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Battling the odds meet India's everyday heroes of 2013

Friday, 20 December 2013 - 6:00am IST
Battling the odds – that was the leitmotif of men and women, young and old, who campaigned for change and fought each day to better their lives and that of those around them. This was the year of the everyday Indian who fought so many battles across so many turfs

Ekla cholo re: Ashok Khema

He has reportedly been transferred 45 times in his 22-year career, but for IAS officer Ashok Khemka would probably take that as a badge of honour. Khemka hit the headlines when he took on Robert Vadra, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, over suspicious land deals in Haryana. The official, who is currently secretary in Haryana’s archives department, has now been charge-sheeted by the Congress-led state government for cancelling a deal between Vadra and real-estate giant DLF in Gurgaon. The bureaucrat, feted for his honesty, could now enter politics with the Aam Aadmi Party asking him to join its ranks.  He says he finds inspiration in Rabindranath Tagore’s words, “Jodi tor daak shune keu naa aashe, tobey ekla cholo re”. 

Teen hero: Gunjan Sharma
Assam has found a hero — and she is all of 14. Class 7 student Gunjan Sharma offered herself as hostage to an armed kidnapper so the lives of 10 of her younger classmates could be saved. Their schoolbus had been hijacked by the gunman and then met with a freak accident. The gunman picked up one of the children and started walking into the jungle. “At this point, I offered to be taken as a hostage so that the lives of others could be saved. He agreed without any fuss,” Gunjan told dna. She managed to flee and walked till she found help. Her extraordinary courage has made her parents — and her state proud. The Assam government has announced an annual bravery award in her name. The young lady is already looking ahead: “If I cannot become a teacher, I would welcome a career in the security establishment.” 
The quiet philanthropist: Wahid Chowhan
Mumbai-based entrepreneur Wahid Chowhan is known as Sir Syed in Rajasthan’s Sikar district for the network of schools, colleges and polytechnics for girls he has established. The schools are housed in imposing red buildings and are free. Parents only need to arrange transportation of their daughters; the rest — uniforms, shoes, clothing, books, stationery — is provided by schools. The initiative has helped to raise the sex ratio in the region. Chowhan says he devotes a part of the profit of his business in his schools. 
Diving in to help: Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh
Accidents in Jammu and Kashmir’s mountainous Doda district are common. But the ‘eagle of Chenab’ is around to help. Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh, 51, has saved dozens of people and retrieved hundreds  of  bodies from the gushing Chenab over the last two decades. Moved by the plight of the many people whose vehicles met with an accident on the hilly roads of Doda and plunged into the churning waters below, Sheikh used his swimming skills. Since there are no trained divers available, Sheikh later trained 28 more swimmers. The group of Chenab divers group is now available 24x7 to help the distressed. They don’t have any modern rescue equipment and rely on old-fashioned tyre tubes — but the rescuers carry on with the task undeterred and fuelled by just the desire to be of help. 
Making them hear: Devangi Dalal
Mumbai-based speech therapist Devangi Dalal is on a mission to help hearing impaired children. It was in 2006 that the mother of two visited a special school in Mahim and saw how even basic infrastructure was missing, not to mention know-how on the latest developments in the field. It was a turning point and there has been no looking back since. Dalal mobilised celebrities and NGOs for help in getting hearing aids for a few children in the school. She continued her efforts by counselling parents, and providing training to teachers and students. “As a result, today all these children have started communicating in words instead of sign language, and continuous efforts are on to provide them maximum speech clarity. More than 25 children have already been moved to a normal education system” she says. Dalal has adopted one more school in Mumbai and another in Gujarat.
Starting young: Aryav and Arisht
Most children their age would probably opt for Cartoon Network on weekends, but not Class 4 student Aryav and Arisht, who is in Class 2. The Bangalore boys from the city’s Jayamahal Extension became brand ambassadors for their civic initiative Jayamahal Clean Up. It was May 25 this year when residents expected Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) commissioner to arrive on time and motivate them to keep the area clean and plant a few saplings. While the residents waited for the commissioner, Aryav and Arisht were already at it, The two boys have  contributed their savings (Rs500 each) towards keeping Jayamahal free from garbage. Their gesture has encouraged other residents and also prompted the administration to appoint Jayamahal Extension as a model for other areas in Bangalore so as to find a solution to not just control garbage but also conduct a tree census. 
Bankable teacher: Mayur Dave 
Mayur Dave, a 32-year-old banker from Jabalpur, moved to Mumbai to further his own career. Five years later, he is doing much more. Dave takes English at a night school near his house, teaching students from the ages of 13 to 45. “Most of the students already have jobs or are looking for one. Hence, spoken English is extremely important for them,” said Dave, who has been teaching at the Modern night school in Grant Road for the past two years. Apart from teaching the prescribed curriculum, he also makes an effort to counsel students on the importance of education. “Since many of them are working, the reasons are genuine but a few just enrol at the school to get the qualifications required for a job. This mindset needs to be changed,” said Dave.

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