Once a UPSC aspirant, Kerala’s Jobin S Kottaram helps students and aspirants with motor disabilities crack the examination for free. He says his aim is to increase their representation in leadership roles.
In 2020, when Sherin Sahana began preparing for the UPSC CSE, she found that the health issues due to her disability posed a major challenge.
A few years prior, the 27-year-old had suffered a fall from the roof, and had since become a wheelchair user. “After the injury, I was advised bed rest for three months. It was difficult for me to accept the reality. But I was not ready to give up on my dreams,” she adds.
Sitting in a wheelchair for prolonged periods was difficult, as it caused her immense back pain. “I preferred online classes because it was difficult for me to [physically] go to the coaching institutes,” she explains, adding that what hindered her preparation was a lack of guidance.
Sherin was unable to clear her prelims in her first attempt in 2021, which is when she found Kerala’s Job S Kottaram.
‘Giving our students wings’
Jobin runs project Chitrasalabham, which he started in 2021. Under the project — which he launched under his institute Absolute IAS Academy — 100 aspirants with disabilities including orthopaedic disabilities, cerebral palsy, and those with visual and hearing impairments study in offline and online batches. What’s unique about the project is that it does not charge a penny for a course that can cost up to Rs 1,10,000.
“Chithrasalabham in Malayalam means ‘butterfly’. We wanted to give wings to students with disabilities. Because of their disability, people look at them differently. Society — sometimes even their parents — consider them a burden, that they are not capable of doing anything.”
“They are capable, but there’s hardly anyone to support them,” says the 41-year-old.
“In India, there are over 2.68 crore people with disabilities, but they are not adequately represented in our leadership. I wanted to work towards promoting an inclusive society so that we have representatives from each segment,” he adds. “When people from a segment like this come into power, they will understand their problems and can change policies as well.”
‘Wanted to become an IAS officer’
Born and raised in Kerala’s Changanassery town, Jobin, too, appeared for the civil service examination in 2010. But after reaching the interview stage, he missed the final list by just two marks.
“I felt dejected. I wanted to become an IAS officer because I wanted to work for the betterment of society. But [then I realised that] even by becoming a teacher, I could work towards empowering people. That motivated me to help others crack the examination,” he says.
It is with this vision that he started the academy in 2010. Initially, he helped aspirants who took up Malayalam as their optional paper. Eventually, in 2019, he established it as a full-fledged academy with three offline centres at Kochi, Kozhikode, and Thiruvananthapuram.
Apart from the offline centres, he also conducts online batches through his YouTube channel for students. In one such educational video, he was discussing scholarships available for students across categories.
“I accidentally mentioned that people with disabilities can also write the examination and the government provides scholarship support. But after a week, I got a call from a differently-abled student who said that she searched a lot but could not find any financial support for people with disabilities to prepare for the civil services examination,” he recalls.
“There are many big coaching centres, but we could not find any of them running special batches for aspirants with disabilities,” he adds.
This inspired Jobin to start a special batch for aspirants with disabilities in 2021.
“At times, [disabled students] are disheartened because of taunts from society and even families. My methodology is based on a motivational psychological approach. You have to be their personal mentor. So, besides giving them academic training, we also provide personal development training to empower them,” he adds.
Jobin utilises the profits that the academy makes from regular classes. From his first batch of 25 students with disabilities, four other students have cleared IBPS bank examinations and UPSC prelims, he says. Jobin informs that the other two batches will write the examinations in the upcoming years.
An example for others
Among his students was Sherin. “He is a good mentor, he helped me a lot during my preparation. He provided me with one-on-one mentoring. This helped me improve a lot,” she says.
This May, after the UPSC CSE results were announced, 41 candidates with benchmark disability were recommended for appointment to various services. Among them was Sherin, who secured 913th rank in the examination.
She is also among the first batch of 25 persons with disabilities at the academy.
Jobin says, “When I invited Sherin to join the project, she was doubtful and asked me if people like her could become civil servants. Now, it has become a reality.”
“Her example could encourage other students with disabilities to come forward,” he notes, adding that she will begin her training in July this year.
“Currently, only students from Kerala are studying with us. I intend to expand this project to pan India. I want to make it a social transformation project and tell the world that if you are in an influential role, you can also support people like you,” he says.
Edited by Divya Sethu