The devastating flash floods that hit Uttarakhand in June 2013 are still fresh in our minds. In one of India’s worst natural calamities, more than 5,500 people were presumed dead, with incalculable losses to livelihoods and properties.
While it has been six years, parts of the state are still being rehabilitated.
In such a tragedy, one can only imagine the plight of the marginalised and the helpless, who were most impacted. The sad reality is that even under such circumstances, the necessary support rarely reaches them, grossly increasing their time to recovery.
In this article, The Better India caught up with Kalika Prasad Kala, an advocate who spent two years embroiled in a judicial matter, to provide orphaned girls in the region with free education.
“The floods were the worst thing that could have happened to the state. While the state government pegs the death toll at about 5,000, in reality, many more lives were lost.”
“Many of those who died were workers from the region, who worked along the yatra path doing petty jobs: helping tourists with palanquin services, providing refreshments along the way, so forth.”
Many children were suddenly orphaned, leaving them unprotected and directionless. It was the role of the Government to care for the defenseless, but nothing was being done.
“The roads destroyed by the floods, the houses, the infrastructure, all of it were being put back and rebuilt, but the most important thing was rehabilitating the orphaned children and providing them with an education. That was one thing that was not being done,” he says, with deep anguish.
Parens Patriae – State as the ultimate protector
Parens Patriae (father of the country) is a doctrine that can be traced to British law, as early as 13th century. It means that the King is the father of the country and is obliged to look after the interests of those who are unable to look after themselves.
In this case, given that the children were left orphaned, the burden of providing for them fell upon the state.
Despite a Government Order (GO) stating that 30 per cent seats in the Rajeev Gandhi Navodaya Vidhyalaya should be reserved for the students who lost their parents to the floods, it was never implemented.
“There are 13 such schools in the district and if this GO was implemented, many children would have been attended schools and benefited immensely,” he says.
Establishment of Parvati Devi Ganga Ram Bhat Trust
Unable to see the plight of the suffering children, Adv Kala along with his wife and two other family members, established the Parvati Devi Ganga Ram Bhar Trust in 2014. Through this channel, he started funding the education of as many girl children as he could.
When asked why he specifically chose to assist girl children, he answers, “In these regions, unfortunately, girls as still looked upon as a burden; they have no one else, and so their guardians will try and get them married as soon as possible.”
“Giving them access to education is only to push away their marriage for as long as I can.”
On January 1, 2015, Adv Kala filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court of Uttarakhand in Nainital. He says, “In the petition, I had attached the names of 242 children who I had definitive information about. It was allowed immediately because of the nature of the case.”
He points out that he waited until 2015 to file the PIL only because he was certain that the GO would yield positive results. Not wanting to waste more time, he filed the PIL.
The judgement finally came in 2017.
In the interim, the Trust funded the education expenses of 18 girls.
Year on year, it increased the number of students funded, by providing them with a full scholarship to study. “We were doing the best we could with the funds we had,” he says.
Final Order received, but still, the struggle continues…
Two years after the PIL was filed, a bench comprising Justices Rajiv Sharma and Sudhanshu Dhulia directed the government to bear all the expenses towards the boarding, lodging, books, copies, stationery, of 132 children.
The bench said: “The welfare State should always adopt [a] humanitarian approach to help the persons in distress on each and every count, i.e., death case, injury case, destruction of houses, loss to crops, cattle, etc.”
Adv Kala says, “While the order was passed on March 10, 2017, my struggle continued, because the children did not get admitted immediately. With changing governments, my case kept getting pushed.”
He adds, “I am happy that we have been able to make a difference in the lives of so many children. In 2018, we sponsored 63 children. Seeing the number grow gives me immense happiness.”
I was able to speak to Kumari Uma, a student of grade 11 studying at the Government Inter College in Thalaband, Pokhari. She shares, “I came here in grade 9 and am so happy that I have been able to get this opportunity. This truly feels like a second chance, and I will make complete use of it.”
C D Chamola, the principal of the college, also speaks highly of the scholarship students. He says that he sees immense potential in them. “These students have the fire to study and do well,” he concludes.
How can you help?
If you wish to help Adv Kala, check out this Facebook page for more details or contact him at +91-76181 31169.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)