Satheesh, who was born on June 18, 1945, in Mysore, graduated from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi and first worked as a journalist.
Hyderabad: Periyapatna Venkatasubbaiah Satheesh, who founded the Zaheerabad-based Deccan Development Society (DDS) and was known as the 'Millet Man' for his groundbreaking work in environmentally sustainable agricultural food systems, passed away on Sunday morning while being treated in a private hospital after a protracted illness. He was 77.
As one of the most prominent civil society activists in the country, Satheesh, who founded the DDS in Zaheerabad in 1983, championed issues such as agri-biodiversity, food sovereignty, women's empowerment, social justice, local knowledge systems, participatory development, and the conservation of traditional crops in rural Telangana. He stood by his beliefs and served as an excellent role model for many young people.
Satheesh, who was born on June 18, 1945, in Mysore, graduated from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi and first worked as a journalist. He went on to serve as a pioneering television producer for nearly two decades for Doordarshan, making programmes relevant to rural development and rural literacy in the unified Andhra Pradesh. He played a significant role in the historic Satellite Instructional Television Experiment in (SITE) the 1970s (SITE).
Early in the 1980s, Satheesh and a few of his friends initiated the DDS in the semi-arid Zaheerabad region by collectivising the poor Dalit women in the villages for a wide range of programmes that collectively addressed issues such as hunger, malnutrition, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, gender injustice, social deprivation, among others. His nearly four decades of leadership helped the organisation grow into an internationally renowned NGO and an inspiring model that motivated and spawned similar initiatives to revive and promote millets throughout the nation.
The women's sanghams of DDS, with their unwavering dedication to millet farming and organic cultivation, set the national standard and benchmark for providing demonstrable alternatives to the dominant agricultural paradigm. The work of DDS under his direction is largely responsible for the recent initiatives to include millets in the public food distribution system.
Satheesh's long-standing work as DDS director resulted in the improved livelihoods of thousands of disadvantaged women across 75 villages in Telangana. He also led several national and international networks, including the Millet Network of India (MINI), South Against Genetic Engineering (SAGE), the AP Coalition in Defense of Diversity, and the South Asian Network for Food, Ecology, and Culture (SANFEC), a five-country South Asian network with over 200 ecological groups.
He previously served as a board member for Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN), a group based in Barcelona, Spain. He was also a member in of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, a group based in Brussels, Belgium. He is also credited with founding India's first Community Media Trust, a grassroots media centre that educated illiterate Dalit women in filmmaking in order to democratise media spaces, as well as India's first rural, community-run radio station, Sangham Radio. He was recently honoured in Delhi at the People's Convention on Millets for his lifetime contributions in making millets a people's agenda. Many people across the state, particularly in Zaheerabad were devastated to hear of Satheesh's passing since they recalled him as a wonderful human being. Several people recalled his contributions to the community and his tireless efforts to develop sustainable means of subsistence. His last rites will be performed on Monday at 10.30 am in Pastapur village of Sangareddy district.