Raise your Voice - An inspirational story of Manoj Shah
“I was in 11th std when my friends and I planned a trip to Matheran. To gather information about Matheran, we visited Govt. of India's Tourist office. An employee at the office gave us a leaflet that had information about hotels in Matheran, their prices, contact details, and various places to visit. When I took a detailed look, I realised it was a 4-year-old leaflet published in 1980. I asked the employee for the latest one, but to my surprise, he said this is the only leaflet we have. I couldn't digest that well because I was sure things might have changed in Matheran, and referring to information that's 4 years old won't make sense. I thought a lot about it and wrote a letter to the Midday newspaper raising my concern about that issue. The next day itself my letter was published in the newspaper and I was called to the Govt. of India Tourist office for an enquiry. I identified the person who gave me the leaflet and the required actions were taken. Well, the next thing that happened was an absolute shocker, a lady from the office gave me the latest leaflet published in 1984.
That incident inspired me to write letters and raise my voice on various problems. From 1984 to 2002, on an average every week my 2-3 letters used to be published in different newspapers like Times of India, Indian Express, India Today, Free Press Journal, Midday and The Daily. Over 1224 of my letters were published in varied newspapers and magazines. I was awarded 3 times by the All India (Press) Letter Writer's Association (AILWA) for writing consumer-related and thought-provoking letters. I attended various conferences and enquiries regarding the issues raised in my letters. As time passed, I became a popular letter writer. After my letters were published in newspapers, people started reaching out and expressing their problems to me.
Honestly, I had no contact in any newspaper, not even a single reporter. In fact, back then, there was no email or any other facility that could ease my process of writing letters. I used to handwrite the letters and post them to different newspapers. All of my letters were not published but I was never disheartened. On the contrary, I used to follow up and didn't stop writing. I was not paid for writing letters, but trust me it was still a fruitful exercise.
Like everything has its pros and cons, this exercise had it too. There was always a risk/threat factor involved as I used to write letters speaking up against BEST drivers/conductors, BMC personnel, bank officials, railway authorities and many more. I remember I had written a letter complaining about BEST driver's improper behaviour and I was called for the enquiry. After the enquiry, the driver came up to me and said, "Tujhe toh yahi raaste se aana hai na, dekhte hai tujhe." My family was afraid as whatever I was doing was risky, but that was needed.
Now, I really miss the traditional way of writing letters to the newspapers. These days there’s not much scope for the letter writers as the newspapers have become more commercialised. There’s hardly any space in a newspaper for a letter to be published. But, my interest hasn’t lessened due to this. I write letters to the e-newspapers and sometimes they do publish them. I also write articles for a community magazine for the column “Raise Your Voice”. I am a Life Member of the Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI) and All India (Press) Letter Writer's Association (AILWA), which help in fighting consumer complaints.” - Manoj Shah - Khyaal Community Member