Fellow Since 2000
SETU- Centre for Social Knowledge and Action
This profile was prepared when Suchitra Sheth was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000.
The New Idea
Suchitra is bringing major changes to Gujarat's state-run homes for children. These special juvenile homes, which include orphanages and remand centers, have become like prisons: hostile, hopeless places intent on separating their inmates from society. Suchitra is changing how the state deals with the youth it cares for by introducing new attitudes, ideas, and activities throughout the system. She understands that systemic change requires new policies on the part of government, new commitment and behavior on the part of staff, a new sense of responsibility on the part of society at large and, most important, a renewed spirit of confidence and self-esteem on the part of children. Suchitra is taking a new approach to these old institutions. Her innovation is to more widely distribute responsibility for Gujarat's children throughout society, including higher government, the legal system, civil society, and ordinary citizens. Thus she reduces institutions' burden while increasing participation by other actors–most notably the children themselves. Children's participation is at the heart of Suchitra's philosophy, for she believes that through more active education, counseling and public exposure, children under state care will be able to rejoin society better and more quickly. Suchitra believes that children under state care should be able to draw, paint, see puppet shows and films, and meet other children and adults. She says, "It is my strong conviction that when children from drastically different backgrounds meet in a non-competitive atmosphere they experience each other's lifestyles and forge bonds of friendship. Revolutionary things can happen. The world could become a different place."