Mr.Shantilal Gulabchand Muttha the founder of the Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana, was born on August 15, 1954 in Dongerkinhi village, Patoda taluk of Beed district in Maharashtra. Because of his humble birth he was forced to wait on the invitees, at Jain weddings. It was here that the tender mind of seven year old Shantilal, began to ponder on the ill effects of brief display of phony opulence.
Even the less fortunate ones, in a bid to have grand weddings were in the process getting deeper into debt trap. An earnest desire to do something to eliminate this evil was sown in the young child’s mind.
After spending his early boyhood in orphanages and boarding houses reserved for Jains, Shantilal joined college on a humanitarian scholarship. While in college the first signs of an upcoming propagandist was seen. He tried his hand at a couple of revolutions to awaken people into avoiding showy weddings. Nobody took a college kid seriously. In 1976 he graduated with Honors in Commerce from University of Poona.
After college, like thousands of his ilk, the uncertainty of his future hung over his head. A few odd jobs here and there only sharpened his appetite for money – money that he dreamt of using for the upliftment of the downtrodden. As he was pondering over the urge of his inner voice to ‘dream big’, he spotted a five-acre plot, up for sale in downtown Pune, a city which was on the threshold of an economic boom. Raising the money for buying the plot was a pipe dream; but the entrepreneurial spirit in him came to the fore at just the right time. Borrowing the five thousand rupees that were needed as down payment for the initial agreement, he conjured up a grand plan. Browbeating government officials to issue him an NOC (no objection certificate) for urban residential accommodation to be constructed on the plot, he convinced an up-coming architect to come up with designs for a cluster of apartment blocks. A board announcing the new residential scheme was erected at the site and Shantilal Muttha, the builder was in business. Advance payments were collected from prospective buyers; the money outstanding against the sale of the plot was paid off; and above all construction began in full swing. From rags to riches was one swift stroke of daring enterprise; penury quickly yielded place to a steady flow of prosperity. Shantilal Muttha the benefactor was now ready to put his act together.
Shantilal Muttha soon discovered that the life of a Good Samaritan was no bed of roses; he had to battle hard against the quagmire of blind beliefs and thoughtless customs. Jains, in general, had grown accustomed to be parochial in their approach towards women. Shantilal set himself the vital task of finding a remedy for this malady. “Unless and until the woman is liberated, the Jain will continue to be regarded as a narrow bigot with only one fixation in life; amassing wealth”, he realised. Gradually his doggedness began to pay off; the dark dogmatic practices started to lose their momentum as a brave new breed of people began to experiment with the preachings propounded by an equally eager reformist. Prominent Jain citizens too joined in, and out of this the Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana (BJS) was born.
In the fifteen years of its existence, BJS has rendered exemplary service to alleviate the suffering of the poor and the downtrodden. Today, BJS is a well-knit organisation comprising dedicated volunteers belonging to Jain faith. It is a common platform for discussion with prominent Jain philanthropists. Scores of Jain educational institutions in Maharashtra are formed under a common banner “The Federation of Jain Educational Institutions in Maharashtra’ . The BJS provides them with advice on how to work in a unified direction and liaisons with Government bodies in seeking benefits set-aside for minorities. BJS regularly organises free medical camps for the poor. Dr.Sharadkumar Dhikshit, a prominent plastic surgeon of New York City has been visiting India for the past ten years with his team of specialists and conducting plastic surgery operations in Pune, Nagpur, Nasik, Aurangabad, etc..
There are very few people like Mr.Shantilal Mutta, who dare to dream and make dreams a reality. With mere determination and willpower Mr.Shantilal succeeded in converting his dreams into reality by pioneering the concept of “mass marriage ” in Maharashtra thus slashing down the conspicuous spending on marriages. He extended the mass-marriage concept to non-Jain societies too. As many as 625 couples were united in marital bliss in a single ceremony. A sports stadium was hired for the purpose. The event received widespread media coverage due to the sheer size and complexity of organizing such an event. Today this concept is widely practiced throughout the country.
