By Nitisha Jain :
THIS unsung hero shunned all the comforts of life and embraced a difficult path full of uncertainties and challenges. Datta Shirke, a Nagpurian, chose to work to uplift tribals in Naxal-hit region of Gadchiroli district. A Naxal attack in Gadchiroli in 2009 shook him to the core. He quit his reputed job as a lecturer in city and decided to dedicate time and life for the sufferers who reel under constant fear of Naxals in Bhamragad. Shirke fondly recalls how his teachers in school made best use of off time and narrated the class the values and stories of valour of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. “I firmly believe, mere chanting ‘Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji’ does not make one a devotee of the brave warrior. One has to instill those values in life,” says Shirke. An ardent follower of the greatest Maratha King, Shirke founded an NGO ‘Jan Sangharsh Samiti’, that coaxes villagers to stand up for their rights and development in Naxal-hit region. At present, Jan Sangharsh Samiti has over 70 members, mostly well-qualified engineers, doctors and graduates who work for the downtrodden. Asked how he mustered courage to take up the Herculean task, Shirke smiles, “I idolise Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and respect his virtues.
I believe in instilling his teachings in my life. I learn to be fearless, sharp-witted and courageous like him to selflessly serve my nation, my fellow countrymen.” Shirke, a hero without a cape, did not stop here. When he is in Nagpur he devotes his time for underprivileged children and destitute families in Nagalwadi village. These are mostly ragpickers and beggars. Shirke and his team of doctors has left no stone unturned to provide relief material in remote villages. He did it even when the rivers were in spate due to heavy rains in Gadchiroli and also during COVID-19 crisis. Sharing an incident of encounter with the Naxals in Mard Malinga village on Chhattisgarh border, the philanthropist adds, “My associate (a doctor) and me were returning on a bike after supplying medicines to villagers. Two armed Naxals appeared out of nowhere and enquired about our whereabouts. I calmly replied we came to supply medicines. They checked our stock and asked a few questions to the lady doctor before signaling their troupe of around 30 men to let us go. I could stay unperturbed only because of the values of Shivaji Maharaj.
That is the reason I idolise him wholeheartedly.” So, is enough being done to teach today’s generation about the values of Chhatrapati Maharaj? Shirke says, “I feel a lot needs to be done. Parents and teachers play a crucial role in this. We must inculcate the virtues of Maharaj in children so that they too serve the motherland. When we all enjoy the rights we are entitled to as per our Constitution then why do we shirk from our duties and responsibilities. A person is always remembered for his deeds and karma. We must teach our youth to start giving back to the society and see how magical it feels.” Has he ever repented his decision? “Never. I always feel there is so much more to do. I always look for opportunities. The smiles in return are so gratifying. It brings me a step closer to my motive in life,” Shirke smiles again. n