He kindles hopes in rag pickers

IIM don teaches students after his work

He kindles hopes in rag pickers

Children now eagerly wait to attend classes in the evening

For an eligible bachelor in a 9 to 5 “cushy” job, a handsome monthly pay cheque and evenings for outings and entertainment, it all looks like the beginning of a dream run. It’s a proposition many would envy. After all, it’s a job at one of the premium Indian Institutes of Management (IIM).

But for this 31-year-old avant-garde South Indian, the real charm is way beyond the staple worldly ingredients that define happiness and pleasure. It’s not so much about his job or a fat salary, or even his bachelor status. Venkatesh Murthy from Lokammanahalli village Turuvekere taluk in Tumakuru district in Karnataka is living a dream that drives his conscience. When the likes of Murthy, sapped of energy at the end of a hard day in office, look forward to some relaxed moments at home or elsewhere, Murthy gets going for his every day extended evening sessions to teach rag picker children.

It’s a 20-odd minutes’ ride, often on his bicycle, from his workplace at the IIM in Rohtak in Haryana to a one-room make-shift classroom where he teaches children who spend most of their time in picking and segregating rags to make ends meet. “More than 65 per cent of my students are small girls who pick rags during the day,” Venkatesh told Deccan Herald. In just eight months after he started this “one-man initiative” to run a teaching place for slum rag pickers, Venkatesh says he has managed to enrol at least 60 such children. “The turnout is often not optimum. Many don’t turn up for want of a helping hand back home. But it’s a great experience to educate the ones who are deprived and need it the most,” he said.

Everything at this learning “school” is free for students. Whatever initial cost that was needed to start the venture, Venkatesh had little problem to bear it all. On a lighter note, Venkatesh says there’s an inherent advantage in teaching rag pickers. “They know they are now students, so they look for all the relevant rag stuff to pick-- from torn books, copies, broken pencils, etc. The best out of waste has helped,” Murthy said.

His classroom has students from 4 to 14 years and many have never gone to school before. The figure of 60 enrolments looks commendable in this short span of time, but behind this achievement lies months of hard work and an unrelenting commitment to get rag picker children on board to learn. Venkatesh says: “It wasn’t at all easy to convince parents to send their children to such a school and that too in the evening when it was nearly time to call it a day. Parents had a lot of apprehensions. They asked me questions like why I would not do this work during the day time.”

Parents of rag pickers were right in their own way and they needed continuous counselling to understand what was in the interest of their children. Murthy said he undertook several rounds of counselling sessions for parents, until some of them agreed to send their children to my evening school named “Barte Kadam.” As the word of mouth spread, the momentum was set rolling. “Children now eagerly wait for the evening to reach the classroom. It’s these moments of joy on the faces of poor children that I had been waiting to see,” he said.

The initiative started from an open space not far away from his IIM in Rohtak. Venkatesh says they all had to brave the scorching humid heat and then the approaching chilling winter months when the arrangement was in the open space. Here too, Murthy says, he had an inherent advantage. “The light was not a problem in the open space as the sunset was after 7.30 pm. The evening light in the open stared to fade away with the onset of the winter season, which is when I decided to hire a premises to continue the teaching uninterrupted,” he said.

Many of his students are from the northeastern states, who came here in the hope to make a decent living. Some of Venkatesh’s students have now started to pitch in on and off. But he says he doesn’t encourage this since their academic curriculum is his first priority as their teacher.

Venkatesh works as an Assistant Professor at the IIM and teaches a wide range of subjects from social anthropology to philosophy of management to PhD and management students. After stints working for NGOs and premier teaching institutes at Pune, Mumbai and other places, Murthy shifted to IIM Rohtak.  

Narzime is one of Murthy’s students who now exudes a deep sense of commitment to be someone big in life. “Students like her are at least developing a dream. They now aspire a life outside the shackles of penury and illiteracy. When my students accompany me sometimes, these children say they want to be like them.  I have achieved only if I see a transformation happening for good,” he told Deccan Herald.

So what’s next? Murthy says the challenge now lies in ensuring that all these children get into mainstream schools and continue this process of learning at least until they have become something in life. “We are coordinating with members of civil society and schools to realise this dream,” he said.Until then, Murthy says, he’ll turn his small initiative into a big dream.

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