Surrendered Naxals and many tribals who dropped out of schools here in Maharashtra are now realising the importance of education in life and resuming their studies to build a better future.
Lack of proper education facilities in this tribal- dominated district in Vidarbha region led many youths to join the Naxal movement. But, some of them realised its futility and surrendered to police to join the national mainstream.
A study centre of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) at Kurkheda taluka here has given these people an opportunity to pursue higher education through its distance learning programme.
Around 468 students, including Naxals who surrendered, girls, boys, married women and even mothers, are pursuing various diploma and degree courses from IGNOU's study centres in Gadchiroli, a senior official of the university said.
IGNOU has been running some study centres in the district since 2013 and the one at Kurkheda was set up about a year ago, he said.
A 35-year-old man, who dropped out of Class 12 in the nearby Korshi taluka and joined the Naxal movement at the age of 19, is now pursuing the Bachelor Preparatory Programme after enrolling at the study centre in Kurkheda.
The man, who did not wish to be identified, said he surrendered before police in 2014 and now wants to take up social work.
"I had joined the Naxal movement because of the poor financial condition of my family. This is a cause of distress among many tribals. There should be equal opportunities of education and employment for all," he said.
Jayshree Madavi, 43, a resident of Kurkheda, had also discontinued her studies after Class 11. But, her daughter motivated her to study.
Madavi resumed her studies a couple of years back and cleared the Class 12 exam along with her daughter.
Both Madavi and her daughter are now pursuing the Bachelor Of Arts (BA) degree course after enrolling at the IGNOU's study centre.
Another local resident Priyanka Zade is also pursuing the BA course along with her sister, while their mother has taken up the Bachelor Preparatory Programme.
IGNOU's local coordinator Gauri Uikey said she has travelled to over 150 villages in Kurkheda, Korshi and Dhanora talukas to motivate young boys and girls as well as adults to pursue higher education.
She is also a member of a self-help group which tries to reach out to women in villages and make them aware about educational opportunities for them.
Once women enrol for the courses, IGNOU provides them quality study material, Uikey said.
"There are several school dropouts in these villages who could not pursue higher education due to lack of adequate education facilities and other domestic reasons. IGNOU has given them an opportunity to pursue their dream of higher education," she said.
She claimed that around 85 students who pursued courses from the IGNOU's study centres in Gadchiroli were working in different fields across Maharashtra.
Besides, 68 students took up the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree course to work in their villages and serve the society, Uikey said.
P Sivaswaroop, director of the IGNOU's Nagpur regional centre, which monitors the functioning of its study centres in Gadchiroli, said he was happy that tribal women were showing a keen interest in pursuing higher education.
Kurkheda was adopted by the IGNOU's regional centre in Nagpur under the government's 'Unnat Bharat Abhiyaan', he said, adding that they also hold special admission camps for tribals and organise talks on nutrition-related issues.
'Unnat Bharat Abhiyan' is a flagship programme of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to involve higher education institutions in the indigenous development of self-sufficient and sustainable village clusters.