LUCKNOW: Ravi Shankar and Roshan Lal dreamt it big as kids. They had the aspiration to standout beyond the contours of poverty, anonymity and obscurity of their Kol community.
The duo, however, realised their dreams by graduating as the first two and the only lawyers of their 25,000 member tribe inhabiting in backward regions of Koraon and Meja in Allahabad district. Besides practising law, they run a school to impart education to the poor free of cost.
Kol tribals are generally bonded labourers. Poverty has pushed many of them to the badlands of Chitrakoot as dacoits. Babli Kol, the 'terror of Chitrakoot forests' is one of the biggest challenges for UP police. Belonging to the Kol tribe, Ravi and Roshan spent their childhood in abject poverty as their parents - both mother and father used to work as bonded labourers and had a number of mouths to feed.
Hunger used to be the only issue to be addressed by the parents who would earn paltry Rs 300 per day. But Ravi and Roshan had a hunger to get their self-worth.
"I had no doubt. I was sure that by being the eldest son, I would have to share the responsibility of the family with my parents by doing what they were into,-" says Ravi, 29, a native of Dhoos village of Koraon. The imagery of his childhood suddenly comes alive in front of his eyes. He recalls how he used to play with the stones at the sandstone quarry where his parents Shayamlal and Itwari Devi used to work as labourers. But destiny had a different plan for him.
"My father knew my passion for education and despite all hardships, he sent me to school pinning his hopes on me for changing the times for good," says Ravi.
He narrates how his father used to work at Lodhi Pahar of Rewa and mother in a stone quarry near his village despite being an acute patient of asthma.
"There was no money for her treatment. Many a time, we had to sleep empty stomach. I used to go fishing to get food for my family before going to school," shares Ravi. Somehow he completed his primary education and took admission in a secondary school.
"I used to walk eight kilometres daily to attend school. My passion for studies kept on driving me," he says. Destiny took a turn when Ravi passed high school (class 10th). He met members of Pragati Gramodyoy Evam Samaj Kalyan Sansthan, a local NGO.
Lady luck smiled on the young boy when a professor of GB Pant Social Science Institute Prof Sunit Singh, also a member of the same NGO, took the responsibility of Ravi's education further.
After finishing school, Ravi went to Nehru Gram Bharti University in Allahabad and got a bachelor's degree in law. Now a proud lawyer, Ravi practises at Koraon tehsil.
"Things started falling in place. We were provided a land on lease by the NGO for farming so my father got freedom from slogging day in and day out as a labourer," says Ravi.
Even Roshan Lal, Ravi's batchmate, had seen even tougher times. A native of Bisari village in Meja, the parents of 30-year-old lawyer used to work as labourers in the fields of rich farmers. He had to walk 15-km to Koddhar township daily to go to school. But hardship didn't deter him from attaining higher education.
"I had seen hunger and poverty in my family. My father had nine mouths to feed," says Roshan. Today when Roshan has a good practice, his only regret that his father could not make his siblings study due to poverty and invested everything for his education.
This feeling pushed both the lawyers to open an evening school two years ago for their children of not only their tribe but also those from adjoining villages and areas to study free of cost. Both the lawyers even run classes for elderly of the village who had the ambition to study but could not do so while struggling to make the ends meet.
As we live in a world that is severely stratified in terms of privilege and resources, getting degrees was not enough for Ravi and Roshan. The struggle didn't end there for the two lawyers.
"As we started practising law, people refused to accept us as we belonged to a tribe," they claim. "Destiny goes hand-in-hand with determination. These diligent youths today stand out as inspiration for many like them and their efforts will go a long way in the uplift of their community," says Prof Sunit Singh.