Sanchita Toto, 23, tribal student says: I will complete my post-graduation through distance education, says the girl who has become the first Toto to graduate with Honours.

When I call Sanchita Toto on the phone, she is returning to her home in Totopara after collecting her mark sheet from Jalpaiguri. She has become the first girl from her endangered Toto tribe to complete a graduation with Honours from Prasanna Deb Women’s College in Jalpaiguri district, West Bengal. She totted up 47 per cent to earn the degree given by the North Bengal University.

It is an enormous achievement for one of the oldest and most backward tribes in the country. Interestingly, it is the Toto women who are coming forward one after another to chase the modern world, emerging from their thatched huts in Totopara. Rita Toto became the first graduate, now Sanchita has gone one step ahead.

About 95 km from Jalpaiguri, Totopara is located on the Indo-Bhutan border of West Bengal. On the brink of vanishing, this Mongoloid tribe has been living in five hamlets on a hillock surrounded by five rivulets over several generations now. Over time, the closed clan has shrunk to 1,365 people.

“Although a primary school was established in 1962, till the early 80s literacy was a distant dream to these forest dwellers,” says Dhoniram Toto over phone. He was one of the first to be educated from the tribe. “Initially, learning Bengali was a big hurdle for us, but our children are surpassing that. Sanchita’s success will encourage younger generations.”

Sanchita’s father Bhakta Toto was one of the first to pass Class 10 and get a job in the Grameen Bank at Totopara. With zero job opportunities in the village, Toto boys usually migrate to the nearby town. Many depend on daily wage jobs available just across the border in Bhutan.

The West Bengal government is extending support to educate every Toto child. Sanchita too received government aid to complete her graduation. Drop-out rates among girl students are high, as they cannot commute to Jalpaiguri for college. But Sanchita is ambitious and plans to move even further, to Kolkata. “I will complete my post-graduation through distance education. Now, I want to start preparing for the bank exams,” she says.

The 23-year-old Sanchita has dreams in her eyes; dreams that could help her marginalised community get a new identity.