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Tough be an activist when you are part of the system

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Tough be an activist when you are part of the system
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Sanyashi Behera

Sanyashi Behera is a man who fought against all odds, against the system for years and gave justice to the disabled. Now, he is a part of the system. He is working as a District Social Security Officer (DSSO) at the state headquarters.

He secured 220th rank in the examination conducted by the Odisha Public Service Commission (OPSC). He topped among eight visually impaired and five hearing-impaired candidates, who cleared the OPSC exam in the same year.

Tell us about your journey from an activist to an administrative officer…

I belong to a very poor family in Kishoprasad village of Ganiya block in Nayagarh district. I, my sister, and my brother were blind by birth. And, because of our blindness, my family faced many hardships. People used to make fun of my family. Many were telling me that since I was blind, I would be a beggar. These invectives had a serious impact on my mind. I knew that it was education which could empower me. And hence, I was very sincere in my studies since my childhood days.

After completing matriculation from Bhima Bhoi School for the Blind in Bhubaneswar, I joined Nayagarh College to pursue higher studies. Then, I completed my graduation from Algappa University in Tamil Nadu as well as an office management course through the ‘All India Confederation of the Blinds’. I have also completed special advocacy training through Pune’s ‘National Council for the Study of Advocacy’.

My activist life started when I was only 18 years old. During 1998, there were only two government schools and only three private schools for blind students. Because of this, many students were being deprived of education. At that time, I started teaching helpless students who could not come to school.

After that I took charge of the Child Protection Committee of Bhadrak district. And later, my struggle for the needy or mostly for disabled people began. When I was the Secretary of the ‘State Blind Association’, I had to fight a long legal battle for induction of the visually-impaired category in the mainstream service sector.

At that time, as per the rules of the ‘Odisha Social Service Organization’, there was no provision for the visually-impaired candidates to work in the administrative service. So, in 2011, I filed a PIL in the Orissa High Court wherein I pleaded OPSC to include visually-impaired candidates in 2014. After a long battle of eight years, finally, the order was passed in their favour in 2014. But, in 2015, OPSC came out with its OAS advertisement in which it was clearly stated that partially-impaired persons would not be able to appear in the exams. Then, I went to the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities after which OPSC was forced to change its notification by way of an amendment to the rules. 

I never wanted to join the administrative service. But when we got justice after a long battle, many of my friends insisted on me appearing in the test. So I appeared the exam in 2015, February and qualified for OAS in 2017. Now I’m working as a District Social Security Officer at the state headquarters.

How did you prepare yourself for administrative service?

At that time, I formed an organization called ‘Institute of Social Work and Research (ISWAR)’. The main objective of this organization was to serve the needy people without expecting anything in return. It was created to fight for the rights of the people. So, during the day time, I was working for the people and at night, I was preparing for the exam. I gained a lot of information by working for the needy people. I had to go through many government sectors and their rules and regulations to give them justice, which was very helpful for me to write in the exam.

Which of your work has given you more satisfaction during your activist life?

In 2008, an auto driver physically abused a blind girl child at Bhubaneswar railway station in broad daylight. In that case, the police rescued her and placed her in the police station. They did not conduct a proper medical examination of that girl. When I came to the police station, I came to know that she was lying on the ground in the police station and covered herself with a sack to protect her from the chilly winter. I requested everyone to give her justice. But no one listened to me. After that, I wrote a letter to the President of India in this regard.

When I got time to meet the president, the Police Commissioner of Bhubaneshwar called me and said that they would provide a compensatory amount of Rs 5000 from the ‘Red Cross’ to the girl child. When I denied, he again said that I had broken the state protocol. He asked how I sent the letter to the President without talking to our Governor. Then I showed him all the letters I had written to the Chief Minister. The Collector then called me and said that the Chief Minister will discuss the matter with you. So you wait a bit. After that the girl got Rs 50,000 compensation amount and also a job.

Is it possible to remain an activist after becoming part of the system?

Had I not come from a very poor family, I would not have joined this service. Earlier, I was playing the role of a public leader, now I am playing the role of a public servant. Now, I have some limitations that I cannot cross. It is very difficult to go against the system when you are a part of it. Earlier, even with the problem of disabilities, I was able to go up to the highest level. Right now, my maximum reach is up to the Chief Minister.

However, I have also got some privileges, with which I am able to help the disabled. Once I had gone to Cuttack leprosy colony, I noticed that many leprosy patients had not received their handicapped certificates. So I produced certificates of 348 people in one day. Likewise, the people of Puri Leprosy Colony were not getting a lease of the land from the government. But when they applied it to me, I sanctioned the land of 245 people immediately.

Written By: Subhra Kar

Image Source: InterviewTimes

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