By Majid Naik
“Irrespective of who we are as individuals, and as interest groups, we are under obligation to ensure an ecosystem in which every single student gets an opportunity to realise his potential. Otherwise we’ll fail our children, and grandchildren. Exactly the way, the previous generation of leaders failed us,” says Basant Rath, the 2000 batch J&K cadre IPS officer, whose no-holds barred tweets and unorthodox methods, have earned him both brickbats, and a legion of fans.
His transfer as J&K traffic chief in November 2018 to the office of commandant general, Home Guards, after a Twitter spat with Junaid Mattoo, the then newly elected Mayor of Srinagar, had made headlines; and brought on a wave of protests from some locals. This sort of support is unique in a valley wary of outsiders in general, and an officer in uniform in particular. In this, Rath is unique. And a large part of this trust he’s built, comes from his outreach to students studying for competitive examinations, whose study material he arranges for.
A pinned tweet on his Twitter profile, @KangriCarrier, gives a shout out to his open Google sheet, Book Baba, where he invites students to send in their requests, write their complete addresses, and as soon as he can arrange it, he promises to courier them their books for free.
Friends, please don’t Whatsapp, DM or mail me your book requests unless I ask you to do it. If you need a book, just fill up the Book Baba google form. Sabr ka phal kitaab hota hai. https://t.co/Iw4FKcJBl2
— Basant بسنت (@KangriCarrier) July 12, 2019
“I owe my personal growth to J&K and I’m trying to reciprocate,” he says of these efforts. “Education is the only way to empower the underprivileged,” he adds. “The only way. Everything else is political posturing. Strangers helped me when I was young, ambitious and poor. I’m returning their favours.”
Born in Odisha, into a household that couldn’t provide much by way of resources, Basant Rath studied hard, eventually studying Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University and cracking the UPSC exams. “I come from a very underprivileged background, and studied in Odia medium. Back then, I realised that if you want to do anything in life, big or small, irrespective of the field — be it farming, cricket, or scientific research — you need to be well read. So if we don’t invest in education now, then it won’t work.”
Rath started giving out books to students during his probation period as a newly appointed IPS officer, in Mandi, in Poonch district; and by the time 2002 came to an end, the initiative had grown bigger, and more organised.
“It’s a team game,” he says about the work that goes into acquiring and couriering books. “A lot of friends, elders and strangers chip in. I have a dedicated network. My friends invest and contribute in terms of money and time. It’s a collective effort.”
One of the beneficiaries, Anantnag-based electrical engineering student Danish Shabir is preparing for GATE. “I messaged Basant Sir to send me all the relevant books regarding this exam to my address in Anantnag. He sent me all the books I had asked for to my address and I am highly obliged and thankful to him for his service,” he says.
Those from remote areas of J&K, especially girls, are affected due to the lack of resources. “Girls from remote areas have less mobility than boys in Jammu and Kashmir,” says Rath, which leads to most female students contacting him through phone calls or social media for books.
Rath cannot put an exact number to it, but he says he has so far distributed thousands of books. Sitting in his office, surrounded by bookshelves on all sides, and piles of books where there are none, that vague number seems plausible.
He started two libraries, one in Jammu and one in Kashmir he says, adding that he and his friends hope to ‘open a public library in every district and tehsil headquarters’ in the next future.
“Kings and Queens do not built human civilisations, books and their authors do,” says Rath. An apt reminder for our times.