His slender frame withered by years of grinding poverty and relentless toil, Banwasi Musahar makes for an unlikely inspirational figure. Yet, he shines brighter than most.
This 58-year-old brick kiln labourer has done more for the cause of education in his Akorhi Mahadalit basti (settlement), about 40 km north of the Kaimur district headquarters town of Bhabua in western Bihar, than anyone else.
Banwasi, who could not study beyond Class 7 after his father died, set up a small school in front of his hut in 1991. Back then, he was the only person from the Musahar community in the basti who was literate.
His initiative has changed the destiny of his people, once labelled as thieves. The basti of around 70 families now boasts of having two graduates and several matriculates.
On Wednesday, Banwasi received a cheque for Rs 1 lakh from HT as a token of appreciation for his outstanding community service. Handing over the cheque to Banwasi at a function in Ramgarh, Buxar MP Jagdanand Singh said he would give Rs 5 lakh from his MP fund for a community development hall at Akorhi Mahadalit basti.
Singh thanked HT for bringing Banwasi's saga, reported by Prasun K Mishra, into public consciousness through the 'India Awakened - Agents of Change' series.
Speaking at the event, HT deputy executive editor Rajesh Kumar Mahapatra said a poor child went to school every time a person purchased a copy of HT. "Hopefully, our small effort will help light up the lives of poor children and facilitate the emergence of more Banwasis."
Guests at the function said they would sponsor the education of five Musahar children in CBSE schools. Later, an HT team visited Akorhi Musahar Basti and gave seven boxes of books given by schoolchildren in Delhi to Musahar children.