Enrolling in a premier IIT-JEE coaching centre at Kota usually comes at a cost, with most aspirants forsaking their social lives to study every waking hour of the day.
However, few have undergone an experience as gruelling as 18-year-old Peeyush Meena from Dhankiya village to achieve the JEE dream. He bagged the 453rd rank among scheduled tribe students by cramming for the competitive examination in a cell at the Kota Open Jail, where his father is serving a life sentence for murder.
Peeyush studied at his uncle’s place at Shujalpur in Madhya Pradesh’s Shajapur district till Class 12, but fulfilling the great IIT dream required him to enroll at a coaching centre in Kota – where his father, Phool Chand, was incarcerated. Chand – who lost his job as a government schoolteacher after being arrested in 2000 – didn’t have the means to pay for a hostel room. Left with little choice, Peeyush moved into his father’s prison cell.
Chand – along with his younger brother and three nephews – was convicted of murdering the sarpanch of his village in 2003, and sentenced to life. After the former schoolteacher had spent 11 years in Kota central jail, the authorities took note of his good conduct and shifted him to the open jail – a facility where convicts are allowed to keep their families – in July 2014. Here, relatives are allowed to venture out, provided that they present themselves for the morning roll call at 6 am and return before the evening roll call at 7 pm.
There are 54 open jails in India, of which 23 happen to be in Rajasthan. The Kota Open Jail houses 60 inmates.
The prison cell was small, measuring eight feet by eight feet, but Peeyush had to make the best of what he got. Most evenings, his father would sit outside the gate to ensure that his son was not disturbed. Today, Peeyush is confident of bagging a seat in one of the four core branches of engineering – civil, electrical, mechanical and computer science – at either IIT Roorkee or IIT Bhubaneswar.
But, happy as he may be, Chand knows that his troubles are far from over. Already under a Rs 3-lakh debt, he does not know how to arrange for paying his son’s IIT fees. “If I get loan from somewhere, I will be able to repay my debt and fund Peeyush’s education. I also want to help Komleen, my daughter, fulfil her dream of becoming a doctor,” he says.
Komleen passed Class 10 this year with 76% marks.
“My father would sit outside the cell while I studied – sometimes as late as 2 am – and come into the cell only when I was getting ready to sleep. It wasn’t easy for him to fund my studies,” says Peeyush.
His impressive performance in the IIT-JEE examinations aside, there is one more rainbow on the youngster’s horizon. “My father will complete his sentence in 2017, and his ordeal will finally be over,” Peeyush says happily. “He will be a free man by the time I graduate from the IIT and start working.”