There is a spring in C Kalyani’s step as she walks out of the girls’ hostel on the sprawling, leafy campus of Jawaharlal NehruTechnology University (JNTU) at Sulthanpur in Telangana. It is her first day in college. The diminutive girl is the first from her vanishing community, the Primitive Tribal Group (PTG) Thoti, to go to an engineering college.
“I cannot believe that I am here on this huge and beautiful campus and such a great college. I am so lucky, you know? It is a dream come true,” she says. She arrived at the campus earlier this month to complete the formalities for joining. “This is the first time I am staying so far away from home. It is a six-hour drive to my home from here,” says Kalyani, who belongs to Dubarpet in Adilabad district.
“I am happier because my roommate happens to be a friend from the tribal coaching centre,” she says. Her roommate, R Soumika, is from the Lambada community and has joined electronics and communications engineering. Kalyani, who aims to become a scientist, has opted for material science and nanotechnology engineering. She is eagerly waiting for classes to start.
“Especially maths, I love it,” she says. “I like the regimen here. Breakfast is at 8 am at the dining hall, then it’s back to room to get ready to go to classes at 10. At 1:30 we will break for lunch and go back at 2 and study again till 4:30. Then, back to the room. I am loving it already.” Fighting against various odds including poverty in their communities,Kalyani and Soumika made it up to Intermediate, then were selected for coaching for JEE and Engineering Agricultural Medical Common Entrance Test (Eamcet) along with 28 other tribal students at Telangana’s tribal students’ welfare residential schools in Adilabad district under a special coaching programme called Star-30. The tribal students cracked JEE Main, JEE Advanced (for IITs) or Eamcet to secure admission to top engineering colleges.
Kalyani says her father C Krishna, a labourer, struggled to send her to school. “He wept for joy when I told him I had made it to engineering college. No girl in my tribe has studied beyond class V. Boys drop out after X. But I insisted I want to study and my father struggled hard to pay school fees and buy books,” she says. “I will be the first engineering graduate from my community. My brother is in second year Intermediate and sister is in VII. I did not get much time to prepare for JEE but I passed Eamcet. I am lucky to get admission to a top college like JNTU.’’
At a time when populations of forest-dwelling tribal communities are dwindling across the country, seven boys and girls from three primitive and vanishing tribes of Telangana created history this year by becoming the first from their communities to join engineering colleges – Pujari Adharsh, Pudari Srinivas, P Pavan Kalyan, M Pushpalatha from the PTG Manne community, and K Ramatha and A Parmeshwar from PTG Kolam, besides Kalyani from PTG Thoti. Counselling ended last fortnight. In another first, two boys from the Lambada community got admissions in IIT Varanasi and VNIT Nagpur.
Mancherial district collector R V Karnan, Adilabad DC Dr Jyothi Buddha Prakash, and in-charge Anura Jayanthi were given Telangana Excellence Awards on Independence Day for the project Star-30. Less than 2,000 people each of the three PTG groups live in Telangana. Most of them live in tribal hamlets on the periphery of forests in Adilabad and Karimnagar districts. Literacy levels are very low and most of them work as farm labour.
Last Tuesday, Adharsh joined JNTU at Karimnagar, opting for information technology. He ranked 2594th in JEE in the ST category. Hailing from Ippalaguda, a tribal settlement in Kouthala mandal of the newly created Komaram Bheem Asifabad district, Adharsh made it through extreme poverty. His father P Buchaiah, who used to work as a farm labourer, was paralysed three years ago and remains bedridden now while his mother Sharada now works for daily wages.