What inspired you to set up “Bharat Calling”?
Two things which made me to get into this are my own personal journey and the values which I have received from my family. During my days at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), we were provided the opportunity to start something of our own for internships. We started with the small pilot project and went to explore our own area, and ,unexpectedly, we discovered the harsh reality that 90% of students drop out from schools before completing 12 standard in India.
Things like absence of role models, online mode of application, and little importance attached to higher education make the access difficult for rural students. This research, amalgamated with my father’s experiences and my internship exposure, laid the foundation of Bharat Calling.
What challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
At individual level, I have full support of my family. Then people often ask my parents about what I do and they have no idea of what they should answer. There are also a lot of people asking me why I am working for ‘these poor and hopeless students when god has made them like this’. At social level, whenever we go to schools and discuss our plan with the teachers, they always advise us to come up with practical goals, but not what they call what we do ‘something idealistic’. At one point, some even said, “We have been here for 30 years and we have not been able to change the students, and how could a 24-year old like you could achieve in encouraging students to take education seriously?’
But we have learned to forget the negative remarks, and instead focus on our work, from cleaning schools, filling out forms for students, taking them to exam centres. But among all the challenges, the most important one was to take them to a certain platform because of the age gap between me and the students.
How do you observe the level of education in rural India?
The government has done a great job and we should congratulate them. It’s clear that enrollment has increased to a large incredibly. There are proper infrastructures, midday meal is being provided, and a lot of unprecedented things have happened. There are villages with good internet connectivity. But I think there is a huge requirement of qualified human resource.
Since when Bharat Calling has been operational? How big is your team?
We started in 2009, and we have touched about 12,000 students through our awareness sessions. We have linked around 188 students from the various prestigious colleges. We are doing our programme in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharastra. In my team there are six members, but with them there are lot volunteer groups. In a year, we get around 100 volunteers.
Tell me about the responses you have received from the villagers.
The idea that a student should pursue higher education with a vision, and it does not deliver instant result is something people find it difficult to comprehend. So, many a times they seem to be clueless about what is required of them and what to expect. But, at the same time I feel good that many of them are very hopeful.
What, according to you, hinder villagers from pursuing higher education?
The most important factors that discourage students from pursuing higher education is the lack of information and exposure. Then is there is the illusion about fee structure. The other factors are the process of filling online application to appear in exams or to get admissions online in colleges, commuting to exam centres, and so on. We need a separate mechanism to address them.
How do you source the funding ?
We started with money which we managed to source from various contacts. In our initial stage, Plus Trust has supported us a lot. Now, we are supported by Development Bank of Singapore (DBS).
Future and ultimate goals?
We want to reach out to around 5,000 villages to create them as role models. We also want to start a rural counseling centre. And the ultimate goal of Bharat Calling is to ensure that no students is denied the right to higher education because of their poor socio-economic condition.