One of the alumni batches of IIT Bombay (’92 class) launched a program – RISE (Rural Immersion program for the students of Science and Engineering) for IITB UG students in May 2019. The objective of RISE is to expose and sensitize the undergraduate students to the problems faced by rural India and the possible solutions for the same, including the use of technology. The program also proposes to support the students who show an interest and wish to pursue this further in developing solutions to problems that they identify. The program hopes that the young and bright minds will be able to suggest solutions to the problems that they identify in the field. This may be a life-changing experience for those who are curious to get hands-on experience of how the ‘other’ India lives and also to contribute meaningfully to the developmental process.
This program is anchored in the Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (CTARA). During this two weeks immersion, the students are placed with a reputed NGO working in the field of rural development. They get an opportunity to stay at a rural household and get a glimpse of the hardships as well as delights of rural life. Students work with the field workers of the NGO under the guidance of the senior staff.
The rural immersion program will be conducted twice a year, just after completion of the end semester exams i.e. once in the first two weeks of May and again at the end of November/ early December. In each batch, up to 25 students will be selected and placed with the partner NGOs. The travel and lodging and boarding expenses of the students during this duration will be covered by the RISE.
To get a first-hand view of the internship, we present an account from a student who was a part of the first edition of the programme, conducted in May 2019.
Experience – Sreya Reddy Desham, 1st year B. Tech. Computer Science and Engineering
It was like any other day when I was checking my emails, secretly hoping to find out some professor had cancelled his class the next day. Amidst tons of institute body emails, which I generally ignore, was the RISE intern mail. I remembered reading the poster in the mess. It was a 15-day program to spend time in rural Maharashtra. Just because I did not have many plans and always wanted to go to new places, without thinking much, I filled the form. They called me for an interview, and that’s when it hit me – what I was applying for. I had been living in Mumbai for a year, but frankly, IIT is a mix of all cultures, so I never felt different or unconnected here. I did not even learn to speak Hindi fluently. Now I would have to stay in some remote part of this state, of which I know nothing. I was as nervous as I was excited. I seriously thought of leaving it, but before that could happen, I thought I should give it a shot and convinced my reluctant parents to let me explore. The interview got over, and I was selected.
As I was staring at the stars, I could feel how fresh and cold the mountain air was despite the summers. I had never seen a night more dark or silent. The village was in a mountainous region. On our way, we stopped to spend a night at an NGO hostel. We were informed that there would be no signals (at all) from there, meaning no calls or net. I was with three students from different branches. It was just four strangers getting to know each other at one of the most peaceful places possible. It wasn’t exciting, but it was awesome! I remember thinking that the intern was turning out to be a sort of vacation. The next morning, when I’d go to the village we were assigned, I would realise how not-just-a-vacation it was.
The house was an elementary semi-pucca house with no comforts whatsoever. I did not anticipate that no one in the home would understand Hindi. They only spoke Marathi. We were introduced to a girl, Rashma, who understood and spoke Hindi. Sometime after we reached, the old couple who lived in the house went for their regular chores and told us to have lunch. They don’t have vegetables there, so it was just some liquid dal with few potatoes, rice and Bhakri. In the evening, as we set out to roam in the village, I could see fingers pointing at us – after all, they don’t get to see strangers in their village every day. I thought I would never fit there, and wondered how my stay was going to be.
But then, this blog isn’t some sad post about how bad an intern it was. The next day, we went to an engagement ceremony. We met many children there, most of them understood Hindi because they watch Hindi television programmes (yeah, the village doesn’t have phone signals or vegetables, but it does have some satellite TVs). After the ceremony, we went to roam with the children, and they took us to a few scenic spots in the village. Wow, the village was amidst hills, and the views there were just so beautiful.
Meanwhile, things started to get better. We found out that strict old aunty in the house we lived in was very funny. She taught me some basic Marathi sentences, after getting tired of my sign language (:p). I started to like the Bhakris, and even made them sometimes. Kids would come home every day, god they were incredibly sweet! We named one Lalya, because he was too shy and turned red. Some used to ask about urban life, to teach English or to teach how to operate my laptop. Whenever we were free, we used to roam with them. It gave a sense of infinite freedom. I developed a taste for the local fruit there. We used to try to help our aunty with household chores, effectively just slowing her down. Bring water in handas from a good kilometre away became just a thing we would do every day. For the work we were assigned, we would go to all the houses and ask them questions about their life and the village. Like that, we met many people there, all of whom were patient in answering our questions. Oh, I was wrong when I said only old couple lived there. They had a pet dog and cat, along with some goats and buffaloes. Lalya named two goats after us, to remember us when we leave. One of Kaka and Kaku’s daughters, Swati Didi stayed there for two days. She worked as a nurse in Pune and had this vibrant energy, and she could befriend anyone.
