By Sujata Jena
Bhubaneswar: Before Christmas, I visited 12 rural parishes of Berhampur and Rayagada dioceses to mobilize students for civil service preparation and become part of nation-building
The visit was undertaken as part of a campaign of the Excellent IAS Academy, an initiative of Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council to prepare Dalit and Tribal students to crack the Civil Service Examination.
The Bhubaneswar-based coaching center tries to make preparing for the examination affordable and accessible for bright aspirants, especially those on the periphery.
My encounter with people in those villages enriched my faith.
One of the persons I met was Sankili Haresh, who dreams of becoming an Indian Administrative Service officer. The 26-year-old boy from Kashinagar parish of Berhampur diocese in Odisha has secured first class all through his studies.
After completing the Bachelor of Science degree, he wants to prepare for Civil Service Examinations that he believes would give him a secure future.
“This job would provide me an ample scope to serve the Church and society. Also, I can earn and save lots of money to help my family and relatives,” he says.
So, what stops him?
Money is the major challenge. Haresh has faced hardships after losing his parents at a young age. His two elder siblings, like his parents, are daily-wagers and took care of him though difficulties. After his siblings married, Haresh lives with his aunt and has secured a private job.
Nirmala Paiko, a school-teacher, becoming an IAS officer is a distant dream for many rural poor. “The Dalit Christians could not even think of a low-level government job, They are deprived of all the opportunities,” she mourns.
Paiko has taught for more than 30 years in a C\hurch school. According to her, most Dalit Christian families are engaged in casual labor and self-employment.
Father Andrew Chettiyadan, the parish priest of Gunupur, regrets that civil service coaching is costly and the poor-rural can’t afford it.
“Besides, coaching centers are unavailable for aspirants living in the rural and remote areas of Odisha,” the priest explains.
Father Chettiyadan also says many rural students “give up on their dreams because of a lack of opportunity and financial support, even though they are academically brilliant.”
Odisha is the fifth among India’s poorest states and 42 percent its teenagers are in poor families.
According to the last Census taken in 2011, around 83.31 percent of Odisha’s 41.97 million people live in villages. The current population is 47 million, including 17 million youth in the age group 14-34 years.
Just 16 in 100 people in rural Odisha have internet access whereas it is 83.3 in urban pockets.
Kushomokant Malli of Badapada parish, also under Berhampur diocese, says his remote village has no access to the Internet and phones. “During the day, I go to a nearby town that has limited Internet access to prepare for different exams,” he says.
Like Malli, several youngsters manage with such limited opportunities.
Many young people told me that they cannot afford to come to the city for studies. Hence, their dreams become mere mirages.
Father Pious Ekka says two Dalit girls in his Jaltar parish in Rayagada diocese stood first in their classes and were allowed to study in America,. “But their teachers disoriented them.”
Some 60 percent of Indian Christians come from socially and economically poor Dalit and tribal communities and mostly live in the villages, church sources confirm.
The visit also showed how the Covid-19 pandemic has brought more uncertainty to the marginalized community. During this trying time, millions of rural people struggle to make their living.
A group of desperate young students from Kottoma parish told me that they do not mind taking up manual work at this hard time to support their families. They joined other villagers in transplanting and harvesting paddy.
Kottoma in fact is among the educated villages in the Berhampur diocese. Unfortunately, not many are employed in private or public sectors.
I listened to the youth with tears filling my eyes.
At the same time, I felt assured that the Excellent IAS Academy will soon help color their dreams.
Credit: Matters India