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Professor Kalyani Praba A living legend

I have heard quite a bit about Prof Kalyani from my facebook friends only recently.
Though it was only just a little, it was still good enough to intrigue me to find out
more about him. When I met him in person recently, I must admit it was the highlight
of my trip to Tamil Nadu. Having past 70, anyone else would either be enjoying their
post-retirement life, spending time with their grand children or making pilgrimages to
seek solace in their twilight years. But, Prof Kalyani is not your ordinary 70 year old.
He is a retired professor, who has sacrificed his entire life to fight against injustices
committed against the oppressed people and for free education. Having met him just
recently, and spending two days with him, seeing how extraordinarily simple yet with
a steely resolve to fight for the oppressed, I must admit that he is my superman.
Hailing from a humble background, he completed his studies up to high school in
Senthirapandiyapuram, a small village in Thirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. He did his first
degree in Madurai American College and his masters in Annamalai University before
completing his M.Phil at the same university.
Upon completing his studies, he started working as a teacher in 1967 before started
working as a Physics lecturer and eventually became a professor, serving at various
colleges. In 1997, due to unavoidable circumstances, Prof Kalayani sought for
voluntary retirement and went into full time social work which he is committed till
The years from 1981 to 1997, while working in Tindivanam, a small town which is
surrounded by agricultural villages, became the period that turned him into social
reformist par excellence he is now.

He was involved in a struggle in Tindivanam to establish a government higher

secondary school for girls in 1986. He was also vehemently protested against the
mushrooming private school culture whose main goal is to make profit. That
culminated in the birth of Thai Tamil Palli (TTP) in 1990. TTP was
established to provide quality education to the disadvantaged people of the
community in their mother tongue. Prof Kalyani firmly believes that only through
mother tongue, children could be able to learn effectively and effortlessly.
TTP which was started with a mere 21 students now has grown into formidable school
with 200 students. Almost 90% of the students are dalit. When I visited the school
recently (16 and 17 November 2016), I was pleasantly impressed by the dedication
and commitment of the teaching and non-teaching staff who work tirelessly to be the
agent of changes Prof Kalyani wanted the school to be when he first started the school
years ago. Though still lacking in various facilities, the school tops in sheer
motivation. Almost all the children are bare footed, teachers are paid really low wages
and more importantly students enjoy free education no fees are charged. The
students are also provided with free lunch. Support from the community and wellwishers is really encouraging. In fact, TTP, through some dedicated well-wishers has
now caught the attention of good Samaritans worldwide. Just a few weeks ago, it
received some visitors from the US and UK.
As an educator, Prof Kalyani is highly respected and loved, by not only his exstudents and the local community, but also by the little kids in the school. As I was
taking a ride on his scooter, I witnessed first hand, the love and respect he enjoys in
the community. In fact, the scooter and the mobile phone he uses were presented to
him by one of his student!
Education is not the only field which is close to Prof Kalyanis heart. Human rights is
another field he focuses on dearly. His interest in human rights struggle, particularly
of the oppressed lot began in 1993 with a gang-rape incident by a group of rogue
Pondicherry police on a 17 year old Irular girl. Prof Kalyani paid special attention to
that case as no one seems to have shown any kind of interest in making sure justice is
served to the innocent girl then. With his undying effort, eventually the rape case
became a sensational case that took 13 years for the courts to serve guilty verdict on
the 6 policemen involved.
Irular are basically a hill tribe who work as coolies. These people are treated like dirt
by the rest of the Indian (read Hindu) community. They are often exploited and treated
inhumanely. Hence, Prof Kalyani started paying more attention to the welfare of these
people. He formed an organization (Irular Nala Paathukaappu Sangham) and up to
this point, has handled about 700 cases of injustices committed against them. He
maintains a tiny office almost bare, except for two steel cabinets to keep the case files,
in Tindivanam. He sits on the floor, listens to the horrific stories of Irulars, records
them down conscientiously and handles the cases almost religiously. I was there when
he was talking to three Irulars who were kept as slaves. These people managed to
escape, but were unable to get any kind of help from the police as in most cases the

police will work together with people of higher caste or the rich. Hence they
approached Prof Kalyani for help. He gave them specific advice and guidance,
recorded down all the details by hand. There is no computer. He doesnt charge a
single rupee for his services. Tears was welling in my eyes upon, not only listening to
the horror stories of the Irulars, but also upon seeing the commitment and dedication
of an old man in seeing justice is served. I felt ashamed sitting in front of him, not
even doing a fraction of what he does, but rather talk about humanity shamelessly on
social medias.
There and then it occurred to me that what Prof Kalyani does is simply unbelievable. I
was witnessing a remarkable event unfolding right in front of my eyes, something I
have only read in stories. Though I do some acts of charity, they are not worth to be
mentioned comparing to what this guy does! All of a sudden, I started enjoying my
trip to Tamil Nadu realizing very well that, humanity does exist after all. The two days
I spent with this man is something I will cherish forever.