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Small Talk With Ashif Shaikh

CHANGE leaders do great things, and often that is all we know about them. Here we want to get a different glimpse of the personalities that constitute the development space. Every month we get one leader to answer four questions, not necessarily about their work, but about themselves. This week we catch up with Ashif Shaikh founder of Jan Sahas.

Born into a Dalit Muslim family, Ashif Shaikh came face-to-face with caste-based discrimination at a very young age. He was still in school when he decided to stand up against it, to raise his voice and put an end to such negative forces.  By the time he was in his late teens, he had started forming student groups to fight the deep-rooted caste system and emphasised on empowering excluded communities to bring about social change.

In 2000, Ashif founded Jan Sahas Development Society to eliminate forced labour and all kinds of discrimination based on caste, class and gender. Today, Jan Sahas focuses on liberating and rehabilitating manual scavengers, preventing gender-based violence and building the capacities of communities left out of mainstream society. Ashif’s work against manual scavenging was recognised nationally when he was featured in one of the episodes of Bollywood actor Aamir Khan’s television show, Satyamev Jayate in 2014.

Small Change: Describe your moment of epiphany that led you to start Jan Sahas? 

Ashif Shaikh: Jan Sahas came into existence when a group of like-minded people decided to raise voice about the issue of death of three Dalit children and bonded labourers in an illegal unit of firecrackers in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh. Some of us came together because of that and to take the cause forward we formed Jan Sahas Social Development Society. Ever since the focus of our work has been fighting against the violence and slavery the excluded communities face.

SC: Who or what inspires you the most? 

AS: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and his work has always been an inspiration for me. He also fought his way through untouchability and discrimination to build a movement against caste-based oppression in India. His mantra ‘Educate, Agitate and Organise’ has given a meaningful and powerful direction to the most excluded communities, not only in India but worldwide.

SC:  What book or film would you recommend to someone so they can better understand your cause? Also, tell us why.

ASThe one film that people should watch to understand our struggles and our agitation is   ‘Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar‘ and the one book that is a must read is  Jyotiba Phule’s Gulamgiri.

SC:  If you could invite four famous people, living or dead, to your dinner party, who would they be and why?

AS: I would invite Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the 15th-century poet Kabir, Malala Yousafzai and A. R. Rahman. These people inspire me a lot in my way of life and work.


Want to support Jan Sahas in their mission to empower, protect and help socially excluded communities? Click here.

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