Diwali special:Lighting up lives
On the festival of lights, we salute these inspiring, selfless individuals who feel the pain of others like their own
A young woman who took up the fight against caste crimes after losing her husband to the evil; a man who left everything to care for abandoned people; an 81-year-old who has been taking care of hundreds of stray dogs...This Diwali, let’s pay tribute to these inspiring people who have been relentlessly working to make this world a brighter place.
The tale of a Karma Yogi
A karmayogi is someone who dedicates his being to the service of others, says the Bhagavad Gita. When you listen to Ravi Kalra’s inspiring story, you realise what it means to be one in the truest sense. Through his NGO, The Earth Saviours Foundation, Kalra provides a loving home to hundreds of senior citizens, and mentally disabled people who have been discarded by their families. One of the toughest parts of his job is to performs the last rites for unclaimed dead bodies that often come in a badly mutilated state. We met this incredible man in a cremation ground, and listened to his tale, spellbound. “While growing up, I faced a lot of financial difficulties. However, my father, who was a police inspector, had this indomitable commando spirit, which made me a driven man,” says Kalra. He went on to become a martial artist. Kalra also achieved the prestigious 4th level Dan black belt in Taekwondo Martial Arts in 1987. This was the beginning of his career as an International Master Instructor, and as president of the Indian Amateur Taekwondo Federation. He trained students and soldiers from across the world, posted in several battalions. “I made money through my profession. Financially, I was set for life. However, the Iraq-Afghanistan war was a turning point. I saw heaps of dead bodies. My soul was in misery. I realised that my life lacked a purpose, but I couldn’t do anything about it at that point of time”, he says.
Once, Kalra saw a small child and a dog scavenging together for food in a garbage dump. “Something inside me finally broke. I couldn’t take it. I decided that the only way I could make sense of my existence was to do seva,” says Kalra, who left everything to start his NGO in 2008. It wasn’t an easy journey. Kalra was called a fraud, accused of selling kidneys, he lost the support of his family but his belief in the power of seva didn’t let him waver. “God was testing my commitment to the cause. And I think He believed me, He gave me strength to carry on with my mission”, he adds.
Happiness is a warm puppy
When we are lost and frightened, we just need someone to look into our eyes and tell us everything will be fine. And this doesn’t just apply to us humans. It’s also true for stray dogs and cats. Luckily, they have someone who quietly, over a period of 25 years, has been taking care of them. Dr Vijay Kumar, a 52-year-old veterinarian, has been treating stray dogs and cats and organising feeding drives since he was 25. “Many of us are scared of dogs and cats but once you start feeding them, you realise how they open up to you; showering you with warmth and love. Animals are creatures of God and they deserve our respect and love”, he says. Shanti Devi, an 81-year old living in Ramesh Nagar, whom he lovingly calls ‘Mataji’, has the same mission in life. Shanti Devi has been living with strays; feeding them and taking care of them for 50 years. “If I see any dog in pain, I feel their pain as my own. My heart aches. Taking care of them is the purpose of my life”, says Shanti Devi, who adopted nine stray dogs. With the help of her neighbour Ajay Sabharwal, she is going strong. “My body is failing me but with the help of Vijay and Ajay, my commitment to serve my four- legged children remains strong,” says Shanti Devi.
Eight years ago, when social worker Kirandeep Kaur visited a friend in Punjab, she was very moved by the plight of women she met. A small district in Punjab, Sangrur had a massive population of widows who struggled to feed their children. Due to towering debts in the farming business, their husbands committed suicide, leaving the women in misery. “It was a tough sight to watch...children crying of hunger, no money to take an ailing child to the doctor. Their situation was heartrending,” recalls Kaur. Since these women had never stepped out of their homes, Kaur didn’t know how to convince them to learn a skill and start earning for their family. “I approached the gurudwaras to allow me to conduct hand embroidery and phulkari workshops. Soon, women started turning up after finishing household chores. They learnt how to make phulkari keychains and other craft work,” says Kaur who took support from social worker Ghazala Khan based in Punjab. The craft enabled these women to eke out a living, enrol their kids in schools and support ageing in-laws. Kaur also organises health checkups for the women. “We now have 120 women coming to learn the craft and we hope the number goes up,” she says.
Google SP Bittu Sharma from Bhopal and you will come across countless stories about this lady cop’s acts of bravery. From nabbing dreaded serial killers to solving murder mysteries, this woman knows no fear. She recently hit the headlines for catching a notorious trucker gang, led by Adesh Khamra, who has reportedly accepted committing 33 murders. Sharma hunted him down in the night and caught him at gunpoint. When we called Sharma, a strong, gritty voice answered the call even as police sirens blared in the background. “I don’t want to take the credit for what I have done. It’s always team work. I am simply doing my duty,” says Sharma, a Taekwondo black belt and Asian Games bronze medallist in judo karate. The super cop maintains that she is not doing anything extraordinary . “When you chose to be a police officer, you don’t know what fear is. I reach home only after midnight, I have a family I care for, but my duty is foremost for me,” says Sharma. She is an inspiration for thousands of women and men across the country who want to take up the fight against evil.
