Taiwanese President adorned with Traditional Assamese gamocha
Prantik Deka, an acclaimed film critic, discusses the relentless efforts of Jeetu Kalita, a journalist living in Jorhat, in advocating for the rights and recognition of unsung heroes.
Hailing from a rural interior area called Bahona in North Jorhat, noted writer-journalist and environmental activist Jitu Kalita has touched a number of people's lives with his relentless and uncompromising pursuit of truth, which has earned him high praise and admiration everywhere, most notably in foreign shores from time to time.
He was the man responsible for introducing the 'Forest Man' – Jadav Payeng, to the world. His books have been translated into various foreign and Indian languages which have become vital tools for scholars and research students. He has been a voice of the voiceless.
Over the years, Kalita has written a number of research-based inspirational stories on personalities with uncommon talent hailing from different parts of the country. These are the unsung heroes, the least privileged echelons of society, whose contributions have largely gone unnoticed. He personally went out into the places where these achievers lived, studied their lives and activity while making observations, before revealing it in the form of stories.
He dispatched many of these true and relevant story items to various news establishments and educational institutions located in various parts of the world. A number of well-known print and electronic media outlets have been consistently collecting Kalita's output of compelling stories stemming from the nondescript towns and villages of Assam and other parts of India over the years.
These stories also made an instant connection with the established media outlets of various countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), USA, Canada, France, South Korea, Israel among others. Apart from this, the BBC London also dispatched crews and equipment after seeking Kalita's help and guidance for interviewing Indian personalities, as well as making documentaries and collecting news items on Assam.
It has to be noted that a number of informative and relevant news items written by Kalita, complemented by photographs, have been published in prominent journals and dailies like the India Today, Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Reader's Digest, etc. They have always implicitly relied on him to be a trusted and reliable source for authentic information.
"I've always maintained a positive and cordial working relationship, built on trust and mutual understanding, with all the Indian and foreign media outlets and news agencies, and that's the reason why it has helped us keep going. It has been a journey that has endured till today," Kalita says.
"I first had the opportunity to send my essays and a documentary film on the Forest Man of India - Jadav Payeng, to various international organisations and news agencies in 2010," Kalita recalls.
In 2012, Kalita's tireless efforts paid off when he accompanied Payeng on invitation to the 7th Global Conference of the International Forum for Sustainable Development, held in Evian in France, where he was a special guest speaker. It was in this very conference that Jadev Payeng was introduced before an august gathering and Jitu Kalita's much-anticipated documentary film was screened, which brought everyone to their feet.
"After this, I got acquainted and developed good relations with a number of international organisations and prominent personalities," Kalita says. And based on his impeccably researched work, Canadian filmmaker William Douglas McMaster made the acclaimed documentary film 'Forest Man' in 2013. Jitu Kalita was also the film's narrator.
"A number of journalists from abroad visited our local nature preserves and sanctuaries, and disseminated information in their countries, after seeking our help and guidance," he says.
After this, the reputed Taiwan-based CTK (Chou Ta-Kuan) Cultural and Educational Foundation that champions health and awareness initiatives, asked for Jadav Payeng's documentary and the article in its entirety. "It was at that moment that an idea for publishing a book based on my essays came into being," Kalita says. "Both me and Jadav Payeng were overjoyed to be invited to the international event, organised by the CTK Foundation, which is endorsed by the Taiwanese government. We were felicitated by the President of Taiwan in 2016. My book on Jadav Payeng was also released on the occasion."
Similarly, in 2018, Jitu Kalita made a documentary on the life of the Maharashtrian social worker and the recipient of the Padma Shri Award, Sindhutai Sapkal, popularly known as the Mother of Orphans. This late renowned social worker from Maharashtra established four orphanages, where she nurtured more than 1,400 orphans, and fought for the poor and the disadvantaged. In the same year, Sindhutai Sapkal was honoured with the 21st Fervent Global Love of Lives Award by the CTK Foundation in Taiwan. Infact, Kalita has a major role to play in helping her get the prestigious Padma Shri. "I myself came forward to apply for this woman's Padma Shri Award. She passed away after receiving the Padma Shri," Kalita recalls.
Kalita also made a documentary on Jyoti Kumari, a 15-year-old teenage girl from Bihar, whose indomitable feat hit the headlines during the lockdown period in 2020, when she carried her ailing father on the carrier of her half broken bicycle from Gurugram in Haryana to her home state, covering over 1,200 kilometres.
Following this inspiring story, Kalita heard about the story of a meritorious student from Talaja in Gujarat's Bhavnagar district, who was barred from studying medical science by the Indian Council of Medical Sciences just because of his height.
It was a long cherished dream of Ganesh Baraiya to study medical science, driven by a zeal to practice in villages and provide medical care in rural areas. Hailing from a family of farmers, Ganesh earned top grades in the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET), scoring 223 marks against the 86 cut-off mark required for his category.
But, even after passing all the preliminary examinations and the requisite interviews with flying colours, Ganesh was debarred from studying medical science just because his height was only 3 feet 1 inch! It became apparent that the panel of the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital rejected his admission to the undergraduate medical course owing to his dwarfism. A devastated Ganesh took his application to various courts but in vain. After his plea was regrettably overturned by the Gujarat High Court, his case was eventually brought to the Supreme Court, which gave him justice on October 22, 2018. Ganesh finally realized his childhood dream of studying to become a doctor when he enrolled at Gujarat's Bhavnagar Medical College in 2019, paving the way for him to become the world's smallest doctor. However, as the legal procedure lingered on and the admission process had concluded, the apex court asked the medical authority to secure his admission in the next academic year without taking any examination.
Grabbing headlines everywhere, the story of 18-year-old Ganesh Baraiya is a unique and life-changing one that deserves to be shared and heard by millions of people out there in the world.
"During the lockdown period in 2020-2021, I made a ten-minute video and compiled some reports on the 3 feet tall student from Gujarat's Bhavnagar after studying his case, and circulated them on various social media outlets," Jitu Kalita says.
"Ganesh Baraiya's study and practice of medicine at the medical school is legal and constitutional, and no one can deprive him of his right to become a medical student and a doctor," he continues.
After piecing together the details of Ganesh's story, Jitu Kalita sent it to various media outlets and organisations located in various countries. The story moved the CTK Foundation, which subsequently acknowledged Ganesh's achievement, and invited him along with Jitu Kalita to the awards event in 2022. But unfortunately, Ganesh had to miss last year’s event due to medical exams.
This year however, both made the most of their eight-day visit to Taiwan for which the Taiwan government and the CTK Foundation made all the necessary arrangements.
It was a proud moment when Ganesh Baraiya was honoured with the Fervent Global Love of Lives Award at the prestigious CTK event, which took place recently.
Like the years before, Kalita participated as a guest speaker at the glittering function, where he presented the story of Ganesh and also screened his documentary before a rapt audience.
Besides felicitating the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen with the traditional gamocha, Kalita presented her with a book based on Rajasthan as a gift in a dignified function held to celebrate the winners of the 26th Fervent Global Love of Lives awards at the Presidential Office Building in Taipei City. The President also presented a memento to each of the recipients. "The winners of this year’s Fervent Global Love of Lives awards are a living reminder that there is limitless potential within all of us," the President remarked.
Jeetu Kalita also shared Ganesh's moving story with students in several educational institutions in Taiwan.