People's Basic Needs

51 Active Cases in 800+ Villages: IPS Officer Helps His District Beat COVID-19

Even amid the difficult times that the surge in COVID-19 cases have posed for the country, some districts and villages across India are managing to stay safe, owing to campaigns and initiatives that a few officers have been implementing.

One such officer is IPS Sachin Sharma, Superintendent of Police from the 2014 batch, currently posted at Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh. Through his campaign, Mera Gaanv, Meri Zimmedari (my village, my responsibility), he and his team have ensured that the number of COVID-19 cases in the districts he is responsible for remains low and manageable.

According to the 2011 census, Chattarpur has 1,210 villages and a population of more than 17.62 lakh. It reported its first COVID-19 case on 20 May 2020, almost two months after the outbreak in Madhya Pradesh. Under IPS Sharma’s campaign, 800 plus villages, which make for over 70 per cent of the total villages in the district, have joined the campaign and are benefitting from it.

What’s working for Chhatarpur? Residents keeping vigil.

Speaking to The Better India, IPS Sharma says, “We identified 15-20 volunteers from each village to begin with. We are encouraging those between the age groups of 18 to 30 to be a part of the team. These volunteers are involved in round-the-clock patrolling, and convince people to stay within the village and not step out for any reason.”

He says the residents also remain vigilant about those coming into their villages. Everyone entering the village from other places is put in mandatory isolation, which lasts between 8 to 14 days, depending on the symptoms they exhibit. “The villagers have taken it upon themselves to manage these isolations. While some people are isolated in government buildings, others are in vacant plots within the village,” he adds.

The last update, as on 4 May 2021, shows that the district has 51 COVID-19 cases in the 1000 plus villages in Chhatarpur that fall under this campaign. “There have also been cases of people with mild symptoms, who have been able to work on recovery at home,” says IPS Sharma.

Aiding and helping senior citizens Helping the senior citizens.

To ensure that people can remain indoors, IPS Sharma has also launched Sankalp, a campaign that helps senior citizens in these villages procure their daily vegetables, groceries, milk, medicines, and more. “We understand that senior citizens are most susceptible to the virus. Many live by themselves, given that their children are either doing jobs in other cities or are out to study. We have identified close to 3,000 such people and are providing them with all the help they require,” he says. These services also include setting up tele-medicine appointments, helping them with basic services such as getting their masalas made from the local shop, and recharging their mobile phones and television set-top boxes.

Rajashri Kaurav, station in-charge at Orchha, says, “Our numbers are freely available and anyone who needs any assistance now calls us directly. We have been receiving a good number of calls each day, which has helped keep the COVID-19 cases under a close watch.”

Meanwhile, Madhav Prasad Mishra (37), the Sarpanch of Khonp district, says that the manner in which the processes have been put in place has helped tremendously. “These campaigns have not just kept the case numbers low, but have also ensured that the morale of the people remains high.”

“Through various lockdowns and initiatives taken by the police, we’ve never had to face too many issues in managing cases,” he says.

What seems to be working for these villages is self-vigilance. With the help of the local authorities, villagers in Chhatarpur have been able to set in motion processes that work for them. There is a lot that smaller communities such as apartment complexes and RWAs can learn from such initiatives, to ensure they keep the Covid numbers low while continuing to go about their daily chores.

(Edited by Divya Sethu)

Day 6 of The Covid-19 Infection: Pulmonologist Clears Myths About The ‘Second Week’

This article is a part of a series by The Better India to share verified information about COVID-19 care. While several posts on various aspects of fighting COVID-19 are being circulated on social media and messaging services like WhatsApp, we urge you not to trust unverified content. To separate fact from fiction, we will be sharing the videos and content with doctors and experts and bring you their responses with scientific research-backed information.

The latest set of WhatsApp messages doing the rounds is all about being conscious of the sixth day in the life-cycle of a COVID-19 positive patient. Doctors believe that one must keep a close watch on the vitals from the sixth day onwards since the chances of deterioration are higher.

Dr Vikas Maurya, Director and Head of Department, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh, answers questions to help us understand this better.

Q1. Is it true that for the first five days, one may not have any symptom?

Dr Maurya: No, not true. You may or may not have symptoms. It all depends on the viral load, and there is no hard and fast rule to understanding this. It is important to stay vigilant right through the 14 days that one stays in isolation. The day you notice your first symptoms should be counted as day 1, and you need to immediately reach out to your physician.

Q2. The doctor in the video suggests that only from day 6 onwards the real effect of COVID-19 is seen? Is that true?

Dr Maurya: No, not true. The symptoms that one experiences in COVID-19 can begin with simple symptoms like throat irritation and cough. A fever may or may not accompany these symptoms.

Q3. If the fever reaches 101 or 102 – does it mean that the virus has travelled to the lungs?

Dr Maurya: Yes, when you have a persistent high-grade fever, it means lungs are getting involved. At this stage, it is imperative to reach out to your physician to get your medicines checked, and dosage increased or changed if the need arises.

Q 4. If we start treatment right at the beginning, then the chances of having to get on oxygen or have intensive treatment reduce – is that accurate?

Dr Maurya: Yes, this is true. If one were to start treatment early on, then the severity of the disease and complications that arise due to it can be decreased. It is, therefore, important that you contact your physician immediately when the first symptom shows up.

Q 5. At what oxygen saturation level should one start looking for oxygen beds and hospital admission?

Dr Maurya: Saturation less than 94 means lungs are involved. At this point, speaking to your physician and following the treatment protocol suggested is important.

To help get the oxygen saturation levels up, one could also try the prone technique at home. Click here to find out the right technique to follow.

Q 6. How important is the 6th day in COVID-19 management??

Dr Maurya: It is important as it marks your entry into the second week of managing the disease. It is also indicative of the time when the virus travels to the lungs and causes cytokine storms.

Q7. How dangerous is it for someone who has diabetes to get COVID-19?

Dr Maurya: COVID-19 affects those who already have co-morbidities, and those with diabetes are at the highest risk. The steroids prescribed as part of the treatment course can also lead to a spike in sugar levels. If you are consulting a physician who is unaware of your medical history, please make sure you discuss it during your first consult.

Q 8. If I am diabetic and test positive for COVID – should I stop starch and sugar from my diet when I am being treated?

Dr Maurya: Ideally, you should have stopped it earlier on itself. The sugar should be in control early on, and managing it once you test positive for COVID-19 might not be the answer.

