Fellow Since 1990
This profile was prepared when Muthu Peraman was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1990.
The New Idea
The dirtiest, riskiest jobs in India have always gravitated to the poorest, especially the Harijans. At least in much of rural India, for example, Harijan families have taken on the job of applying pesticides to their area's crops.Muthu believes these families of pesticides applicators have a cancer incidence 60% above the norm for the rest of the population. He plans to measure their health rigorously and, once he has documented the problem irrefutably, work to introduce long overdue safeguards ranging from worker education to removing especially dangerous substances from commerce.Muthu plans to use his data very actively. He'll go to the families directly involved and show them precisely how they are being affected. He'll work with the organizations of the Harijans and other Scheduled (especially disadvantaged) Castes and Tribes. He'll reach out to broader groups in society also put at risk; e.g., fishermen whose water and fish are affected or in any case concerned with human rights, health, or the environment.Later he'll carry this technique to other areas where the very poor are being exposed to lifethreatening risk in India's increasingly industrial and chemically based society. Muthu's concern that "the poorest" are most exposed and unprotected and need help adds a powerful new dimension to public concern about the risks of the chemical revolution. Marrying concern for equality and worry for public health should strengthen both.