A CRPF officer sets up libraries in remote villages
Vikas Kumar Pandey, an assistant commandant with CRPF, has set up public libraries in far flung areas of Bihar and Jharkhand to help the youth prepare for competitive exams and get jobs.
Manoj Choudhary 3 Oct 2023 1:51 PM GMT
West Singhbhum, Jharkhand
Mangal Pandey, who is a jawan in the Indian Army, has no hesitation in attributing his selection into the armed forces to a library in his village in Bihar.
“The library played a crucial role and was a huge support when I prepared for selection into the government service,” 19-year-old Mangal Pandey told Gaon Connection. “I will always be grateful to the founder of the library, Vikas Kumar Pandey,” he added.
The library at Parsia village is unusual because it isn’t very common to have personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) set up a books library.
It was in March 2021, that Vikas Kumar Pandey, who is in the CRPF, built a library in Parsia village located in Chanda panchayat in Buxar, Bihar. The village is about 130 kilometres east of the state capital Patna. The village library has been a game changer because Chanda panchayat with a population of about 8,000 had never had a public library before.
“The library is free for girls and school students. However, college students and competitive examination aspirants pay a monthly membership of Rs 50, and this money is used in maintaining the library,” Vikas Kumar told Gaon Connection.
The Parsia library has about 1,500 books and the assistant commandant CRPF, who is now posted in Madhya Pradesh, spends about Rs 3,000 a month from his own resources to keep it running smoothly, and pay a staff member who takes care of it.
Talking about the reason behind setting up a free library, Vikas Kumar said: “I always had to struggle to get books when I was in school growing up. I had to travel miles to find a library.”
“Again, in high school in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh where my father was posted, I had to use the railway library, which was far away from where I lived,” he added.
The small village library in Parsia bustles with readers. “There are 30 daily members and nearly 20 or more students visit it often from other nearby villages. Local residents stepped up to help with donations of furniture and books,” said Vikas Kumar, who has spent Rs 10 lakh on the construction of the building.
The two-room library can seat about 40 people at a time. People wanting to appear for competitive examinations visit it regularly for resource material.
His mission to make books available to rural students, especially those residing in remote villages in Bihar, and in hotbeds of Naxal activity in Jharkhand began soon after he joined the CRPF in 2015.
He established a library named Mahamana Public Library at a rented house in Bhariar market near his native Hemdapur village in Chanda panchayat in August 2016. He donated around 200 books for the library and started conducting block level competitions such as quizzes and debates for school students every year. “I spent about Rs 1,000 a month on it from my salary,” he said.
A year later, in September 2017, he set out on a four-day Jagriti bicycle yatra from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh to Buxar in Bihar to educate villagers about the importance of books in human life. With fellow cyclists and friends Chandra Bhushan Pandey and Nirbhay Tipathi he covered 108 kilometres in four days on bicycle, urging teachers, non-government organisations, public representatives and intellectuals to start libraries in their respective panchayats.
Fighting bullets with books
In 2018-19, a CRPF camp was set up in the Roam area in West Singhbhum, Jharkhand, which was notorious for Naxal activities. The camp was set up to provide security to those engaged in road construction connecting Roam to the outside world.
Vikas Kumar was in-charge of the camp. He found a damaged and abandoned building that he cleaned up and repaired and converted it into a small library for rural students nearby.
The CRPF jumped into the project with enthusiasm and extended all support. “Books and furniture were provided by the officers and jawans of the CRPF. These included nearly 500 books to help students prepare for competitive examinations. The library was free to use, and teachers and villagers in Roam were delighted to have a library in a village that was cut off from the rest of the world,” Vikas Kumar recalled. “A library can change lives,” he said.
The library strengthened the bonds between the villagers and the parents of the students who now came there to borrow books and study. This also led to restricting Naxal activities in the area, he added.
Local school teachers are all praises for the library at Roam village. “Children of this area have the potential to make something of their lives. And a library in such a forest dense village can make a big difference to the youth of the tribal Ho community that resides here,” Sitaram Bhagat, who teaches at Prathmik Vidyalaya, Roam told Gaon Connection. He said more such libraries should be started in other areas of the state too.
Not just libraries, Vikas Kumar set up a science laboratory in 2018, at a school when he was posted at Tholkobad, a CRPF camp in the dense Saranda forest of West Singhbhum. He converted a classroom at the Tholkobad primary school into a science laboratory.
“The CRPF personnel have taken immense interest in this and have worked tirelessly to ignite an interest in the students in science with the help of experiments they conduct in the science lab along with the children,” said Vikas Kumar.
He is currently posted at Neemuch district in Madhya Pradesh, but he continues to plan the growth of libraries in villages.
“Books are essential to human life. They are our best friends. They enhance our knowledge, develop our personality and make us socially aware,” he said. “I will construct the third room in the library building in Parsia soon,” he added.
Vikas Kumar couldn’t be prouder of all those young people who benefitted from these libraries and are now in government employment. Some have become station masters in the Indian Railways, a couple of them have joined the Border Security Force and Bihar Police. And some are teachers.