“Equality is about the quality of education, not just any education”

Last week, I met an author. And a social entrepreneur. And an educator. And social activist. His name is Basu Rai, apparently a name he gave himself while he was growing up on the streets of Kathmandu. I learned several important lessons and this is an account of that interaction with Basu.

I was at the Pune Literary Festival, having dropped in to meet Mukul Chand, a Delhi-based entrepreneur and blogger (among other vocations), and Mukul spoke about this speaker, a young writer, who had captured the imagination of the audience with his powerful and honest narrative: Basu is the author of the English book, From the Streets of Kathmandu, recently translated into Marathi.

Before long, I found myself sitting with Mukul and Basu, captivated by the dialogue. Eventually, I found myself asking questions and listening and asking more questions … and thinking: “here’s a leader. Someone who will make things happen.”

Basu was born in Kathmandu, Nepal. He has some memories of his parents (he said his father was a Sikh while his mother was from Bangladesh), but his childhood was spent in street gangs, as a very young pick-pocket.

“I wrote that book because it is important for people to know what a child from my background goes through. And what society can do to help. I was a pick pocket in a street gang at a very young age. I learnt many things that were taught to me. Like how to stab a person or people if I got caught. And i did stab many people and it got me free. I did not know any better. I was six or seven years old then. But my real freedom came when I was able to get an education, a real education.”

Basu has an intrinsic drive, a passion, that it is every individual’s right to build a better society, and he isn’t waiting for others to do it. “I found people who helped me get an education, people who hugged me and made me feel that I was somebody, that I mattered, people who walked with me and helped me improve my circumstances. I can never repay all those people (they were from many different nationalities). But I can repay their sentiment, their humanity by doing the best I can to help other children, help educate them, help by standing against local goons who entrap children.”

And he has no bitterness or lament about his past, just a singular focus on doing something concrete to improve the world around us. “Doing something for others or society is not difficult – it is a matter of willpower. I do what I can and others do what they can – some help by donating time, others with knowledge and support and yet others by becoming foster parents or by mobilising society. Every bit helps.”

Today, Basu is based in Delhi, India (he considers India to be his home), and with his organisation he writes, mobilises resources, enrols street kids into schools and education programs, participates in global movements against child labour and human trafficking, and does his bit to protect children from unsavoury elements the best that he can. He’s also writing his next book, and he’s clear about his goals and his idea of education and its role in bringing about a meaningful change. “Equality is not about providing education- any education – to under privileged children. It is about providing those children the same quality of education as available to the child of a minister or entrepreneur or engineer. That is equality.”

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