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IIT graduates leave 7-digit packages to educate kids in Kashmir

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By Rukma Singh

Amidst the unending political turmoil dotting the landscape, and air filled with silent fear and feelings of insecurity, are three young men who have left all their worldly fortunes to impart education to the students in  Kashmir.

They have decided to give their life to creating awareness in even the remotest areas of Kashmir, so that the unfavorable political climate doesn’t serve as an obstacle to the young, talented minds.

(L-R) Salman, Mubeen & Imbesat
(L-R) Salman, Mubeen & Imbesat

They pick people from areas as secluded as Gurez, which is a stone’s throw away from the LOC, so that bright students don’t miss that one chance that they need to prove their mettle, so that these students can go ahead and live a peaceful life with heads held high.
Mubeen Masudi graduated from IIT Bombay, and like all IITians, secured his future by getting a job with a great package. He further went on to clear CAT and got admission in IIM Ahemdabad. But the monotony of a 9-5 job didn’t interest him. He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to bring awareness about educational opportunities in Jammu and Kashmir. Fortunately, he met two other IITians who had the same thought processes. They are Imbesat Ahmad and Salman Shahid from IIT Kharagpur.

The team went on to fight all sorts of challenges, from the need to convince their families to the monetary requirements of setting up an entire institution, and founded RISE. RISE is a first of its kind institute in Kashmir which offers specialized mentoring and coaching to aspirants of JEE-(Mains/ADV).

To leave a secure future and embark on a selfless journey such as this demands a lot of grit and dedication. Even the devastating floods in Kashmir did not  disengage the team of RISE.

In conversation with NewsGram, the team shared its journey, future aspirations and long term goals. Read on.

NG: On this entire journey of graduating from your respective institutions to going ahead and setting up the institution, what kinds of difficulties have you faced?

RISE: One of the most major issues was lack of awareness. But that was something we were already prepared for, we realized and knew that the awareness about IITs or any prestigious institutes was low in Jammu and Kashmir. We didn’t expect a great response in the beginning itself.

But I think the most challenging and unfortunate incident was the Kashmir floods that happened in September 2014. We faced huge monetary losses and were on the verge of bankruptcy. At one point we thought we might have to close the institute. But the bigger problem that we faced was that because of the floods, there was a gap of two months. There was also a change in schedule. The board exams that happen in October had to be postponed to March. Hence, the entire plan got messed up, and the results weren’t as great as we had expected. As compared to the results of other schools and institutes, our results have been the best, there is no comparison whatsoever. But as per our own expectations, it wasn’t great.

We had expected to send atleast some students to IIT this year. But that couldn’t happen. Even though we had some brilliant students, the floods, the subsequent two month gap and change in schedule took a toll on us.

NG: How long did it take you to recuperate from the losses that came about with the floods?

RISE: We started functioning after two months from the day of the floods. During the first month, the institute was under 15 feet of water. The ground floor that had a library of 4000 books was destroyed. So during that time, it was inaccessible.

It took us around 5 days just to take the books out and throw them. Another 15 days went into cleaning the place. After that we restarted classes on the first floor which wasn’t submerged in water. However, there was no electric supply for a month. But we couldn’t waste any more time, so conducting classes was necessary.

The entire renovation went on till January. The after-effects still exist. We couldn’t start the library. But the basic functionality was restored by January.

NG: How did you go about creating awareness about your institute and your ideology in a region like Jammu and Kashmir? What was the method of campaigning that you adopted?

RISE: It’s not that there is zero awareness here, but yes, there’s minimal awareness. We did a number of seminars across the leading schools. We started writing in newspapers as well, about IITs and such institutes, how to prepare for them and other things that come under general counseling. That somehow helped us spread the word.

NG:Did you also need to talk to the parents of these children to convince them, give them adequate information or address their reservations?

RISE: We have a procedure in place for everything. We select the students through a test which is free of cost. We don’t disclose the fee of the course. Then through the test, we get to know who all have qualified. After that, we speak to the students and parents individually so as to understand who has the affordability and who doesn’t. The fee we charge is much lesser than what is charged in Delhi and Kota. But the idea is to not give any discounts to people who can entirely afford it. The revenue that we generate from there helps us give huge discounts to those who have financial problems. capture-20150630-005552

There are a few students who are actually studying free of cost. For us, talent is the priority. If the child is talented, we’re always ready to give him/her the required boost. We don’t let money come in the way.

NG:Are the economic conditions of the students’ families the only concern that requires to be addressed?

