Published: 24th October 2017
Twelve-year-old Narikuruva boy up for Int'l Peace Prize after getting 25 children from his community to join school
Shakti is one among 169 children to be nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize, an honour once held by Malala Youzafsai
Shakti Ramesh is 12, but he's done more in his 12 years than people who are twice or thrice his age. Shakthi got 25 children from his Narikuruva community to join his school, just by talking to them. How many can boast of something like that? And for this outstanding work, Shakthi is one of 169 children to be nominated this year for the International Children's Peace Prize. A prize previously won by people like Malala Youzafsai.
For the uninitiated, the Narikuruva community has always been the outcast and even though they are not part of the Hindu Varana or the Caste system, they have been treated as untouchables for centuries simply because they eat meat. The term 'Narikuruva' literally means 'fox people' and their primary occupation is hunting. It is believed that the status of the community is on par with the way that the Dalits in this society are treated and sometimes the Narikuruvas are treated even worse.
Power of Shakthi: Shakthi Ramesh with a friend from his community
So, forget education, even a decent living condition is an idea that is far-fetched for most members of this community. So what young Shakthi has done is far from ordinary, it is life-changing not just for 25 children but for their families as well and for all the other young children to follow.
Since the community has been restricted from hunting, the Narikuruvas have taken to selling small miscellaneous articles like beads, pins or sometimes, balloons, like Shakthi's parents. Like other Narikuruva families, Shakthi's family also travelled from place to place but his parents still did get him into a school. But Shakthi says that he was scared of going to school because he was frequently reprimanded and beaten by his teachers, this fear took over his desire to study.
That Deepavali holiday, Shakthi went back to his house and spoke to all the families in the settlement. He told them about the school, his hostel, his teachers and how an education could change lives. Promptly 25 children were sent to the school on the day it re-opened.
Despite his parents continuing to urge him to study, Shakthi would skip school and spend the day sleeping at a temple. He, however, continued to do all the household chores and other family duties. When the parents realised that he had been skipping school, they didn't question him about it and thought it was better to let it go. "I didn't like studying and I didn't understand anything," Shakthi said in his heavily accented Tamil.
Shakthi spent the following years, taking care of his two younger siblings and helping out his family, till one day his uncle told him about a new school he could study in, Bharathiyar Residential Special Training Centre (RSTC) in Manamadhi. "My mama(mother's brother) told me one day that there was a hostel where I could stay and said the school would be nicer too. So I went and saw it and really liked the environment. So I came back and told my parents about it. "
Torch bearer: Shakthi with his community members
For the first three months, Shakthi studied at the girl's only branch and was later shifted to the Boy's Centre. After that, there has been no looking back. Shakthi has been one of the top students in school but he still finds it difficult to follow English, as his Tamil is also not very good but he manages anyway. Every other weekend, Shakthi's parents would visit him at the school and when he would go home, he always left the other families in awe of his tidiness and enthusiasm to study.
On one occasion, one of the authorities at the hostel asked Shakthi to encourage other children from his community to also join the hostel and get an education. As something that was said in passing, the authorities probably thought Shakthi could maybe inspire a couple of kids.
That Deepavali holiday, Shakthi went back to his house and spoke to all the families in the settlement. He told them about the school, his hostel, his teachers and how an education could change lives. Promptly 25 children were sent to the school on the day it re-opened. The parents said that looking at how neat Shakthi had become and how he loved school made them want to give their children the chance too.
At work: The 12-year old busy on the computer in school
When Edex asked Shakthi why he took the suggestion so seriously, he innocently said that he felt lonely in the school and wanted more friends to play with him, "I thought it would be fun for all of us to be together. We can all stay together and go to school, that's why I called them." He might be underplaying his efforts or he could be genuinely interested in having more playmates in his school, but it is clear that young Shakthi hasn't still comprehended the impact that he has created in his community and the effect his actions will have on the future of all the other children.
Shakthi's teacher says that he wants to become a software engineer when he grows up. Shakthi repeatedly mentions the word 'laptop', so one is left wondering if he is just enamoured by a laptop or whether he actually wants to become an engineer. Twelve is too young anyway. But when he can do so much at such a tender age, it is safe to assume that he will ensure he spreads the light wherever he goes. For now, let's hope he gets that award.