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Babar Ali’s inspiring story: How a nine-year-old’s zeal brought education to Bengal’s poor



Babar Ali's inspiring story

Murshidabad (West Bengal), Sep 30 : Walking home from school in a small town in West Bengal, a nine-year-old boy saw some of his friends work as rag-pickers. The thought that his companions were unable to study like him because they were poor so agonised the young Babar Ali that he decided to do something about it and bring school to those who could not afford it.

Determined to share his education as a fifth grader at a state-run school at Beldanga town in Murshidabad district, about 200km north of Kolkata, he turned teacher to his poor friends in the backyard of his own home. With a dream to make India’s children have access to quality education despite their economic backgrounds, he has been, over these many years, a silent crusader imparting education to hundreds of poverty-stricken child labourers in the state.

“I couldn’t tolerate my friends picking garbage while I attended school. So I asked them to join me in the roofless backyard of my home, so I could teach them how to read and write,” Babar, now a 25-year-old youth, recalled to IANS in an interview.

Babar Ali

Babar Ali (in red kurta) with students from his school in Murshidabad, West Bengal, where he educates ragpickers and poor children.

That backyard became Babar’s school, Ananda Siksha Niketan (meaning Home for Joyful Learning), in 2002, making him possibly the world’s youngest headmaster.

“My school began with a total of eight students, including my five-year-old younger sister Amina Khatun. We sat together under a guava tree for three hours every afternoon learning to read, so that the children who worked as rag-pickers or ‘beedi’ (handrolled cigarettes made of unprocessed tobacco) rollers could continue to work in the mornings,” recalled Babar.

With a population of about eight million, Murshidabad district has a large section of its adults and children working as daily-wage labourers in farms and rolling beedis. The district is among the largest manufacturer of beedis in the country. Collecting used-up chalk pieces from his school, Babar continued to teach children in his neighbourhood how to read and write in Bengali along with basic math, science and geography, completely free of cost, while he was in school himself.

“Teachers at my school thought I was stealing chalk to scribble on the walls, but after they learnt that I was teaching other children at my home, they began to offer me a box of chalk each week,” shared Babar.

The support from his mother Banuara Bibi, an anganwadi worker, and father Mohammad Nasiruddin, a jute trader, both of whom were school dropouts, allowed him to pursue his vision to create an educated neighbourhood, he said.

“The children I have been teaching receive very little support from their families and are often left to fend for themselves. With help from my family and teachers at school, I have been able to run my school and provide the kids with uniform, books and other reading material,” added Babar.

Admitting that it was a difficult task convincing families to send their children to his home school, Babar said he gradually won the trust of parents as students grew fond of him and enjoyed his classes.

Donations from teachers at his school, district officials, Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers from the region and other individuals has kept Babar’s institution running through the years — and in 2015, it shifted into a building near his home, with a recognition as a private school from the West Bengal School Education Department.

“The focus is on holistic education at Ananda Siksha Niketan, as I want the students to positively impact the society through whatever professions they choose in the future,” he stressed.

In a span of about 16 years, from 2002 till date, Babar has taught more than 5,000 children from Classes 1 to 8 — a few of whom have have returned to his school to work as teachers.


“Six of my former girl students have returned to the school as teachers after finishing their under-graduation courses,” said Babar, who holds a MA in English literature from the University of Kalyani, about 50 km from Kolkata.

Pursuing another Masters in History from the same university, Babar remains an ambitious headmaster who wants to bring about change in the district’s poor female literacy rate, which stands at just above 55 per cent, according to data from the district administration.

“Several families are still reluctant to send their girls to a school and prefer to marry them off in their teens, but through continuous effort we are seeing a change in their attitudes. Parents are realising the need for education as children are in turn helping them read, make a signature on paper and write,” he added.

The co-education school currently has 500 students, 10 teachers and one non-teaching staff, with classes from 1 to 8.

“We require more classrooms and infrastructure as our building can accommodate only 350-400. I also want to expand the school up to Class 10 so that kids do not have to go to other towns for education.”

Babar Ali Bengal

Babar Ali’s amazing story: World’s youngest headmaster brings education to poor (IANS Special Series)

Babar, who is also a motivational speaker, offering talks across the country inspired by venerated Hindu monk-philosopher Swami Vivekananda’s (1863-1902) teachings, wants to set up more such schools catering to the poorest sections across the country.

“Education for all will remain my life mission and, to realise that, several institutions and individuals need to come together,” he reiterated.

Babar’s inspiring journey has also made it to the first year English text book of pre-university (Class 11) in Karnataka’s state board and Class 10 communicative English text of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).

“Governments alone cannot change the system. We need people of all sections to come forward and work together to bring in quality education for all our country’s children, irrespective of their social classes,” stressed Babar.

(The weekly feature series is part of a positive-journalism project of IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation. Bhavana Akella can be contacted at [email protected])


The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations




Donald Trump Joe Biden

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)

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Covid-19 toll across world crosses 35,000

The COVID-19 is affecting 132 countries and territories around the world.



Patients infected with the novel coronavirus

New Delhi, March 30 : The death toll around the world due to coronavirus crossed 35,000 on Monday evening, with Italy heading the list of 35,097 deaths with 10,779, while the number of cumulative cases rose to 737,929, with US leading with 143,055 of them, as per data from the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

Spain was second with 7,340 deaths, followed by China with 3,308 (3,186 of them in Hubei where the outbreak was first recorded), Iran with 2,757 deaths, France with 2,606 deaths, the US with 2,513 (776 of them in New York) and the UK with1,228 deaths.

In number of cases, Italy was second with 97,689, followed by Spain with 85,195, China with 82,198, Germany with 62,435, Iran with 41,495 and France with 40,747.

Meanwhile, 156,652 people around the world had recovered, with nearly half of them (75,923) in China, followed by 16,780 in Spain, 13,911 in Iran and 13,030 in Italy.

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45% of Indians do not back up their data, files: Survey

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.




Data Privacy

New Delhi, March 30 : Nearly half of Indians do not back up because they think their data or files are not important enough and most of those who back up their data, do it once a month, a survey said on Monday.

Other reasons cited by the respondents for not backing up their data included not knowing how to do it, not having time and forgetting about it, according to the survey by cybersecurity company Avast.

“It could be that many aren’t aware they are backing up, as it could be happening automatically, in the background, however, others really might not be backing up at all, thinking it is not worth it,” Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast, said in a statement.

“Losing personal documents, photos and videos can be a painful experience and it’s not until this happens that they realize how valuable it actually is,” Corrons added.

Of those who do back up their data, nearly 42 per cent Indians back up to a cloud storage, 36 42 per cent back up their data to an external hard drive, 23 42 per cent back up to a USB or flash disk, 18 42 per cent back up their phone to their PC, and 10 42 per cent back up to a network storage drive, the results showed.

Corrons recommended to back up data to two different locations, like the cloud, and a physical storage, like an external hard drive.

When it comes to iPhone and Android phone owners, the percentage that backs up is nearly the same, 69 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

The percentage of smartphone owners that don’t know how to back up their data does not vary much between iPhone and Android owners, with 13 per cent and 17 per cent claiming not knowing how to, respectively, the study revealed.

Data loss can be caused by users accidentally deleting their data themselves, hardware damage and failure, as well as malware, causing valuable data such as photos, videos, documents, and messages to be lost forever.

Ransomware and other malware, such as wipers, can either encrypt or completely destroy files, and there is no guarantee that files can be decrypted if a ransom is paid.

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalization.