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Pratham hopes to raise £150,000 from NRIs to fight illiteracy in India

By Shyam Bhatia in London
Last updated on: October 17, 2003 22:54 IST
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British Indians are expected to contribute at least £150,000 for eradicating illiteracy in India at a charity event in London on Friday evening.

Veteran actress Waheeda Rahman will launch the event on behalf of 'Pratham', a non-governmental organisation of which she is the goodwill ambassador.

Founded by Dr Madhav Chauhan in 1994, Pratham aims to supplement the Indian government's efforts to extend access to education to all children under 14 years of age.

The NGO enjoys the support of corporate heads Mukesh Ambani (Reliance Industries), Kumarmangalam Birla (Aditya Birla Group), Vijay Goradia (Vinmar International), Rajat Gupta (McKinsey & Co), K V Kamath (ICICI Bank), Keshub Mahindra (Mahindra & Mahindra), L N Mittal (LNM Group), Ajay Piramal (Nicholas Piramal Group), Gautam Thapar (BILT) and N Vaghul (ICICI Bank).

Commenting in advance of Friday evening's function at London's Grosvenor House hotel, Rahman said, "We are grateful to the large number of corporate donors that are supporting Pratham and to individual members of the British-Indian community who through their support are investing in India's future."

Viral Acharya, Assistant Professor of Finance, London Business School and president of Pratham UK, explained, "Pratham UK has been set up to spread awareness about and raise funds for Pratham's literacy programmes in India. It is partly inspired from Pratham USA, which since its inception in 1998, has raised close to $2 million, with $1 million last year alone. We believe there is tremendous potential for raising funds through UK-based corporates, foundations, NGOs, community events and individuals, especially members of the British-Indian community."

Narayanan Vaghul, head of Pratham worldwide and chairman of ICICI Bank, India's second largest bank, added, "Pratham's goal is simple - the widespread availability of primary education in India. It is aimed at the future, to ensure total literacy within a conceivable period of time. The rapidity with which this movement has spread in the country in the last twelve months offers hope and challenge. We believe that given the groundswell of support it would be possible for us to meet expectations faster than we had first envisaged."

The event will be co-hosted by Priya Kalidas, the first leading actress in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Bombay Dreams. At an auction to raise funds, guests will bid for a dinner with cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and a week's stay at Ananda, a luxury spa in Rishikesh, among other attractions.

Renowned Bollywood singer Sunidhi Chauhan, whose recent hits include Bhoomro Bhoomro from the film Mission Kashmir and Mehboob Mere from Fiza, will be performing at the event.

Pratham's board members have pledged their support for the evening. UK's richest Indian and chairman of the LNM Group Lakshmi N Mittal is the lead sponsor for Pratham's 2003 Ball.

"My own upbringing was in Sadulpur in Rajasthan, where we had no running water or electricity, let alone primary education. Pratham's efforts will affect children whose future lives can be dramatically transformed when they are given the opportunity to go to school, in a country where education has always been a scarce commodity.

"Though enshrined as a fundamental right today, in reality, universal elementary education continues to remain a very distant dream. Pratham's UK chapter will strengthen the Pratham movement and help us achieve our ambitious goal to have every child in India in school by 2010. This involves mobilizing necessary political and bureaucratic will and the commitment of global citizens and communities to take ownership and raise the required resources," he said.

In a statement Dr Chauhan said, "Since its inception, Pratham has reached over a million children in India. While Friday's charity event in London is to raise funds, we hope to also raise the awareness of the scale of Pratham's goals amongst the global Indian community many of whom live in the UK."
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Shyam Bhatia in London
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