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February 26: What happens when someone in authority takes advantage of the position that he is in, to harass someone weaker? In India, more often than not, the victim ends up doing nothing about it. Why not? Fear forces him or her to keep quiet.

But not everyone believes in living up to the image of the powerless Indian. And when that ‘someone’ turns out to be an entire village, generally thought to be unchanging, it demands our attention.

Yes, the villagers of Lakshapur, in Chandrapur district, Maharashtra, have done it, reports ‘The Indian Express’. Last year, Sanjay Kadke, a teacher in the only government-run school in the village, inflicted a savage punishment on a student. He first asked all 40 students of the school to punch a nine-year-old girl, Shima Devdas, on her back. Then he hit her himself.

The result? Furious villagers locked up the school, refusing to open it even at the order of government authorities who wanted it unlocked for an official meeting. So, the authorities forcibly opened the school with the help of some goons and took away all the school records.

In reply the gram sabha (village council) started its own school. Twenty-five students joined it. The government-school, too, reopened, but it has only 13 students in it.

The man holding centrestage in the protest is Gokul Panse, the gram sabha president. The new school is, in fact, being run out of a room in Panse’s own house. Joining hands with him are Purushottam Borikar and Pramod Meshram, who teach in the new school. They share with Panse the conviction that for any positive change to happen, a certain amount of hardship and sacrifice is necessary. Both teach in the school for free.

All for One
All for One [Illustration by Shinod AP]
Borikar also pedals 16 km down from his native village Kinhi, teaches in Lakshapur and then goes back to his village to earn a living through carpentry – only to return again in the beginning of the next week. In addition, a publishing company from Mumbai has provided the students with free books.

Critics of the new school include the villagers who, despite the presence of the new school, send their children to the government school. But that has not deterred Panse and the protesters who are determined that the school does not limit itself to teaching the syllabus, but becomes a focal point for learning through experience. Here’s hoping them all success.