Nandlal Master is a social activist from Varanasi, who has devoted his entire life in uplifting the village of Mehdiganj from the abyss of backwardness and illiteracy. His journey from being the son of a well-off moneylender to seeing extreme poverty and using his belief in education to elevate his entire village from the cavities of child labour, dowry, child marriage, and inequality against women, is nothing short of a revolution.
Nandlal Master’s family had a small business of Saree weaving and money-lending which was well-off financially until Nandlal’s father died. The burden to raise a family of six fell on his mother’s shoulders who had never even worked before. Things started deteriorating, and from money-lending, his mother was resorted to working as a wage labourer. Nandlal’s elder sister was married at a young age, and when his mother could not make ends meet, he was sent to his sister’s house for further education. Having the drive to study but not enough resources, he had to drop his B.sc midway and come back to his mother to mend the finances of his home. He started learning to weave sarees. Witnessing his younger cousins toil hard at an age when they should be studying made him realize that education is the need of the hour if his village has to get rid of poverty. Why just poverty, he thought, education is the key to getting rid of all the social stigma that haunts his fellow villager’s ideologies. He started giving evening lessons to kids free of cost. Many parents started sending their kids to him, and gradually his study centres increased in number.
One of his most remarkable change, I personally feel, is that he inspired other educated young people of his village, who realized their responsibility and opened similar study centres to teach the underprivileged under the leadership of Nandlal.
He formally established his non-profit organization, Loksamiti in 1994 with the help of his fellow volunteers.
His popularity grew. So did his complications. In 1996, he started an outing program once a year for students. During one such excursion to Mirzapur, the bus met with an accident. One child died and around 36 were injured. Nandlal could not meet eyes with the parents of these children and carried the guilt of their misery. However, recollecting himself, he realized that instead of simply feeling guilty over what’s done, he should rather help the poor kids with their medical expenses. As he alone could not fund them all, he started a crowdfunding campaign and collected around Rs. 36000 from local villagers, and the Panchayat. Due to his kindness, he was able to earn the goodwill of those children’ parents who understood that Nandlal was only their well-wisher.
He resumed his study centres. He was increasingly becoming popular and was being approached by a lot of NGOs who simply wanted to take advantage of his reputation and take false credit of the work solely done by him and his team. Time and again, he was offered a good sum of money for the same, but the man of strong character that he was, he stood firm on his moral grounds. This upset a lot of people, even locally, like a few money-lenders who were uncomfortable with the increasing awareness and education among children. Once, when one such NGO approached Nandlal to organize a Cultural program, he did not see any foul play in it. However, a day after the program, a few government inspectors raided the handlooms and caught the children working. This put a stain on his reputation as many people bad-mouthed about him being a part of this conspiracy. He was shattered. Guess, who came forward in his support and restored everybody’s faith in his work? The same parents of those 36 injured children! They advocated on Nandlal’s behalf and explained that he was not against children working. This was true. Though Nandlal had spent his entire life fighting for education, he knew that the children had to work in handlooms to support their family. He was even encouraging of them as he knew the important life-skills they were learning because of their work. He simply wanted them to also be educated so that they can become ideal individuals in life.
There is so much that is left to be written about the impact of his work that goes beyond simply introducing education as a weapon to fight poverty. He has been doing incredible work on so many social fronts, but I intend to only highlight these glimpses of his life in this article because they teach us all how strong a will, and character it takes to become a leader and a revolutionary like Nandlal.
His life is an inspiration to everyone who gives upon believing in goodness due to one bad experience. He is a torchbearer of the fact that a few unfortunate incidents in life should not demotivate us from bringing more goodness to the world. Treat those bad experiences simply as a consequence of the process.
His fierce determination and courage have resulted in many of his students having happy and successful careers today. He is also pivotal in bringing down the social stigma surrounding female education and abolishing child marriage. Thanks to a Doer like Nandlal, our society still has hope for goodness.