There I told them about Hyderabad and Telugu (they had not heard those words before). One day, all the children and a few adults were watching TV in a Reshma’s house. Suddenly a kid changed the language to Telugu for me, because I told him that I missed speaking in my mother tongue, and no one in the room tells anything, though the language is entirely foreign to them and TV is like their only source of entertainment in the house. They just watched the picture until I changed the channel again to Hindi. I always heard of how welcoming the villagers are but seeing and experiencing that myself was overwhelming. They don’t ignore you or look up to you, and they treat you as one of their own.
Frankly, I liked the village environment and lifestyle. They’re never lazy, they don’t overthink anything. All they care about is getting enough food and live a simple life, and be kind to each other. I did learn a lot from them. But there is a rightful dissatisfaction in their life that their smiles don’t give away.
Two days before we were going to leave, another daughter of the house, Deepali (who is a national level athlete), told us that she would visit. Kaka and Kaku were so happy and excited. They waited as the evening bus came, but Deepali did not get down the bus. Usually, there are two landline cables in the village, but they were not working, as there was heavy wind that day. Deepali was to come alone from Pune, and we could understand why they were worried. Kaku did not know what to do. She had an old Nokia phone, and the children said they sometimes get signals somewhere near the hills. So we watched helplessly, as old Kaku was almost running across the village searching for the signal. Finally, she gave up, came home and apologised for not cooking dinner for us till late! The dinner was generally filled with laughter and Kaku insisting me to eat more, but that day there was pin-drop silence. We had no way of helping her! That day showed us what it is like to be a villager. Next day, we found out Deepali just missed the bus for some reason, but couldn’t communicate.
The nearest hospital to their village is 8kms away, and they say the hospital is good for nothing, the better one is 16kms away. Some of them lost their loved ones due to lack of medication. The two-rooms school there teaches only till 7th grade. There is no girls hostel, so girls and boys who don’t stay in hostels have to walk 8kms each side every day to complete their schooling. Carrying handas of water was fun for us, but young girls have to walk kilometres carrying 2-3 handas on their heads every day! In our house there were no young people, so the old Kaku had to do it. We later learnt that Swati Didi, who became our friend, washed utensils and swept floors, staying in her relative’s house in Mumbai ,since her 9th grade to complete schooling, and got through a loan for her nursing course. Reshma says she loves her village, but she has to go to the city for a living. So is the case with everyone there. The migration rate in the city is so high, and we did not come across single youth who plans staying there. The village would be deserted in a few years if this goes on – it was clear. Don’t know if It is much for you reading this blog, but for me the thought of it is heart-breaking. Somethings you understand only when you experience, and village life is one of them.
The final day felt like a mix of everything. We were eager to get home and have some delicious food, but we knew we would miss this place. I started out wondering if I should have come, and ended up having one of the best experiences. They asked us to visit again, and we promised we would if it’s possible.
So, if anyone asks me to whether go for the program or not, I would say yes! I won’t say it’s perfectly safe or anything, though the heads try their best. If you want to explore, you need to take the risk. The best thing about the stay was that they don’t know anything about engineering or IIT. They don’t know about all the things you have done in your life. They treat you based on what you are and how you behave. You get transported to this world, where your past or future does not matter. Just what you are, does. You would discover yourself, discover the ‘other side’ and get close to people you wouldn’t talk to otherwise.
For those who don’t know:
Bhakri is a regional delicacy
Handas are big voluminous utensils, generally used to fetch and store water in rural areas where water is scarce
Quotes from other interns
“The best thing during my 2-week stay was lack of internet connection. I had taken a few novels with me to pass time and unfortunately finished them in the first week itself. The rest of the time I spent talking to the women at my house/ climbing hills in search of internet connection/ roaming around for network to call home/ just sitting in the verandah and looking at the beautiful sunsets”.
“I learnt the art of adjustment and the art of connecting with people. The NGO aimed to make us realize that there are a large number of opportunities for engineering graduates to contribute to rural development and the outcome is clearly visible in the exponentially growing quality of life of these villagers”.
“I got to know the true value of all the day to day natural resources which we take for granted. Clean Water, meals 3 times a day and electricity are some of the many things whose real importance I came to know during this enriching experience. Also, I found the process of Technology Detox in the rural area (Because there was no cell phone reception) liberating. I got to know how dependent I am on technology and have lost all contact from nature”.
“Working with the NGO helped me to understand the culture and tradition of the villagers. I also realized how many of the solutions I had in mind for the various rural problems were not applicable in most of the cases”
“This experience definitely added value to me as a person. It has given me glimpses of living with less resources and changed my thinking about different aspects, such as the scarcity of fundamental resources that these people face and how people in the cities violate fundamental rights of these people given by the constitution such as building dams for requirement of cities which would displace them from their land, and how the forest department have snatched their land, which has been legally given to them by the government”.