In an age where most communication is done online, it does sound perplexing that a person receives about 150 postcards a day. Pradeep Lokhande of Pune is the recipient of this unlikely gift. Thanks to his efforts over the years to reach out to rural India and contribute to its development.
For the past 15 years, Lokhande, who was born into a humble background in Wai—a small village about 140 km from Pune, Maharashtra—has been working to make the villages of India computer-literate. Rural Relations is the entity that he founded to realise his dreams.
When he began with this venture, his wife and father—a peon—wrote 20,000 postcards to school teachers, sarpanchs and postmasters in 4,700 villages seeking information on the number of shops in a village, the number of television sets and whether the village had Internet connectivity, and so on.
But life was never so easy for Lokhande, who was the eldest among four siblings. “I got only 15 responses asking why I needed the information. I sent another lot and this time all 47 responses demanded to know who the hell I thought I was,” he says. “Diwali was around the corner so we sent the last round of postcards, wishing them and their family. Over 800 people wished me back. From this, I learnt that I need to relate to them,” he says.
Owing to crunch of finances, he could not dream of a good education. Something that firmly etched in his mind early on was, “If you have education, you have everything, if you don’t, you have nothing”. This set the ball rolling towards later years to work for creating platforms where students can have access to study material. “As Pune was the nearest city, I came there, worked in my uncle’s canteen, and managed to do graduation and diploma in marketing management. Later, I picked up a job with Johnson & Johnson,” he says. These 18 months he spent there gave him an insight into the corporate world and helped him in managing his present venture.
His volunteers replenish the data bank with updated information sent on postcards. “Using my database as consumer reference, I used the same to offer the compiled data to corporates as a consultancy,” says Lokhande. “Then I started villagewiKY. Under this, people from anywhere in the world can access their village and get information about them.”
This was the result of his 20 years of relationship with villages and opinion leaders. VillagewiKY has data of 11,155 villages on the website www.ruralrelations.com.
Rural Relations activities span 28,000 villages in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Lokhande says when he started rural relations, all he had was a belief that “one day things will change and will make up for everything”.
Gyan-key is his another venture started with distribution of 28,000 computers in 20,000 schools. Books of all genres are available in each Gyan-key library. He believes that this initiative will help keep regional languages alive.
He says, “I am planning to start 94,000 Gyan-key Libraries and to have a database of around 85,000 villages uploaded on villagewiKY in the next 1,000 working days.”