Being surrounded by books is a matter of routine for civil services aspirants, but Sreenath K, a coolie who cleared the written test of the Kerala State Public Service Commission, the preparation is just about his phone and earphones as he goes about his job.
Sreenath has been earning his livelihood carrying heavy luggage at Ernakulam Junction in Kerala for the past five years. Unlike his colleagues, he deftly balances the luggage on his shoulders and listens to his digital coursework at the same time – his teachers speaking to him through the earphones.
A high school pass-out, he takes advantage of the free WiFi Internet service available at Ernakulam station to learn. “I have appeared thrice for the exam and this is the first time I used the WiFi at the station. What I do is put on my earphones and listen to the study material as I carry the luggage or solve questionnaires in my mind. This way I can study while I work. I revise all my work at night when I get free time,” Sreenath said.
The WiFi service, launched in 2016 as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India initiative, provides free Internet to passengers under Railwire, the retail broadband distribution model of RailTel Corporation of India Limited.
As of May 2018, at least 685 railway stations have been equipped with WiFi technology across the country, with the Indian Railways setting a target of providing this facility at all 8,500 stations by March 2019 at a cost of Rs.700 crore.
Sreenath hails from Munnar, a town in the Western Ghats mountain range. Ernakulam is the nearest major railway station from Munnar.
He said the free WiFi service at the station opened up opportunities for him he never thought were available in the first place – reams of practice question papers, downloadable at a speed of 20-40 mbps, easy access to online examination forms, and above everything else, he saves money on books.
If he qualifies for KPSC after interview, he is likely to be a village field assistant under the land revenue department. “I will keep studying. While I work as a coolie because I have the pressure of running my house, I will keep studying and appearing for exams. If I appear for enough exams, I am bound to get a good job,” Sreenath said.
He has also applied for exams advertised recently by the railways for 62,000 Group D posts of trackman, cabinman, leverman, pointsman, gangman and others.
“What is my ideal job? A person of some authority to change things in my village may be,” he said.