Tucked away near Kozhikode is the tiny village of Cherukulathoor. From the look of it, it is indistinguishable from any other similar-sized village in Kerala. Pucca houses, streets bustling with (mostly) men, traffic on narrow streets. But everything about this village is, in fact, unique.
It was in the early 80s that two men named R. Velayudhan and P.T. Balakrishnan were in charge of the library committee. No one could tell me what made them different. Something must have been gnawing at their minds and they started talking to people about the need to give back to society. Perhaps, the motivation came from their Left leanings. In any case, they started pushing the idea of blood donation, and over the next couple of years, the village became one where every adult regularly donated blood for use in the nearby hospitals.
Time went on and the friends felt that something more was needed to be done. What could they add? What was difficult to come by? What would transform lives? The idea of donating eyes was mooted and after hours of discussion, this measure, too, got accepted in the panchayat. To date, 184 people have got their vision back or for the first time because of this village.
Still not satisfied, the panchayat and the library committee started ruminating to give more. And came to the extraordinary decision that every adult would pledge to donate all their organs either for research or for those in need of organs.
Early last month, I was invited to be the guest of honour and be present as the villagers made this pledge. Women and girls from the government's Kudumbashree self-help group scheme led us around the village with chendas. Seeing so many women chenda players was in itself an empowering experience. They led us to a ground with a pandal. Eleven people had taken the pledge to hand over their bodies for medical research and a doctor from a Kozhikode hospital received these pledges. And then, all of them rose to take the pledge, signed by over 1,100 people to donate all their organs.
Coming from Gujarat, where panchayats do little for the people and are just bastions of party politics and rivalries on who can make more on the side and siphon off money, this was a revelation. How had this been made possible? Can one person, or a group of people swing public opinion to do something as drastic as this? How long did the process go on, and did the fact that they took one step at a time, and went from the relatively simple act of donating blood to donating all organs, pave the way for success?
I don't have the answers and there was no one who could explain it to me, for they thought it quite normal. I know it is not the usual, that it is exceptional, and that is why it needs serious study. Imagine if IIM Kozhikode could study the people, their attitudes and the process. They could write up a case study, perhaps, and this could be replicated in other villages. And imagine the extraordinary change that this could bring to people who wait, and often die waiting, for organs. It would also cut down on the black market racket in forced organ donations. It would also spread a great sense of purpose and pride in a community with all the goodwill that it generates.
Bravo Cherukulathoor. You are leading the way for India with your selfless commitment to helping others in the most practical way. And, you are telling all of us that despite our cynicism, there is a possibility of being better human beings.