He is hailed as ‘god’ by children of poor tribals of Odisha, a man who sought to overcome the deprivation of his childhood to build an impressive institution that is now one of the state’s pride and a beacon of hope for thousands of tribal families.
Achyut Samanta, who lived his childhood in dire poverty after he lost his father at the age of four, has been educating tribal children to ensure they are independent. About 23 per cent of Odisha’s 42 million population are tribals and they are considered among the poorest of the poor with high illiteracy rate.
Dr Achyut Samanta with kids at the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences near Bhubaneshwar
Samanta started Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) as a small industrial training institute in 1993 with R5,000 in a rented shed. A year later, he launched the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), its social arm. Today, the KIIT University has 28 schools offering more than 100 programmes and is one of the finest multi-disciplinary universities in Odisha.
KISS, spread over 80 acres, provides residential kindergarten to post-graduate level educational and vocational training for free to over 20,000 tribal children from 62 tribes. KISS’ monthly recurring expenditure works out to be over R6 crore ($9,85,000) and since its inception it has been running on voluntary financial contributions from staff, students, managements and well-wishers of KIIT University.
Samanta has also set up a 1,500-bed hospital and developed a cluster of villages in his native place into a model one with city-like amenities. Samanta believes in the Art of Giving. He says the success of KIIT, fuelled by the boom in private education, helped him to support his humanitarian activities.
Born on April 19, 1965, in a small village of Cuttack district, Samanta worked to support himself while attending school and eventually earned a post-graduate degree in chemistry before joining a local college as a teacher to lead a new life. This, however, did not satisfy him. “That is when I decided to start KIIT and KISS,” he says.
Tribal children often suffer from extreme discrimination. Left-wing extremists also lure them to swell their cadres. “If we don’t provide them education many of them will end up as Maoists,” Samanta explains. A strict vegetarian, clad in a sky-blue jeans and a white shirt and wearing rubber slippers, people often find him working at a desk under a tree inside the institute garden and meeting visitors.
Seventeen-year-old Hadi Dhangada Majhi came to KISS when he was just eight. Today he has passed the Class 10 examination and has the distinction of being one of India’s best rugby players.
Sixteen-year-old Madhusudan Badnayak, was forced to work in the fields to supplement his family’s income after dropping out of school in Class 2 before coming to KISS. Last year he secured 70 per cent in the Class 10 board examination and became the first boy of his tribe to achieve such a feat.
Majhi and Badnayak belong to the Bonda tribe that lives mostly in the mountains of the worst Maoist-hit Malkangiri district. “Samanta sir is nothing less than a god for all of us. We would have been doing labourers’ job had we not been brought here,” said Majhi.
Many universities in India and abroad have awarded Samanta honorary doctorates. He has also received national and international honours for his social enterprising and philanthropic activities. Samanta says he wants to set up a KISS in each district of Odisha and in other states too. Last year, he set up one such institute in New Delhi in collaboration with the state government.
Jatindra Dash can be contacted at email@example.com