Can we imagine the extent to which a teacher might go to help a student? Would we believe it, if we were told that a teacher in Jalna district had not only toilet-trained a student and taught him about cleanliness and hygiene but actually kept vigil to break the child’s habit of lying among and biting stray dogs? This is the true story of a boy named Sakharam Bhabat and his teacher, Avinash Lomte, from Maltondi village in Mantha tehsil ofJalana.
In the words of Lomte ‘Sir’: “This happened some seven years ago when we were doing a survey of out-of-school children in the village. As we were walking by, I noticed a small child sitting with a puppy by the roadside – and I realised he was bending down towards the pup’s belly as if to bite it. I yelled out, ‘Come away, the dog will bite you!’ Sakharam sat there staring at me with a weird smile on his face. I wondered which family he came from, and entered a nearby shack. Sure enough, that happened to be his home. I met his grandmother, his sick father and, later on, his mother, who was away at work.”
“I said to his grandmother, ‘Do you know what your grandchild is up to? The dog will bite him!’ She said, ‘I cannot control him, he’s always up to something like that. The puppy is his pet. Even his father was this way when he was that age.’ Saying so, she broke down. I knew that without intervention the situation would only worsen. So I requested his grandmother to send the boy to school. Although she agreed, she asked me if the other students and their guardians would accept Sakharam’s being among them. I assured her that it would be my responsibility and that she should only make sure that Sakharam came to school every day.”
“Sakharam started accompanying his older brother to school. He drooled constantly, wore dirty clothes, his nose would be running, and he was not toilet-trained. I would clean his nose, take him to the toilet and even wash his soiled clothes. Other teachers advised me to get rid of him – according to them, Sakharam was a hopeless case. But I could not give up. I was convinced that if treated with compassion, Sakharam would improve, as he was human after all. At the start, the other students would not even let him sit next to them. But I kept telling them that they should be kind and not tease him. Gradually, they learned to accept him.”
Sakharam is a mentally disabled child. Lomte ‘Sir’ knew that the boy’s father too had been that way as a child and that Shendge ‘Sir’ who was now the Cluster Head near Watur phata, had been his father’s teacher and had managed to help him. Lomte ‘Sir’ contacted Shendge ‘Sir’ to exchange notes and seek advice. The school Principal, Rathod ‘Sir’ encouraged Lomte ‘Sir’ in his efforts.
Often, when Sakharam cried in school, his nose would start bleeding. The first couple of times this happened, Lomte ‘Sir’ too got scared. But with the Principal’s support, he reached out to Dr Patel and DrAdampurkar at the local civil hospital taking Sakharam to the hospital himself to get the child’s perennial cold and nosebleeds treated.
At the same time, ‘Sir’ was trying to toilet train Sakharam by taking him to the toilet every half hour. Lomte ‘Sir’ cut his nails, taught him how to keep himself clean, and to stay away from stray dogs. In time, Sakharam became toilet-trained, and his general behaviour and appearance improved. Lomte ‘Sir’ would constantly encourage him, patting him on his head when he did something right, giving him coloured blocks to play with, or chocolates to make him feel special. By the time Sakharam reached the 2ndstd, his nose had stopped running, he had learned to stay away from stray dogs, and was even trying to write on the slate. Yet, even though his classmates now accepted him, Sakharam preferred to be by himself.
But when the then BEO (Block Education Officer) Nagesh Mapari visited the school, Sakharam came forward and spoke to him without any prompting. Lomte ‘Sir’ was happy to note that Sakharam was slowly coming out of his shell.By the time he reached the 5thstd, Sakharam’s disposition had changed considerably. He had learned to be neat and tidy, to interact with his classmates, and to read and write. He could also do simple mathematical operations like addition and subtraction.
And just then Lomte ‘Sir’ got his transfer order. Not only was Sakharam distressed, the other students did not want ‘Sir’ to leave either. The village community was also upset at the prospect of his leaving as, thanks to his efforts, 11 students at the Maltondi school had cleared their scholarship exams that year. The villagers now depended on Lomte ‘Sir’ to prepare the students for the Navoday Vidyalay entrance exam.
Finally, they persuaded the Village Council Speaker and the BEO to rescind his transfer order. This gave Lomte ‘Sir’ one more year at the school. Sakharam was particularly happy.
Lomte ‘Sir’ was finally transferred in 2015 to a ZP school in Veergavhan Tanda, and he left the Maltondi school and Sakharam behind. The new school, located near a Banjara community, had many students from sugarcane farm labourer families. Almost 50% of the students would migrate with their families and relatives every year during the farming season.
On joining the school, Lomte ‘Sir’ worked on various innovative programmes and projects here. After several meetings with the families of the students, along with two of his colleagues Mr Gadade & Mr Jaiswal sir, the student migration count came down almost to zero. They planted 29 trees in the schoolyard which until then had been an arid piece of wasteland. The school also managed to raise Rs 48,000 through community participation and used the funds to buy LED TV screens for their e-learning classes, Mr Rautwad sir have guided for this initiative.
Even after moving away from Maltondi village and its school, Lomte ‘Sir’ has stayed in touch with Sakharam, who now studies in the 8thstd, in the Shivaji Vidyalaya at Pangri Budruk. The boy attends school regularly.
Lomte ‘Sir’ says, “I cannot imagine Sakharam’s fate had I not intervened on that day. I believe that sometimes teachers have to go beyond the call of duty and even play the role of the student’s mother. I am glad I did that, and now Sakharam is leading a good life as a human being.”
Blog: SnehalBansode-Sheludkar for ‘Comet Media Foundation’
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team