Inspiration can come from the most unlikely places; it can strike at the most unexpected moment and initiate a remarkable movement. One such instance of inspiration touched a single individual and has today benefitted the lives of many. It has rewritten the futures of many youngsters and metamorphosed a whole generation of rural folk. And it all began with a simple rustic man’s profound queries and opinions! Dr. Bhagavatula Venkata Parameswara Rao was motivated by an ‘uneducated’ villager’s questions and observations on religion, philosophy, nature, and basic sciences to initiate a movement which rewrote the educational scenario of the entire village and its surroundings and went to establish the Bhagavatula Charitable Trust (BCT).
He completed his MSc from AU, worked in the elite Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Bombay for six to seven years, secured a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University (USA), and though he was offered a worthy job after earning his Doctorate in 1967, this gentleman opted to chuck it all and get back to his roots.
Born and educated in Vizag, Dr. Rao used to spend his summer holidays in his maternal grandmother’s village, near Vizag. He spent his afternoons perched on a low branch listening as an elderly, unlettered villager shared with the young lad his views and interpretation of Sri Krishna and the Gita. What struck the young boy was that this old man and others like him, though technically ‘uneducated’ possessed so much knowledge and understanding. He felt that in spite of not having any formal education, these men were so erudite, and if they had formal education as well, how much more they could achieve! His ardent desire at that time was to become a teacher and teach in the village. But eventually, Dr. Rao did much more than that. While he did not become a village teacher, he did start a series of schools in villages and thus ensured education for not a few, but many village youth and adults.
He returned from the USA in 1967 and headed straight for his village, Dimili. Spurred by him, in a momentous grama sabha, all the people of Dimili resolved to have a High School; a school which they decided to build with their own contributions. Within a year, a six-room High School building designed by an architect from Bombay was declared open by the then Governor, Sri Khandubhai Desai. Sri P V Narasimha Rao, as Minister for Education, inaugurated the functioning of the High School. Consequently, the then President of India Sri VV Giri, on learning about the success of this novel venture, visited the school as well. Dr. Parameswara Rao personally involved himself in the day-to-day activities of running the school for about four years before handing it over to the local Zilla Parishad.
Today, the same school serves the high school educational requirements of around 10 villages in the vicinity. From schooling children, Dr. Parameswara Rao shifted his focus on to farmers and generating employment for villagers in the village itself. Amongst the many projects, he initiated his early ones included the Divvela Farmers’ Cooperative Society for the benefit of the small and marginal farmers, the Solar Salts Pvt Limited that produced rock salt, Mahila Mandals and Thrift Advisory Groups for women. The women oriented project, Thrift was highly appreciated by the World Bank, and eventually became the forerunner for DWACRA and SHGs in the State.
His most recognised contribution to society was the establishment of the Bhagavatula Charitable Trust, in November 1976. The initial seed money for the Bhagavatula Charitable Trust came from his father – who offered Rs 10000 to construct a hospital in the village. As this amount would not suffice, Dr. Parameswara Rao suggested starting a Trust. And today, the very same trust has rewritten the fortunes of many. In addition, he strove in many other ways as well, like his many padayatras to educate the villagers about different programs and the importance of education. His many trips abroad too were focussed on his goals. His tour of the USA initiated the India Literacy Project (ILP) of the USA. He undertook an indefinite fast, in November 1996 to draw attention to the deteriorating status of education in the state in general and for the appalling situation of the non – availability of teachers in the Dimili High School. He relented only when N. Chandrababu Naidu, the then Chief Minister, assured him of immediate action through a personal letter.
Dr. Parameswara Rao’s constant refrain was that if India has to develop, her villages have to develop. “How can India ever come out of poverty if villages are not taken care of? If India is alive, if Indian culture is alive, if common sense and age-old wisdom have survived, it is only in the villages. Villages have been neglected totally, and to ensure progress in the country, there has to be development and growth in the villages as well. There are ample manpower, resources, and skilled educated youth, literally calling to be exploited. The crux of the problem is that we try to find solutions to Indian problems through western processes. We are carried away by a euphoria that westernisation is the solution to everything. We need to think Indian and find Indian solutions to Indian problems.” His contention was that India has a rich knowledgeable past which has been largely ignored.
Deeply involved in building up the society, he was honoured, felicitated and invited to lead many organisations including being a consultant to the World Bank. With his son and an able team managing the Bhagavatula Charitable Trust, the benevolent Doctor, over the past few years, was more focussed on improving the moral and ethical values amongst the villagers. He inspired children to motivate their parents to do better and desist from indulging in social evils – especially alcoholism. He tried to revive traditional arts and culture through the children, by introducing them to these various art forms.
Sadly, Dr. BV Parameswara Rao passed away on the early hours of 9th June in Visakhapatnam. He was 86 years old. He is survived by his wife, Kalyani Bhagavatula, 4 children, their spouses, and grandchildren.