For Ranjan Kundu, an IAS aspirant living in the sleepy village of Koraput, Orissa, finding textbooks was the biggest hurdle. A website of academic books (scholarswithoutborders.in) started by a JNU professor has addressed his problem.
All Kundu has to do is send an email asking if the relevant textbooks are available. He can buy the books online and pay by cash, cheque, demand draft or money order. The books are then sent to him.
“I realised that students in India are at the mercy of book distributors,” said Prof Ram Ramaswamy of the School of Physical Sciences, JNU. “In small towns, which don’t have a decent bookshop, finding books is impossible.”
Ramaswamy initially tried to persuade book distributors to start this initiative but to no avail. “I began the website with voluntary help from students and listed academic books, journals, documentaries and downloadable digital books,” he said.
If a book is not available, then Ramaswamy and his team source other books on the same topic and send it. “I knew that if I had to tap students all over India, Internet was the best means to do it. And now, with the cell phone revolution, we are taking orders via SMS too,” he said.
Orders are also coming from all over the world. He has also received funds from the Ford Foundation to travel all over India and educate students about the website.
“They had heard about the website and are funding my travel to the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir to talk to university students and find out about their academic needs,” said Ramaswamy.
While students from India have begun benefiting from this initiative, scholars and academicians the world over are also regular visitors. “There is a lot of good work coming out from India in the field of gender, Dalit and Gandhian studies. And the demand for such books come from outside India,” the professor said.