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Charm of Samanta’s KISS

Updated: April 24, 2010 10:26 am

Despite meticulous planning, constitutional safeguards, sanction of funds and the efforts put up both by the government and by the non-government agencies, the tribals in India continue to live in abject poverty outside the ‘civilized’ world—even after more than sixty years of India’s Independence. It is not that the planners lack in sincerity but what seems to be lacking is their experience of being poor.

            In the face of our collective failure to provide a level playing field for the tribals constituting 8 per cent of country’s one billion plus population, one individual, despite being poor, ventured out to achieve the impossible. The individual—Dr Achyuta Samanta—succeeded in his experiment called KISS, as poverty had a new definition in his life.

            Poverty found a new definition in Dr Samanta’s life. It was a compulsion since the family had no means to support itself after the untimely death of his father while he was only four—they all depended on some odd menial jobs his mother had to take. She used to husk the paddy in others’ courtyards to arrange some broken rice for the family. The gruel prepared from the broken rice, the wild spinach grown on the side of the village ponds were all that he and his family had to sustain. Even the kerosene oil for the lamp to help him study was not there, for which he had to stay in the Headmaster’s house for some days before the examination. This feel of hunger and to live under severe adverse conditions made him feel the pain of the poor tribals.

            With the conviction that “illiteracy creates poverty and literacy drives it away”, Dr Samanta established a small school for the tribal children in 1993 which has now grown into Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS)—the largest free residential institution in Asia providing food, accommodation, healthcare, education from Kindergarten to Post-Graduation (KG to PG) absolutely free to 10,000 poor tribal children and the assured employment after completion of studies.

            Whether it is in studies or in games and sports, these children have proved that given scope they can excel and even outshine others. They are now being transformed into becoming the assets of the society instead of liabilities as they were thought to be. KISS successfully put a halt to the menace of tribal children joining the disruptive forces. The perennial problem of dropout has also come down to zero.

            The experiment “KISS” has been praised by everyone who visited it. The Union Minister of Tribal Affairs, Mr Kantilal Bhuria strongly advocated for replicating KISS in every state of India. The senior Cabinet Minister of Social Development, Republic of South Africa, Ms Bomo Edna Molewa went a step further advocating for replication of KISS throughout the world. While the former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who visited KISS twice, described it as a wonder, Nobel Laureate Prof Richard Ernst lauded Dr Samanta as his role model. Padmavibhushan and Magsaysay awards winner and social activist Mahasweta Devi has gone on records to describe KISS as “Bapu’s dream realised”, a “Second Santiniketan” and “Bharat Tirtha” as envisioned by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore while diplomats, statesmen, legal luminaries, educationists, planners and even social activists unanimously hail Dr Samanta as a magician. The efforts to educate the tribals perhaps speak of Dr Samanta’s plan of action in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goal set up by UNICEF and the Vision 2020 envisaged by the former President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

            The US Ambassador Timothy J Roemer, who visited KISS on April 7, 2010, was so deeply inspired by KISS and the selfless efforts of its founder that he termed the whole thing exceptional while describing Dr Samanta as true follower of Gandhiji for truly emulating the principles of helping the poor and underprivileged.

            It is not the individuals alone but several world bodies like “Give India” and “UNICEF” also have reposed their faith in KISS and its founder Dr Samanta. While the US government granted 100 scholarships to the students of KISS in its English Access Micro Scholarship Programme, the United Nation’s Population Fund (UNFPA) has selected KISS to run its Life Skill Center. A bachelor married to his works, Dr Samanta was short-listed for many prestigious awards including India Business Award-2009 and the coveted Qatar Foundation Prize. Limca Book of Records has entered KISS in its pages while Dr Samanta has received the prestigious Young EDGE-2010 award for his pragmatic approach to education.

            In recognition to his innovative services, Dr Samanta has been made the Council Member of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Executive Member of the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE), two apex bodies in India to regulate, formulate and execute policies for universities and institutes for higher technical education. Dr Samanta has also been made Executive Member of Indian Society for Technical Education, President’s nominee to the apex bodies of several central universities and because of his efforts to make the tribals self-sufficient, he had been made the Member of Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) and the Coir Board run by Government of India. His concern for under privileged and his efforts for a disease-free world made him an Executive Member of Indian Red Cross Society, Orissa chapter. Neither the Humanitarian Award by Gandhi Remembrance Origanisation in South Africa, nor the WISE award selection by Qatar Foundation, nor even the conferment of Doctorate Degree by Cambodia National University could change Dr Samanta, who despite all his charisma continues to live in a modest house with bare minimum belonging sans luxury. His simple living, down-to-earth personality speaks about his character.

            Dr Samanta’s KISS really needs to be replicated anywhere and everywhere. His plans to have 20 more branches of KISS in as many districts and five branches in as many states would definitely educate two millions tribal children in the next ten years. And since he rightly believes “illiteracy breads poverty and literacy drives it away”, one can expect him to change the deplorable condition of every underprivileged tribal in the country.

By Uday India Bureau

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