One of the classic theoretical justifications for democracy is that citizens have the opportunity to select the best access into education and health, the minimum of needs amongst a broad set of choices. In today’s topic, the issue is about an institution, Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, which, in a way , has sprung up as a fountainhead for both the above two aspects and, undeniably, has matured to become a promontory of inspirations for many and a grounding from where dreams get crystallized into realities.

Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, popularly known by the acronym KISS is a true reflection of how an indomitable passion ushers in an innovative idea, and how that transformative idea is implemented to bring forth an impactful action that gives birth to a revolutionary institution that becomes sustainable and scalable.

In 1992-93, KISS started as a need-based residential educational institution established at the intersection of holistic education, wholesome nutrition, skill, and sports empowerment for young tribal boys and girls, who were subjected to extreme marginalisation.

It kept evolving as an institution, adopting best practices, nurturing the ignited minds, and understanding the nuances to provide the complete solution for transformation, without losing the innate respect and understanding of one’s own culture, practices, and heritage.

KISS, as a private institution, surged into a grey area of tribal uplift and empowerment, when government organisations and their efforts were not enough to make a significant change.

Shot itself to an Orbit High

It has now grown to become the world’s largest tribal residential institution, being lauded as a successful model for replication by Nobel Laureates, Legal Luminaries, Academicians, Policymakers, Statesmen, Writers and celebrities who visited KISS and felt so after an immersive experience. More than 200 guests, diplomats, and leaders from across the globe have visited KISS and claim to have an enriching experience. Mr. Timothy J. Roemer, former U. S. Ambassador to India during his visit to KISS in 2010 said that KISS brings the American dream and common value of education and upliftment to reality. KISS scaled a new high when in 2015 it received international recognition and support. Since 2015, it has been accorded Special Consultative Status by UN-ECOSOC and is validated by UNDPI.

Then on a record spree of climbing up, it found itself among the community of topmost organizations. It has worked in collaboration with many UN agencies and bodies like UNFPA, UNEP, UNDP, UNICEF, UN Women, US Consulate, and so on various capacity-building projects and their implementation.

KISS is unique as it is the only residential educational institution in the world providing free education, accommodation, medical care, vocational, athletic & artistic training, and coaching for entrances to 70,000 tribal children.

The students of KISS come from 62 different tribal communities within the region, of which 13 are Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). Of these, 30,000 students study at the main campus in Bhubaneswar. It has a strong alumni base of 30,000 empowered boys and girls and soon over 10,000 students will study at 10 satellite centres of KISS across Odisha.

It has created an archetype by implementing its cardinal features for the primary and the satellite centers – fully free-of-cost residential model institute and catering to the needs of the deprived and underprivileged children. It is a prototype for empowering girls through the tool of education.

One Among Many Milestones
The whopping majority of girls at the institution is an indicator of the scale at which KISS resonates with the cause of educating girls to learn and lead without fear. What makes KISS stand apart as a trailblazer is its innovation in academic practices that equip the students with the advantage of modern formal education, yet stay close to the roots of the rich tribal legacy. KISS has indirectly impacted over a million tribal children and youth which is in it a milestone.

While dropouts still remain an aching sore in our educational system, KISS in its course of existence, for over 30 years, has substantially reduced dropout rates, child marriage, gender-based harassment, left-wing extremism, proselytisation, ignorance, and superstition with its intervention through education and empowerment.

It has stimulated awareness on the importance of education, girl-child empowerment, up-skilling and vocational empowerment, entrepreneurship, and addressing the SDGs. KISS has also advocated the indigenous wisdom accumulated over the years to the world of how tribal communities are real caretakers of the ecosystem and nature.

KISS provides a complete solution by offering scope for Higher Education till postgraduate and Doctorate levels and assurance for employability so that the students don’t feel lost as half education is sometimes more dangerous than no education.

For its impeccable record, the higher education wing of KISS was granted the university status and it became the first Deemed to be a University exclusively for tribals in 2017 by the Ministry of erstwhile Human Resource Development, Government of India.

With its growth, KISS always aspired for University status for its higher education to bump up its credibility as an institution committed to research for tribal studies by tribal scholars. KISS Deemed to be University, steered by veteran academicians and experienced administrative personnel, has taken some groundbreaking educational novelties like inducting 14 Professors of Practice and 23 eminent academicians as Emeritus Professors, establishing Birsa Munda and Laxman Naik Research Chairs and an Innovation Council to spearhead activities of the academic research centres on Entrepreneurship, Sacred Groves, Languages and Narratives, Herbal Medicine and so on. KISS DU has also signed MoUs with many national and international universities and institutions for greater academic synergy.

We envisage KISS Deemed to be University to stand as a think-tank for tribal issues to academically debate, discuss and critically analyse tribal policies, laws, language, culture and offer solutions to KISS for its continuous and comprehensive enhancement in course of its evolution in particular and to the wider society in general. As Victor Hugo puts it, “Teach the ignorant as much as you can; society is culpable in not providing free education for all and it must answer for the night which it produces. If the soul is left in darkness sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” And I add, we are a small drop in an ocean to remove darkness as the secret of getting ahead is getting started with a belief that Education is the third eye of a child.

KISS is not born of an accident of history but a history in the making through tenacity and vision; which, as an institution, is bolstering itself underneath and may soon become a veneer of stability.