Q9. In the video, the doctor seems to suggest that the only course of treatment for COVID-19 is steroid and oxygen – is that accurate? What about plasma and Remdesivir?

Dr Maurya: Remdesivir is an antiviral drug that is used in the early part of the disease. Plasma therapy also is used during the early onset of COVID-19. Steroids and oxygen are usually used at a later stage of the disease when it has progressed to moderate or severe.

Do not self-medicate and follow the advice given online. You must consult a physician and get medicines specific to your needs.

(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

India’s First Design Agency Was Born Out of the Resolve of Three College Kids in ’89

When National Institute of Design (NID) batchmates Ashwini Deshpande, Partho Guha and Ashish Deshpande visited a Chartered Accountant (CA) in 1989 to understand the process of registering their company, Elephant Design, they were in for a shock.

The CA advised them to start a partnership company instead of a private limited one because the latter was “very difficult to dissolve”. In other words, the CA was sure as daylight that the company would close shop in no time. On 1 May, this pioneering design agency celebrates its 32nd year in the business which has seen them give life to household products and brands like Britannia Marie Gold, Tata Salt, Gillette Guard, Kurkure, ICICI Bank, Paper Boat, Viacom18, Uber, Amazon Easy and Indian Super League (ISL), amongst others.

“We have designed every single product for Symphony, the world’s largest air cooler brand for over 30 years. Ashish was invited to be on the Board of this listed company last year. There could not be a better testimony to the value added by design,” says co-founder Ashwini Deshpande, in an exclusive conversation with The Better India.

The company describes itself as a “design-led strategic consultancy that collaborates with organisations to develop meaningful and sustainable brands”. Currently, they have a multi-disciplinary and highly collaborative team of more than 70 designers and strategists, who have successfully completed over 2,500 projects across diverse domains and regions. From their headquarters in Pune, the company has expanded their base to Singapore.

“It is true that our work, or for that matter design as an act itself, is rarely acknowledged. Design of everyday brands and objects and services is not meant to be overt. We have worked with every industry sector. Suffice to say that you would not pass even a remote village without coming across at least one brand touched by Elephant. And you will have at least one brand designed by Elephant in your regular grocery list,” claims Ashwini.

The Pune-based company’s stellar work has been recognised at several national and international platforms for design work such as Rebrand International (USA), Spark Awards (USA), ‘A’ Design Awards (Italy), Asiastar Packaging (Singapore), Design for Asia (Hong Kong), Brand Equity Rankings (India) and many more.

Starting Out of Their Hostel Trunks

“It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when we came up with the idea of starting a design consultancy. Perhaps it was in early 1988 when we were undergoing a module on Design Management and Professional Practice. As part of the group exercise, we were preparing a project report on starting a design practice. It was complete with fixed costs, recurring costs, licenses and registration fees, etc. It was also the time to start thinking about life after NID,” recalls Ashwini.

She adds, “Design education was limited to NID Ahmedabad and IDC at IIT Mumbai. Less than 50 design students graduating annually was not enough to make a difference in the ever-growing world of the Indian industry. There were no large-scale design consultancies and design was not considered a scalable or sustainable business. It all came together into an idea of starting our own design practice and building it to scale.”

She admits to spending endless nights on top of the giant campus water tank discussing what they would call their practice.

“We spent more time thinking about the name than wondering what work we would get or how. We were quite sure about design being a team game. That is when the parable of blind men and the elephant suddenly flashed before us and made perfect sense. Each of us was holding our shiny piece of the jigsaw puzzle. As a result, we were looking for our graduation projects at that time. Each of us chose our projects consciously, knowing we would combine our experiences when we got together after graduation in 1989,” she recalls.

After their convocation in mid-April, Elephant got their first project with the BASF Group, a German multinational chemical company and the largest chemical producer in the world.

Elephant Design Co-Founder, Ashwini Deshpande

But where would they set up shop? The answer wasn’t too hard.

“We thought we would do that project and then move on to someplace cool, like Bangalore or Delhi, but Pune was kind to us. It was unpretentious, no-nonsense, in proximity of Mumbai and had great weather. Our first office was set up in a spare room of my family’s ancestral property. My aunts made sure we had a comfortable stay and warm food. A neighbouring business allowed us to use his phone as it would take years to get a landline back then. Interestingly, in the early years, a lot of support came from business partners like print experts, structural execution experts, desktop publishing and computer suppliers. They completed our education and got us ready for the world of zero tolerances, transactions and deliveries and payment recoveries,” she recalls.

‘Borderline foolish optimism’

Setting up a design practice on day one didn’t require too much money as desktop computers were another year away. Additionally, their middle-class parents were apprehensive about their children doing ‘business’, but came around rather quickly. Ashish’s father, a banker, explained basic accounting practices to him. The next challenge was about opening a current account in a nationalised bank.

“The manager was amused to see the young lot in their jeans marching up to him. When he understood what ‘business’ we would be in, he dismissed our request for a current account. He said a joint savings account would suffice as he does not foresee many transactions or large amounts in any case. I do not know how we convinced the bank manager. It must have been our borderline foolish optimism,” recalls Ashwini.

But there was something more than just ‘borderline foolish optimism’. Ashwini had already prepared the ground for their first project after graduation. A year before graduating, she worked with the BASF Group to develop their corporate communication. Working at their office in Pune, she designed brochures, annual reports, calendars and expositions.

In November 1988, there was an exhibition at Nehru Centre in Mumbai where she had designed their booth. As luck may have it, their Global Corporate Communications head happened to be in India and saw the exhibition.

He offered Ashwini a project of working on their global brochure and audio-visual film. As she was yet to complete her graduation project, Ashwini asked whether she could commence the project in April 1989 through her company that would start by then. Surprisingly, he agreed to wait and even invited her to visit Ludwigshafen in April for a briefing.

Landing the company’s first project with a giant like BASF was a breeze, she claims. While discussing the project, the communications head had conveyed that the budget was limited.

“He hoped we could manage it in 100,000 Deutsche Marks, which was equivalent to Rs 13 lakh then. For us, however, it was a huge fee by any standards. But foreign exchange money transfers used to take months to reflect in the account in those days. By the time we got the final fee transferred in our bank, after nearly a year, the Rupee had fallen drastically and we landed up getting a lot more money. We invested that into our first 386 computer. And yes, it was the same bank that had refused us a current account earlier,” recalls Ashwini.

A large global project at the start of their journey gave the founders of Elephant Design a lot of confidence to only take up work that would add value. It helped them stay afloat and on course in the tough initial years. Since then, they have seen the design profession evolve.

