By Anwesha Dhar:
Dibya Ranjan Mishra’s story is like any other small-town-boy-hitting-it-big story, but with a rather significant twist. He is one of the few daring individuals in the country who forewent a central government job in order to do a fellowship. Dibya recounts, “I belong to a small town in Odisha and on completion of my studies, like most of the people I was looking forward to a stable job. I had almost ventured in that direction, which is when I heard about Gandhi Fellowship and took a life-changing decision.” Looking back, Dibya recalls that he was quite disinterested to attend it in the first place but once there, it invoked a small fire of inspiration in him. He had been involved in student politics back in his college days but took the hard decision of leaving his political ambitions behind once he noticed that it was assuming a violent nature.
Once into the fellowship, Dibya says that he found a solid footing. “I felt connected, how could I not? It was about youth leadership, it provided me with much needed exposure and confidence. I never really had the daredevil attitude of taking random risks but this was one such risk that changed the entire course of my life.”
Dibya joined the fellowship in 2011. A nationally renowned fellowship, it spans for over three years within which the fellows are made to tackle grass-root level issues and take full ownership of them. The first month of his fellowship involved him teaching at a government school just beside Gandhi Ashram. “The major hurdle was that I had to teach in Gujarati. It was a big challenge but it was hardly enough to ebb the tide of the strong emotions that I felt at this point. It only made me more aligned towards the achievement of my goals.” The next half of the year was spent with him living in the very slum his children lived in but he had to completely sustain himself. “I had to request them to let me stay with them. I lived under the very same conditions as they; sometimes I had to beg for food. It was a trigger for a change of self.” How difficult was it then, to adjust in these circumstances. Dibya admits that it was quite arduous but what was more difficult was to understand and fight the rather superstitious mindset of the people. “The school I used to teach in almost shut down for superstitious beliefs. I put up a fight to revive it. It was a struggle I don’t think I’ll be able to forget.”
If the first year was full of challenges, the second year was nothing short of a whirlwind. He was given the task of the development of five government schools where he had to interact and work directly with the headmasters of the school. “He benefitted from my perspective and I, from his experience. It was a very symbiotic relationship.”
Having spent three years in such conditions, Dibya feels that youth leadership is one of the greatest factors that can pummel a nation towards rapid development. “What is important however,” he says, “is to communicate and to communicate in the right way. In my college days, whenever I used to go to campaign to other colleges, the students used to run as soon as they heard the word ‘politics’. Later we modified our ways; we told them inspiring stories with which they could connect. The headmasters I worked with during my fellowship never listened to me at the beginning as I was too young to be there, according to them. Today, they call me up and ask for any kind of advice.”
Dibya also carefully states his thoughts about why the youth generally shies away from such work. “Today in the country we have many non-profits, out of which, only a handful do their work sincerely. The number of scams has gone up.” Not only that, but he says that the complete absence of the very concept of ‘social engineering’ in the country is a major impediment. “We must change the attitude within us. Don’t look at it like ‘charity’. If you are working here, it is your profession, much like any other engineering or medical job. In fact, it does not even matter which sector you ultimately choose; just take some time out and work. But do work.”