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Engineering social change

Engineering social change
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First Published: Sun, Feb 20 2011. 07 17 PM IST

Rangaswamy Elango.  Hemant Mishra/Mint
Rangaswamy Elango. Hemant Mishra/Mint
Updated: Sun, Feb 20 2011. 07 17 PM IST
NAME: RANGASWAMY ELANGO
OCCUPATION: SOCIAL ACTIVIST, ENGINEER
FATHER’S NAME: S. RANGASAMY
OCCUPATION: FARMER
Rangaswamy Elango has given a new lease of life to his village in Tamil Nadu. Once it was a cluster of mainly kuccha (temporary) houses, open gutters, and home to “all kinds of social evils”. Today, as the founder of a trust for village self-governance, he is taking the development model of Kuthambakam, 30km from Chennai, to other villages nearby.
Rangaswamy Elango. Hemant Mishra/Mint
As a child, Elango walked 7-8km every day to reach school. He recalls how the walk was especially tough during the monsoons—there were no roads—and how most of his classmates often went hungry on days when the government’s meal delivery failed.
With the help of government scholarships, Elango got through to the Institute of Chemical Technology in Chennai after he finished school. Later, he worked as an on-site engineer in Bhubaneswar. He is the first engineer from his village.
Elango explains how Kuthambakam always drew him back. “While in college, I would return frequently. But when I moved to Bhubaneswar, what pricked me the most was that I now had the money, yet couldn’t do anything because of the distance.” Within two years, though, he found a new job and relocated closer home to Chennai.
While working there more than a decade later, he got deeply involved with the new panchayati raj system. When the panchayat elections were announced in 1996, he decided to quit his job and return to his village to contest. One of the first things he did on winning was to build roads and cover open drains to improve hygiene levels in the village.
The village was also rife with social evils—men drank illicit arrack, and violence against women was rampant. Elango says, “Often, my father would try and put a stop to the violence. He would encourage my mother to take care of the women who were beaten, apply turmeric on their wounds, and so on. Even my aunt was a victim.” Elango took over from his father in stemming the social evil.
Today, the village boasts of not only pucca (permanent) roads and houses, but also of green technology, zero alcohol tolerance, and agriculture-based processing units that will create local jobs.
Harshada Karnik
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First Published: Sun, Feb 20 2011. 07 17 PM IST