Co-Founder Ashish Deshpande

Evolution and Technology

“When we began our practice, designers would be called in for improving the skin or the topmost layer. This meant we had limited opportunities to make a difference. However, as first movers, we saw the growing need of design intervention across every sector, be it automobile, banking, IT or FMCG. We could apply our insights from one sector to another to see surprising results. This increased our confidence to take up previously underserved challenges. As our understanding of the business landscape improved, it started reflecting in our comprehension of business needs that could be solved using design principles. Slowly, but steadily, we saw ourselves in bigger meeting rooms and then the boardrooms of progress-seeking companies. From a peripheral resource, we have seen design progressing to intervention at the inception stage. That is a huge shift,” she notes.

It’s imperative to also note that Elephant Design emerged at the right time—on the cusp of economic liberalisation of 1991. Prior to liberalisation, Indian companies had very little original product development. Brands too were quite secure as the competition was as complacent as the other. Post liberalisation, Indian products, brands, and services got exposed to global standards and had to compete with them directly.

Since manufacturing technology or market access was at par, there was an acute need to differentiate to be able to succeed. This is where the role of design started gaining attention in India. By that time, Elephant was stable and ready to take on the challenge of developing original thinking to differentiate for local needs and aspirations.

By the turn of the last century, Indians had evolved and had begun to refuse international brands or products if they were not customised for Indian preferences. This was another cornerstone where global conglomerates started looking for competent Indian design consultancies to design for India. As first movers, who had seen the business of design evolve from close quarters, they were equipped to take on this challenge too.

“Every few years we have looked back and shed some of our services if they did not fulfil the matrix of efforts and expertise against value addition. We stopped taking up odd brochure assignments as we could see ourselves utilising the same effort in adding more value elsewhere. This was right after a year of achieving maximum billing through brochures. Our highest fortunes were coming from design and execution of exhibitions for many years. We enjoyed them to a point, but then decided to use the same expertise in building more permanent solutions like retail design. There is an adrenaline rush when we land a project that has never been done before. This is what keeps us relevant,” says Ashwini.

Also, after a few initial years, we realised that the key to success was an insight-led strategy behind it. “And we were not even charging our clients for it. We decided to change our positioning. We renamed ourselves as Elephant Strategy + Design. This was a positive move as our strategy practice got its due legitimacy (and soon fees too). After a decade, we liberated ourselves from the confines of design and strategy about ten years ago. While we are very much a design-led consultancy, our intent is beyond design or innovation. Intent is to add positive business value, to catalyse a magical transformation. Research, insights, strategy, or design are tools to achieve the intent. This leaves us open to adding more tools to achieve higher pursuits,” she adds.

Of course, it would be criminal to not talk about the evolution in technological innovation that has also driven the business of design forward. Elephant has seen it all—from handcrafted ‘cut & paste’ artworks to desktop publishing, and now to tabletop 3D printing. They have also gone from the 35 mm slide in carousels to PowerPoint decks, from floppy disks to hard drives to cloud, from telex and fax to instant messages, from dial-up connections to 5G and from overnight train journeys for a meeting to to bedroom zoom calls.

Asked about the ubiquity of Elephant’s work, Ashish says, “The power of design is to bring a change to life’s needs, make necessities accessible and affordable, tie relatable memories and bloom small business opportunities. This is the backbone of our design.”

Meanwhile, Ashwini has also sought to foster an evolution in the Indian design ecosystem from writing fortnightly columns in Marathi about the value and various facets of design, which have been translated to other regional languages to becoming a founding member of the ‘The Collective’ which seeks to create safer working spaces for women in the creative industry.

Elephant has played an instrumental role in bringing the design fraternity together to establish the Association of Designers of India that now has eight professional chapters across India. “We represent India at The Design Alliance Asia, a collaborative knowledge-sharing network of designers across 13 Asian countries,” she says.

Co-Founder Partho Guha

Overcoming Obstacles

COVID-19 has been brutal to the global economy. With India going through a devastating second wave, many businesses have shut down or let employees go. Elephant, however, has managed better than most because they’ve been working remotely with all their clients for all 32 years of its existence.

Right from the first client located at Ludwigshafen, Germany to the most recent one at Bengaluru, they have stayed with the risk of not being in the same city as the client team. Remote work needs honesty and discipline, both of which are not new for them. But as most creative businesses, Elephant too has taken a hit the past year.

“Most clients are busy managing their challenges of logistics and manufacturing. So, they are not investing in something that requires newer investments and development time. But we believe with 32 years behind us, we should be able to tide over an odd low year without having to reduce the team or their salaries. Our work relationship with older clients seems to have improved as we are getting more face time with their leadership,” says Ashwini.

As fellow co-founder Partho Guha says, “As designers, we are conditioned to investigate the future. Every time we have been pushed into something unexpectedly, we have discovered an opportunity in disguise. Ultimately, change and deviation are here to stay. That seems more evident this year than ever.”

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

IIT-M Startup Builds India’s First 3D Printed House, Cuts Construction Cost by 30%

Tvasta Manufacturing Solutions, a deep tech startup founded by three alumni of IIT Madras in 2016, has created history by constructing India’s first 3D-printed house. Constructed on campus with a built-up area of about 600 square feet, this single-storey home consists of a single bedroom, hall and a kitchen.

According to the company, “Tvasta’s ‘Concrete 3D Printing’ is an automated manufacturing method for constructing three-dimensional real-life structures (at all realisable scales). The technique utilises a concrete 3D Printer which accepts a computerised three-dimensional design file from the user and fabricates a 3D structure in a layer-by-layer manner by extruding a specialised type of concrete specifically designed for the purpose.”

Developed in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter, the ‘Concrete 3D Printing’ technology employed has multiple advantages:

-Potentially reduces overall construction cost significantly
-Order of magnitude difference in overall construction time
-Brings down the related carbon footprint
-Increases productivity of labour involved
-Offers raw material flexibility/utilisation of eco-friendly materials.

Speaking to The Better India, Adithya VS, the CEO of Tvasta Manufacturing Solutions, gets into the details about their indigenously developed technology.

“Tvasta’s 3D Printing technology is built to bring digital technological advantages to the realm of construction. The focus is to make the process available to all sections of the construction industry, including affordable housing and large-scale infrastructure building. The reduction in overall time required for construction involves an order of magnitude change. What would require months to build can be built in days. Currently, the capability is to print the superstructure of a house that would require 4 to 5 months to build conventionally in about 5 days. The technology has also been designed in such a way that it is sustainable and green. The material used contains industrial waste and recycled material. This reduces the overall carbon footprint of the structure during construction,” notes Adithya.

