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As he was about to enter the main gate on the very first day of school in his life, Kailash noticed a boy of his age sitting with his father - a cobbler. The man and his son gaped continuously at Kailash as he put the first foot inside the school premises. There was an unspoken desperation in their eyes. It did not take Kailash much time to understand the stark contrast between his life and that of the cobbler’s son. On one hand there was Kailash who had a “Tilak” on the forehead and was completely decked up in new school uniform and shoes. His family had performed a religious ceremony to mark the first day of his school life. On the other hand was the son of the cobbler with a sullen life and no dreams in his eyes. Kailash was very sad to see what he saw. He went to his classroom and asked his teacher about the small boy outside the school gate. His teacher discouraged the question. Kailash asked him yet again only to get scolded and instructed to be attentive in class rather than thinking about what was happening outside. His inquisitive mind remained unsettled.

In the afternoon, Kailash met the Headmaster, who was known to his family and asked him the same question that he had asked his class teacher earlier in the morning. He explained to me that it was absolutely normal for the children of the poor to work in order to survive. He further said that the cobbler was poor and unable to send his son to school. Kailash was still not convinced with the answer that he got. For the next week or ten days, he kept staring at the boy while entering or leaving the school building. Thereafter one day he mustered all his courage and asked the cobbler “Why don’t you send your son to school like me”? He was withdrawn and hesitant in responding, but when Kailash insisted the cobbler replied in a frail voice “Babuji, no one has ever asked me a question like this. My father worked as a cobbler, I am a cobbler and my son is also a cobbler. There is nothing new in it. We are born to work”. His answer left Kailash more bewildered than before. The cobbler’s words were continuously reverberating in his ears. Kailash’s parents had told him that human beings are born to do good deeds, attain good education, get a good job and earn respect for themselves in the society, but then why was the cobbler, his father and his son were on a different journey in life?

Days passed by but the angst kept piling up somewhere deep down within him.

It was rainy season, so Kailash’s elder brother bought him a raincoat and a colourfully vibrant umbrella. It was such a pretty umbrella that Kailash was finding it difficult to get his eyes off it. One day, he saw the cobbler beating his son mercilessly. The boy was crying inconsolably. Kailash enquired from the cobbler as to why was he beating his son. The cobbler said “I had to gone for lunch and had asked my son to cover the shoes with a plastic sheet should it rain. This fool instead of protecting the shoes chose to drape himself with the plastic sheet that I had given to him All the shoes that people had left here for mending are drenched. The leather will spoil soon. These are expensive shoes. I have nowhere to go now. My customers would ask me to pay back what they had spent on their shoes. I barely make my ends meet with great difficulty. How would I pay back my customers? Look what mess have I landed into just because of this foolish boy.” Kailash was zapped. On one hand, he was standing there with a raincoat and the umbrella that his brother had purchased for him to ensure that he does not get drenched in the rains. On the other hand, there was this cobbler who was just not concerned about his son getting wet in the rains. All that he was worried about were the shoes of his customer. Instantaneously, Kailash handed over his favourite colourful umbrella to the boy, because he anyways had a raincoat as a backup therefore he did not think twice before parting with his umbrella. This incident moved him to the core.


As an eleven year old child, Kailash was deeply moved by the condition of children who were not privileged enough to attend school and therefore he adopted a two pronged approach for helping such children.

(a) Public schooling was not free during those days. With the help of a few like-minded friends, he started a football club for raising money for the children who were unable to attend school. The membership fee collected thereof was donated to support the school fees of few of such children. In subsequent years Kailash and his friends went ahead and put up snack stalls in fetes and fairs and were able to raise more money towards schools fees of underprivileged children.

(b) Soon Kailash realised that the major problem that was being faced by such children was their inability to afford school books. This used to leave him extremely perturbed as many children were forced to drop-out from school. He along with one of his friends Ramesh Vyas decided to do something about it. In Vidisha (Kailash’s home-town in Madhya Pradesh), results of all classes in all schools used to be declared on 30th April every year. He and his friend hired a pushcart. While Kailash chose to stand on the cart, his friend Ramesh volunteered in pushing it through the narrow lanes of the locality. Yelling on top of their voices, they started congratulating the students for passing the examinations. This immediately caught the attention of people around. When they saw enough people coming out of their houses, they exclaimed “ You all are so lucky that your children have been promoted to the next class, but think about those children who do not even get an opportunity to attend school just because they cannot afford school books. Old books are of no use to you and sooner than later you would sell them off at throwaway prices. Your old books can light up the prospects of underprivileged children to attend school who were unable to do so all this while. Think how grateful would they and their parents be to you for the rest of their lives”. This actually worked and the response was overwhelming. People brought out heaps of old books and donated them to Kailash and his friend. They started arranging the books on the cart. Soon the cart was flooded with old books; therefore they dumped the books at Ramesh’s house and were back on the street to collect more books that people were voluntarily donating. That day they were able to collect almost 2000 books. Kailash’s parents were not aware of the initiative that he had undertaken. Therefore he decided to stack the books at his friend’s house. When both the boys started sorting the books they realized that the books ranged from school syllabi to that of post graduation. The two of them were utterly confused as to what should be done with the books and how should the needy be identified? After all they were merely 11 years old. They approached their headmaster and sought his help. The Headmaster got the books sorted out. He also accepted the responsibility of distributing the books to the truly deserving students who were in much need. Subsequently they thought that if all the books are given away then they would get back to square one at the beginning of next academic session. Therefore Kailash requested his Headmaster if he could assume the responsibility of distributing the books to the needy at the beginning of the session and collect them back when the session draws to an end. Not only did his headmaster gladly offer to help, but he also spoke to the headmasters and principals of other middle and high schools. They also joined in and arranged for more books. They got involved in identifying needy children and distributing the text books to them. Thus came in the concept of Book Bank which was a sustainable and replicable model to provide school books to the children who couldn’t afford them. Headmasters and principals of quite a few schools in Vidisha took keen interest in managing the activities of the book bank for years that followed. Subsequently the book bank was merged with public libraries in the town.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
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