A special program by Stefano Beggiora
India is an extraordinary and mysterious country. One of the cradles of the most ancient civilizations, it has always fascinated the whole world for its millenary culture and for its strategic position at the center of the busiest trade routes in history, such as the silk and spice routes. After nearly two hundred years of colonial rule and exploitation that marked and burdened its modern age, India was a country capable of getting back on its feet and finding the way to its independence, unity and self-affirmation. Despite the fact that today the Subcontinent is a country in constant growth and exponential development, which has reached a position of first magnitude in the Asian markets, there are still several critical issues to be solved, especially in rural areas or in those difficult to access. Poverty, social disparity, criticalities in infrastructures, are all problems whose analysis and resolution are in all respects extremely complex even today. The recent global pandemic has highlighted the unresolved emergencies of a heterogeneous and in some ways controversial system, of which, however, India has never made a secret. This is one of the greatest paradoxes of the country: the glittering skyline of the large metropolises contrasts with the underlying profile of the slums or with the dynamics of backwardness in which some of the most remote areas of the interior find themselves. The weakest link in this scenario is once again represented by the children.
It is for this reason that there are many voluntary groups, NGOs – whose activities were in many cases formally recognized by the government – bodies and associations that have offered a fundamental contribution in recent decades. Among these, the Care&Share experience is undoubtedly a point of reference, a brilliant example of solidarity and commitment. The thing that perhaps most struck me in Vijayawada, in the Indian region of Andhra Pradesh, is that alongside the many historical initiatives of the association, primarily aimed at literacy, health care, the collection and assistance to street children, is the presence of Care&Share acting as a fundamental and trusted interlocutor with local institutions in the many daily problems of difficult management.
The union with a great personality like Kabir Bedi, protagonist of both the Indian and international cinema who shares a mutual bond of deep affection and knowledge with Italy – can only confirm the potential of the seventh art in raising awareness and sharing with the general public. Issues that are most important to us.
Since 1991, Care & Share Italia has been supporting the poorest and most disadvantaged children in India by promoting and defending children’s rights, including access to education. Thirty years ago a group of Venetian friends took an interest in the children of the Andhra Pradesh region and in particular in the city of Vijayawada: the so-called outcasts or untouchables lived (and still live) in the slums, in precarious living conditions, in almost absolute degrading poverty. Over time, thanks to its transformation into a non-profit organization first (2000) and an NGO later (2007), the association has also extended its range of action to the Hyderabad area, a city of 12 million inhabitants and 200 slums, and to the tribals of southern India where the Adivasi, native inhabitants of India still live: often illiterate, they depend on forestry and agriculture, and are therefore strongly affected by the adverse climate conditions.
India was chosen for several reasons: one third of the world’s poor are concentrated in this country, which according to OECD estimates makes up to 42% of the population, and the gap between rich and poor will only grow further in the near future. Tangible social inequalities greatly affect the young section of the population: UNICEF reports the death of nearly 1.5 million children under the age of 5 from infections that could be prevented; one in three malnourished children in the world is Indian, more than 122 million families do not have sanitation facilities, and as a result of all this, 20% of children between the age of 6 and 14 do not go to school.
The goal of Care&Share is therefore to guarantee all children the opportunity to receive an education and complete their studies, allowing them to fulfill their aspirations, access the job market and consequently help their communities of origin. In 30 years, over 20,000 children and young people have been granted an education thanks to distance support that has involved over 10,000 Italian donors. In addition to this, there are numerous projects launched by Care&Share Italia which range from building kindergartens and schools to the construction of safe facilities where mothers can leave their children during working hours; from the restructuring of schools to the innovation of the school system; from raising awareness on the importance of education to paying fees, transport and clothing costs, school materials, medical visits and interventions; from recent support interventions to the victims of Covid19 to the support and emancipation of women.
Born in Lahore in Punjab to a very tolerant family committed to struggling for independence from British colonial rule, Kabir Bedi is one of the few Indian actors to have gained fame and recognition for his iconic roles in Europe and Hollywood: he has acted in over 60 Bollywood films, including “Khoon Bhari Maang” (1988), to name one; has worked in numerous Hollywood TV series, including “The Baghdad Thief” (1978), “Ashanti” (1979), “Dynasty” (1982-1986), “Murder, she wrote” (1988), “Magnum, PI ” (1988), “Higlander” (1995), “Beautiful” (1994-2005); the international success, however, is due to the role of Gobinda in one of the 007 films alongside Roger Moore (“Octopussy-Operation octopus” of 1983), and to “Sandokan” (1976), in which he played the part of the protagonist, the romantic pirate Malay from the pen of the writer Emilio Salgari. In recent years, Bedi has taken part in Italian TV programs, such as “The Celebrity island” and “A Doctor in the Family (Un medico in famiglia)”, as well as having worked in radio programmes and collaborated to an autobiographical book, “Stories I must tell you. My human adventure” (2021).
International success has not limited his activism in his country of origin: Bedi collaborates with the Times of India and Tehelka on political and social issues affecting India, and also debates about such issues on the Indian national television. He is Brand Ambassador for Rotary International South Asia for their teaching program and for the Total Literacy Mission in India and South Asia. Due to his importance on the Italian television scene he was naturalized Italian, and on June 2nd, 2010 he was officially appointed Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by the President of the Republic. Bedi is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, leads a film company of Indian and international films, and lives on Juhu Beach, Mumbai, with his wife, producer Parveen Dusanj.
Behind the actor there is also a man who is personally interested in numerous philanthropic and social causes: he is Honorary Ambassador of SightSavers India, who supports blind people and fights against blindness that could be avoided; since 2018 he is Global Ambassador of Care&Share Italia in the world, mainly attracted by the Italian soul of the organization and by its mission aimed to allow Indian children at risk of marginalization and abandonment to make the arduous journey “from the street to school”. He inaugurated Bagath Singh Nagar’s Anganwadi in Hyderabad on January 4th, 2019, and in the spring of 2019 he toured Italy with the intention of raising awareness of the cause of this association, also speaking on national televisions.