KISS: A Landmark Institution of Empowerment through Education
As many as eight per cent of 1.3 billion people of India are tribal. The tribal population is huge as India is the second most populous country in the world. They are Indiaís forgotten people and the worst off in terms of income, health, education, nutrition, infrastructure and governance and have been at the receiving end of injustices of the development process. Despite the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (adopted in 2007), International Labourís Organisation convention and constitutional provisions of autonomy, the tribal population live in isolation, poverty, ignorance and alienation. The tribal hinterland and their lives are riddled with problems.
There is no systematic strategy and framework to deal with this chronic problem and take them out of this dire state. Government interventions have been sporadic as the officials and representatives do not dare to enter into dense isolated forests and work for their empowerment. On one hand, the tribals have been afraid and skeptical of any support, on the other, the Government officials fear the tribals for their primitive lifestyle and habits. To add to it, the tribals often donít like any deviation from their natural path. All planning and policy mechanisms have failed to empower them. At best, they have not been more useful than paying lip service to the cause. Even in countries like the USA and Australia, Government efforts to mainstream the tribal population have been far less than satisfactory. No doubt, huge resources have been spent on it but the real impact has been close to nil.
Nearly 46 million people of Odisha are tribal, constituting 24 per cent of the total population of the state. Though rich in mineral wealth and resources, Odisha has continuously faced the problem of plenty. Dubiously, it is famous for its backwardness, poverty, calamities, distress sale of children and displacement. Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput continues to remain in the quagmires of poverty, referred to as the black pot of Odisha.
In the history of Independent India, tribals have been used for the personal vendettas of the politicians, vote banks and cadre for the Naxalites. They have either been voiceless or compelled to have a voice of violence. What are the reasons that have led them into such a trap? Poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and lack of bargaining power. The dismal picture needed transformation, which would be led by passion to usher in a change at a large scale in a sustainable manner, rather than as an obligation or some personal agenda.
One such initiative that had a modest beginning attempted and dared to enter into an arena that most would neglect or offer patchwork solutions. This initiative called Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) located in Bhubaneswar, is a residential academic center for 30,000 neglected and deprived tribal children. KISS provides holistic education from kindergarten to post graduation, accommodation, food, health care, study material, clothing, vocational training and sports training to its students completely free of cost. It started with 125 students in a rented apartment and today the scale has an exponential rise, empowering 30,000 existing students, 20,000 alumni and millions of people in the tribal communities through the spillover effect. KISS is a revolution in the lives of tribal people in Odisha and the neighbouring states.
At 24-25 years of age, Achyuta Samanta, facing the challenges of poverty since childhood and obligation to give back to the society as a self-made man, thought of an innovative solution to address the problem permanently. His experience as a poor child, growing without support from any relative, facing the death of the father at the age of four had made him immune to the struggles and pain. But, all along, he understood the role of education and the power of education. Education acts as a differentiating agent in the lives of people was a lesson that adversities taught him.
In search of this lifetime solution, he started Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) in a rented apartment with 12 students. It was established at a time when Odishaís education scenario was not appealing and banks were not liberal to fund institutions. With just Rs5,000 as seed capital, the pillars of a landmark institution in Odisha was laid. It was all hand loans from friends that build the start-up capital. Today, it is one of the most promising universities providing professional education. It has earned for itself global and national repute in a short span. 50,000 alumni have passed out from KIIT. The stakeholders of KIIT contribute to the expenses of KISS. This contribution, though voluntary requires a lot of effort to maintain transparency and convincing and coordinating from various stakeholders.
He didnít limit his solution to thought and advocacy. Starting was never easy. It had a lot of setbacks. He believed the growth of KIIT will propel the growth of KISS. Common man considered him mad and tribals considered him as an intruder who would sell the children. He continued overcoming all adversities. The skeptics now salute this monumental work.† The challenges did not end after establishing these institutions and running it successfully for 27 years. It exists till today and will continue to exist till KISS continues. He has overcome all challenges with determination, willpower, hard work and power of doing good work.
KISS has created a major impact in the lives of tribal people. It has promoted education, belief in scientific temper, women empowerment, sustainability and arrested child marriage, left wing extremism, drop out just to name a few. It has become the first and largest exclusive tribal University in the world. The scale is immense and the whole world looks up to KISS as a model of tribal empowerment.
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