At 17, Prakash Chandra Murmu has spent most of his life at a boarding school in Bhubaneswar, where he was admitted as a small child in 2003 with Bikash, his older brother. Recently, his school sent Prakash, who likes science and is a keen sportsman, to a week-long international English-language camp in Taiwan. Earlier he’d been to London to play rugby. “It’s been good here,” says Prakash. “My school has given me so many opportunities.”
It might seem as if Prakash attends an exclusive international school, where his parents pay lakhs of rupees in fees. Actually, his is a free school founded for poor tribals by an unassuming 48-year-old bachelor named Achyutananda Samanta, who lost his factory-worker father when he was five and endured abject poverty. “Educating just one generation of tribal children can change their communities,” says Samanta.
Prakash, a Santal tribal now doing his BSc, is just back at his school-cum-college, the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) after the vacations. Housing around 16,500 tribal students this year, KISS is arguably one of the world’s largest residential schools. Had Prakash remained in his remote tribal village of Gopiabandha in Odisha, he might never have got any education, or even dreamt about exclusive camps or sports tournaments abroad—all that if he survived childhood. “My village is very backward,” he says. “The local school is not good. And when people fall ill, they’re taken on a bicycle for long distances to reach a doctor.”
“Odisha’s tribals, nearly a quarter of the state’s population, are grossly neglected,” explains Mahendra Prasad, a director with the Kalinga institutions. “And tribal child mortality remains very high.”
“Odisha has 62 scheduled tribes,” adds Samanta. “They’re the poorest of the poor. But give their children an education and they become no different from you and me.”
Prakash smiles in assent and introduces some of his schoolmates. There’s BCom student Tani Murmu. Seema Hansda is in her second-year MBBS, Saudagar Hansda is doing his LLB, while MA economics scholar Sanjukta Rani Hembram wants to specialize in rural education and return to her tribal roots as a teacher. They’ve all grown up at KISS with Samanta—who is not a tribal—fulfilling their basic right to an education. “At KISS,” says Samanta, who habitually plays with his English phrases, “we offer an education from KG to PG.”
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