By Alok Ulfat
Pierre Reyniers, passed away into the spiritual world on the 20th January 2019 at 1:30 pm, at Max hospital Dehradun. He was brought to the Hospital on the 7th of January as he wasn’t feeling well. He was put on a ventilator but passed away due to multiple organ failure. However, he was able to meet his elder sister and two nieces who came from France just before his final departure.
Pierre, barely 21 years of age, came to India in the year 1969, to engage in volunteer work. He joined ‘Kripaon Ki Mata’ centre for people affected by leprosy and subsequently dedicated his entire life to serve people with the disease in and around Dehradun District and Uttar Pradesh.
With a compassionate heart and strong will power, he worked selflessly for almost five decades. He was often seen in white Kurta Payjama and a handwoven waistcoat, riding his Jawa motorcycle going from center to center, to empower, educate and bring self-sustainability to people.
In India, most people see leprosy as a dreadful disease and as a result affected people were thrown out of their villages. In those days many lepers were seen begging on the streets, at railway stations, in front of temples and around the market places. A patient in a Himalayan village had to wander down to the valley in search of treatment, often a journey of 2-4 weeks, and behind him break the bridges. In those days lepers were banned from public meetings, religious services, and other social gatherings. The problem was huge and very little was being done to solve it.
Inception of KKM:
Looking at the suffering of lepers, “Kripaon Ki Mata” Initiative was Founded in 1962 by the efforts of a German social worker, Agnes Kunze (1923, Munich Germany – 1998, Dehradun), who also dedicated her whole life to their cause. Despite a lack of funds, she found an infertile and waterless plot on Nalapani road in Dehradun, and with much hard work created a team of members who went around looking for lepers and brought them to her for rehabilitation. Today, this land is fully green and has many fruit trees. It houses over 100 families and has fully functioning weaving workshops.
Weaving looms for self-reliance:
Agnes ji and Pierre Master ji introduced weaving projects to the community. This was the first step towards making them self-reliant. The handloom products from KKM found a place not only in Indian markets but also, thanks to their efforts, European markets. Nothing was easy and I saw Pierre struggle hard with a superstitious society, government bureaucracy and daily challenges of the KKM community with almost no support from local people.
Education for children:
Over the years the KKM inhabitants got fully cured but it was still not easy to find schools for their children. Agnes and Pierre were great friends of my parents Prof. Lekh Raj Ulfat and Sadhana Ulfat who founded Nanhi Dunya ‘The International Movement of children and their friends in 1946. They took the first 24 children coming from leper parents, in the Karanpur Nanhi Dunya School in Dehradun, and because of this around 70 children who were already studying left school with fear of contracting the disease. This exodus did not stop the Nanhi Dunya administration from enrolling leper children. These children were absolutely free from disease and today most of these children are high-level professionals and have settled all over the world. This is one of the remarkable efforts of KKM and its history of good deeds is endless.
Today centers of KKM, Brahmapuri, Tara Parbat, Nalapani or Nav Jeevan gram interact with local groups and have built a closely-knit community of around 150 residents. If one visits any of the centers, one sees dignity, joy, team spirit and willingness to work, each to the best of his or her ability,. Each has an extraordinary story; many have suffered and have overcome their troubles with effort, dignity and self-respect. The people of KKM feel responsible for the community and perform their duties with joy. This is due to good leadership of Masterji.
Pierre Masterji was slim and had a warm voice. He was a highly skilled man and could do almost everything; he would train leper-affected people to weave, do construction work and maintain the KKM farm. Over the years, news from KKM would reach us through newsletters from Pierre. He also took care of administration work and as a visionary he developed a team of workers for future development of KKM. He would often tell me how he left people to make their own decisions and waited for the consequences, many times rescuing the situation. He was a true leader. I only wish he had not smoked so much.
What a marvelous journey it has been for Pierre, a life of sacrifice and service! A good moral and spiritual foundation has been laid down at the KKM through the dedication, love, and intelligence of Agnes and Pierre. Today the community is free from leprosy and the children of those families have found a place in mainstream India and live extraordinary lives. Pierre’s simplicity could solve many complex issues inspiring many like myself. We cannot thank him enough for his social contribution and amazing presence. He saw and served in India, a foreign land he made his own. We can all learn from this great SADHAK – a way to live selflessly for others.
Losing Pierre is like losing a family member. I too being a cultural worker know that social workers don’t have many people to rely on; their only inspiration is like-minded people, and inter-dependence is their strength. There are not so many authentic, genuine and selfless workers in our times. Uttarakhand has lost a truly splendid sure-footed soldier who fought poverty, leprosy and social injustice for over five decades. A French man, who could transcend boundaries to love and live for people in need. Pierre set a living example of respecting ‘people before profits and nations’.
At KKM, each individual shines with the spirit and kindness of Pierre Masterji and Agnesji. KKM’s work has inspired people all over the world for the past sixty years. We need to make many more people aware of the existence of this extraordinary initiative, which still shines on with undiminished radiance. I hope now, under the leadership of experienced and dedicated co-workers like Bangaraiah, Rumal Singhji, Madan Singh, Noel, Gopal, Raju, Manju Lawrance and others, the KKM community will reach out to many more. I also hope that all the young ones who have been brought up at the at the KKM will take an active part to strengthen its future. Pierre had only one dream and that was to eradicate leprosy from the world. Let’s join hands with KKM projects as a tribute to such a great soul.
According to Pierre’s wish, he will be cremated at Rishikesh and his ashes will be submerged in the river Ganges and some will be given for the burial. Aum-amen. Jai Jagat.
If you wish to be part of KKM Please contact Mrs. Manju Lawrence : + 91 9634671138, +91 9719536211 (Facilitator & Communication) KKM Hand Weaving Community, Nalapani Road, Dehradun. Uttarakhand.