But the technology goes beyond that. The houses built using 3D Printing are customised for geographical and climatic conditions that exist in an area. As a result, any additional heating or cooling requirements—mostly cooling in India—are very minimal for the structure. This will ensure that the energy consumption of any structure that is built will be very minimal, claims Adithya.

“We’re currently studying the carbon footprint that the structure reduces over its lifetime along with IIT Madras. Also, the construction cost of a house or any large-scale structure depends on several factors. It depends on the design of the structure, the city or geography in which it is being built, soil properties, number of structures in a specific project, etc. Considering the nature of the current projects, we are estimating 20-30% savings compared to conventional construction in our projects. We are working with several institutions to make this technology even more affordable in the construction domain,” he says.

Inside India’s First 3D Printed House at IIT Madras Campus.

How does 3D Printing reduce construction cost and save time?

Adithya explains, “The cost reduction is achieved by increasing the productivity of workers who are involved in the construction process. A structure that would take months to build can be done in a matter of a few days; this contributes to tremendous savings on the time and cost of capital. There is also a saving on the amount of material used as 3D Printing reduces wastage and the total amount of material required to build a structure. The saving on time is primarily brought in by the employment of robotics and automation technologies.”

He adds, “Construction is one industry where precision automation has still not taken root, unlike the automotive industry. Through the actions of a 3D Printer that can receive instructions to build a large-scale structure in the form of a 3D Virtual file, a large-scale structure can be built without formwork or molds in a very short period through layer by layer manufacturing.”

This structure was built to show the research, development, and manufacturing capabilities that exist in India, although there are plans to use it as a conference centre at IIT Madras.

It took about 21 days to 3D print this particular structure due to COVID-related restrictions. Currently, the company has the capability to 3D print such a structure in about five days.

“The company is currently working on scaling up this technology to make it available throughout India. For this, the company has partnered with several large-scale construction companies and institutions. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has also given wings to the project by providing support through the ASHA Incubator programme under the Global Housing Technology Challenge launched by the Prime Minister,” says Adithya.

The material used for construction is a proprietary 3D Printable Mix developed by the company. Having said that, materials such as mud and other natural solutions can be used for construction. Adithya goes on to claim that the company has plans to introduce such green materials into the construction space in the future.

Lauding the work done by the Tvasta, Prof Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT Madras, says, “This technology is the first to be beneficiary-led in the construction industry. The machine for constructing this house can be rented, like borewells rented by farmers. It provides for large-scale, high-quality and also, price assurance for the customers.”

Meanwhile, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told media persons attending the launch of this home, “India definitely needs such solutions which do not require much time. This technology enables building a 3D-printed house in 5 days. With the Prime Minister’s goal of ‘Housing for All by 2022,’ we have a huge challenge before us. A huge challenge of meeting that deadline and making sure that people who need houses get it at an affordable price. Conventional housing requires timing, material, logistics, transporting of material, and so on. But if this technology can produce houses in different locales at five days per house, it would not be a big challenge to build 100 million houses by 2022.”

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Former TN Child Labourer Earns His PhD and Educates Kids of a Deprived Tribe

On 30 March, Dhamodharan Muniyan, a 41-year-old former child labourer from the Adi Dravidar Scheduled Caste community, defended his PhD thesis on improving the learning outcomes of children from the much-maligned and deprived Irular tribe in Tamil Nadu— one of India’s oldest indigenous communities. They are found in the states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh (Chittoor), Tamil Nadu (northeastern) and Karnataka.

In these 41 years, this son of agricultural labourers from Kachirayapalayam Colony village in Kallakurichi district, Tamil Nadu, has lived many lifetimes and overcome impossible odds.

Earlier this week, The Better India caught up with the newly minted Dr Dhamodharan to discuss his incredible life story and his groundbreaking research on educating Irular children.

Dr. Dhamodharan with his PhD Thesis on learning outcomes for kids from Irular tribe.

Hard-Knock Life

Growing up in Kachirayapalayam Colony, Dhamodharan recalls a life stricken by poverty.

“Living in a mud house with no land to our name, my family struggled to have three square meals a day. We were surviving on rava (coarse flour) and a few bags of rice that my parents would get from landowners as payment. Sometimes, we would get sambhar or some sort of curry from kind neighbours. My father, Muniyan, and mother, Nagammal, worked as agricultural labourers earning barely Rs 12 a day each. Despite studying in a local middle school, by the time I was 10, I had to join my mother at work because my father was suffering from a debilitating illness and couldn’t do hard labour. From Class V onwards, I was helping my mother support the family. We would work on the fields of other landowners doing weeding and cultivating paddy, besides cleaning local ponds. In a year, I would miss nearly three months of school—one month at a stretch and the other two intermittently—to support my family, which included my two younger brothers,” says Dhamodharan.

For Muniyan, the dream was to see Dhamodharan finish high school and get a simple government job because he never earned more than Rs 1,000 a month. Unfortunately, with no scope for studying before or after school and participating in extracurricular activities, he had his troubles. Dhamodharan failed his Class 10 mathematics exam. “My father was very angry with me, saying he would rather spend money on a buffalo which would give the family some milk and income instead of my education. This really upset me,” he recalls.

Failing to clear his class 10 exam meant working to support the family. Job opportunities, however, were restricted to working on sugarcane and paddy fields and brick kilns in Kerala. For six to seven months every year from October to May, about 80 residents from his village would take a lorry to Salem, from where they would travel in unreserved train compartments to work in the brick kilns of Veliyathunadu village near Aluva town in Kerala. After coming back home, Dhamodharan would find work in paddy and sugarcane fields.

Working like this for two years, he was resigned to the fact that this would be his life. On his travels to Kerala and at home, he would see children going to school and that would intermittently rekindle his desire to study again. However, it was his mother, Nagammal, who pushed her son to continue his education. Finally, after three more attempts, he passed his class 10 exam. Nagammal would further help him re-enrol at a nearby school run by the state’s tribal welfare department, despite Muniyan’s strong reservations.

“My father rejected my request to finish high school and told me to focus on earning since I was the eldest son at home. It was my mother who pushed me towards studying further. She helped me enrol for class 11 and 12 even though our neighbours and relatives criticised the move saying things like — ‘Learning is not for you’, ‘Why are you wasting your family’s money’. My father’s friends too criticised him for sending me to school, but I immersed myself completely into academics and passed class 12 in my first attempt,” he recalls.