Mr.Shantilal created the “Samuhik Vivah Mahasangh” comprising of 350 multi-faith institutions in Maharashtra. It involves itself in reducing problems resulting from matrimonial excesses and bride harassment. He also organised revolutionary ‘vadhu-var sammelans’ to encourage prospective brides and grooms to come together with their parents so that matchmaking becomes easier and more practical. Greater involvement in this pre-matrimony process means greater commitment and thus a gradual but sure reduction in divorce rates and bride harassment. The vadhu-var concept has spread far and wide and is now regarded as a regular practice among both Jain and non-Jain communities. Mr.Shantilal is a vigorous campaigner against the practice of dowry. He initiated research study into the causes for increase in divorce rates and how marriages can be saved from breaking down. He encouraged matrimony among young divorcees and widows who otherwise were almost ostracized by society. His research area also included the cause for the alarming downward trend in birth rates of girl-children, its future impact and steps to revert the problem.
After the communal riots rocked several cities in India, Mr.Shantilal organised ‘Shanti Yatra’ comprising religious heads drawn from Muslim, Hindu and Jain faiths, to foster peace and harmony. They visited sensitive areas where casualties were alarmingly high and were successful in appealing to the affected people to restore normalcy. Whenever natural calamities and disasters like the earthquake, plague and the floods affect people in Maharashtra, Mr.Shantilal’s help is always there. He organises relief camps on a massive scale to provide food, medical aid, clothing and shelter to several thousand people in Maharashtra. During winter he is often seen distributing warm clothes to the poor and the homeless as a humanitarian approach. He started a hostel-cum-school near Pune for 1000 young boys who were rendered destitute by the earthquake. His earthquake related welfare activities have drawn appreciation from across the world, culminating in the construction of a 2,80,000 sq.ft. ultra-modern rehabilitation center for earthquake affected and other calamity stricken school children, funded by World Bank.
Apart from being the President of the BJS and an Urban Property developer who has built more than 1500 apartments over a ten year period, he is also Editor of the magazine Jain Ekta (Jain Unity) which he uses as a weapon to spread the message of reform in keeping with changing times.
For a reformer of such a magnitude awards come naturally. In 1989 Mr.Shantilal received the ‘Letter Of Commendation’ and memento from Pune City Municipal Corporation. He received the National Youth Award in 1992 from Indian Institute of Youth Affairs in honour of Late Indira Gandhi’s memory. The Killari Village body honoured him with the ‘Plaque of Honour’ in 1994 in recognition of the relief work undertaken by him during the 1993 earthquake. Mr.T.N.Seshan handed over the ‘Yuva Pune Gaurav Puraskar’ in 1996 given by Yuva Bharati, Pune. In 1998 he received the Diwaliben Mohanlal Mehta Award from the Diwaliben Mohanlal Charitable Trust at the hands of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
As the President of the BJS, Mr.Shantilal Gulabchand Muttha, has got several concrete future plans. He desires to evolve it into a thoroughly professional social welfare organisation. For this purpose plans are afoot to recruit professional staff with exposure to managing NGOs. He wishes to undertake various welfare activities sponsored by the Government. On a need-based assessment he wishes to set up in every district orphanages, homes for the aged, hostels for working women, institutions for the mentally retarded etc.. Land for these activities has already been procured in the districts of Solapur, Nasik, Jalgaon, Nagpur and Aurangabad. The Wagholi Educational Rehabilitation Centre near Pune will serve as a model, for this purpose. Workshops, seminars and training camps will be conducted regularly (similar to the one conducted in Feb.95) to train and develop high calibre workers at all levels. He also wishes to establish an international Jain University in the not-too-distant future.
Mr.Shantilal’s saga of service to the society seems to be never ending. With wide experience in fields as diverse as child and woman welfare, support for the handicapped, calamity and disaster management, he is constantly looking for opportunities to further widen the scope of activities of the BJS.