TW: Mentions Of Suicide
19-year-old Ramzan Sheikh from Maharashtra is a second-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts. Born in a lower-middle-class family, Ramzan’s life has been about struggle and compromise. His father is a daily wage laborer while his mother is associated with a non-profit organization ‘Saryjani Mahila Utkarsha Sanstha’ engaged in TB control and Family Development programs in the ‘bastis(slums)’ of Bhiwandi. Having lived a life full of struggles, Ramzan is empathetic towards other young children and works towards supporting them through their challenges.
Ramzan’s dream is to serve the country by becoming a soldier. He’s joined the National Cadet Corps (NCC) to get basic military training. It’s here that he met another young boy, Rahul Yadav who excelled in shooting with great precision. While Rahul was aiming to join the armed forces as a sharpshooter, his economic condition was pulling him down. As the eldest son of his family, he was under tremendous pressure to start earning. His girlfriend had also turned her back on him at the same point in time.
Rahul found himself in a challenging situation as his family’s resources had dried up; he was compelled to keep his plan on the back burner. He was not able to bear the great distress and cruel oppression and decided to end his life. When he didn’t return, Rahul’s parents panicked and got in touch with Ramzan who initiated a search operation for his dear friend.
Ramzan and Rahul were members of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and dreamt of serving in the military.
Ramzan went to their common friends’ places and explored their ‘Addas (a place where youngsters gather for conversation)’, but Rahul was nowhere to be seen. He then visited the railway station where a vendor identified Rahul by his photo and informed Ramzan that he had seen him loitering in and around the railway station. Finally, Ramzan found Rahul on one of the unused and deserted platforms in the yard.
The two friends had a hearty talk and Ramzan was able to pull out Rahul from his death wish. For the next few days, Ramzan didn’t leave Rahul alone, he was with his friend like a shadow. Rahul’s parents were in a state of flux and sought Ramzan’s help once again. Ramzan was able to convince the parents into sparing Rahul for just a year. “By that time he would be able to complete his NCC training and would be eligible for applying for a job in the armed forces,” Ramzan told his parents.
“You have saved his life; you have brought him back to us. Let him concentrate on his military training,” Rahul’s father conceded. Ramzan had not only succeeded in mediating between the parents and their child, but he was also successful in securing a better future for Rahul. He was able to achieve the feat of arbitrating for the rights of his friend when he was just 18.
Rahul worked very hard on his military training and after successfully completing the entrance exam got into the Indian Army.
“Ramzan was very adorable since his early childhood; he’s both emotional and intelligent. Since his school days, he has been assisting me in the kitchen and in other chores. He cleans and washes the kitchen wares and clothes. He doesn’t mind taking up any domestic task. He’s a true social worker, he reaches out to the needy and disadvantaged since his childhood,” shared his mother Laila Sheikh with a lot of adoration.
As he’s the eldest, his two younger brothers try to follow Ramzan’s footsteps and take part in all the housekeeping chores. “I have three assistants; I am not burdened with all the taxing work which normally falls on women. All my three children are a godsend,” said Laila.
Panduranga Sadashiv Sane (pictured above) founded the Rashtra Sevadal, where Ramzan developed and learned about social responsibility, secularism, and feminism.
Ramzan’s social consciousness sharpened after he started attending ‘Rashtra Sevadal‘ – a children/adolescent wing of the Socialist Party where he was sensitized about secularism, gender, feminism, and social responsibility.
Rashtra Sevadal was founded by freedom fighter, writer, anti-caste crusader, and social activist Panduranga Sadashiv Sane popularly known as Sane Guruji in Maharashtra.
“I learned about street harassment. It is about power and control hence girls and women are common targets. We have to create safe spaces for women and men need to learn to respect women. We need a just and equal world,” shared an earnest Ramzan who is keen to learn new ideas and thoughts.
“Sevadal inspires us to develop social consciousness of giving back to the society and the country. This principle has encouraged me to prepare for joining the armed forces. I am willing to put up with hardships for fulfilling my ambition. I get up at 4 am to exercise. I have been severely punished by my NCC trainer for my lapses, but I am not going to give up. That’s the part of military training,” said Ramzan.
Along with his college studies and NCC training, Ramzan conducts additional training classes for the needy NCC juniors. He also helps them by collecting funds for their shoes and NCC uniform.
“Bhiwandi is known for its rows of shanties and dark dingy alleys. The houses on these crowded and dark lanes have no ventilation or sanitation at all. It is easier to get TB if you have little or no heating and reside in damp, dark, or dusty conditions without windows. The living and economic conditions of the population are consuming its women, children, and adolescent girls. We have to change this scenario; we don’t want to be known for being a hub of TB,” rued Ramzan. His awareness of the socio-economic and living conditions of Bhiwandi is astounding.
“Sometimes life is like this dark tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of it, but if you just keep moving… you will come to a better place,” says Uncle Iroh in the Avatar series. Ramzan for sure keeps moving for the sake of being in a better place. There’s indeed light at the end of the dark tunnel.
This article has been written by Sujata Shirke and Alka Gadgil from Maharashtra for Charkha Features