CHENNAI: As the IIT-JEE toppers were celebrating their success and a sure berth at the country’s premier institutions at a private school in Kilpauk, the thud of a hammer striking a nail echoed nearby. Two children were fixing pipes in a gutter at the school, glancing at the IIT aspirants with smiles on their faces.
Holding an inch tape in his hand was Altaf, the son of a factory worker from Poonamallee. He has completed the Class XII examination and is awaiting the results. However, his family’s economic condition is such that he may have to forgo his ambitions. He currently works for daily wages. “I have applied to a college in the city. I do not know if my parents can afford it,” said the 17-year-old, as sweat ran down on his cheeks.
Altaf’s friend Vishwa, has just enrolled in Class 12. He had to miss a year of schooling during his Class 10 for “personal and financial” reasons. “I repeated the class and lost a year,” said the frail-looking 17-year-old as he lifted a concrete slab to open the gutter.
To a casual observer, the scene of two children working where IIT-JEE toppers were celebrating, offered a bleak picture of inequality that often misses the eye.
But what does IIT mean to children like Altaf? “I know it exists. Nothing else,” he said, before walking away carrying a pipe.