Telangana Millet Man, PV Satheesh, passes away at 77

An icon of civil society activism in India

By Nikisha Uddagiri  Published on  19 March 2023 10:31 AM GMT
Periyapatna Venkatasubbaiah Sathish

Hyderabad: Periyapatna Venkatasubbaiah Satheesh, an icon of civil society activism in India and fondly called 'Telangana Millet Man,' passed away on Sunday morning at the age of 77. As the Founder and Executive Director of the Deccan Development Society (DDS), Satheesh was a champion for agro-biodiversity, food sovereignty, women's empowerment, social justice in the NGO sector, local knowledge systems, participatory development, and community media. He was also among the first-generation TV producers at Doordarshan.

Under his guidance, DDS and its women’s sanghams offered demonstrable alternatives to the dominant agricultural paradigm, with their steadfast adherence to millet cultivation and organic agriculture. Their recent efforts to incorporate millets into the public distribution system owe much to Satheesh’s work.

Born on June 18, 1945, Satheesh was a graduate of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, and started out as a journalist. He went on to work for Doordarshan as a pioneering television producer for nearly two decades, making programs related to rural development and rural literacy in the then-united Andhra Pradesh. He played an important role in the historical Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) in the 1970s.

The news of Satheesh’s death in Zaheerabad—where he lived in a small house as a bachelor—came as a shock to those who knew him, and they expressed deep sadness and grief over the loss of a remarkable individual. Many fondly remembered his service to the community and his passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle. His passing left a void in the hearts of many who respected and admired him.

An Inspirational Taskmaster

Speaking to Newsmeter, Syam GK, former producer of Doordarshan recalled, “PV Satheesh was not only my senior colleague but also my guide and mentor. He was from the first batch of TV producers. With him, every moment was an opportunity to learn. His exceptional skills as a scriptwriter and taskmaster were matched only by his passionate commitment to producing creative work of the highest quality.”

“His immense contribution to Doordarshan is a testament to his talent and dedication. He never compromised on the quality of his work, and his commitment to excellence has left a lasting impact on me and many others who had the privilege of working with him,” added Syam.

In the early 1980s, Satheesh founded the DDS in the semi-arid Zaheerabad region to combat hunger, malnutrition, land degradation, biodiversity loss, gender injustice, and social inequality. He also encouraged Dalit women to participate in a variety of programs. He led the organisation for nearly four decades to transform it into an internationally acclaimed NGO and an inspiring example that has motivated similar experiments in millet revival and promotion across the country.

As the director of DDS, PV Satheesh’s long-standing efforts resulted in improving the livelihoods of thousands of poor women across 75 villages in Telangana. He also led several national and international networks and was formerly a member of the Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN) board, in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the international panel of experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), in Brussels, Belgium. He is also credited with the initiation of India’s first Community Media Trust and the launch of India’s first rural, civil society-led community radio station, Sangham Radio.

A Selfless Man

Although he was born and raised elsewhere, Satheesh chose to make Zaheerabad his home to serve its people. Remembering Satheesh, Jayshree, an associate of DDS, said, “PV Satheesh was a legend in Zaheerabad. He had a passionate dedication to promoting a healthy and nutritious society. He was a great individual and the first person to approach for help in the entire community.”

“Across generations, we have not seen anyone as selfless and committed to social service as him. Although he was unmarried and had no family of his own, he considered the entire Zaheerabad community as his family and was always available to help them in any way possible.”

Revived Traditional Food

In the 1980s, during NTR’s tenure, rice was made available to the economically disadvantaged at a subsidised rate of Rs 2 per kg. As a result, the consumption of millet decreased drastically. However, with the growing awareness of the superior nutritional value of millets, Satish, a forward-thinking individual, founded a society aimed at reviving the consumption of traditional foods, particularly millets.

Dr. Akhileswari Ramagoud, Head of the Mass Communication Department at Loyola Academy in Secunderabad and a journalist who has contributed to several leading publications, said, “He revived traditional food and stressed the importance of millets as a water-efficient crop.”

Dr. Akhileswari was greatly influenced by PV Satheesh, who was an outstanding individual with a significant impact on her life. She recalled, “What I admired most about him was his ability to bring people together and create meaningful change in their lives. His work with the Deccan Development Society is a testament to his unwavering dedication to these causes.”

She further added, “It’s hard to find anyone who can match his contributions and legacy. He has carved a unique place for himself in the hearts and minds of so many people, including myself. PV Satheesh’s passing is a great loss to the community, but his spirit and the impact of his work will continue to inspire generations to come.”

He was a tireless worker and leader in the NGO sector and remained committed to his principles. He was a generous mentor to many young people.

Satheesh’s passing is a great loss to the larger community of social activists in India. He will be remembered for his infectious smile, gentle spirit, and unwavering commitment to social justice. His legacy will continue through the work of DDS, which he helped build and nurture over the years.

A Good Friend and Mentor

Vinod Pavarala, Senior Professor of communication, University of Hyderabad shared his condolences in a Facebook post, “The passing of PV Satheesh, the founder of Deccan Development Society, yesterday is a deep personal loss to me. Introduced to him for the first time in the mid-1980s by my teacher, Prof. G.S.Aurora, I have learnt so much from him about rural development, participatory communication, and community media. A visit to Pastapur to meet him and all the amazing women there has always been a truly educational experience. His vision of autonomous rural communities with sovereignty over lands, seeds, foods, markets, and media may or may not have been realised in his lifetime, but what a powerful vision that was".

Further added, Vindo said "He was among the subject experts in my recruitment panel when I was selected to be a faculty at the University of Hyderabad. Since then countless batches of my students benefited from visits to Pastapur and memorable interactions with him. It's been a badge of honour for me to be appointed to the Board of DDS. He has been a friend and mentor, a relationship I will cherish forever. Go well, Satheesh!”

Agriculture Minister Paid Condolences

Agriculture Minister S Niranjan Reddy expressed his condolences. "Satheesh organized the 'Traditional Crops Fair' every Sankranti and has been working with women farmers in Zaheerabad since 1983 to preserve traditional crops. He even initiated a community radio program with them to raise awareness about the importance of traditional crops," the minister said.

The minister expressed that the news of his demise is disheartening, especially during the International Millet Year celebrations in 2023.

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