. There was no RTI then, only letters — and I was his courier boy, dropping off his complaints.”
“Soon, I found my voice against corruption. It was in my school days that I decided to follow the path of a whistleblower. You can say that was the beginning of my activism,” he adds.
In 2000, Mumukshu created waves throughout the nation. “In April that year, my friend Parsi Lal Verma and I got to know of an Aids patient, Govind Singh Koranga, in Chucher, in the Kapkot tehsil of Bageshwar in Uttrakhand. He was kept locked away in a cow shed, waiting to be executed by the villagers. It immediately took me back to Delhi in the early 1990s, when doctors and nurses in even a respected medical facility such as AIIMS were hesitant to attend to Aids patients. But the situation improved after the intervention of social activists, and the staff started treating patients with more sensitivity,” Mumukshu says. “All I could think about then was how far worse the situation would be in a village so remote. That was when I decided to go to Chucher to do something about it.”
And sure enough, Mumukshu reached Chucher and met Govind. “He was emaciated and filthy. You could smell the stink on him from a distance. But what was even more shocking was how the villagers recoiled at his sight, as if he was something grotesque, an aberration of nature. Even Govind’s wife nearly ran away from him. It was clear that there were severe misconceptions about how Aids spreads,” he adds. “I bathed Govind, gave him fresh clothes to wear and cut his hair. The villagers gradually started to understand the nature of the disease.”
But Mumukshu’s work was far from over. “I had to do something. I couldn’t see others suffer the same treatment. I met the district magistrate and area representatives. I even appealed to the health ministry and the United Nations for help. Though Govind died and five years later his wife did too, we managed to set up awareness campaigns and Aids testing centres across Dehradun.”
Mumukshu, however, says that setting about breaking misconceptions is not easy. It takes years of work and sacrifice. “Govind and his wife left behind two children — a boy and a girl,” he says. “I took them for an HIV test, which thankfully turned out to be negative. Though the son now lives with an uncle, the daughter was never accepted by the villagers. I had to send her to SOS Faridabad, where she now studies.”
Mumukshu also rescued two other Aids patients, Renu Dayali and Kamala Dayali, from Jauna in Uttarakhand. One is undergoing treatment in her village and the other is at the Naz Foundation in Delhi.
Apart from the digitisation of 229 villages in Delhi, Mumukshu’s RTI activism has also led to the inclusion of a six-month-long environment course in, first, the IP University and then the whole country.
He has also been one of the most active general secretaries Aashirvad Apartments has seen. Along with a group of volunteers, Mumukshu took it upon himself to get everyone at the society verified by the police — be it the domestic help or the guards or the residents themselves. “It is our duty as citizens to support the system. I am making but a small effort,” he says.