Dhamodharan educating villagers from deprived communities like the Irular tribe.

Tragically, the happiness of graduating high school was short-lived after his mother passed away following an accident that occurred as she was taking the cows out to graze. The responsibility of taking care of his ailing father and two brothers fell on his shoulders. Every morning, he would cook for the family and then work as a farm labourer.

“Despite my compulsions, I was desperate for higher education. Discussing the matter with my younger brothers, I asked them whether they would take up the mantle of cooking and earning for the family. They decided to give up their studies, while my father took a loan of Rs 10,000 to help me enrol into college in Chennai,” he says.

Finding His Purpose in Chennai

Dhamodharan applied for a BSc in Botany at The New College in Royapettah, Chennai. Although the college had no hostel facilities at the time, he had a friend who got him to share a small room for Rs 600 per month in a slum behind the Tidel IT park in Taramani. At the turn of the century, he was finally in Chennai and pursuing his goal of higher education.

“In the same year, I met Dr Balaji Sampath, an educationist, social activist and founder of AID INDIA, a Chennai-based non-profit working on ensuring access to basic healthcare, livelihood education for low-income families. At the time, Dr Balaji and AID INDIA volunteers from IIT-Madras were conducting after-school learning programmes for children in Taramani slum. These were children who came from similar backgrounds like mine. Impressed by their work, I too volunteered to organise these after school programmes after my college classes ended at 1.30 pm. Meeting Dr Balaji changed my life forever,” says Dhamodharan.

Upon joining as a volunteer, Dhamodharan and his friend started other learning hubs for slum children in the area, identifying qualified local volunteers to help teach them. However, as he got more immersed in his volunteering work, he wondered why children from the slums were struggling to learn. Working alongside Dr Sampath, AID INDIA volunteers and conducting extensive research, he developed language learning and teaching tool kits.

Meanwhile, he also began volunteering to teach science at local Chennai corporation middle schools with much prodding from Dr Balaji. This, he believes, gave him the necessary confidence to develop his own language learning tool kit.

“We initially did trial runs in the Taramani and other slum areas, and over time developed a robust language learning tool kit. Most children coming to these after school learning programmes study in government schools. Our objective was to create an impact on the government school system. We then approached the State government’s education department and established a close partnership. From 2006 to 2010, we worked with thousands of government schools. I gave math and reading development training to about 10,000 government school teachers. However, with the transfer of every government officer, there was no sustained effort on the part of the State,” he recalls.

Educating a child from the Irular community.

After completing his BSc in Botany, he did his Master’s in Anthropology, following which he applied for an MPhil in Tamil reading skills from Madras University. Throughout this endeavour, AID INDIA paid for his college fees, and in a couple of years, he began working there full time.

Working on a variety of educational programmes with the state government took him to the outskirts of the city, where he first encountered children from the Irular tribal community. What he found was that the children living in ramshackle hamlets on the outskirts of Chennai were struggling to learn. When he decided to apply for a PhD at Madras University, he decided to dedicate his research towards understanding why these children were struggling and what could be done to ameliorate the situation.

Empowering the Irular Community

“The word ‘Irular’ [is] derived from the Tamil word called ‘Iru’ which means ‘darkness’. ‘Irular’ means those who are in darkness,” notes a paper published in the Indian Journal of Applied Research.

“There are 36 identified tribal communities in Tamil Nadu. Irulars form the second largest tribal group in the state, but their socio-economic living conditions have been marked by poverty, illiteracy (54% literacy) and an absence of social and economic security. The highest education they usually get on an average is up to class 9 with little support from their families to study further. Moreover, they suffer severe structural discrimination in government schools both from teachers and children from other communities,” notes Dhamodharan.

“Whenever I would visit these hamlets outside Chennai, I would compare the fate of these children to my own childhood. However, at least my home had a permanent roof and mud walls. These children were living in homes with old sarees used as walls and dated political party banners as makeshift roofs. During the monsoon, when the mud floor got wet, they would sleep on logs of dry wood. After my PhD commenced in 2013, I spoke to Dr Balaji, and asked whether AID INDIA could do something to improve their living condition. Since our education initiative with government schools in the city wasn’t paying genuine dividends for all stakeholders, we decided to focus on their lives in villages,” he recalls.

After much discussion and deliberation, the non-profit began an initiative to construct pucca homes for the poorest families from Irular, Adi Dravida and other backward communities.

Till today, they have built over 480 homes across nearly 120 villages starting from Thiruvallur, Kancheepuram and Cuddalore districts with each home costing about Rs 1.5 lakh to 1.8 lakh to build under AID INDIA’s Eureka Homes initiative. They even rebuilt homes for families who had lost their homes during the massive Chennai floods in 2015. As age old practitioners of hunting wild animals and fishing, communities like the Irular often settled on forest land or near water bodies, and thus denied land deeds (pattas) by the state.

Rebuilding homes for marginalised communities.

Another fundamental challenge facing the Irular community is the total absence of pre-primary education for children. Dhamodharan remembers visiting a village called Cherukkanur in Thiruvallur District where we saw a child playing with the legs of a dead rat.

Pre-primary education from 0 to 6 years of age is one of the most crucial phases in the cognitive development of the child. He claims that 60% of their life skills are developed in this period. Unfortunately, the Irular community has no access to study material and the concept of pre-primary education is non-existent. So, when they enter the formal school system, they are already at a disadvantage and steadily lose their confidence to learn.

“These children believe that they are not interested in studies, but what they lack is proper intervention. Most of them come also from troubled homes, where they suffer abuse, hunger and homelessness. They lack the proper pre-primary education required to develop their cognitive skills. Without this, once they enter the formal school system, they lack the confidence to learn. Neither their parents nor schools encourage them to study. I remember this child, Rasathy, who dropped out after she turned 11. Her teacher said that she was better off rearing pigs than going to school. So, she began working at a water park nearby and the last time I met her, she was 17 with a three-year-old child,” he recalls.

He also remembers how 89 out of the 134 students from class 1 to 8 students whom he interviewed from 2016 to 2018 had dropped out of school within a year of the survey. Majority of those who dropped out were from class 5 to 8.

