Pune-based chartered accountant look up an unlikely cause in 2012, though not for the first time. Stirred by the lack of options for vegetarians in hotel management institutions across India, Luniya started a nation-wide campaign and provide the same level of opportunities beyond that. A freewheeling interview with CR Luniya, where he shares his challenges and what drives him to continue fighting for the cause.
As a CA, you have spent the majority of your time looking at balance sheets and auditing company finances. In your earlier years, have you ever chosen to get involved or moved by issues outside your field?
Yes, since childhood, I was involved with both, small to big issues. In my college days, I read news about an underprivileged student could not go through the kidney transplant even though his parents were ready to give him the kidneys due to financial constraints. I was moved by the story and started collecting the funds from my college and schools, which helped him. His operation was successful and he could live for a few more years.
Again in 2009, my father had a heart attack on ‘Ganesh Immersion Day’–he could not be saved–the ambulance could not arrive as the roads was closed due to procession, even though the procession had not started. I felt very sad and took up the matter with the police and other authorities. I took initiative to keep 12 ambulances around the procession with the help of many NGOs, doctors, police and almost 300 volunteers, and ensured that Emergency Medical Services (EMS) were available during that period, which helped a lot of people. We were running EMS for three years and subsequently, government took over our setup and today, 108 ambulances are available in Pune.
In 2012, can you flash back to the circumstances that led to you taking up the matter of lack of vegetarian choice offered by Hotel Management institutions?
My younger son, Bhushan is passionate about Hotel Management and aspired to take that Degree. Being Jain and vegetarian, I suggested that he take the admission where only vegetarian cuisines are taught. We searched for such an institution in Pune, Maharashtra and across India, but nowhere was an exclusively vegetarian degree available. I was ready to send him abroad if it was available, but we could not find such a course abroad as well. I started discussing with my friends and relatives and all my circles and the response was that there being no choice, you have to compromise and choose a course from what’s available. I was not comfortable, I thought it is not fair to go against one’s values, beliefs, religion and students should get their right of learning of their choice. Also, a thought came, this being a larger issue, somebody should have opposed it in the past. But, the ground reality was no option was available. The thought process continued and then I thought, “Why not me?” and I started the initiative.
You have stated that you have written to many government offices. What were the challenges you faced from academic institutions and government offices at that time?
I have written to around 8,000 government offices, which includes, our Honourable Prime Minister, all the Ministers of Central Government, all the Members of Parliament on more than one occasion, to all the Governors, Chief Ministers, Education and Tourism Minister, universities and hotel management colleges. I have also written to prominent personalities to appeal to them for the same.
Initially, and at every stage, the response from the Government and others has been negative. But, I think it is because of the mindset only, as nobody thought of it earlier. However, whenever I was sending notes, explaining the issue and benefits involved the response was then positive from the PMO, Members of Parliament and Ministry officials. To date, more than 50 Members of Parliament must have supported the movement, the issue.
Coming back to present, you are still petitioning to Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modiji and other important decision-makers. What is the online response you are receiving from the government (Then versus now)?
We have run the campaign through various modes like writing letters to authorities, sending, distributing brief and detailed notes on our cause to a number of people. We must have distributed around 10,000 postcards to be forwarded to our PM and Tourism Minister and distributed pamphlets at various places. Moreover, we also distributed t-Shirts, caps, updates across newspapers, magazines, emails, WhatsApp messages, Facebook and speeches at various places, We are also running an online campaign on Change.org and our link is tinyurl.com/VegDegree, we received response from more than 5,400 registered supporters on that all throughout the world. The positive comments I’m receiving on the online campaign, are like a battery charger for me, thus whenever I receive negative responses from Government and others, I read the positive comments, which inspires me to double my efforts.
What is the response towards your mission from other vegetarian-preferring families of aspiring hotel management students?
It is a new concept, and as I have gone up to the root cause of the issue, it will take time for people to understand the ultimate benefits of the same. Once explained, the people are realising, how it was going wrong till date and how it will change the things for better. We need to have more and more awareness campaigns through various modes to explain the benefits to the vegetarians and others at large.
What is your vision today, and what is the next step forward?
Acceptance by the Government and offering the option across 21 Central Government institutes of hotel management across India is just the beginning, we have long way to go. So many things are required to be done like, the option is required to be given in all the hotel management institutions in India. Also, students opting for the course should get the training opportunities in the hotel industry, so a change in the mindset of the hotel Industry is required–we will have to convince them of the benefits with this option. We need to create awareness amongst the vegetarian to demand vegetarian chefs in the hotels and to have at least one dedicated vegetarian restaurant with an exclusive vegetarian kitchen.
What is the message you would like to convey to people reading the story?
If your cause or issue is right, you will definitely will get the result, you have to stick to it, discuss it, give shape to it, modify it to the required extent. There will be moments of ups and down but you should be determined and stick to the cause or issue. Secondly, if someone is fighting for the right cause, you must support the cause to whatever extent possible, as the cumulative effects give the right impetus to the people who are working on it.