Dr Balaram Sahu is a veterinary doctor and scientist from Odisha. He got interested to know more about the traditional knowledge and innovation of the villagers, and since then, he started documenting people's knowledge. His documentation is mainly regarding agriculture, livestock rearing, local fisheries and the like. According to him, traditional knowledge was very effective.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Dr Sahu said, "The modern solutions would give many chemicals for increased crop yield, and petro-chemicals to control the spread of insects and pests in the field, but we have many natural resources that people have been using over the ages, and those techniques yielded results".
Dr Sahu has been documenting the traditional methods since 2000. However, a turning point came in his life in 2008. The doctor used to give training on different alternatives of agriculture and livestock rearing to officers in the state government, professors in the University and farmers. The training sessions were mostly organized in either the State capital Bhubaneshwar or major towns, but the farmers could hardly come.
For instance, he mentioned, "Suppose there are 40 people who want a session and they invited me over for a lecture, I realized that a majority of them did not have any relationship with on-ground farming or livestock rearing. Some of them were tempo drivers or garage workers who came just because they could not say no to the official who asked them to come."
Participation By Women In Sessions
This was when Dr Sahu realized that the knowledge was not reaching the most affected. Secondly, he noticed that the number of women attendees was not high. The women from village areas could not come because they could not leave their children or the elderly alone at home and had several responsibilities to fulfil. Agriculture in India employs more women farmers than men. In rural areas, men migrate outside homes to find better means of income; therefore, most of the framework falls on the shoulders of women. When Dr Sahu realized that if women cannot come to towns to attend his lectures, he could still go to them and teach them.
Initially, when Dr Sahu started visiting villages, he realized that other scientists who spread awareness about medicines for livestock use heavy English words that the locals find challenging to comprehend. Therefore, he started speaking to the village folk in their language. For instance, if he were visiting a village in Odisha, he would prefer to speak in Odia; in the villages of Jharkhand, he spoke in Hindi and in West Bengal, he spoke Bengali to the rural people. He said, "I wanted to spread the knowledge to people at their place, in their time and their language."
With this initiative, Dr Sahu said that he learns about olden ways, teaches people about technology development and imparts scientific knowledge to the common people. He advises people to treat their cattle for almost 50 diseases like gastric issues in cows, cough, foot and mouth disease, and other common diseases amongst cows, buffaloes, and goats. He teaches people to identify symptoms in their domestic animals and treat them with cheap home remedies since not everyone can afford to call a veterinary doctor to treat their animals.
He would teach in familiar places in the villages like playgrounds, schools, panchayat ghar so that it is near women's houses. In the beginning, he mentioned that women would have inhibitions that I taught for free and might have some ulterior motives, but that did not last. When the women started to know me better, they would come to learn whenever they found time in the afternoons or the evenings. One thing that the doctor got to learn after interactions with these women was that these women have a lot of knowledge about the traditional ways of rearing livestock and managing the crop. He mentioned that it was a "two-way learning" process.
Got To Learn New Things Himself While Teaching
During his conversation with The Logical Indian, Dr Sahu shared an anecdote about something he had never known despite being a practitioner in the same field for several years. He said, "In summers, it is difficult to keep eggs for a longer time. Since these village people do not have a fridge, they found another alternative to prevent the farm eggs from spoiling. This once a woman told me during one of my sessions that if you apply oil, say mustard oil on the eggshell and keep it, the egg would last even a month, and I never knew this."
Dr Balaram Sahu named his classes 'Pathe Pathshala', or the 'moving classes' or roadside classes in 2008. "All regular schools demand the students come and learn, but my school goes to the students to teach them; that is the only difference," said Dr Sahu.
Till now, the doctor has conducted 1,061 classes at people's places in the last ten to twelve years and have directly impacted the lives of more than one lakh people. This includes people from Odisha and the neighbouring states. He conducts these classes on weekends because when this initiative started, Dr Sahu was still serving as a veterinary doctor and would not get adequate leaves
He would go on Friday night from his residence in the town and teach the villagers on Saturdays and Sundays, then returned on Sunday nights, followed by a regular week at work beginning Monday. He said that over the years, he had learnt a lot from women and village elders. Recalling another incident, Dr Sahu mentioned that when tomatoes fall off during storms in the villages, the villagers pick the fallen tomatoes and keep them with charcoal. He mentioned that this indigenous way increases the life of tomatoes and does not rot.
Launch of Radio Pathe Pathshala
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Dr Sahu has not visited the villages regularly in the past year and a half. However, that did not deter his drive to spread knowledge and help poor villagers across the country. Particularly in COVID times, he held online sessions with people in Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat.
He explained new techniques that could help them raise a better crop and rear livestock better. He also explains to his students the ill effects of stubble burning on the environment and the people. He also hosts Radio Pathe Pathshala, in which people can call him and discuss the problems of their cattle with him and helped them treat their animals. In the post-COVID times alone, he has impacted the lives of 25,000 people by helping them out with cheaper, quicker and better alternatives. Dr Balaram Sahu was facilitated with the National Award for Science and Technology in 2011 by the Government of India for his exceptional work.