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Tribals who score high on Mensa tests need help

January 21, 2007

Today when I opened my daily newspaper and saw this article titled ‘Measuring a tribal’s IQ,’ my heart skipped a beat. I was intrigued enough to read on. At first I wondered how anyone truly measure a tribal’s IQ. That is because I am not sure whether standard IQ tests do credit to the real intelligence of a human being. (article)
But the time I had finished reading the article by Nilanjan Sengupta which appeared in today’s Sunday Times of India, I could hardly contain my excitement. This is what the article said:

‘Since 1994, the year the Sevadham Trust Ashram Shala (school) in Maharashtra Maval Taluka was built, Narayan Desai, head of Mensa’s Pune chapter has been paying random visits and involving the students in different activities. A PhD in Restoration Ecology, he would ask students to help him identify certain plants and herbs in the jungles nearby and discovered that they possessed nature-based intelligence. In the year 2000 he had visited the school with a bundle of National Geographic back issues and asked the children to cut whatever they liked and make sense of it. Some children recognised the eco-systems, others arranged the pictures to build a food chain. That was when Desai decided to identify gifted children in the school.”

The results of the Mensa test
As the other tribal schools in the area were not keen to cooperate, Desai himself administered the test to the students and the results were intriguing.

“This test was no different from what urban candidates from various parts of the world take to enter the exclusive club of Mensans…and he was stunned. Out of 60 tribal children who took the test, as many as four girls between the ages of 12-13 cracked it. The next year, eight more cleared the test, boys between 10-13 this time.”

So, what is Mensa?
According to the Mensa website:
“The word “Mensa” means “table” in Latin. The name stands for a round-table society, where race, color, creed, national origin, age, politics, educational or social background are irrelevant.”
This is how Mensa was founded:
“Mensa was founded in England in 1946 by Roland Berrill, a barrister, and Dr. Lance Ware, a scientist and lawyer. They had the idea of forming a society for bright people, the only qualification for membership of which was a high IQ. The original aims were, as they are today, to create a society that is non-political and free from all racial or religious distinctions. The society welcomes people from every walk of life whose IQ is in the top 2% of the population, with the objective of enjoying each other’s company and participating in a wide range of social and cultural activities.
These are Mensa’s goals:
“Mensa has three stated purposes: to identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity, to encourage research in the nature, characteristics and uses of intelligence, and to promote stimulating intellectual and social opportunities for its members.”
The Wikipedia too has explained what Mensa is.
Surely passing a Mensa test means something?
Personally speaking I have never been a great believer in IQ tests, and nor do I feel comfortable with exclusive and ‘elite’ IQ clubs such as this. The very fact that Mensa admits those who score very high on certain ‘Approved’ IQ tests like SAT which have basically proven to be predictors of high grades in college (article), has made me a little wary of exclusive clubs such as these.
But the results of the Mensa tests on the tribal children have humbled me. There is simply no getting away from the amazing fact that these tribal children, totally cut off from an urban setting, have managed to clear these tests! It was heart warming to note that children who cleared the tests were identified as ‘gifted’ children.
No sponsors
What is heart-breaking however is that these girls who have been identified as ‘gifted’ are to be soon married off. No sponsors have come forward for the Mensans of Sevadhan to fund their higher studies, even though many of these children have high ambitions of becoming doctors, engineers and teachers. Unfortunately Desai has “failed to get the attention of various educational supervisory and funding bodies that do not understand why gifted children need help.”
Even though Desai is planning to administer the Mensa to 1000 more tribal children in Pune district, he is not sure what kind of sponsorship he will be able to get if he does succeed in his task. He hopes to get together at least a hundred gifted tribal children. He is keenly aware that there are hurdles other than just financial…motivating the children to study further for example…or persuading parents to let their girls study, not marry.
Help needed
I pray that sponsors come forward to help these kids because to my mind finding intelligence is like discovering a pot of gold. The whole world needs to come together to nurture it. Intelligence is what is going to catapult the human race forward, no matter where it comes from.

Mensa India Pune Chapter
Tribal Mensa Nurturing Program 2007
Mensa India, Jnana Prabodhini Bhavan, 510 Sadashiv Peth, Pune 411030 India
Ph. No. 091-20-24477691, 24478095 Mobile: 98600 72580, 98226 26835
Email: mensapune (at), nrd1675(at)


Related Reading: A little girl discovered by the Mensa program

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2007 5:52 pm

    Nita – I am curious to know who “tribals” are. In your writing you say that Tribals’ children demonstrated “native intelligence” about what is presumably the environment within which they carry out their daily lives, and demonstrated detailed knowledge about a variety of plants found in the jungle. this makes a lot of sense. Let’s say I live in a “suburb” so am therefore a “suburbanite” in North America. Certain specific knowledges enable me to negotiate daily life here well. Move in a ‘Kung person from the Kalahari Desert, next door to me. He/she struggles here and fails to thrive. So, give this person a test to determine his/her “intelligence” – a test devised, say, at Stanford, Ca.
    University. Guaranteed, the “‘Kung” individual will certainly not be able to ace this test and instead come up with a score that indicates he/she has the IQ of a Trainable Mentally Retarded person Definitely NOT Mensa material! Who designs the test used to determine if “Tribal” children are gifted? Hopefully, designated “Tribal” individuals determine the specifics of the test, and not those from another sub-culture!

