ORT’s activities in India began in 1960, after the WOU Congress in London approved a proposal to establish an ORT school in Mumbai. Part-time evening courses for draftsmen were started early that year and the ORT India Polytechnic commenced operation in August 1963. It offered both full-time day courses and evening classes for draftsmen and mechanics. Boarding facilities were funded by the AJDC, and Women’s American ORT provided ongoing social assistance through scholarships and help with school supplies for needy students. Graduates were able to find employment easily with their starting salaries often exceeding the total income of their families by more than 50%.
Following the Polytechnic’s success, an ORT girls’ school was opened in June 1970. The school offered courses in hairdressing and beauty, secretarial skills, office management and hotel reception. Boarding facilities were available to local students from poor families and to those from distant towns and villages.
Outside its two main schools ORT also offered elementary manual training and preparatory courses to Jewish students in the Sir Jacob Sassoon school and the Bene Israel orphanage in Mumbai and in Thane [Thana], 35km north east of Mumbai.
By the 1980s and 1990s the vocational needs of the Mumbai community had changed and a gradual shift in the ORT curriculum was taking place. This now included subjects like electronics, desk-top publishing, computer aided design (CAD) and IT. At the girls' school secretarial and hair dressing and beauty care courses continued. However, secretarial students now benefitted from computer training in their final year and a professional beauty parlour was opened to provide practical work experience. In the mid-1990s new courses with international accreditation were established in travel & tourism, food & nutrition and education and care of under-fives.
Jewish education was also provided through Hebrew and religious education classes, summer camps and social activities. By the 1990s a kosher bakery and kitchen were established, serving the community’s needs.
Smaller communities living in more remote parts of the country were also catered for. In June 2003 the ORT Manipur Computer Centre was opened, serving the Bnei Menashe Jewish community as well as the local non-Jewish population. In 2008 the Imphal Computer Center, in Imphal, Manipur, was established.
ORT India continues to provide ICT and other training for the entire Jewish community. It also runs the Jewish Education Resource Centre, providing guidance and information on Judaism as well as being involved in efforts to preserve the specific culture and traditions of the Bene Israel community.