The Late Tarani Chakraborthy, who was the founder and secretary of Sarada Ramakrishna Sevashram, was once upon a time the only educated woman in her village Morjada in South 24 Paraganas district, Kolkata. She belongs to a Bengali Brahmin family and her father used to work at the village temple.
The early 60s was a time of underdevelopment. It was a time when no importance was being given to women to get an education, and unemployment and poverty were rampant. Against this background, she moved out of her village to pursue a Bachelor’s degree from Calcutta. On graduating, she returned to her native village and took up the post of a primary teacher.
It is during this tenure that she noticed the number of girls dropping out of school. This prompted her to go out to understand why this was happening. She soon learnt about the challenges these young girls faced. Few had been married off, some were being kept at home to help with domestic chores instead, and others did not have enough money to pay the school fees.
This motivated her to start a non-formal education center for all these school drop outs in a small building rented in the same village. With the help of her colleagues from the school, she started to teach basic subjects – Math, English, Sciences etc. The girls used to go for work in the morning and come to learn in the evening. About 25-30 girls from the village enrolled themselves at the center.
Along with the girls, she wanted to help the women of the village too; she wanted to make them aware of their rights in society. This led to the setting up of an adult education center where women were counseled and made aware of their rights. 30 women from the village enrolled themselves in the adult education center and began attending classes.
“Women did face alot of challenges. Tarini didi’s mother expired when she was just a child. Procuring land wasn’t a problem then because her father was well known in the village. We didn’t have a building but a small thatched room which could host around 10-15 girls. These girls were also attending the NFE center and staying in the room as their parents couldn’t take care of them,” adds Mr. Jagdish Chakraborthy, who is also one of the founding members.
With time, they decided to professionalize and follow a more structured pattern. Hence, Sarada Ramakrishna Sevashram was registered in the year 1968. Since, it has the same concept – service and education to the poor as that of the Ramakrishna mission – they included the same in the name. Ramakrishna Mission later supported few of their activities.
How 75+-year-old Jagdish Chakraborthy met Tarani makes for an interesting story too. He says, “Before I was born, my father had a dream that I wouldn’t be alive because of my astrological charts. For me to survive, I had to stay with a Brahmin. He went in search of the whole village and then came across Tarini’s family. He recounted the situation to them and from the age of six, I started living with Tarini didi’s family. I studied until graduation but couldn’t find a job. So, joined didi in social service. During those days, social service was looked down on. People used to always mock at a social worker. After that I never went back home but stayed back and helped the organization.”
Tarini used to go house-to-house asking for donations so that she could give these girls a good shelter. But it wasn’t of much help since they were from a poor background. She then approached missionaries and it was then that she got help to build a big building which now hosts the Sevashram girls.
Completely devoting her life to service, she used to volunteer in her free time and always looked into introducing something new at the organization. Unfortunately, Tarini left to her heavenly abode in 2012 due to a heart attack. This was a major loss and the organization took time to bounce back. “It was a major loss, but her presence can be found in the organisation’s mission. We never let the spirit fade and continued to work with a newly appointed secretary,” adds Sinha, the program director.
What started as a thatched room for 14 girls now is a two-storeyed building which hosts 175 orphaned and destitute girls from the surrounding villages.