Ahmedabad, Feb 4 To expose its students to rural India and make them understand the culture as well as concerns of villagers, the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar (IITGN) recently launched a unique initiative.
Under the initiative, "Gram Fellowship", students are required to live in a village for three to eight weeks.
This programme was launched to bridge the rural-urban divide by taking students closer to the rural India, said Prof Jaison Manjaly, Dean of Student Affairs at IITGN.
"It is observed that many of the students in India are rarely exposed to rural life, economy, practices and ethos, despite call by policymakers, since independence.
"IIT Gandhinagar aspires to address this concern by exposing its students to rural India," he said.
Gram Fellowship aims to encourage students to immerse themselves in the "experience of what-it-is-like to live in a village", Manjaly said.
"We want our students to understand that not all problems have technological solutions. Gram Fellowship will be their window to the real world, the world which has common people facing a lack of resources. The fellowship is not a project but an experience."
Till now, nine students of the institute have been chosen for the fellowship and they have visited different villages in the country.
The institute reimburses travel fare and nominal living expenses to the students, who are required to travel only by non-A/c train or bus.
For Subodh Kumar, a fourth year B Tech student who spent most of his life living in cities, the trip not only gave him an insight into the rural life but also opened new career avenues.
Kumar stayed for 21 days in a remote village, close to a Naxal hit area, in Kishanganj district of Bihar.
"I opted for this programme as I am also preparing for UPSC and wanted to learn more about rural India. This 21-day stay gave me a different perspective.
"I travelled by train and stayed in a humble accommodation in the village. During my stay, I witnessed various activities undertaken by an NGO there," said Kumar.
"The biggest takeaway of this trip is that I have learnt about many new sectors. Before this trip, I didn't knew much about social entrepreneurship.
"Now, I am seriously thinking about taking up this as a career in the future," said Kumar.
While this budding mechanical engineer discovered a new career opportunity, Arya Adityan, a first year M A student from Kerala, has now stopped complaining about petty problems after returning from a 17-day stay at a village close to the LoC near Leh in Jammu and Kashmir.
During her stay at the northern most village of India, Arya said she was surprised to see how people were happy despite facing several hardships.
"It was a Muslim-majority village near the LoC. I, along with another student, stayed in a local's home. Though the village was near LoC, we never felt any danger. People were very welcoming," said Arya, who is pursuing M A in Society and Culture.
"There was no mobile connectivity in that remote village. I saw people facing several hardships. They walk almost 500 metres up the hill daily.
"Yet, they were not complaining, which was quite surprising for me. Now, I, too, have stopped complaining about mobile network, or food or hygiene. This trip changed my perspective towards life" she said.
This is not the first initiative by the institute to expose students to the ground realities of the society and the country.
Gram Fellowship was introduced after IITGN received good response from the students for the 'Explorer Fellowship', launched a few years back with an aim to expose students towards the 'Realities of India'.
Under that initiative, which is still on, eligible students are required to travel to at least half a dozen states in a budget of just Rs 36,000.
"That fellowship was a life-changing experience for many students. One student told me that he stood for ten hours in a non-reserved compartment of a train having no space to stand in it.
"Another student spent an entire night in an ATM cabin to save money which he may have to pay to rent a hotel room," said IITGN Director Sudhir K Jain.