There is no ‘honour’ in any killing
Amrutha’s husband Pranay was brutally murdered on September 14 this year, just a day after he celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi at his home after learning the prerequisites of the puja from her.
The picture of Ganesha wearing a mogra garland, sitting on a banana leaf amidst the offerings of fruits and flowers on her Facebook, captioned ‘feeling blessed’ has got thousands of likes. Amrutha doesn’t understand why god turned his face away from them when peril struck. “I was so happy that day. Pranay celebrated Ganesha Chathurti with so much excitement. I was overwhelmed by his love for me. I never felt so content and happy in my life. I don’t know why God took no mercy on us,” her voice quivers as she talks to us from Miryalaguda, Telangana.
Amrutha had shared her joy with her mother on phone. “I was so overjoyed that I told my family about the celebration. Even that didn’t melt my father’s heart,” she recalls. The very next day, 24-year-old Perumalla Pranay Kumar, a Dalit Christian was allegedly killed by a contract killer hired by Amrutha’s father T Maruti Rao, for Rs 1 crore. His only mistake — he has fallen in love with and married a girl from the ‘forward’ Vaishya caste.
Pranay and his wife were returning after Amrutha’s pre-natal check-up at a private hospital when the killer attacked him. “I was always apprehensive about my father. I feared that he might try to kidnap me, lock me up and beat me or harass my husband and his family, but I could have never imagined that he would end up getting Pranay killed so brutally. I want the strictest and prompt punishment for my father, who so cruelly destroyed our life. I demand that all the seven accused should be given capital punishment without any delay,” she says.
Amrutha, who was in a state of shock, is slowly recovering, and feels loved and taken care of in her in-laws’ home. “I am lucky that I have such a loving family. They are taking very good care of me, and we are looking forward to the baby’s arrival. I am very close to everyone in the family including Pranay’s mother, cousins, brother Ajay and his father Balaswamy. They are the ones who will stand by me forever,” she says.
Instead of drowning herself into grief, the 21-year-old gritty girl has turned into a crusader to fight hate crimes in India. “Even when Pranay is not around, he is inspiring me to do this, to put my sorrow aside and fight back. His love has given me the strength to fight against evil. He was always very strong and determined. He believed in goodness,” she recalls.
Amrutha wants her child to grow up into a strong human being, just like Pranay. “I want my baby to be just like his father, someone who would always be determined to fight wrongs, someone who would never waver in the face of fear,” she says.
Amrutha remembers how Pranay was everyone’s favourite. “He was the most kind and compassionate person I know. He loved everyone equally. He was close to everyone’s heart because of his outgoing, warm and loving nature,” she recalls.
As a child, Amrutha was taught to hate, but her heart disbelieved everything she was taught. “Unlike Pranay, I grew up in a very regressive environment. I was expected to discriminate and hate…but my heart rebelled against such thoughts. When I was a child, my father tried explaining to me that we were from the ‘forward caste’ but I did not believe those things. Ever since my childhood, I understood that all humans are equal. When I fell in love, not for a moment I thought that I was committing a crime and that it will cost Pranay his life. Now, I fight to annihilate the evil caste system with the strength that Pranay has give me,” she says.
Amrutha is quite shocked that another inter-caste couple was attacked in Telengana just a few days after Pranay’s murder . “It is horrible. The girl’s father was inspired by my father. In India, few take inspiration from good deeds, whereas one hate crime inspires another. It’s such a pity,” she says.
There is no such thing as honour killing, she says. “Honour depends on a person’s behavior and character, and has definitely nothing to do with caste. We must come together to stop caste based hate crimes. There should be counseling. It’s never enough to talk about this issue,” she says.
The girl is aware of trolls viciously campaigning against her. “It clearly shows that they would do the same thing to their daughter, what my father did to me. I don’t know where does so much hatred come from. A local media channel also became extremely judgmental and asked me if it was the right thing to marry Pranay..I could hardly believe it. We need to collectively address this grave issue,” she says.
Amrutha believes that man made barriers such as caste and religion should never become a barrier in selecting a life partner. “It’s the person who you choose, his or her qualities that matter. Parents should think about the fact that two people love each other unconditionally. They should not let their own ego and false prestige come in the path of love. Ask yourself, does your child’s happiness mean nothing to you? Pranay used to feed me with his own hands. I hardly ate on my own. Can my father ever find a better person than Pranay?,” she asks.
Pranay and Amrutha wanted to go to abroad for future studies, but now her dreams revolve around her child. “Pranay was very excited about our baby. He had so many dreams. He used to tell that if we have a girl child, we will raise her as strong as boy is. We will make her physically strong. We will train her in martial arts. And that we would always respect our child’s decision. He wanted the child to grow in a hate-free, liberal world. He loved his child so much..talked about the child all the time,” she says.
In the child, Pranay will live on. “Pranay and I were born to be together. Something like death can’t separate us. He will live on through our child, our dreams. I will go on fighting against hate and my child will do the same,” she says.