Sandeep Rai

Fearful parents across most parts of riotscarred West UP in the days following the Muzaffarnagar violence of last year had stopped their children from attending school. Many of the kids were Muslims, but some were Hindus, too. It went on for months. The children would just not be there in their classrooms. That’s when Abhishek, 14, made it his mission to bring the kids back to school.
The UP government has conferred upon him the Meena Ratan Award, given jointly by Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan and UNICEF to children who do outstanding work in the field of education and social service. Abdul Samad, principal of Upper Primary School in Kamalpur village where Abhishek studies, said what the boy did — convincing parents who had stopped sending their children to the village school 10 km from Meerut as communal tempers ran high in the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots — was heroic.

“Those days were quite scary,” Samad said. “The atmosphere was strife with rumours and parents were apprehensive. Attendance had dropped to 40%. It was then that this boy came up with a novel idea.” Abhishek formed a group of six students, three Muslims and three Hindus, and knocked on every door behind which hid an absentee kid. The drive slowly bore fruit and parents, emboldened by the boys’ confidence started re-packing school bags and tiffins for their kids. “My parents are illiterate, but I have been fortunate to get the opportunity of receiving an education,“ Abhishek said. “In no way could I forego that opportunity and I felt the same for my fellow students. My school had reached the stage where it was ready to close down. I thought that would be so sad.” Though a few students still chose to stay away, the numbers began to swell in the school with 225 students, 117 of them Muslims attending the school. Soon, Abhishek says, all will be back.

As he returned with the award, beaming, he said he couldn’t have done it without the help of his teacher Ruchi Shrotriya, who motivated him and asked him to do something that would change the lives of others around him. It’s a lesson, he says, he will never forget.

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