I lived and worked in the Bastar region of India for a number or years in the 1960’s and 70’s. And, this part of the world holds a very special place in my heart. It is heartwarming to read something positive from the area… instead of the heartbreaking and awful news of all the unrest that’s been there for so many years because of the Maoist insurgents.
Ramchandra Baghel was the son of a poor farmer from a small village in the infamous Bastar area. Given to the vice of alcohol addiction, the father had leased his farmlands. The habit resulted in the family losing their own lands and Baghel’s father was forced to work as a daily wager on his own land. Today, Ramchandra has been able to buy back his forefathers’ land. He also supplements his earnings by working as a driver, ferrying school children in his run-down jeep.
The youngster who could have been held in the shackles of poverty rose to attain a respectable position in society instead. This would not have been possible without the support of his beloved Dadaji and Dadiji. This old couple, not his biological grandparents, happens to play a similar role in the lives of around 4000 children in the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh.
Jayant and Jayshree Kothe, more famously Dadaji and Dadiji, belong to Nagpur, but decided to help those who really needed it after attaining the age of retirement. This took them to the notorious Abujhmar plateau in 1998. “The place has such a difficult terrain that it was impossible to work there,” says Jayashree. This led to a detailed study of the needs of the various people around the region. And, finally they decided to make Dantewada and Bastar areas of Chhattisgarh their base. Later, they formed Bhartiya Kushta Nivarak Sangh, an NGO that has its presence in over 80 villages.
“An abandoned police station in Halbaras village in the Naxal-infested area was turned into our home. Today, the building also houses an ashram, a school and a laboratory equipped to screen people for sickle cell disease, a condition very common among the tribals of the area,” informed Jayant. The ashram also provides shelter to more than 25 needy children, whom the elderly couple has accepted as a part of their family.
The goodness of the couple also benefits the other children in the villages. More than 200 kids are fed with nourishing khichdi, consisting of pulses like tur, moong, masoor, groundnuts and grams. The improved nutritional profile of the children has meant that malnourishment has been practically eradicated in the village. Those who did not attend school were told to come to the ashram for a couple of hours to study.
The decade long efforts of the Kothe’s have finally borne fruit with the villagers as well as the government supporting their activities. The fallow land near the ashram would soon be turned into a park with financial aid from the villagers. Identifying the need for it, the government has assigned the couple with the task of screening more than 25,000 tribal children for sickle cell disease.
They have started spreading their aid to the villages in Maharashtra as well. Already started operations in Melghat, they would also be providing support to villages like Deori, Istari and Yedmagondi in their home state.
All sorts of recognition and achievements fall short for the couple as the highest reward for them is having thousands of children to call their own. The couple is in the city with some of the children from the ashram for an exhibition of handicrafts made by tribal people from Bastar ranging from bell metal, wrought iron, wood work to the famous Chapa Kosa sarees and dress materials. The money earned through sale of these items would go the BKNS’s Halbaras ashram.
From: Giving ’em a new lease of life – The Times of India.