For most of his 17 years, life has been hard for Lokesh Dhruw, son of a Gond tribal sarpanch in Antagarh of Chhattisgarh. He has seen his father threatened for overseeing the construction of a road, youths in the village being forcibly taken away to join Naxal forces, attacks on his house for owning a fixed-line phone. So, when students at his coaching institute complain about poor hostel food or the unbearable heat, Lokesh laughs these trivialities away.
Lokesh, now in Class XII and in the second year of coaching in Kota, has been chasing an IIT dream and made no new friends. Like him, Dhanraj Degal of Chhote Tumnar village in Dantewada too is lonely at his coaching institute, with just a couple of friends to talk to about worries at home. Dhanraj’s uncle is in jail following what is alleged to be a “fake Naxal surrender”. He says his parents have often asked him either to stay away from their village home or, even if he visits them, not to venture out to neighbours’ homes. “Now when I go back home, I hope to have made my mark before that,” says Dhanraj.
Amid the crowd of aspirants in the bustling coaching hub of Kota, hundreds of students from the Naxal hotbed of Chhattisgarh have been fighting a battle against their handicap of poor schooling and modest financial background. And some have been emerging victorious, bagging the top slots in engineering and medical entrance examinations over the past few years. Students like Lokesh and Dhanraj, who come in as diffident boys with their gaze fixed on their rubber flip-flops, rarely go out without their dreams fulfilled, a trend that coaching institutes in Kota have begun to notice.
Data compiled from coaching institutes across Kota, which have an estimated 1.5 lakh students, shows at least 5,000 students from Chhattisgarh currently among them. From 2009 to 2012, the top rank in the All India Pre-Medical Test has been consistently bagged by a student from Chhattisgarh while in 2007 and 2008 the second rank went to the state. “Over the past 10 years we started noticing an increase in the number of students coming from remote areas in Chhattisgarh. Alag hi junoon hai in mein (they have an altogether different drive). They study round the clock and have more endurance and stamina. The children from metro cities tend to despair too soon but these students just do not give up,” observes Naveen Maheshwari, director, Allen Career Institute, one of the leading coaching institutes of the town.
“With the marking system so lenient nowadays, students with very high scores in school get discouraged very fast when they are exposed to the real competition here. But students from Chhattisgarh persevere and have a never-say-die spirit, something that has shown in their results over the past few years. From our institute alone, over 3,598 Chhattisgarh students have cleared medical entrances while 1,252 have made it to engineering colleges so far. That is quite a sizeable number for a new state,” he adds.
These are out of 39,936 Allen has sent to medical since 2009, and 42,869 to engineering. The centre had 2,846 students from Chhattisgarh last year (out of 66,000) and has 3,984 this session so far, out of 90,000.
Most have had a modest schooling. Lokesh attended a village school till Class V before moving out to neighbouring Nathgaon where he finished school. “Back in Chhattisgarh, most of the teachers themselves are only Class XII pass who somehow manage to get a B Ed degree and then a government job. How can they even give a decent education to the children?” he says. Dhanraj, however, is proud of whatever he has learnt back home. “It would be nice if these entrances were held in Hindi too and if there were Hindi textbooks… though I am comfortable both with Hindi and with English,” he says.
Even as most students’ parents insist they keep away from their villages, for aspiring doctors Bhoomika Daheriya of Kirandul town in Dantewada, Mansi Sharma of Kanker, Shreya Dewangan and Mayuri Panda of Dantewada, and Abhishek Verma of Jagdalpur, the dream does not end in making it to top medical colleges but to be able to go back to their hometowns and serve in the understaffed government hospitals.
“There are no good hospitals; good doctors are too scared to work there. I want to become a doctor and go back to the interiors and serve my own people,” says Shreya. “But my parents insist I stay in Raipur and no longer go to the Naxal belt,” adds Mayuri.
The students have little sympathy for the cause of the Naxals and blame them for the hardships of the local village community. “The Naxals keep disrupting all development projects and the local villagers are really tormented. They blow up upcoming schools, hospitals, roads. Then they want a new state. It is all wrong,” says Siddharth Kumar of Dantewada.
The students have little hope of Naxalism being rooted out of their home state. “But if more and more youth from the Naxal infested areas go out to study, pursue their dreams, there will be a change,” Lokesh says. “The Naxals, who very often forcibly pick up the youths to join their forces, will be defeated and with more educated youths, the state is sure to have a brighter future.” Lokesh aspires to be in the Indian Police Service after pursuing his uncle’s IIT dream. “What a moment it will be if I manage to become a senior police officer and go back to my village to fight the fear.”
Even as the students jostle with their mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology papers, they have a wish to write a book, to wipe away the myths, to give an insider’s account. “So far most books on Naxalism and the state are some scholar’s opinion. There has to be an insider’s account,” says Lokesh.