Sudharak Olwe, Padma Shri awardee, documentary photographer, founder of Photography Promotion Trust |
After he moved from a small village in Yavatmal to Mumbai, Dr Rewat Kaninde visited Chaityabhoomi near Shivaji Park every year to observe the death anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.
“I would see so many book stalls for adults, but nothing for the children,” he recounted.
In 2016-2017, he decided that children visiting Chaityabhoomi, many from poor families, must be offered something educational and inspiring on this day. He wrote a post on social media, seeking funds and donations in kind. Through friends, he managed to collect and buy books that tried to make science fun. Little Ambedkarites should grow up with questioning, reasoning minds, he said.
“I decided to buy books in regional languages and distributed these to the kids visiting Shivaji Park. Since then, it has become a ritual.”
Kaninde went on to hold similar book distribution drives for children from marginalised backgrounds in multiple cities, including Aurangabad and Pune. He has now distributed books, completely free of cost, to more than 1,000 children.
The books Kaninde selects are simple Marathi titles exploring the world around us, trees and animals; on basic astronomy, physics, biology; some exploring how things work; or why protecting the environment is important. Some of the books and kits they use ask children to explore their kitchens as laboratories, with the added objective of helping children also understand labour distribution inside a household.
Some donors help him with books, others order books from stores from where Kaninde can pick them up.
“India is a progressive nation, and yet we let superstitions guide us,” he said, adding that Maharashtra’s great leaders all worked against superstitious practices. “If we work on building the scientific temperament in children, they not only start applying their curious brains in daily life but also start seeing their fellow humans as equals.”
Kaninde, a medical practitioner by profession, is posted as medical officer at the government-run JJ Hospital in Mumbai, where he is also in charge of the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya Yojana, a medical insurance scheme.
An anti-caste practitioner, Kaninde believes that children learn faster through seeing actions than from hearing words. “Why should they only immortalise men from the past? All children’s literature comprises the life stories of other people who existed years ago. Why not give them things that are more contemporary to build their interest and acumen?”
Kaninde says his aim is to ensure better access to science for children, in regional languages, to build a young generation with a scientific temperament.
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