RISE: No. The financial aspect is binary in nature. Either people can afford it or they cannot. The main issue comes in terms of the approach. Students here focus more on board exams. So that is where we face the highest resistance and that is where the role of counseling comes into picture. We’ve to make them understand that they’ve to manage your board exams and entrances simultaneously.

NG: In India, our education system is based more on marks than aptitude. In such a scenario where students are forced to run behind marks that allow them to meet unrealistic cut-offs and make it to good colleges, how did you manage to convince the students to also pay attention to entrance preparation?

RISE: On our journey, we realized that mindset is a function of awareness. If a person isn’t aware of the kind of opportunities that exist after class 12th , and the tough competition that there is to avail these opportunities, then s/he’s obviously more likely to concentrate on just board exams. In such a case, if a  person is made aware, s/he might start preparing beforehand.

Once we had two to three batches and several success stories, we made sure that the seniors who got into their dream colleges came and shared their experiences. These students were also a part of our seminars that we conducted across schools. This year, one of our students, Aqsa, made it to St Stephens (Economics). So when we’re talking to younger students, we make sure she comes along. Aqsa shares her story, her experience, when to start and other such necessary details, and also answers the queries of the students.

When students see someone from among themselves going ahead and carving a niche, they are bound to  get motivated. They feel, ‘If she can do it, why can’t I?’

NG: We all know the stereotypes associated with Arts and Humanities. In terms of academic preferences, what’s the situation in Jammu and Kashmir like?

RISE: See, the issue is, we aren’t as developed as the rest of India. And India isn’t as developed as the rest of the world. In the rest of the world, liberal arts are preferred and given equal importance. But in India, the preference immediately goes down. So in Kashmir, the preference goes down further. It’s also dependent on the kind of economy we’re in. 40 years back, everyone wanted to be a doctor or an engineer.

We, in Kashmir are easily 20 years behind the rest of our country. So right now, majority of the students are going for Medicine or Engineering.

In 2011, however, Dr Shah Faisal got the first position in the UPSC exam. Since it is a small place, everyone prefers a government job. So since then people also have started expressing the desire to prepare for civil services. But primarily, engineering and medicine are preferred.

NG: Do you see a gender based gap in Kashmir, in terms of the participation in the field of academics, primarily Engineering and Medicine?

RISE: In huge institutions like IITs, the number of girls per class ranges between just 20-30, which is in contrast to the hundreds of boys who take admission.

In Kashmir, if you look at the middle and upper middle class, there’s actually better representation of girls as compared to the rest of India. It’s something that isn’t very easy to believe. It sounds strange, but that’s actually the fact.

However, when it comes to coaching for IITs etc, there are lesser girls. But that does not represent the general education scenario in Kashmir. If we go into medical coaching, there are actually more number of girls than boys.

NG: Do you think that the backwardness of education in Kashmir is solely because of the political turmoil?

RISE: It’s a vicious cycle actually. When education isn’t a priority for the government, it shows in the results. Students don’t get into prestigious institutes. When that happens, their juniors have no source of encouragement. That results in a cycle where students are chasing mediocrity, and the upcoming batches adopt the same habit.

We face a huge lack of role models here. In Kashmir, a student is most likely to think that because none of his seniors got through IIT, he won’t either.  Hence, most of the students end up in the private colleges that have mushroomed in the last decade.

NG: What are the further plans that you’ve conceptualized for your institution?

RISE: This year, we’re doing something really grand. With the help of the Directorate of Education and J&K Bank, we’re conducting a talent search exam across Kashmir, for classes 10th to 12th. The aim is to identify talented students across various classes and streams and then provide them with mentoring and counseling based on their aims and aspirations.

For example, If there’s a student in class 12th in Commerce who is very talented, but does not know what exactly the meaning of CA is, then he’ll never become a Chartered Accountant in his life. That is the situation here. People finish their masters in commerce but still don’t know who a CA is.

If that student is connected to a CA in class 11th itself, then his/her chances of becoming a CA are greater.

We’ve raised money for this through J&K bank, and formulated a team of counselors and experts. We’ve conducted this test for 9000 students as of now. We even conducted it in Gurez, which is a stone’s throw-away from the LoC. So, the idea is to have a homogenous group of around 50 students from different fields like Journalism, Civil services, IIT and MBBS aspirants etc within the next ten days.

