He was 29 when a personal tragedy shook Kanchukutla Subhash’s world. In 1996, his father was diagnosed with Fluorosis, a disabling disease that is caused due to excess of fluoride in ground water. When a person drinks this fluoride-contaminated water, it slowly starts weakening the bones by replacing its calcium. Seeing his father’s deteriorating health, Subhash decided that nothing was more important to him than ensuring that the residents of Nalgonda, a district in Telangana where he stays, have access to potable water.
While his father lost the battle against Fluorosis in 2005, Subhash, now 50, is working day and night to help the fluorosis-affected and curb preventable deaths. His activism has, so far, reached around 830 villages in Nalgonda, touching lives of more than 10 lakh people.
In his early activism days in 2003, he took a 60-km long symbolic march with people to Nagarjuna Sagar Dam to fetch clean drinking water. The march was done to make a point that despite the availability of fluoride-free water nearby, the government had failed to provide it to the common man whereas it was providing the same water to other states.
His efforts did not stop here and he started a massive rapport building exercises with communities. He reached out to schools and started awareness campaigns where he explained the students and teachers about the dangers of fluoride and helped them identify safe sources. Through organising street plays and installing wall paintings in and around Nalgonda, he started educating people on fluoride.
In 2011, he went around different parts of Nalgonda to collect postcard appeals from the people. After he collected a significant number of appeals, he sent them to the High Court in Andhra Pradesh. He also staged a strong demonstration at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar.
The postcard campaign swayed the members of legislative assembly in 2012 and along with the speaker of the Andhra assembly, Shri N Manohar, a team of MLAs went to the affected areas to get a first-hand account of what Subhash had been saying all along.
In 2013, this deliberation led to the formation of District Fluoride Monitoring Centre (DFMC) in Nalgonda, a coordinating agency under the direct patronage of the District Collector that focuses on mitigating Fluorosis; and today stands as a testimony to Subhash’s selfless struggle.
One thing led to the other and UNICEF Telangana came forward with their support and Fluoride Knowledge and Action Network provided technical support to the entity.
Since then, the Centre has been a focal point entity that has been interacting with 6 main line departments in the district and monitors their progress. To make the lives of people affected by Fluorosis better, the Centre has been overseeing Krishna water survey to help the government in Mission Bhageeratha and also regularly monitoring programmes like mid-day meal, ASHAs, Axillary Nurse Midwifery (ANMs), Anganwadi and disability pension.
Amidst this, Subhash’s commitment to the cause remains unwavering and he continues to mobilize support and get the lives of the fluorosis-affected back on track.
One of the fluorosis-affected who has been helped by Subhash was 25-year-old Saidudu, who, till recently, was not able to walk without support. After Subhash’s intervention and massive mobilization of funds around 5 lakhs for his operation and doctors’ fee, he is now able to walk.
On one of my field visits, I got to meet Saidudu’s family – his wife and his three-year-old daughter. Post his operation; I could see a spark in their eyes, as if their worst times were behind them.
Walking around with Subhash in the field made me realise that the 50-year-old man walking beside me was a symbol of hope for the people of Nalgonda. When I asked one of the ladies on what the district could do for them, she paused for a minute and then replied, “I’m not worried, sir, no, not at all! Subhash Anna is there for us and he will look after us, but thank you for asking.”
Her answer was a confirmation of the respect he holds in people’s heart.
Noticing the strands of grey hair on his head, I suddenly realised that he had spent two decades of his life for the fluorosis-affected and holds the promise of spending a few more.
Subhash’s dogged determination to take on one of the most difficult health conditions in our country and fight for people’s rights, is a shining example for many to follow.
– Vikas Ratanjee works as a Policy Advocacy and Communications Lead with INREM Foundation. As part of his role at promoting the Fluoride Knowledge and Action Network, he has been instrumental in developing campaigns and local group formation in several states.
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