Social and Trade Union Activist
It is a truism to say that man is a consumer from the moment he is conceived till his death. However, there is no written record of how long he has been cheated as a consumer.
Market-rivalry and the culture of uninhibited consumerism have not only shaken human society, but have also upset the long cherished equations of life.
There is no dearth in our country of people who are cheated/exploited and the number of such people is much more than that of those who cheat or exploit. If we minutely examine this phenomenon of exploitation, it becomes clear that of all the causes of exploitation, the main cause is man’s greed to acquire more and more things. This greed is found in the traders as well as in consumers.
I was exposed to this phenomenon at the young age of 12 years in 1948. I was asked by my father to go and buy sugar. I was cheated due to short weighing. However, I challenged the shopkeeper, who made it good. I ‘confiscated’ the false weights and threw them into a well. The fat shopkeeper just shouted as he could hardly run as fast as I could. This only showed that market distortions continue to take place, in spite of an awareness on them in India, which dates back to 400 BC, when Kautilya had codified laws relating to short weighing, adulteration etc.
Where there is a will, there is a way. I found in Pradeep Mehta a similar person, who would also not accept such injustice. More importantly, he would share the way forward and empower people by exhorting them not to accept injustice. One day, while at the post office in my home town: Kapasan, I saw a wall newspaper ‘Gram Gadar’ stuck on the wall. There was an advertisement in it asking for voluntary representatives. I applied and was selected as a volunteer. The newspaper showed me the way and I got an opportunity to meet the editor, Pradeep Mehta. By accepting me as his co-worker, he not only obliged me but also provided me the incentive to promote my activism. There is no exaggeration in saying that Mehta has created an army of thousand dedicated activists in Rajasthan with the help of ‘Gram Gadar’. Extraordinary experiments were made to awaken public awareness, and during various discussions many new facts regarding the cheating of consumers came to light.
This lead to the formation of Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) and it was registered in June 1984. Thus, started the consumer movement from Jaipur in Rajasthan. The battalion of volunteers of Gram Gadar became the first army of CUTS.
CUTS then pressured the government to think and act for better protection of consumers. Finally in 1986, the late Indian Prime Minister, Rajeev Gandhi acknowledged the legitimate interests of consumers and promulgated the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Now a days, every district has a ‘District Consumer Forum’ that addresses the problems of consumers and does justice to deserving cases. One can appeal to the state forum against the judgement of a district forum and to the national forum against the judgement of a state forum. Much of the credit for this unique law is due to CUTS.
It can be justifiably asserted that CUTS has left no stone unturned in creating consumer awareness in people. It has sincerely tried to ascertain the difficulties by the common man and his day to day problems, analysed them systematically and has tried to bring to light the findings of its research and analysis. To expand its net of consumer activists, CUTS took up a novel training project. It has trained hundreds of educated young men as ‘friends of consumers’ who are able to act as consumers’ representatives and plead on their behalf in consumer courts.
CUTS has now achieved its due recognition at the national and international levels.
CUTS has also made an important contribution to the movement of women’s empowerment. It has also trained women from time to time to fight for their rights and this has yielded good results.
It is generally seen that many organisations are run by individuals under the principle of ‘One Man Show’, and they cease to be effective and functional if they are deprived of the services of such an individual. On the contrary, CUTS has always followed principles of democratic decentralisation. It is, therefore, sure to have a long life and safe future.
Owing to the team spirit of its dedicated and fully committed workers and the managerial capacity and vision of its Secretary General, CUTS is working as a beacon to the human society.
CUTS and its members have not only helped to solve various problems of consumers but have ably guided them to sort out various other problems of their daily life. It has strongly pleaded and worked for the alleviation of people’s suffering. Some of its networking members are also committed to the protection of farmers and workers rights and welfare.
Most of CUTS literature is published in English and is of little use to the common people. This is mostly used by foreign organisations and educated elites. Secondly, the cost of these publications is very high and is beyond the reach of common man.
The public distribution system and consumer courts are not so effective, nor helpful to the poorest of the poor. In these circumstances, CUTS will have to revise its priorities and further course of action. This is the crying need of our society.