Praveen Kumar, an IPS officer who gave a new identity to Dalits

Hyderabad: When senior IPS officer Dr R S Praveen Kumar announced on Monday his decision to step down from the government service voluntarily, it was certainly a big shock to innumerable students of the social welfare residential educational institutions which he had transformed into institutions of excellence in the last nine years.

But for millions of his fans, it was no surprise, as they know Praveen Kumar is not content with confining himself to reforming the social welfare education in Telangana, but has a larger goal to achieve and bigger role to play in empowering the marginalised sections.

Sources say he has been discussing his plans with his close confidants for some and they have taken a concrete shape now. Will he join politics? Or will he intensify his “Swaero Movement” and take it to the national-level? Will he herald a new revolution in the Dalit empowerment on the lines of Ambedkar?

“I shall use the rest of my life to fulfill the unfinished dreams of doyens of social justice – Mahatma Phule couple, Baba Saheb Dr B R Ambedkar, Kanshiram and many more torchbearers of our country,” Praveen Kumar said in his social media post after submitting his letter to chief secretary Somesh Kumar seeking voluntary retirement.

Irrespective of which path he would choose – politics or social movement – to realise his dream, it is an undeniable fact that Praveen Kumar has created a new identity revolution for Dalits, at least in Telangana, for the last nine years, in the capacity of secretary of the Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TSWREIS).

In fact, Praveen Kumar doesn’t like the word Dalit. According to him, the word Dalit was imposed on the marginalised sections as a symbol of oppression. That is why he coined a new term – SWAERO, in which SW stand for Social Welfare and “Aero” stand for sky, suggesting that given an opportunity, sky is the limit for them.

After taking over as the secretary of the TSWRERIS, he has ensured that all the students of the social welfare institutions invariably carry the suffix “Swaero” along with their names. The IPS officer now refers to himself as Dr R S Praveen Kumar Swaero.

Not just his students, the word Swaero has become a buzz word for the entire Dalit community in Telangana, giving them a new identity. They now feel proud to call themselves “Swaeros” – and mention them in their daily lives, whether it is in wedding cards or in their business ventures or in other professions.

Praveen Kumar created a Swaero Anthem, which the students of social welfare institutions read out every day so as to feel a sense of identity and help them rediscover their true potential. He also propounded 10 commandments for the students, first of which says: “I am inferior to none,” and the last one says: “I shall never give up.”

In the last few years, this “Swaero Movement” has spread among these marginalised sections through social media and also public campaign. It has now grown into a mass movement that helped them find a sense of pride and esteem for them in the society.

The 1995-batch IPS officer, an alumnus of Harvard University, believed that English medium education is the only way to uplift the marginalised sections. That was precisely why he put in a lot of efforts to improve the educational standards in the social welfare residential institutions.

He brought in the services of educational experts, introduced latest trends in pedagogy and constantly engaged the teachers in adopting innovative teaching methods. His efforts enhanced the self-confidence of students so much that in many of the social welfare institutions, the students can speak fluently and better English than many of the students of so-called convent schools.

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Over 2.5 lakh students studying in nearly 300 social welfare residential educational institutions – from primary to under-graduate level, have now been achieving excellent results in the examinations. Many of these students gained admissions into prestigious institutions like IITs and IIMs, besides top engineering and medical colleges, and private universities like Azim Premji University and Asoka University.

Not just in academics, Praveen Kumar also focussed on all round development of his students, by encouraging them to take part in sports, adventure sports and other extra-curricular activities. Who will forget his immense encouragement given to Malavath Purna, a tribal student from Nizamabad district, who became the youngest girl in the world to scale Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world in 2014?

Taking inspiration from Praveen Kumar’s encouragement to Purna, several Dalit students excelled in mountaineering and the sports like horse riding and athletics.

Born on November 23, 1967 in a poor family at Alampur in the combined Mahabubnagar district, Praveen Kumar credits his growth to his parents, both teachers, who groomed him into an IPS officer braving poverty, humiliation and social discrimination. He completed his masters in veterinary sciences, went to Harvard University, and became an Edward. S. Mason fellow.

After being in the police service for nearly 17 years, Praveen Kumar opted for working in the TSWREIS to realise his dream of serving the students of the marginalised sections.

“We are the creators and protectors of our new identity and its self-liberating ideology. As the most deserving ones, we have the responsibility of emerging as responsible and disciplined leaders, inclusive citizens,” Praveen Kumar said, in his parting message.

Good luck, Praveen Kumar!

A Srinivasa Rao is Senior Journalist based out of Hyderabad covering developments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana . He has over three decades of reporting experience.

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