Lal Bahar, a 48-year-old police officer, is on a mission to help aspirants of competitive examinations with books and a study room in villages all over India.
Hailing from Ganauli village in Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad, Bahar works as an inspector with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). However, it has not been an easy ride for him to reach where he is today. To achieve his dreams, he spared no efforts and ultimately joined the police force in 1997. Back then, there were no resources or support to prepare for the competitive exams.
The village accommodates 250 houses and is home to as many as 130 cops. Hence, the crime rate is negligible. Most of the children of the obscure hamlet have only one goal – to grow up and become police officers.
Around 200 Libraries Set Up In UP
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Bahar decided to take some of his police friends in confidence and remodel the village community hall. Soon, it turned into a 'gram pathshala' or a village study centre. With the help of his friends and through regular campaigns, he convinced some other villages in Western Uttar Pradesh to start their own study centres.
In a year, the officer has now set up around 200 libraries in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan, Outlook reported.
The library in his own village became popular in a short period.
"There are joint families and the houses here do not have the proper ambiance a student needs to focus on his studies. So that was my only plan – to be able to give the students a right place," Bahar said, reported the publication. And his plan worked well.
Among many frequenters of the library is Monu, a 25-year-old graduate. He has completed a stint at the Indian Army and is awaiting the results of examinations he took earlier this year. He works at a local brick kiln that fetches Rs 17,000 per month. At night, he studies at the library. "I look forward to the time at the library every day," Monu told Outlook.
Having the right place to study solves only a part of the problem, according to Bahar. The odds are high. There is no bandwidth to access high-speed internet, not every house owns a smartphone; there are few coaching centres. Houses are noisy where people watch TV or have arguments and fights.
Another student Sonu Bansal (24) visits the study centre on regular basis. He shared that the centre fills up by evening as it fits nearly 50 students on any day.
As per reports, the library has 65 cubicles, racks full of study material, and bottled water to drink. Competitions are conducted regularly to keep the students engaged. This year, at least five students from the study centre landed jobs in the Fire Service.
"In this village, if a boy is tall and completes his high school, it is taken for granted that he will pass the police entrance examination. We have 130 police officers in different ranks – the highest rank to be reached is a sub-inspector in Delhi Police. In future, we are hopeful that our kids too achieve higher ranks in the police service," Kuldeep Bainsla (29) a sub-inspector with UP police told Outlook. He is currently on a study break.
Bahar said that the police officials tried to convince villagers about the need for a library, following which everyone came on board. They have so far collected Rs 5 lakh, which was used to start building and furnishing this centre.
Another officer involved in the project stated that the work was carried out with community participation. Therefore, there was no financial burden on the students who use the infrastructure. He further explained that each person contributed Rs 5000 each and put together Rs 5 lakh to build the first library.
Inspiration To Other Villages
The success of the Ganauli library is inspiring other villages at a rapid pace. At Kudi Khera, a small village in the Bisrakh region of Gautam Budh Nagar got its first library soon after Ganauli. Now there are more than 100 libraries in Uttar Pradesh alone. The 'gram pathshala' libraries have opened in Ghaziabad, Baghpat, Hapur, Bulandshahar, Gautam Budh Nagar, Muzzaffarnagar, and Meerut Saharanpur.
"Village kids are enthusiastic about studies, but they do not get the right books, study material or ambiance to focus, the best part of these libraries is that resources are pooled, they are free and can be sustained," Ajay Pal Nagar, an assistant teacher at the school who facilitated the centre in Kudi Kheda said.
The motto of the initiative is that every Indian village should have access to one library, which makes around 6,64,369 libraries across the country