Prominent child rights activist Achyutha Rao died Wednesday afternoon after losing his battle with the COVID-19 virus at a private hospital in Hyderabad. He was 58 years old.
Mr Rao was actively involved in rescuing hundreds of children from child labour held captive, sometimes literally, in factories, hotels and private homes across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
A one-man army, he also took on the powers-that-be in questioning those whom he thought were harming the rights of children, even if they were the biological parent. A fearless voice for children in distress, he also thought nothing of challenging either powerful politicians or nefarious child traffickers.
As President of the Balala Hakkula Sangam, an organisation run by Mr Rao, his wife Anuradha and their associates that worked to protect the rights of children, his mission often went beyond the rescue of a child in distress.
He helped them become educated and pursue a new life - away from the trauma of their past.
He was also a member of the SCPCR (State Commission for Protection of Child Rights); the body was non-existent for quite a few years after his term expired and it is to Mr Rao's credit that he fought to ensure it was reconstituted in Telangana.
One of several high-profile cases on which he worked was that of 13-year-old Aradhana, a Jain girl who died after fasting for 68 days as per the rituals demanded by her religion.
Mr Rao went to court challenging that child rights and protection of life came before religious traditions and the right of a community to practise its traditions.
Even during the coronavirus lockdown Mr Rao worked hard to save several children from sexual and physical abuse within their homes and also stopped child marriages. "With the lockdown, crimes against children are going up," he had told NDTV.
Mr Rao also partnered with NDTV on child trafficking and rescue missions and helped stop child marriages by providing important inputs for reports that exposed the conditions faced by vulnerable children.
At a time when neither the government or any other organisation is tracking the many horrific instances of child abuse or marriage, he painstakingly compiled statistics to question authorities on inaction and demand pro-active steps to protect children.
Telangana has reported over 47,000 coronavirus cases so far, with 429 deaths linked to the virus. Neighbouring Andhra has nearly 60,000 cases with 758 deaths recorded.
Across India the number of COVID-19 cases is now almost at 12 lakh, of which more than 4.1 lakh are active cases and 28,732 are deaths.