The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, declared the results of Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) examination 2018 on Sunday, June 10. Now, neither I nor my friends and relatives were even applying this year, but the day of the results was full of nervous excitement for me too. All because of a small village in Bihar.
When Bihar fell in love with civil services, this village found its comfort in the IITs. In the backwoods of Patwa Toli, a hotbed of Maoist movement, many students pursue the dream of cracking the JEE exam and improving their family’s living conditions. The weavers of Patwa Toli in Gaya district produce two things in bulk – colourful textiles and engineers. While one is an ancestral profession, the other is a choice made out of an economic recession.
After the recession hit the handloom sector in the 1990s, there was a huge logjam in the market and the weavers in Patwa Toli were compelled to find other work. They began taking on jobs as rickshaw pullers, vegetable vendors and daily-wage labourers. Meanwhile, their kids studied hard in the midst of the commotion and poverty, trying to crack the nation’s toughest engineering exam – the IIT-JEE.
The engineering legacy began when Jitendra Prasad cleared the prestigious examination in 1991. Soon enough, other children in the neighbourhood were inspired to follow in his footsteps. 1500 families from the village decided that their children were also going to aim for IIT now.
The most common problem these students face is their unfamiliarity with English. As they all mostly come from a Hindi-speaking background, they don’t just have to learn the material tested on the exam, but also English to be able to take the exam at all.
However, this is a small issue in the grand scheme of things. The community has united their resources to provide aspirants with all the facilities they need. The village now has several ‘home centres’ that serve as hostels for students.
Now full-fledged Patwa Toli-IITians and graduated engineers spend their summer vacations and time off in the village, providing financial and educational help to younger aspirants. Additionally, they have also set up educational associations like ‘Nav Prayas’ to train aspiring students for the JEE. Preparation for the exam has been institutionalised in various other ways as well. For instance, these alumni organise a local talent hunt kind of exam to screen candidates – so there’s an exam to clear before you can take the actual exam.
These efforts only started paying off after 1998, when three boys made it to the IITs; and 1999 when seven students emerged victorious. There’s been no looking back since then.
Local records from the last 15 years show that more than 200 students from Patwa Toli are in enrolled in various IITs now, with several others in the NITs and other top regional engineering institutions. In 2017, no less than 20 students from this village got accepted into IIT, a remarkable feat for any single area in any region across the country.
In 2016, there were 11 successful IIT aspirants, and in 2015 there were 12. This year, it’s a relatively low five students who have qualified to be IIT students. Every home in Patwa Toli has at least one engineer. A place once known as the ‘Manchester of Bihar’ for its weaving, is now churning out accomplished engineers and changing its economic fortune.
The village’s residents have left no stone unturned in the quest to get the best education for their children. With weaving dwindling as a profession, several work in power looms as labourers and factory workers, just to keep afloat. These students deserve much more recognition.
Vivashwan Singh is studying political science, history and English from Christ University, Bengaluru.
Featured image credit: Reuters