For over 20 years, hundreds of students have been able to complete their education, get access to nutritional food, and have their travel expenses covered while competing in sports competitions. These students are now in the police department, are independent professionals, and even national level players, all thanks to 73-year-old Indira Prasad and his late wife Lalitha Devi.
“I met my wife, Lalitha Devi, at the government junior college, when the state commissioned our services in 1975,” he says, adding, “Despite belonging to different castes, we married in 1978, and became lecturers in the college. We were later promoted to the government degree college.”
Indira, a retired professor of a government degree college in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, has been using his late wife’s monthly pension, which he receives as a nominee, to help the students in need for two decades now. He worked as a physical director before retiring in 2006.
Both he and Lalitha worked together to provide for the welfare of these students. “We both pursued social science for our postgraduate studies, and always wanted to positively contribute to society. Finding these students, who were in need of support, gave us that opportunity,” he recalls.
A heart full of empathy
“While interacting with students, we realised many of them did not have access to nutritious food or money to cover their expenses. Some were orphans. As a lecturer in physical education, we decided to help them by providing eggs, milk, and bananas, or any other nutritional foods they needed, to encourage them into sports,” Indira says.
He felt that if the students were not helped at the right time, they would drop out of the education system, or be unable to harness their full potential and become successful sports players. He goes on to share that he was deeply saddened by the plight of these students who came from poor financial backgrounds.
Lalitha was an active part of the endeavour. She stepped in to help pay the exam and tuition fees of the students. In fact, her work moved beyond the confines of the institute as well. She also conducted free eye check-ups and held medical camps for the needy.
“We both held the belief that the society is our temple, and humanity our religion,” Indira says, adding that both he and his wife derived deep satisfaction from knowing they were helping make a difference. “The response we received from those we helped only motivated us further,” he says.
The couple also identified orphan girls studying in the college and paid their fees. They funded these students using their own salaries.
In 2000, Lalitha passed away due to cancer.
“I wanted to continue our endeavour, as a gesture to carry on her good work,” Indira says, adding, “Since I was the nominee, I started using her pension for this cause.”
He reveals, “I receive Rs 33,000, and spend it on any queries I receive for social causes. People come to me through references, and discuss what help they might need. After assessing the requirement, I provide them money.”
The septuagenarian adds that on occasions, he also spends money from his own pension amount. “I get a pension of Rs 60,000 and both my children are settled and earning well. Hence, beyond personal and basic expenditure, the money goes for the welfare of the poor,” he says.
Indira says that over the last 30 years, he has helped over 100 students. “I saw that many had the potential to become good players. With financial support, they have gone on to become state and national level players in kabaddi, taekwondo, and other sports,” he says, adding that he also installed a drinking water facility in the college.
Describing him as a kind person, P Chiranjeeva Rao, a student at the government degree college, says the senior citizen has helped at least 30 students in his neighbourhood. “In December 2019, he distributed blankets and rugs to people suffering from leprosy. He’s truly inspiring,” he says.
Lessons for a better future
Beyond helping students financially, Indira, who is also a qualified legal adviser, counsels and sensitises students from schools, and medical and engineering colleges, about the law, and even gives lessons on ethics to prison inmates.
“The students are unaware of the laws and end up committing crimes. Sometimes, these grave or ignorant mistakes, made at a young age, land them in prison. Through my knowledge, I help create awareness among them,” he says.
Indira adds that prison inmates often don’t know about public relations and ethics after they get out of jail. “It’s important for them to improve communication and lead a better life. I have also helped inmates settle cases, and they now have jobs,” he adds.
However, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indira feels like he is under house arrest. “I haven’t gone out for social work and have been unable to help much these days. I want more students to get help and go out of the village for better opportunities,” he says, adding, “But, for now, I want to stay healthy, and not risk the lives of others, till it’s safe to go out again.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)