  2. January 21, 2007 9:34 pm

    Tribals in India go to school. I am sorry, I should have realised that people who live outside India were not aware of this. The test they passed was a proper Mensa test meant for urban children.
    As I mentioned in my article, these children go to normal school like anybody else (Sevadham Trust Ashram Shala (school) in Maharashtra )and learn the subjects which are there in the curriculum – which in this case is the state curriculum, the same subjects that those in urban areas attend. Maths, Science, English, everything.
    However, in India tribals are often discriminated against, and often the schools they attend are not considered up to the mark. They do not always go forward in life due to traditional customs and some sections of our society look down on them. They might even feel that the tribals are not smart enough. So what Desai did, by proving that tribals are as intelligent as the rest of the population, and in fact extremely intelligent, is a very great thing.

  3. January 21, 2007 10:54 pm

    Thanks for clarifying for me this situation. Obviously I need to do more learning to umderstand the situation that prevails in India for these Tribal kids. I agree, what Mr. Desai did is really useful in countering engrained prejudices and beliefs about these people. Obviously this social justice issue is dear to your heart, and hope your efforts regarding these succeed.

  4. Brady permalink
    March 30, 2007 9:51 am

    Keep in mind that Mensa does not allow the SAT of today to be used as qualifying for admittance. Only SAT and ACT scores from several years ago, which were approved indicators of IQ, are allowed.

  5. Narayan Desai permalink
    March 30, 2007 2:08 pm

    Dear Friends,

    My name is Narayan Desai. I am restoration ecologist and working very closely with Tribal area of maharashtra as well as North East India.

    Observing and analysing the potentail of tribal kids I thought of coducting Mensa Test. As I am working for Mensa India (Gifted Child Program), I conducted Mensa tests for Tribal students of Sevadham Trust. The results are interesting and put us in network for discussion.

    Well I appreciate the discussion and what I can say right now is: we should do more brainstroming and work towards identifying and nurturing hiddent talent in the tribal community

    I am very much thankful to Times of India (Nilijana) and you all for taking interest in Tribal Mensa and Tribal community development perspective at large.


    Narayan Desai Ph.D.

  6. Becky permalink
    May 9, 2007 4:52 pm


    I would very much like to talk to you about the Gifted Child Program. Please do get in touch.


    Becky Lomax

  7. May 9, 2007 7:00 pm

    Becky I had to remove your tel no coz you could get spam calls. I shall send your details to Mr. Narayan Desai as I have his email address
    Thanks for your visit.

  8. Becky permalink
    May 11, 2007 2:37 am

    Thank you ever so much Nita. I am now in touch with Dr Narayan Desai.

    Very best wishes


  9. Mark Oller permalink
    May 11, 2007 10:15 am

    May 11, 2007

    Did the Mensa magazine actually say that Narayan Desai “is planning to administer the Mensa [test] to 1000 tribal children in Pune district. Even if 1 per cent are identified as gifted, he will have 100 Mensans to nurture,” as reported in the Feedback section of New Scientist 5 May 2007? Bear in mind that these are Mensa magazine’s words, not Dr. Desai’s.

    Mark Oller

  10. Neha Sathe permalink
    June 25, 2007 7:05 pm

    I would like to have this test done for my daughter who is ten years old. How do we go about it?

  11. June 25, 2007 9:25 pm

    Neha, you should contact the People who run the Mensa programme. the only one I know is Mr. Narayan Desai and his details are given above.

  12. Vinayak Surve permalink
    January 2, 2008 11:28 am

    R u earlier working with Garware wall ropes if yes then i can help u further on this test issue .

  13. AVINASH KALE permalink
    March 7, 2008 12:08 am

    i am helping the tribals as a volunteer i am Bsc appearing student i am helping them in educational programmes and interested in helping them in education and other activities involving in them and living inside themselves if you needed then give me call on the cell no. +919850265725

  14. neha sathe permalink
    May 22, 2008 7:53 pm

    Yes, I was previosly working with Garware Wall ropes. You may contact me.

  15. May 24, 2008 2:48 am


    You may enjoy this!

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