We hope that this timely guidance helps them achieve their target. Our goal is to conduct this test for 15, 000 students across Kashmir. The entire process, right from the test taking to the counseling, will be free of any kind of costs.

NG: Talk about your long-term goals.

RISE: Honestly, there are a number of institutes who are doing better than us when it comes to teaching, mentoring or offering resources. We don’t claim to be the best institute. But because of the cost and location of these institutions, they aren’t easily accessible to everyone.

Kashmir is a place where the education system is neglected. It’s as bad as it can be. So the idea is to develop a product which is beneficial to the student community, such that it also reaches the other end of the digital divide. Once that product is developed, we’d look for ways to efficiently replicate it. It’s not just about Kashmir. Even in places like Delhi and Bombay, there are untapped pockets with a lot of talent but lack of opportunities in terms of educational resources. Our aim is to reach these people.

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Srinagar: Restrictions on Muharram Processions to Avoid Separatist Violence

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Restrictions imposed in Srinagar ahead of Muharram protests.
Restrictions imposed in Srinagar ahead of Muharram protests. ians

Srinagar, Sep 29: Authorities imposed restrictions on Muharram processions in parts of Srinagar on Friday, to prevent any violence in the valley. Starting from the Guru Bazar locality, the Shia procession would end at the Dalgate area.

After separatist violence started in Kashmir, authorities have not allowed the procession since 1990.

Police and paramilitary, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in full riot gear were deployed in the suspected areas to put restrictions on Muharram processions.The pedestrian and vehicular movement was also suspended.

Life in other areas of Srinagar and elsewhere in the Kashmir Valley, however, remained normal. (IANS)

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World Suicide Prevention Day: Bollywood celebrities Hrithik Roshan and Karan Johar lend their support to suicide prevention

Hrithik said, "On World Suicide Prevention Day, make a pledge to listen, and save a life"

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Hrithik Roshan and Karan Johar support suicide prevention
Hrithik Roshan and Karan Johar support suicide prevention. IANS
  • Hrithik shared a link of a video which depicted that one should listen to a person for saving lives
  • In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day join the #EarForYou movement. Listen it can save a life
  • Empower individuals and their families dealing with mental health disorders

Mumbai, September 10, 2017: Bollywood celebrities Karan Johar and Hrithik Roshan have come out in support of preventing suicide in the country on the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day 2017.

Hrithik on Saturday shared a link of a video, which depicted that one should listen to a person for saving lives.

“On World Suicide Prevention Day, make a pledge to listen, and save a life,” Hrithik captioned the video.

Karan also shared the same link and wrote a similar caption for the video. He also tagged Neerja Birla, Founder, and Chairperson of Mpower, The Aditya Birla World Academy, and The Aditya Birla Integrated School.

Neerja Birla has started with the campaign and wrote on her Twitter account: “In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day join the #EarForYou movement. Listen it can save a life.”

According to the official page of Mpower, their aim is “to empower individuals and their families dealing with mental health disorders by raising awareness, alleviating stigma, advocating prevention, fostering education, and providing world class holistic services, so that they can lead meaningful and productive lives, with respect and dignity.” (IANS)

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Assam Government signs a MoU with Google India to expand Internet Connectivity

It will provide Internet connections to 26,000 villages and 1,500 tea garden areas in Assam

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Assam Government has signed MoU with Google India to expand Internet Connectivity
Assam Government has signed MoU with Google India to expand Internet Connectivity. Pixabay

Guwahati, Assam, September 8, 2017: The Assam government on Thursday signed a MoU with Google India to take Internet connectivity to the remotest part of the north-eastern state.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said the government would work to provide Internet connections to 26,000 villages and 1,500 tea garden areas in Assam under the MoU and thus increase digital literacy.

Information Technology Secretary Nitin Khare and Google India Country Head (Policy) Chetan Krishnaswami signed the Memorandum of Understanding in the presence of Sonowal.

“Technology rules the roost in the 21st century and the state government has upped the ante to use technology to carry forward the fruits of development to the remotest parts of Assam,” the Chief Minister said.

He said the ties with Google was a way forward to strongly pitch Guwahati as a natural gateway to the South-East Asian countries.

Sonowal said his government in sync with the Centre was working for the success of Startup initiative but the success of such programmes sans technology would be a distant dream.

“The MoU will be used as a launchpad to achieve the state government’s vision of women empowerment, skill development, and universal education,” he said.

The Chief Minister asked the Information Technology Department to take steps to make technology acceptable and favourable among the rural populace so as to catalyse rural development. (IANS)