Taking on causes is F.J.Jerome’s cup of tea
F.J.Jerome Jeyakumar was just 14 when he bagged the first prize in a photography contest in Madurai, along with his first job. “I still remember the day when Temple Town’s renowned photographer David Christopher chose my frame depicting nature and called me to join him as an apprentice at Rs.250 per month,” he says.
It was meant to be “earning while learning”, and Jerome continued for many years later till he completed graduation.
Soft-spoken Jerome has brought along some of his best photographs including a picture of Mother Teresa visiting Madurai in 1982 and a rare photo of the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Mr.M.G.Ramachandran, and the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Shri Farooq Abdullah at Hotel Pandiyan.
Jerome pursues photography as a hobby now but he makes a living as a medical representative. He has been the national executive member of the Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives Associations of India (FMRAI) for the past 27 years. It is the only union for the sales promotion employees working in pharmaceutical and other industries in the country. Started in 1963, it has 80,000 members today. Jerome is one of them, but a significant one.
Jerome’s job is to spend the day introducing medicines and new products in the medical field to doctors and telling them about the various side-effects and all other relevant information. “It is time consuming and a tiring job,” he says, but that does not deter him from taking on issues as well.
“I was the SFI leader during my college days. I like to connect to social justice movements,” he says. Jerome spearheaded the movement for an eight-hour working day for medical representatives and calls it one of his biggest achievements. But, he says, there are major problems even today. “There are no defined working rules for us, no channel to discuss workers’ problems with the management, no upward revision of wages, denial of leave, no insurance cover in case of accident or death while on job.”
What makes Jerome swell with pride for his association is that despite their scattered placement, the sales promotion employees are united under this banner. Jerome says such an organisation is unique to India. From one struggle to another, Jerome finds a place where he can be energetic in a good cause. He was an active member of the FMRAI movement across the country in 1987 that defended the Indian Patent Law 1970. “There is a world of opportunity if you really want to do something,” he says. Right now he is fighting against foreign direct investment in retail and for a rational drug policy for availability of essential drugs at an affordable cost.
As he explains his fights for the downtrodden, he opens a file of photographs of the numerous logos he has designed for FMRAI and its conferences, besides several other programmes unrelated to his field. The ex-CPI(M) MP from Madurai, Mohan, who passed away two years ago, specially hired Jerome to design masks for use during election campaigns. “When posters and wall writings were banned, I made a series of masks that depicted how the dreams of freedom movement leaders like V.O.Chidambaram and Jawaharlal Nehru are being squandered by the present-day politicians by selling the nation’s assets,” he says.
An activist and an advocate of people’s rights, Jerome sees all parts of his life’s work as equally important and stimulating. He just walked into today’s column because he believes no matter whether we are doing a small or big task, we must keep doing something. He is upbeat about attending the convention that will mark the golden jubilee of FMRAI. It will be held in Kolkata from February 4 to 7. “We need to demonstrate innovation, passion and tenacity in ensuring collective bargaining rights in matters that directly affect the downtrodden,” he says. “Only that will make us different.”
(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail to email@example.com to tell about someone you know who is making a difference)