I realised that education was the one thing that could get me to the same level. It is the perfect tool for empowerment.
In the wee hours of the morning, as you walk into a migrant labourer settlement in Nagarbhavi, you come across a group of children, listening as sub-inspector Shantappa Jademmanavar tells them stories about prominent Indian personalities.
Sat uniformly under a huge tree, the 40 children have all been assigned names of well-known Indian leaders. The exercise, Shantappa says, is aimed at sparking children’s curiosity about the lives of these leaders. He spends one day a week talking about each of these leaders, to help motivate the children. “I try to teach the kids about famous Indians, so they have role models to look up to. I include personalities across generations,” says Shantappa, as he hands out crayons to his students.
The activity also emboldens children to dream big. “It is a reminder that they are no less compared to the bustling crowd in this city, and have the potential to achieve everything they want,” he says.
Shantappa first started visiting this settlement when the second wave of Covid-19 hit Bengaluru. “Migrant labourers suffered a lot. With the help of some of my associates, I delivered groceries to the families. That is when I came across these kids. They spent most of their day just playing and roaming around,” he recalls.
Schooling also completely moved online during the pandemic.“They could not afford a laptop or smartphone. So, every day before I set off to work, I would come to this locality and teach them,” the policeman adds.
Shantappa’s classes last for about two hours, between 7 and 9 am. He teaches everything from general knowledge to vedic mathematics. “I have students of all ages, from kindergarten to high school. So, I focus on each kid,” elaborates the 32-year-old.
He also plans to start extra-curricular activities for kids, including yoga and dance classes. “The goal is to show them that education can be fun too. I want to provide them with opportunities to learn everything that they might not be learning at school,” he adds.
After the classes, some of the children proceed to the government school nearby. The rest accompany their parents on a usual work day.
“Some children and parents are yet to fully understand how useful education is, they would rather send the kids to earn. But this view is changing slowly,” he adds.
Fourteen-year-old Geeta is grateful for the chance to experience these classes with her sister. “He even convinced my parents to send my sister and I to school. I like learning new things from him,” she says.
Hailing from Ballari, belonging to a family of migrant labourers and farmers, Shantappa wanted to show these children the transformative power of education. “I remember coming to Bengaluru when I was in Class 9, in summer. My family and I were here just for a few weeks and we all lived in huts just like these ones,” he says. Shantappa would even accompany the adults when they headed to work. “The children here are living the same life,” he adds.
Shantappa was motivated by how the people in the city lived and worked. He soon realised that education was the only way to achieve this kind of life. “I realised that education was the one thing that could get me to the same level. It is the perfect tool for empowerment. So, I decided to focus on my studies and finished my graduation in Ballari,” he adds. He is the first graduate in his family.
Through word of mouth, Shantappa gathered a group of volunteers. The volunteers drop by once a week to teach and help out at the learning centre. “I do not take donations in the form of cash,” he says. If anyone is interested in helping, they are invited to lend a hand in teaching the children or by bringing books and stationery items.
One of the volunteers, Rahul H, a college student, talks about his experience working with Shantappa. “It is inspiring, especially for youngsters to see someone striving to do good for the society. My cousin and I try to come at least once a week,” he says.
With the help of a doctor from a government homoeopathy college, Shantappa has also conducted menstrual hygiene classes for the girl students. “Many students did not even know what sanitary pads were,” he says.
With Covid restrictions being lifted and life returning to normalcy, though, Shantappa is finding it increasingly hard to keep the learning centre running, since his daily routine has changed.
Cop at service
Earlier this year, Shantappa built a mobile public toilet, with 10 compartments, in Goraguntepalya. The police officer started an online campaign in June 2022 for this purpose, to aid those waiting for buses at the junction. After receiving no response from either the BBMP or the elected representative for 100 days, he opened the mobile toilets himself.
“One day when I was travelling with my mother to Ballari, I realised how difficult it was for her to access toilets. This is a common problem women face. This incident made me want to bring about a change,” he says.
A crowdfunding campaign yielded funds of Rs 2 lakh with which he contracted a mobile toilet for six months. After functioning for 30 days, the toilets were shut down due to a lack of financial feasibility. “Since it is a portable toilet, Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 was required daily to clear the sewage,” states a BBMP official. However, the cop’s efforts prompted the municipality to build a new toilet at the same location.
In the future, Shantappa plans to gather like-minded colleagues and start a training programme for members of the transgender community who want to join the police force. “There is a 1% reservation now for members of the community but I do not see many people coming forward,” he says.