To address these issues, AID INDIA has organised multiple toy distribution drives for Irular children at the pre-primary level, organised peer-to-peer learning sessions and even provided tablets for them. On these tablets, students study using an e-learning app called AhaGuru started by Dhamodharan’s wife, Gomathi S and Dr. Balaji. Having said that, he knows this is not enough and what these children need is continuous intervention.

Dr. Dhamodharan with his wife Gomathi, who co-founded Aha Guru.

“Our goal is to ensure these students stay in school, receive special attention and learn. Our intervention cannot stop until they get a respectable job and earn a steady income although you’ll only see a genuine difference two or three generations down the line,” he says.

With his PhD complete, Dhamodharan is not contemplating a career in just teaching.

“I want to help underprivileged children on the ground. Once this pandemic abates, I will travel to these settlements often since these days I only get to go there once a month,” he says, adding, “My plans include building a vocational training centre for school dropouts from the Irular community, who are predominantly agricultural labourers and brick kilns workers, and a dedicated residential hostel.”

Dr Balaji, meanwhile, has nothing but praise for him.

“Damu (Dr. Dhamodharan)’s passion to use education technology to reach and educate the poorest children is amazing to see. He leads all of AID INDIA’s education programs and is currently using the AhaGuru app to educate over 74,000 poor children in remote villages in Maths, English and Tamil. Moreover, he studied the education status of Irular Tribal communities and his thesis was greatly appreciated by both Indian and foreign examiners. Most importantly, Damu’s thesis is not just a theoretical study, he has been directly applying his research findings to improve the quality of learning for Irular children as well as other tribal and dalit children in so many villages,” he says.

Dhamodharan adds, “Education is the only tool for social advancement for people like me. My brothers continue to work in brick kilns, but I’m supporting their children’s education.”

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us:, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

5 Indian Fellowships That Enable & Empower Young India To Create Change in Rural Areas

This article has been published in partnership with SBI Youth for India Fellowship.

“India lives in villages” — these words by Mahatma Gandhi many decades ago still hold true today. More than 60 per cent of Indians continue to live in rural India where they lack access to basic infrastructure, primary healthcare, education and organised banking, as compared to their urban counterparts. To bridge this inequity that rural communities face, young Indians need to look beyond classrooms and cubicles and work with the communities on the ground to create a real impact.

Several fellowships in India provide such opportunities and resources for the youth to join hands with rural communities to facilitate change.

Here’s a list of five such fellowships that are empowering rural communities while creating young change-makers.

1. SBI Youth for India Fellowship

The SBI Youth For India Fellowship, which started in 2011, is a 13-month-long fellowship for educated urban youth between the ages of 21 to 32 years. The fellowship aims to ensure that every village has the necessary capacities to develop itself sustainably.

Fellows work with local NGOs on an ongoing project or create a new community project to address rural struggles. The projects cover 12 broad thematic areas such as healthcare, women empowerment, water conversation, self-governance, and education.

The fellowship starts with a week-long orientation where the fellows are introduced to the concepts of rural development. The placement of the fellows will be decided based on a combination of their interests, skill-sets, and the needs of the partner NGOs. The fellows then need to move to the village to spend the following nine months implementing their projects.

During the fellowship, fellows are provided a monthly allowance of Rs 15,000 and mentorship by experienced professionals in the field. The last few months are spent identifying a local community member who could take over the project.

So far, more than 350 SBI fellows have made a difference at more than 150 rural villages across 25 states of India.

You can apply for the SBI Youth for India Fellowship here.

2. AIF Banyan Impact Fellowship

Started by the American India Foundation (AIF) in 2001, this is a one-year fellowship programme for individuals aged between 21 and 35 years from India and the US.

As a part of the fellowship, the fellows will work with various developmental organisations in India on a range of projects such as education, health and livelihoods. The fellowship aims to advance social and economic development of local communities through collaboration and capacity-building. Through their projects, the fellows work with local communities to create sustainable solutions.

Since 2001, AIF has trained and supported 490 fellows and partnered with 214 organisations across the country.

3. Gandhi Fellowship

The Gandhi Fellowship is an intensive, two-year residential professional program that helps young people learn necessary leadership skills while reforming public education. The fellowship is for individuals in the age group of 18 to 26 years and has three programs: School Leadership Development Program, District Transformation Program and State Transformation Program.

Each fellow is assigned five schools. Within each school, they are expected to transform the school development plan, such as increasing school enrollment, community participation and improving mid-day meal systems. The fellows get a first-hand experience of the education system as they consult with the headmasters, teachers and other government officials to overcome challenges.

By 2020, the fellowship has expanded across the 14 states with over 500 fellows.

4. India Fellowship

Started in 2009 as the ICICI Fellowship and later renamed to India Fellowship, this is an 18-month full-time social leadership program. As part of the fellowship, 17 months are spent working with a partner organization in a rural or a peri-urban region in India to bring about social change.

Apart from working alongside local communities to create change, the fellows are provided with training, mentorship and take part in fundraising activities. The fellows work on diverse assignments ranging from migration, education, healthcare to livelihoods.

The fellowship has nearly 70 partner organisations and 194 fellows working across Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

5. Azim Premji Foundation Fellowship

This fellowship is a one-year programme where fellows work at government schools in rural India to improve public education.

Fellows have to work at the block level of a district in one of the five states; Chhattisgarh Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand or Karnataka. They spend a minimum of 150 days of the programme in a government school classroom where they engage with children, teachers and the community.

At present the fellowship has reached 46 districts across six states in India.

Videos To Study Material: IRS Officer Shares Tips To Ace Hindi UPSC CSE Interview

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) deferred the Personality Tests, which is the interview round, of the candidates of the Civil Services Examination (CSE) 2020 to 18 June 2021. This round was initially scheduled for 26 April 2021.

While this move might prove to be a burden for some candidates, others might see it as a boon given that they now have some more time to prepare for the interview phase. The Better India caught up with Indian Revenue Service Officer Lal Bahadur Pushker, who cleared the UPSC CSE in 2015 and is currently posted as the Deputy Commissioner Income Tax, Mumbai.

Having prepared and appeared for the UPSC CSE and the interview in Hindi, Pushker speaks about some of the ways in which candidates appearing for the examination in their regional languages can excel.

A questioning mind IRS officer Lal Bahadur Pushker

Pushker came from a family with a very modest background in Mirapur village, Allahabad. Rather early on in life, Pushker also contracted polio because of which his left foot got partially affected.

