| John Soren with students of the government middle school that reopened last year at Bagdhaswa village in Banka district. Picture by Amit Kumar |
A sociology postgraduate, once mistaken as a Maoist sympathiser, has done what police couldn’t— help villagers to erase fear from this Red corridor of eastern Bihar.
The result is palpable on the ground — government schools and anganwadi centres that were once closed down because of the fear of the Naxalites have reopened and students have started returning to the institutes.
Meet John Soren, alias Red Soren — the 32-year-old resident of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, who has been for the last two years visiting villages along the border of Jamui and Banka, around 460km southeast of Patna, and inspiring the residents to muster courage to take the rebels head on and move ahead in life.
A government middle school at Bagdhaswa in the Belhar block bordering Jamui was upgraded and reopened in June 2012 following John’s initiative. At present, over 180 students are attending classes in the school.
Similar developments have also taken place in villages such as Motiakur, Kijri, Mallh, Taranua, Yodiatari, Jagnitari and Dabatard — situated within a 3-4km radius of Bagdhaswa — where schools and Anganwadi centres were closed in 2008 because of Maoist fear and reopened. The police had rarely dared to visit these villages — the stronghold of Maoist zonal commanders like Birbal Murmu and Babulal Hansdak.
The Kanpur University postgraduate has set an example of sort for the administration to follow — work for the indigenous community and other villagers of the area. John came close to the villagers during his visits to his maternal uncle’s home at Motiakur. Moved by their plights, he quit his job with an orphanage in Kanpur and settled down in the village in 2010.
“I was shocked to see the condition of the villagers, who were caught between government apathy on one hand and the Maoist terror on the other,” John recalled. “I started convincing the villagers to send their children to school. I got help from the Banka district administration. The Bagdhaswa middle school was reopened in June 2012. It was closed in 2008 after the teachers fled because of the rebels,” he added.
Lakhan Hansdak, the village head of Motiakur, said: “I still remember the day when we first saw him with some Maoists around two years ago. We thought he was a member of the banned outfit. But when we saw him talking to the rebels firmly and mincing no words to make it clear that his mission was to help the youngsters of the region to get educated, we were ashamed of failing to identify him.”
B.K. Das, deputy superintendent of police, Banka, said: “We wish there were around 10-12 youths like him in the region. Banka would have been a different place altogether then.”
Amid all the appreciation, John is silently working on his mission. “I have told them that everybody has the right to enjoy a better life. But for this, education is important,” he said. “My wife, Rinki, who works as a teacher in Kanpur, would soon join me in my mission in the region,” added the father of two girls.