When India struggled for freedom and social transformation under the British Raj, the little man from Porbandar had said: Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Seventy-years after Independence, the words remain even more relevant. In a world of commercialisation and PR-backed corporate social responsibility, it is the good old individual do-gooders who still hold the key of social change. Driven by the sheer passion to make a difference to the lives of people, these philanthropists lead by example of their tireless work yet remain unsung.
When one meets Budhadeb Meher, an octogenarian of Dahita village under Bargarh’s Padampur Sub-Division, it is easy to understand why his contribution to strengthening the local community and eventually help build the nation needs no advertisement. Meher is a social activist who firmly believes in the power of education. As he grew up, he was determined to provide education to his village children as he himself had been deprived of this basic need during his childhood.
Talking to MCL, he recalls how when he was a kid, there was no school or classroom in his village Dangachancha which comes under Rajborasambar region of Bargarh district. There used to be only one teacher who used to teach Odia alphabets that too for a couple of hours in a cowshed! Since it was pre-Independence era, note books, pens and pencils were not commercially available in rural India. Education was therefore imparted orally. Meher tells us how he and his friends used to crush the red bricks, collect its dust and then spread the dust on the floor to draw the alphabets and numbers using their fingers!
Like most other children in his village, where most people are either Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe and belonged to BPL category, Meher eventually had to do without the benefits of education. However, as time passed, he decided to take up as many welfare projects as he could in his village for the betterment of the future generations. With sheer will power and his meagre income, he started doing many charitable acts in his village, the closest to his heart being providing all help for building a school and college in his village.
He donated a three-decimal plot to pave way for establishment of the DPEP School. But to execute this job, Meher had to buy a twenty-decimal land as the owner of the land was reluctant to dispose of just three decimal to the school free of cost. He also ensured that Dahita High School in the village had a proper gate so that no stray animal could trespass on the school premises.
That apart, way back in 1996, when the village committee of Dahita approached him to donate Rs.1.11 lakh to build a college in the village, Meher did everything in his capacity to arrange the amount which was considered a huge sum then. He realised that there was not even a single college in and around the five nearby panchayats, be it Dahita, Buden, Budamal, Dahigaon or Khaliapali. Meanwhile, the Government of Odisha also issued a circular to build a college in that area. The college was essentially needed as the school children who were passing out of 10th standard, were unable to pursue higher studies. So, Meher took the initiative by donating the amount for the college, fulfilling the dreams of hundreds of young students from the village in the process. As a tribute to his benevolent act, the village committee named the college ‘Budhadeb Meher College, Dahita”.
This college was inaugurated in the year 1996. As on this date, the institution has as many as seven lecturers to impart education to around 280 students, both boys and girls, most of whom hail from financially weak backgrounds. Talking to MCL, Susanta Mishra, the English lecturer in the college said, “Over the last two decades, many of our students have been able to build a career for themselves and have got settled in life. Two of our students, Sobhagya Hota and Aditya Panigrahi, have also qualified as bank Probationary Officers (PO) and got jobs with two National Banks. Another student, Tapabanta Pandey, also got a job with Department of Post, Govt of India. It is really inspiring for all of us to know that an illiterate Odia boy from Dahita could eventually build a school and college in his village with his meagre income to impart education to his village children, even though he himself was deprived of it as a kid.”
Meher may be an unsung hero but for his village people, he is an angel! Knowing well that his village is an arid region and that the only source of water body in Dahita is a pond, Meher built a staircase so that the villagers, particularly the elderly could fetch water from the pond without any difficulty. That’s Budhadeb Meher for you, as the villagers rightly point out!