Meet Madhulika Choudhary, a strong-willed environmental activist who left a great life abroad to do something for the country and its people, whom she strongly believes in. HatkeStory has been following her work over the years and we must say, we are very impressed by her dedication and deep-rooted belief in environmental protection.
Madhulika Choudhary has battled land sharks, political pressure and local apathy towards the environment, to successfully restore Neknampur Lake in Hyderabad, from a state of decay to a biodiversity-rich tourist park. People now come and ask if there is a ticket for visiting the lake premises. You must visit this place if you are a resident of Hyderabad.
“We always complain but never give a solution. It is about time that environmental protection should be treated as a professional service, not a social service” says Madhulika. We had a great conversation with her at the Neknampur Lake, which now looks alive compared to the dump yard it was when we first saw it.
HatkeStory: Where are you from? What is your educational background?
Madhulika: I am basically from Pilani, Rajasthan. After my MSc in Computer Science, I worked as a research scientist in Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute (CEERI), Pilani for 2 years. You need a lot of patience to work at Central Govt. run institutes. I felt like I was in a cage. Consequently, I left the job and joined an M.Tech program in Jaipur.
I worked for a while as a professor at ICFAI. I later moved to Sharda University where I learned Chinese and was a course content creator for Chinese nationals. Soon after, I moved to Singapore with my husband.
HatkeStory: What did you like to do when you were a child?
Madhulika: I was a really naughty child. I loved exploring mysteries and haunted places. I remember, I once crossed a railway track like we cross a normal road when a train was fast approaching. My mother thought that was my last day. Luckily, when i came back giggling, she slapped me hard. That made me realize i took too much of a risk. My parents had a very tough time dealing with my hyperactivity and frequent bruises from accidents. That’s why I was always caged!
HatkeStory: What brought you back to India?
Madhulika: I was leading a very good life in Singapore. I was a typical Indian talking in terms of packages. I was a Status freak. My neighbors, mostly non-Indians used to taunt me saying Indians are very intelligent but India is a rape country. One day something snapped inside me which led to a big fight. These so-called developed countries are not very clean as shown at the international level. If people are so civilized there, what’s the need for $1000 penalties? Indians are one of the most civilized groups in the world if you ask me. The majority keep things in order despite having no penalties.
This fight with my neighbors led me to believe that we can do a lot to change how things work in India. My kids were accustomed to air-conditioned environments. I regret not being able to do anything to change this. My son refuses to walk barefoot on grass, feels suffocated if I turn off the air conditioner. Somewhere, I started to doubt my parenting. Our worldly pleasures are defining our lives now and possessions define friendships. Such life consumes your time and issues like environment and awareness sound like hogwash to people.
I decided to pack my bags and come back to India with my kids to do something on my own.
HatkeStory: That must have been a tough decision?
Madhulika: You must change your family life first before trying to change the world. Despite both my parents being public sector scientists, they always wanted me to go and settle abroad. They themselves settled in Canada. I know India is mired in politics and there is lots of negativity. Many are not proud of our country. But, you have to make an effort to change things.
You should have the strength to answer questions when you decide to simply leave all your past comforts.
How did your decision to leave Singapore go with your family?
Madhulika: My husband was not at all ready. He gave me 6 months’ time to get it over with and funds to survive in India. I took my kids along and returned to India without any plan! I was very agitated mentally at that time because I myself was not sure of my future course of action in India.
I had confidence that my kids will somehow earn money. If I can give them a healthy environment to grow up in, I believe I will have done something good for them. Leaving behind property for your kids is like putting them on a sophisticated wheelchair.
Why did you choose Hyderabad as your destination to start your new life?
Madhulika: Hyderabad is a place where no one knows me. I wanted to start life from the scratch. I didn’t want to go back to North-India because status related issues would crop up leading to mental agony. Relatives, friends would keep asking uncomfortable questions. They would taunt me saying I had studied so much and yet am wasting my life fighting for a lost cause like environmental protection and conservation.
I wanted to show people that a normal citizen can do a lot of things at the ground level. I started my work here by establishing an organization called Dhruvansh NGO. I don’t know anyone here so it was beneficial. I didn’t get scared of threats from local land sharks. The police system is very good in Hyderabad.
Can you tell us about your journey with Dhruvansh?
Madhulika: I started by visiting a lot of schools for creating awareness. I used to do projects on solar energy and organize discussions on global warming. I wanted kids to learn the importance of controlling pollution, avoid wastage. Kids used to love it. I did this for a year. I used to conduct talent hunt contests whose theme was to find “Indians in India“. I being a science student wanted to apply science to bring about change. I believe I have been able to give hope to people.
What is your take on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?
Madhulika: To be frank, I hate CSR. It is just propaganda and all about money. Corporate volunteers come here, spend 2 hours, click photos and go away. If a fund of 1 lakh is allocated, 70 thousand goes into publicity. Such volunteers from the IT sector are good for nothing.
Schools under CSR schemes get sports material when there are no playgrounds to use them. Some companies do it for a day for publicity and leave. Thanks to them, when we go to Govt. schools to do some good or create awareness, they ask what we have to offer.
What attitude do you think us Indians should change?
Madhulika: We Indians have a very wrong notion that a product from a foreign country would always be better compared to an Indian make. Moreover, we stereotype very easily. India is so large that we must not simply generalize everything because of minor events. All those people who often criticize India know very little about our country.
How is it working with Govt. officials?
Madhulika: It has been very good for the past 2 years. I never expected I would get so much good & valuable support. It is normal to think they would shy away from support when there are controversies, but strangely they stood by my side strongly. The PCB, HMDA, Irrigation Dept. and GHMC have stood by my side and they just like me, strongly believe in change.
What is the ecological Impact since you started working on Neknampur Lake?
Madhulika: That’s the question I was looking for! Plants play a significant role in maintaining ecological balance. We have substantially increased the Plantation which brought in insects, in turn, attracting birds. Many bird species have made Neknampur lake their nesting ground. You can see Indian terrapins (fresh-water turtles) at 7 AM. They eat sludge from the lake. Ultimately, trees are providing the necessary biodiversity.
Now, you can find so many types of spiders, butterflies with different colors that surround you when you walk along the banks of the lake. The lake also has Pythons and Monitor lizards. You just feel great sitting and admiring the natural beauty.
Who maintains the lake? Can you tell us about your Floating island?
Madhulika: Dhruvansh is maintaining the lake in association with the Govt. of Telangana. The locals have a false notion that NGO means one banner, two words, and no work. Officers from various govt. departments have appreciated the work we have done. You have to develop the area in such a way that people take notice so that land sharks stay away from open parcels of land. We have done just that.
We have installed a floating island on Neknampur lake to Improve Water Quality and Increase Biodiversity. Several selected plants on this Floating Treatment Wetland clean the lake by absorbing nutrients dissolved in the water, such as excess nitrates and oxygen, thereby reducing the content of these chemicals.
What have you learned?
Madhulika: I have built up a great amount of confidence. I have learned to be brave, digest criticism and go ahead. When you are confident, you lose the concept of fear. I believe I am going to be successful with whatever I am doing because Mother Nature is with me!
Do you think you have succeeded in your mission?
Madhulika: I don’t think this is a success yet. Neknampur Lake is a very small lake and I would like to take up more projects in restoring ecological balance with the help of the State government. We are working on Errakunta and Pragati Nagar lakes too. I am still testing myself and want to see how long this particular model is successful. There is still a very long way to go for me and Dhruvansh NGO.
We asked her how satisfied she is with her work and a wide smile on her face says it all!
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