How Chhattisgarh's 'Prayas' is engineering success for tribal students

Advaita Kala
Advaita KalaJun 29, 2016 | 11:31

How Chhattisgarh's 'Prayas' is engineering success for tribal students

It's a hot day in Raipur, the rains have played truant, but their promise rests in the heavy air that envelopes you as we wait under a tin roof at Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh's residence.

There is a bustle of activity, the buffet has been laid and the liveried wait staff is arranging an assortment of coloured drinks on a tray.


Another set of staff opens out the metal legs of a long banquet table and sets it up on the side. The table is getting a lot of attention and it is clear that it awaits someone or something important.

It arrives soon - stacks of MacBook Pro computers, in shiny white boxes. A man reads out from a list and does a count of the Macs.

Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh.

Meanwhile, a distinguished invitee walks over to the front row of seats and is politely redirected. "That row is reserved for the children," he is informed. That's why we are all here, the bureaucrats, the wait staff, the guests, the media - we are here for the children.

And then they trickle in, unsure and a little overwhelmed - the chief guests of the night with their parents, dressed in their finest. They immediately take their places in the rows at the very back, accustomed to a place in the hinterland of seating and living.

But it is not to be, things are changing, a government official takes quick steps towards them and leads them to the front.


They follow him, sitting three to a couch in the couches placed at the very front, the others filing into the row behind.


The wait staff rushes over with the drinks that are declined. Another waiter tries his luck with the paneer tikka, and meets the same response.

Then someone at the end of the row takes one, and other eyes follow his temerity; maybe it's alright!

The man in the front row wearing worn out rubber chappals, leans forward from his perch on the couch, as if he may be asked to vacate his seat at any moment and it's all been a big mistake.

He is Sumaru Meshram, the father of Sandeep, a young man who has cracked the IIT JEE exam and is one of the honoured guests this evening.

Dad is an MNREGA worker. "Yesterday, I was doing digging work, today I am here because of my son," he tells me with pride.

His son informs me that his father doesn't quite understand what the exam means, but he is excited to meet the chief minister especially in his home. And for you, I ask. Sandeep smiles shyly: "I want to be an engineer."

It's a story I hear over and over again as I move from child to parent. One decided to be an engineer when he used to follow his parents and sisters to construction sites and see that the man in the hard top hat had the easiest job. Who was he? The engineer!



Another's father took his family out of a Naxal-hit zone to safety for an education and a future. Today is a culmination of that dangerous journey. In 2010, the Chhattisgarh CM started a study programme called "Prayas" for Naxal-hit regions and children from backward and tribal communities.

These residential schools identify meritorious students and provide them with free education and accommodation for two years whilst preparing them for the IIT entrance examination.

In the first year, four cleared the exam, six years later 27 have, of which at least 15 should make it to an IIT.

I meet a boy from last year's batch; he is having trouble at IIT-Kharagpur because he had no laptop. This explains the presence of the MacBooks.

It seems the CM asked for the best to be given; when they told him it was the Apple Mac, he agreed immediately, despite a word of caution from a bureaucrat who said that the computers were too fancy for children who didn't even know how to use them! "But these kids are going to be engineers," the CM said.


The CM now sits on the floor on the stage surrounded by the kids for a group photo. "My son never went to IIT," he tells them, "but some of you will."

The Mac-Books are presented to the students. It will be an ice-breaker in college, the young man from IIT-Kharagpur tells me. "It's okay to get there, but it's hard for us to fit in. We can't speak very good English and come from villages. MacBooks are cool."

Yes, they are and parents even in cities think twice about buying them.


Some more kids are listening in now and smile at this nugget of information. Those parents empowered to choose, are usually wary of "spoiling" their wards, but I can't think of kids that need to be "spoilt" more than the ones that stand before me, so I pursue it no further despite the curious faces.

The next day, another group of students will arrive at "Prayas" to apply for the two-year programme. "2017 is Mission 100," Finally, a "mission" to get marginalised students into engineering.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Last updated: June 29, 2016 | 11:31
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