New wave of social change

Published Aug 10, 2014, 6:37 am IST
Updated Jan 13, 2016, 3:53 pm IST
Activist Deepa Gupta and team have successfully campaigned to get the center to allocate a budget to clean river ganga

H istory will be told years from now,” and Deepa Gupta hopes it will chronicle the social activism she’s been dogged about, knowing it will change society’s ills. The social entrepreneur and activist who is the founding director of, an advocacy group that defends human rights, has chosen a tough task. While walking the corridors of social justice and bureaucratic labyrinths is a thankless job, Deepa and her team of activists, in their first nine months have successfully campaigned for the new government to commit to cleaning the River Ganga. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has allocated a budget for it, and has even asked the world to help.

The girl who earlier worked with Greenpeace India also set up the India office for (the number one user generated petition site in India).
“I also served as a National Climate Campaigner with Australia’s during the 2010 federal election and played a major role in Australia adopting a carbon tax, albeit for a brief period,” she recalls, adding, “The amazing thing is that the government has taken the Ganga as top priority. We did street plays and engaged citizens in Banaras.


But the first thing is to acknowledge that our work has been started off the shoulders of many people and organisations. The Sankat Mochan Foundation was the knowledge foundation that helped in proving that the River Ganga was filled with waste. When Modiji and Arvind Kejriwal decided to stand (for elections), we got the public to sit up, sign up and slowly, many politicians started campaigning too. This snowballed into an issue and now the ministry has allocated a budget with a fair bit of money. They are now working with the IITs and Sankat Mochan — there is a vague plan outlined and we are all figuring out how things will go forward,” Deepa explains.

But that apart, this student of commerce believes that being the change you want to see is the first step to changing the country. “We are a very lucky generation with so much opportunity and the ability to transform and interact culturally,” she adds.

Saving the sacred Ganga is a far cry from what she actually studied in college. “I studied commerce in Sydney and later worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers too. But I realised that it was not something that enthused me,” says Deepa.

This young girl from Rajasthan’s Alwar went to Sydney only to find herself completely disinterested in the rigours of corporate life and decided to take a plunge into the torrid waters of activism. And the small victories keep her on her toes.

“I started out working on climate change about seven years ago in Delhi. We started the Indian Youth Climate Network, where we would network with existing working people, training people on climate change and building climate leaders. Sending youth delegations to the UN and trying to implement policy changes,” she recalls.

Deepa has also been instrumental in getting the Karnataka Police to investigate a case of police brutality and corruption. Meditation and yoga in her free time are her go-to to destress and assimilate and adapt to the long process of changing policies and mindsets. “Every conversation I have, people are seeing new perspectives and changing,” she adds.

Taking a step back to separate her two identities — her personal and her activist self — is also important to keep the right focus. With parents who are in the software industry, and a brother she dotes on, Deepa feels her mother’s strong feminist outlook and her father’s modest background formed a basis for the values she has imbibed, “We were always taught to support and help people who are in need, and that I think became a way of life,” she adds. Her goal is lofty — decriminalising homosexuality and repealing Section 377, a bill for HIV as a curative petition and working on women’s safety.

Deepa’s conviction about social change shines through — it’s been a journey replete with learning, trudging slowly yet purposefully and she attributes it to her team “Firstly, our team Jhatkaa is very unusual, with a far higher threshold. There have been innumerable times when I have campaigned, sitting at offices waiting for someone and eventually going back without meeting them. So every time we succeed, we celebrate it,” she says.

Swimming, cycling, visiting new places apart, Deepa believes in making people accountable. She is an example of the new, proactive youth who cares deeply and her actions prove it.