Pushker never tired of asking questions and attributes a lot of the success that he managed to achieve to this nature of his. “Whether it was during my years in school as a student or later on when I was preparing for the UPSC CSE examination, I never gave up on questioning things. The desire to find out why something was the way it was is something that was always in me,” says Pushker, who studied at JNU, Delhi as well.

“The stint in Delhi sealed the deal for me. That was when the desire to appear for the UPSC CSE was sown,” he says.

“About 70 per cent of the questions that aspirants are asked during their interview is from the Detailed Application Form (DAF) that you fill out. Make sure you are well-versed in whatever you fill out. Questions will be asked from what you have filled out, to begin with,” says Pushker. In his own interview, Pushker was asked about his village, the implementation of the Swachh Bharat Mission, the demography of the village and other such questions. For example, given that Pushker studied at Jamia Millia Islamia, the interviewers asked him about the establishment of the institution.

“Not knowing about things that you have filled out in the DAF does not bode well for the aspirant. Interviewers expect aspirants to know their own DAF in and out,” says Pushker.

During the time Pushker was at JNU in 2013, he says that when he was preparing for the interview stage of the UPSC CSE, he made numerous copies of his DAF and requested 10 of his friends to jot down 25 questions each to ask him. “I would seat myself in the Godavari hostel canteen and over several cups of tea, answer more than 100 questions that would be posed to me by my juniors. That helped look at my own DAF from so many different angles,” he says. At the end of it all Pushker had answered more than 250 questions that the juniors had made based on the DAF and allied topics.

“This kind of preparation held me in very good stead during the actual interview, where I did not falter or stop to think even once,” says Pushker. He adds, “If you have been called for the interview, UPSC considers you as a potential IAS/IRS officer candidate and therefore you must exude the same confidence when you walk in for your interview,” he says.

English or Regional Language – Strategy remains the same NCERT books

Pushker details the following points to note during the interview:

  • It does not matter which regional language you chose to appear for the UPSC CSE from. Make sure that your basic understanding of the concepts being tested is strong. NCERT textbooks are available in various regional languages.
    UPSC does not discriminate on the basis of which language you appear with. All that matters is that you get the requisite marks and clear the UPSC CSE written examination well.
  • While a majority of the UPSC CSE aspirants rely on The Hindu for their General Studies material, reading a good regional language newspaper is good to get a fair understanding of everything happening in the world around us.
  • Rely on YouTube videos that explain news, general study content well online. Find the free online resources and use them to your advantage.
  • Honesty, integrity and being secular are the virtues that the interviewers look for in candidates. It does not matter whether you communicate in English or a regional language. The emphasis is on your character.
Some free online resources:

Vision IAS – Pushker says that Vision IAS has uploaded content material, both in English and Hindi, many of which are also free of charge. These are extremely helpful for aspirants when they are preparing for the examination.

Drishti – Yet another medium which is available in both English and Hindi. There are several YouTube videos as well that aspirants can use while preparing for the examination.

Insight IAS – Pushker personally recommends using Insight IAS as it is free of charge and has very comprehensive content for those preparing for the examination. Their periodic test series are also very useful for aspirants. There are also expert articles and videos from which one can benefit immensely.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

Myth Busting: Oxygen Spray Cans Are Not Useful To COVID-19 Patients

This article is a part of a series by The Better India to share verified information about COVID-19 care. While several posts on various aspects of fighting COVID-19 are being circulated on social media and messaging services like WhatsApp, we urge you not to trust unverified content. To separate fact from fiction, we will be sharing the videos and content with doctors and experts and bring you their responses with scientific research-backed information.

When resorting to social media to seek help from the kindness of strangers, many have been asking for leads and contact details of suppliers of oxygen cylinders.

But a viral video, in which claims of oxygen spray cans providing you with ‘instant access’ to oxygen and the canisters marketed as ‘life savers’, is doing the rounds on social media.

Now, there are online retail platforms where portable oxygen sprays are being sold at upwards of a few thousand rupees each. To understand the efficacy of such spray cans, The Better India caught up with Dr Bharat Gopal, Senior Consultant Pulmonology Fortis Vasant Kunj.

Asked if it would be worthwhile for one to invest in a portable oxygen spray for any medical emergency. Dr Bharat says, “No, not at all. A patient in need of oxygen would require at least 1 litre per minute. While portable oxygen spray canisters can have up to 12 litres of oxygen, this will not last for more than 10 minutes or even less and delays the actions required.”

Commenting on claims being made by some products to save lives, he says, “Such products give a false sense of security and delay patients from seeking timely medical care. ”

Dr Bharat Gopal

“One should not fall for any such claims being made.” He also adds that there is no difference between medical grade oxygen and the ones that these spray cans have in them. The difference is in its administration.

Regarding the use of such oxygen spray cans even for a few minutes to help alleviate the oxygen levels, he says, “The use of these oxygen spray cans will hardly help in times of acute respiratory failure. One requires a continuous, high flow of oxygen supply with a proper interface.”

These spray cans may be used in certain sports activities, high-altitude climbing and expeditions, adds Dr Bharat, however not in the case of having to treat a COVID-19 patient.

Asked if such oxygen spray cans can be stored at home, he says, “That’s not a very good idea. We all know oxygen supports combustion so not storing this in a proper manner could be hazardous.”

Speaking about cases where a patient in home isolation is being administered oxygen, Dr Bharat says, “Any oxygen being used has to be under supervision of a medical doctor or trained medical professional only. We use upto 5 litres/minute easily in many chronic respiratory diseases. But for acute conditions like COVID-19, this is just bridge therapy till a bed is available and if it is rising above 2-3 litres/minute then the patient should be in hospital.”

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

IPS Officer Helps 5000 Telangana Tribals Get Access To Medical Aid Worth Rs 7 Lakh

In 2011, Maharashtra-based Dr Sangram Singh Patil earned his medical degree and became the third generation in his family to become a doctor. For a year and a half, he practised medicine at a hospital in Delhi.

Some, time later, on the advice of a friend, he decided to deviate from his family’s traditional route, and begin preparing for civil service examinations.

“While studying, I was also taking care of my father, who was suffering from kidney ailments. Eventually, he passed away. There are around 16 doctors in our family, so I decided to follow my friends advice. It was an impromptu decision. Later, managing my job with studies became overwhelming, so I decided to quit and focus on preparing for the exam,” Dr Sangram tells The Better India.

In 2015, became an IPS officer and took charge as Superintendent of Police in Mulugu and Jayashankar-Bhupalpally districts of Telangana. However, little did he know that his expertise in medicine, combined with his position as an officer, would help him cater to the health needs of tribals, who had otherwise not accessed medical care for years.

