As many as 27 tribal students who live in remote, Maoist-affected villages in Chhattisgarh have cleared the Indian Institute of Technology entrance exam this year thanks to a state government programme called ‘Prayas’.
‘Prayas’ residential schools were started in July 2010 by the state government as an expansion of the Mukhyamantri Baal Bhavishya Suraksha Yojana for children in the most violent areas of the state.
The successful students are today examples of grit and perseverance, but life before they were picked out by ‘Prayas’ was far from ordinary.
Sodi Deva, 18, who clinched Rank 1141, was forced to move out of the strife-torn Sukma district a few years ago because the Maoists destroyed his home after his family refused to send away one of their children for the rebels’ cause. “We don’t wish to be targeted by them (Maoists) again so I got enrolled in Prayas, which offered me positive reinforcement and realistic benchmarks on where I stand,” Deva told HT.
At Prayas, exceptional students are handpicked from schools across various Maoist-affected and tribal districts based on their academic performance till Class 10. They are then groomed to excel in competitive exams.
Between 2012 and 2015, nine of its students made it to the IITs, but this year’s results have been a pleasant surprise — 27 students cleared the exam, in addition to more than 150 others who qualified for different engineering institutes across the country.
“It was the most magnificent success ever achieved in the IIT by the tribal boys of Chhattisgarh. It gives me the feeling as if I have qualified the tough exam,” said chief minister Raman Singh, who gifted a laptop to each of the successful students and also assured them an interest-free loan for their studies.
For a majority of these students, the residential schools are also home. “Back home there is only an environment of fear and despair. So we thought its better we should come to meet our son, Ravindra, in Raipur,” said Budhram Mourya, a resident of Lohandiguda in Bastar ditrict.
The students, many of who had left their homes for the first time, were anxious at first, an official said. But given their similar backgrounds, strong friendships were forged in no time.
The Prayas schools — operating in Raipur, Bilaspur, Jagdalpur and Ambikapur — continue to find and groom talented students from remote villages in Maoist-affected areas of the state. As for the engineers-to-be, they are gearing up for the challenges ahead.