Guest post by: Dr. Sunilkumar Lavate, Principal, Mahaveer College, Kolhapur
*[EDITOR'S NOTE: India's previous 'Bandit Queen', Phulan Devi (at right), was a seasoned bandit of north India. An ordinary village woman, she was abducted by outlaws and raped. She escaped and turned herself into a 'bandit queen' and avenged all of her assailants. After undergoing a jail sentence she was elected to the Parliament. In the midst of the parliamentary term she was gunned down in Delhi by unknown shooters at the gate of her official residence.]
Anuradha Bhosale is now forty. But she does not use reading spectacles. The experiences she had in later life have given her a new power to see things more clearly without ocular aids. In her late twenties she had married a promising young man. In the course of few years they got two lovely children, a girl and a boy. The conjugal affinities suddenly soured. Perhaps the entry of another woman in the love triangle was the reason. Anuradha's marriage foundered. It took two years for her to recover from the shock. It gave her a new vision to look at the world round her. She found it to be full of pain, sorrow and suffering. When she reflected she realized her pain was like a drop in the ocean of sorrow which engulfed countless lives who deserved better. That gave her the courage to face life boldly and to find personal salvation in creating happiness for others.
Her degree in Social Work had inculcated in her the theoretical acumen which came in handy for her new resolve.
It was 1996 when I came to know her. Under the wings of AVANI she had collected a band of college boys and girls. Elections to the Parliament had just been announced. The District administration had decided to send a few social workers for training to be imparted by the Election Commission of India. Anuradha's senior colleague was sent to Udaipur for the training. In its aftermath Anuradha decided to launch an education campaign for the ordinary voters from town and country. Street theatre was the medium chosen by her. Days went by and I began to notice that quite a few good and attentive students, bunking my lectures. When I searched for the reason I came to know of Anuradha'svoters awareness campaign and the street play performances. For my students formed the cast of the street plays. Much annoyed, I called her to express my displeasure. Her candid answer made me suddenly aware of my duty as a voter and as an educator. I turned a blind eye to the absenting students of mine and indirectly helped her campaign.
From that point onwards I began noticing her in our public activities, such as campaigns against superstitious beliefs, detection and rescue of child labour, right to education, etc. She remained always at the forefront, shouting slogans, addressing public rallies and in staging protest demonstrations. She was the life of such activities. Once in my public speech I called her the "Phulan Devi of Kolhapur" and that sobriquet suddenly caught on.
About a year must have passed and suddenly she dropped from view. Many wondered what had happened to her. After deeper investigation I came to know of her divorce and her lonely fight for survival and upbringing of her children.
I and my friends gave her moral support. But she on her own stood up to the challenge and gradually reoccupied her wonted place in public life.
Anuradha is not a native of Kolhapur. She hails from a village about 300 km. from here. Born in pariah community, her grandfather came in contact with Christian missionaries and got converted. Her father was able to get education in Christian missionary school and became a teacher. Anuradha, born in 1972, despite hardships and semi – starvation and deprivation of every kind, got a Bachelor's degree in Social Work from a renowned institution in Mumbai.
Government schemes about development of deprived children are woefully inadequate and ineffective because of the mishandling by government bureaucracy. For the deprived children, whose number nationally is 80 million, the only means for breaking the vicious cycle of poverty is education. It can be effectively imparted to them at an institution where, food, shelter, education and general culturation are provided under one roof. Since 2004 Anuradha is running such a school. Because of space constraint she is able to accommodate only 35 children of 6 to 17 age group. Fifty percent of their expenses are met through public contribution which comes in the form of material as well as cash. The remaining expenditure is met through the grant given by Mahatma Gandhi Foundation, Mumbai. It is run by the grandson of the Mahatma.
Anuradha is a fighter. She has faced setbacks and embraced successes with equanimity. She is sometimes seen tired out, almost frustrated, and next day I see her again full of energy and talking about new plans. She will need proper support, for such artesian sources of energy need to be carefully conserved for the sake of the larger good. If you ask her these days about her ultimate goal pat will come the reply, "to rid Maharashtra of child slavery."
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