In 1998, two men disenchanted with the futility of running a rat race, and depressed with the ills produced by a consumerist society felt the need to search for an alternate life. Their quest ended with the ideology propounded by Sri Ramakrishna & Swami Vivekananda which avowedly states, “Life is short, the vanities of the world are transient, but he alone lives who lives for others, the rest are more dead than alive.” Alumni of school under Ramkrishna Mission, a registered society founded by Sri Ramakrishna’s chief apostle, Swami Vivekananda, Debabrata Banerjee and Shibaji Mukherjee are now living a different reality constructed with sheer commitment.
“In the year 2000, we purchased a piece of low land in a village named Kashimpur, Bamangachi situated in 24 Parganas (N) district. We had to struggle against adverse natural, political, social and anti-social forces for a continuous period of 3-4 years to register our identity at the place. Resided mostly by people who had fled from Bangladesh due to the riots that followed after the demolition of Babri Masjid, Kashimpur is a conflict ridden area. To begin with we registered ourselves as a Trust named Pratibodhayan Charitable Trust (PCT) in the year 2003. It took us time to decide on our work plan as deprivation and ignorance had become synonymous with the life of the people and development was an alien word for them. Our irresolution ended one night when some criminals entered our premises with 3-4 children aged just above 10 years carrying jute bags packed with arms,” says Debabrata Banerjee who has now successfully weaned away the children from a life of ignominy and anonymity, bringing forth a social and cultural change in their lives.
PCT started a free coaching school with a handful of school dropouts in 2004. That has now grown to more than 300 students today. Free coaching classes, extra curricular activities like music, drama, recitation have instilled confidence in the children and Debabrata and Shibaji have managed to bring the children away from criminal and anti-social activities. It has helped in establishing a peaceful & humane environment in the area and people have lovingly started to call it an “Ashram”. Today newer programmes like vocational training, computer education, spoken English, non-formal education for the drop outs have been added, and newer activities for employment and income generation incorporated.
“The area is populated by the lowest economic groups who were falling prey to illegal activities due to poverty, ignorance and lure of easy money. Lacking in basic amenities of life they started coming to our premises in search of ‘Faith Healers’ as they were deprived of the basic medical facilities. PCT started a homeopathic clinic free of cost, and eventually started several health checkup camps at regular intervals and at present a Pediatrician visits the Ashman twice a month. All these have changed the mindset of the people living in the area who now have accepted modern medical facilities and turned their back to the ‘Faith Healers’ or quacks. Besides, the families are now back to mainstream society and are engaged into various livelihoods including daily wagers, mechanics, carpenters etc,” informs Shivaji Mukherjee.
Though still in its rudimentary stages, PCT has undertaken a few self-sufficiency programs like food processing, handicraft making etc. The aim is to provide employment especially to girls to prevent early marriages. It also intends to make the Trust self-sufficient and sustain its work in the truest sense. Already 4-5 girls are now meeting their educational and basic needs and also supporting their parents from the income they make from their programs.
The duo has also started a hostel for orphans and destitute children. The intention is to impart them with the character and education as envisioned by the great thinker, Sri Ramkrishna, so that when they return to their places they will be able to spread his message and ideology. The boys at the hostel come from different parts of 24 Parganas. The hostel caters to the educational, cultural and economic need of 32 resident children and has successfully stemmed the school dropout rate of the area. The major beneficiaries of the PCT are more than 400 families of Kashimpur belonging to the underprivileged sections of society.
“Since our inception we have decided never to accept any funds from Govt. or Non Govt. organisations because we firmly believe that the privileged classes of the society also needs active participation for their own interests. They need to come out of their barriers, depression and other vices catered to them by the modern society and get a new direction in life. Direct linkage of the privileged section with the ‘have-nots’ is as important as funds. Moreover we believe that the bondage and exchange between privileged & non-privileged classes can make a sustainable structure for social development,” explains Banerjee.