Since 2019, Dr Sangram has helped over 5,000 Gotti Koya tribals from 100-odd hamlets in the district, address various complaints including those of nutrition deficiency, haemoglobin, skin, and other related ailments. With the help of this officer, medicinal help worth Rs 7 lakh has reached the tribals so far.

Donning two hats at once Tribals getting check-up at medical camp.

Dr Sangram says the initiative to help the tribal community began after he noticed poor health conditions and a lack of medical support in the area. “As a part of routine patrolling, police officials are required to move around these remote parts of the district. The agency areas where these vulnerable communities live are non-accessible by vehicles and sometimes require walking for miles,” he says.

The 36-year-old adds that it was during such visits and interactions with locals that he realised the pain they were in. “As a medical professional, I could understand their health issues well,” he says.

He roped in doctors from the Indian Medical Association, Warangal and health officers from the government district hospital and health centre for the cause. Along with Dr Sangram, around 20 such doctors systematically reached out to hamlets.

Explaining the function of medical camps, which help screen villagers and identify health issues, Dr Sangram says, “The patients are immediately treated and provided with medicines if needed. Those requiring advanced care are directed to the district hospital. The women and children are more susceptible to diseases, and various tests are held for accurate diagnosis,” he adds. He says no fee is charged to the villagers for treatment.

Building trust for a better future A sport event organised by Dr Sangram for Gotti Koya tribals in 2019.

Providing insights into the challenges faced in bringing healthcare to the tribal hamlets, Dr Jagdishwar, medical superintendent of the district hospital, says, “Villagers find it difficult to access public transport and reach hospitals and health centres. Moreover, the native dialects and language pose challenges in communication, making effective treatment difficult.”

Dr Jagdishwar says that following up with patients becomes another challenge. “The tribals often don’t have faith in the doctors, so building trust requires consistent efforts. The initiative by Dr Sangram aims to increase counselling and instil trust among the community,” he adds. So far, 80 doctors have participated in the camp.

Dr Sangram says that funds for the initiative come from government provisions and other donations such as CSR.

Besides addressing health issues in these tribal hamlets, Sangram says that efforts are also on to bring students into mainstream education. “Many have dropped out of school, so steps have been taken to identify around 1,000 students from Class X and XII and provide them with counselling and education,” he says.

He adds that students are also provided guidance regarding career opportunities and helped in applying for competitive examinations. “The overall efforts have helped develop a sense of trust between the police and the community. Naxalites have a stronghold in the area. Hence the youngsters become more vulnerable to following the wrong path. We must ensure better access to facilities and guidance to the villagers for a better future,” Dr Sangram says.

Edited by Divya Sethu

COVID-19: Meet The 6 Women Who Made 20 Lakh RT-PCR Kits For India In A Year

On April 26, Delhi woke up to a dip in coronavirus cases, as the single-day spike stood at 20,201. While many saw this as a sign of relief, it was later noted that the city had conducted fewer tests on Sunday (April 25). From a daily average of 79,123, the tests came down by 37%. A similar trend was also seen in Maharashtra, thus reiterating the significance of COVID-19 tests before premature celebrations on such developments. 

It is no doubt that hospitals and COVID-19 centres are swamped, as across India, people showing symptoms are rushing to get tests conducted. A colleague in Gurugram had to wait for nearly a week to get the test, and by the time her number came, her symptoms were gone. 

Conducting tests on time has been a crucial component in this fight against the deadly virus, but very few know what goes behind making thousands of kits without delays. A delay by even an hour can cost someone their life, as hospitals are now not admitting patients without the test results. 

The Better India spoke to Vadodara-based Dr Swapnali Kulkarni, who is at the forefront of making Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) kits. An average of 40,000 tests are dispatched every day from Cosara Diagnostics Pvt Ltd, where Dr Kulkarni heads the technical services department.

Along with her, five other women — production officer Kesha Parikh, quality assurance officer Julie Tahilramani, R&D officers Janki Dalwadi and Jinitha Varghese, and quality check officer Kirti Doshi — are heading the operations of diagnostic tests to meet the country’s massive demand.

Dr Kulkarni talks about what goes on inside the factory, the race between quality checks and time, and why the women-led team has not taken a single leave in the last year.

20 lakh kits for India 

Cosara is a subsidiary of the listed company Ambalal Sarabhai, founded by Vikram Sarabhai. It has been a pioneering supplier of RT-PCR to various states including Gujarat, Telangana, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Delhi. Since the beginning of lockdown in April 2020, it has supplied nearly 20,00,000 tests.

When they started, the daily manufacturing capacity was 8,000, which has increased by 400% in the second wave. The pressure to fill the demand and supply gap is immense, notes Dr Kulkarni.

“Earlier, we were making tests on a per person basis, but now, we have to make kits. Each kit comprises 400-500 tests. We are way past adhering to our office timings, and each person is dedicating extra hours without complaining. Not a single person has applied for leave even though the option is available. This is the time when we are given a chance to put our education and knowledge to use. Everyone wants to contribute in tackling the crisis and that is commendable.”

The staff’s dedication is reflected in the modified working pattern. Contrary to the previous system, where each department was doing its designated work, the work is now overlapping. For instance, if a person in charge of packaging finishes work early, they immediately rush to check if the tally department needs a hand. 

There are multiple stages of test preparation that take place over two days, including pre and post-production. The technology, developed by Cosara, is faster and gives the results in real-time. 

“Traditional protein-based diagnostic tests need a particular period after infection for correct diagnosis. As early diagnosis is the basis to define the line of treatment, it becomes very crucial for doctors to choose a reliable diagnostic test that detects the presence of any pathogen as early as possible after entering the human body, and before it shows symptomatic manifestation. Our kits are based on the Real-Time PCR (RT PCR)  technique, which is the latest technology in the diagnostic field. This technique skips the wait for a lengthy window period,” Dr Kulkarni explains. 

The kits are developed using Co-Primer Technology, which enhances speed, accuracy and cost-effectiveness. It is a combination of biotechnology, advanced algorithms, and bioinformatics. Tests can be performed in less than three hours from DNA extraction. Once the kits are ready, they go through randomised checking and other quality checks before dispatch. 

Apart from helming the process, the team also assists government and private labs with technical guidance. Seeing the current rate at which cases are spiking, the team aims to scale its operations and make 8,00,000 tests every month shortly. 

Edited by Divya Sethu