When Dharampal Saini first came to Dimrapal village in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh in 1976, with the aim of setting up an ashram to educate young tribal girls, he was faced with several obstacles and hostility. The education department of the region made several efforts to get families to enroll girls in schools but had had no results. When approached by Saini, they happily provided him with resources and support, and in time, the Mata Rukmini Devi Ashram was set up.
Saini's ashrams act as shelters for the girls from the violence and harsh realities of living in some of the worst struck areas of Naxal activity, giving them opportunities to create new lives for themselves. The importance of sports was initially not a part of Saini's main agenda at the schools. It was only later, when he started to recognise the immense potential the girls had, that he began encouraging and nurturing their talents. Soon enough, the girls excelled with great support from their proud parents.
Words: Sara Hussain