Wednesday, July 20, 2011


About twenty minutes into our conversation, Harsh Bhasker pauses to ask if this story will focus on his being a dalit rather than his success as an entrepreneur. "I am not very comfortable talking about that," he says. Having created one of Agra's most-recognised brands in engineering and medical entrance coaching, and a private college, Bhasker, 35, has come far enough to put caste prejudices behind him and speak about his work.

As he enters his office, parents waiting in the reception area stand up to greet him with folded hands. He is, after all, the face of Kota Tutorials, credited with shaping the careers of many youngsters in his city. He is also the rare dalit who in the knowledge business. "Harsh is among the few who have made it big in a knowledge business," says Delhi-based Dalit activist and writer Chandra Bhan Prasad. "He has done this through his own endeavour and without support from anybody else."

But Bhasker's isn't a rag-toriches story. Hailing from the Jatav caste, he had the option to join his family's (and caste's) traditional leather shoe-making business. But a rebellious streak led him elsewhere. "I was the stubborn one in the family. I had always set my thoughts high," he says. That focus led him to gain admission at IIT Roorkee (then University of Roorkee) in 1995. "Studying at Roorkee changed my life. I discovered my talents," he says. It was a new world of activities, both on and off the campus, including Himalayan treks, rowing, rafting and parasailing. The shy, smalltown boy transformed into a confident young man.

After completing his engineering in 1999, Bhasker joined HCL in Noida as a software developer. But he found the work too routine and mind-numbing. A year later, he got together seven colleagues to start a software firm out of Katwaria Sarai near the IIT Delhi campus. The company folded up in the wake of the global technology meltdown. Bhasker returned to Agra to start a franchise of Kota-based Career Point in engineering and medical coaching. Those days tutorials were mostly oneperson shows. "I worked hard and established the concept of an organised tutorials business in Agra," he says.

Three years later, he launched his own coaching centre and christened it Kota Tutorials (KT) because "people already knew us as the Kota institute". He started out of a 3-storey building in Agra's commercial district, Sanjay Place. Soon that was falling short as the student numbers swelled. He bought an old shoe factory nearby and restored it. "We didn't have time to raze the old building and build a fresh one," he says. Subsequently, he bought another building behind it. Today, the two structures house 11 airconditioned classrooms with a capacity to teach 2,000 students. There are two hostels nearby to accommodate 250 students, most of whom come from under-privileged backgrounds in rural Uttar Pradesh.

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