Raghunathpur (West Bengal): Two winters ago, 16-year-old Sutapa Mahato of Nodiha
village in West Bengal's Purulia district was disillusioned and
distraught after failing to clear her board exams. At 18, she is
an empowered, budding hospital management trainee at a premier
resort in the state with a promise of a secure future.
Sutapa, who is undergoing extensive six months' training at the
Raichak-on-Ganges, is among hundreds of youths in Purulia district
- dropouts, minorities, below poverty line candidates, Scheduled
Castes and Scheduled Tribes - who have transformed their ordinary
existence into something special through skill development under
the self-empowering Swavalamban Programme.
Conducted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and
Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL), the programme,
which started in August as a pilot project that may be replicated
elsewhere, trains youngsters in the basics of hotel management for
a month and sends them to various hotels and resorts for further
skill enhancement. They are then recruited across the country as
food and beverage handlers, front desk staff and room attendants.
For some, it signals a job guarantee whereas for others like
Sutapa, it is more about enriching the quality of one's life.
"We are glad she is doing something with her life and is becoming
someone. She should lead a quality life. It is not about the
money. She needs to be independent and empowered," Sutapa's proud
father Sudhir told IANS.
Shabnam Jana, manager, Training and Development at Raichak, who
looks after Sutapa's progress, said: "She was very shy initially
but within a week she became more confident. It has been a huge
leap for her."
From working at a call centre in Kolkata to quitting and joining
the programme back in his village, it was a leap of faith for
22-year-old Sachin Mahato, one of the students of the present
"I quit my job because my salary was not enough. In the hotel
industry I hope to earn more once I am certified," said Sachin.
Echoing Sachin, one of his batchmates, a high school passout added
confidently: "I want to be recruited outside of Bengal and then I
want to go abroad too."
Adding to this surge of confidence are the experiences of the
former trainees who are now part of prestigious hotels and resorts
in locations like Daman and Diu and Vadodara.
Said Kaberi Ponda, the first female trainee from the village, who
is currently working at a resort in Diu: "Though my parents were
initially very worried, what I am today is beyond their
expectations. I am planning to visit my village after three years
Kaberi's resolve not to bow down after she failed to clear her
graduation exam by a few marks led her to take the path the people
of Nodiha rarely tread on - leaving the village for better job
"I was very scared to let her go so far. But I believe in equal
opportunities for both my son and daughter. So why should I hold
her back from pursuing her dreams? She has proved to the entire
village that one can make one's dreams come true," said Jaba Ponda,
Overcoming the geographical barrier was one of the initial
hiccups. A major handicap for Sutapa, Kaberi, Sachin and the
others was the lack of fluency in spoken English.
Sayid Sachin: "We knew at the outset that we have to adapt to lead
a better life. All of us gradually learnt the language. For front
desk work and interacting with guests, one must be fluent in
What began as a way to ensure employment has revolutionised the
ambitions of the youths.
"Previously it was either farming, or any odd job within the
village. They didn't have many options owing to the fact that most
of them were drop-outs. Now they have a direction," Rahul Akhaury
of Vernajyoti, the organisation responsible for imparting
vocational training under the Swavlamban project, told IANS.
Ajit Mahato, one of the residents responsible for feeding the
"The youngsters have shown the way and as parents and
well-wishers, we pledge our support in their endeavours. The
future of our village lies with the current generation. We look up
to them. They are our pride," he said.
(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)