Nakul Shivani/ New Delhi
Tucked away in the scenic district of Mallapuram in Kerala is Perinthalmanna. The capital of the erstwhile Princely state of Valluvanad, it is a major commercial hub and was, till not very long ago known as the Hospital city of the district for its medical services. But the identity is slowly changing. This small town is today pioneering a mini-revolution in ushering education as a tool to uplift the lives of people belonging to the marginalised sections of society.
The credit for allowing the young and their parents to dream big here goes to the first-time MLA from this constituency, Najeeb Kanthapuram of the Indian Union Muslim League.
A former journalist, Najeeb was moved by stories of children being forced to given up their education due to lack of financial resources. “I wanted to ensure no one was left behind in getting proper education because of little or no money,” he says. As an active politician since his college days, Najeeb wanted to bring this one change in society.
"Give me your child, I will give him a life" - Najeeb to women of his constituency
When in 2021 he was given a ticket by the IUML to fight the Assembly elections, he knew he had got a genuine golden chance to change the lives of people. “I have always looked at education as a great tool be a life-changer for people.” He made education the central theme of his campaign. “I told women of my constituency, give me your child and I will give them a life,” he says.
Initially there was scepticism. “Some people thought how will talking about education get me votes,” he says recalling his campaign trail. “But I was determined to convince people to use education as a tool to change not just their own lives but also that of their families,” he adds.
As he stuck to his central campaign theme, Najeeb struck a chord with all sections of the society in his constituency. He appealed to everyone specially those who came from the marginalised sections and were poor.
Talking about education got him the necessary votes. His constituency of two lakh electorate sent him to the State Assembly with more than 46 percent vote share.
Najeeb Kanthapuram made education the central theme of his campaign in the 2021 Assembly elections
Once elected, Najeeb got down to work on the details of his promise. “There was no way I was going to let this remain an empty promise. I had to do something concrete,” he says as he got down to do the brasstacks.
He started an educational project, Knowledge Resource Experiment Activities (KREA). The baby steps involved coaching children from poor families for entry-level exams in Primary school and then in middle-level school for aspirants of the National Maritime Services.
"Education is a great tool for empowerment" - Najeeb Kanthapuram
But this son of a school teacher knew the big dream that parents had for their children – the Civil Services. “There were fishermen, poor people who wanted to convert their homes into a Collector’s home,” he says. “But they were helpless because of lack of money and backwardness.”
Najeeb gave their dreams wings. In 2022, under KREA he set-up Hyderali Shihab Thangal, a residential institute to train civil service aspirants. It was set-up in a record time of less than three months and today, gives training to prospective bureaucrats free of cost. “I don’t charge them even for basic food,” Najeeb says.
First batch of the Civil Services Academy getting ready to crack the UPSC
He spends almost 16 lakh rupees a month running the institute. “There are many good people in this world who have stretched out their hands to help the poor,” he says talking about those who have come forward to help him run the institute.
He reached out to anyone and everyone he knew. “I was overwhelmed by the response I got. People from as far as UAE chipped in when they learnt about my initiative,” he says. Some gave him cement for free, some iron, some land and some donated money.
Neeraj Nachiketa who regularly visits the academy as a guest teacher mentoring aspirants in Science and Technology and Environment, calls this initiative a game-changer. “Most institutes across the country, be it in Delhi, Mumbai or any other place are money-minting machines. People earn in crores but don’t give back anything to society. This is the first institute that I teach in that is based on the concept of giving back to society,” he says.
Elaborating on why he chose to be part of the KREA, he adds, ”I can see the marginalised sections of society getting a chance to realise their dreams. It’s very satisfying.”
The Civil Services Academy set up by Najeeb Kanthapuram has state-of-the-art facilities
Students for the civil services academy were selected after a strenuous screening process. 5000 students applied for admission, out of which 1000 were initially short-listed and eventually the final 100 meritorious students belonging to financial and socially backward families were selected for training.
Merit and poverty combined to bring the best here. “There were two students whose family had zero annual income. There are children of poor fisherfolk, daily wagers. Each have a dream. I wanted to be their stairs to fulfil their dream,” he says.
“These students are very intelligent. It’s just that they never had the opportunity to take the required steps to move forward in life due to lack of resources. Najeeb has given them hope and the direction to live their dream,” adds Neeraj.
Apart from mentoring his constituency as a people’s representative Najeeb is also pursuing a degree in Law. “Education is the greatest political tool. It can open the horizon to a brighter and better life not just for the individual but also for future generations of his family,” says Najeeb before meeting an old fisherwoman who has travelled from her village to thank him for giving life to her son aspiring to become an Indian Administrative Officer.