Indian students who study on railway platforms

Prashant Ravi
Image caption Frequent power cuts have forced students to study under lamp posts at the railway station

Students in the electricity starved Indian state of Bihar gather every night under lamp posts at a railway station to study and prepare for examinations, reports Amarnath Tewary from Sasaram.

Saroj Kumar, 23, recently cleared two examinations - one for a job of a lower-level railway employee and the other of a school teacher. He chose to join the railways.

Son of a truck driver, he credits his success to the Sasaram railway station in Rohtas district.

For the past two years, he has been coming here not to catch a train or vend something, but to prepare for examinations.

Like him, every day when the sun sets and electricity starts playing truant in their homes, hundreds of students head for the platform number one to study. Most of them are too poor to afford coaching schools.

Oblivious to the passing trains and the rush of passengers, they squat in circles under the lamp posts at the tail end of the platform.

Power crisis

One student sits in the middle, lobbing questions from exam guidebooks. The others respond, answering loudly so that everyone can hear.

Image caption Niranjan Srivastav studies through the station

Most of the students here are preparing to compete for clerical jobs in the Indian railways and state-run banks, two of India's biggest employers.

"Students have been coming here for the last 10 years. We come here to study because of frequent power cuts outside," said Saroj. "We try to be around as long as we can."

Bihar, like many other Indian states, faces a severe power crisis.

At 122 units, Bihar's per capita electricity consumption is about a sixth of India's per capita electricity consumption of 778 units.

"The state virtually runs on [back up] generators," says Patna-based economist Nawal Kishore Choudhury.

Saroj says his brother Santosh Kumar was a regular here until he got a job with the Indian railways last year.

This time, Saroj too got lucky and landed two jobs - one with the Indian railways, the other as a government teacher.

"We study together and engage in group discussions. This helps us in cracking the exams," says student Karan Kumar, who travels 60km (37 miles) every day from Nauhatta area to come to study at the station.

"I catch a local train to reach here at 6pm and return by 10pm. It has helped me a lot. I recently got a job in the railways," he told the BBC.

"Though most of the students here come from their one-room rented accommodation in the town, many come from nearby villages, travelling up to 50-60km daily," said student Rahul Kumar.

'Students of the station'

Popularly known as "station-wale students" (students of the station), the boys prepare for their exams methodically.

"We collect money to make photocopies of question papers. We try to solve them in a stipulated time like we do during exams," said Rahul Kumar.

"Sometimes, students who have studied here in the past and cleared the exams come to guide us."

Students say each year, about 100 station-wale students qualify for different government jobs, mostly in the railways and banks.

"Our seniors say that one of the students here even cleared the prestigious civil services examination," said Niranjan Kumar Srivastva, who arrives at the station at 9pm and studies through the night.

Image caption Every year, about 100 students who study on the platform clear their exams

"About 10-15 of us study the whole night and leave in the morning," he says.

"I aspire to clear a government exam for clerks," says Niranjan whose elder brother Chitranjan Kumar Srivastava, a former platform student, is a fire engineer.

"What to do? There is no other option. We get just three to four hours of power supply in the town. Here, we get both uninterrupted power and support from colleagues which helps us excel."

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