When I talk about how marginalized students find prestigious academic institutions to be equivalent to agraharas, you will probably label me another “non-meritorious” Dalit from the “reserved category”. But I am not ashamed of my identity and you will never succeed in making me feel otherwise.
My only purpose in writing this piece is to address my fellow Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi students struggling in these university spaces and tell them loud and clear that they are not alone in their fight.
Like many of you, I have also stepped out of my home, my city, and my state for the first time. Like many of you, I too feel alienated and left-out here. I too struggle to speak English with fluency. I remember the debate society audition where I became so nervous that I could not speak a single sentence perfectly and got rejected. I was about to get demotivated but thankfully my best friend greeted me with a powerful “Jai Bhim” immediately after, and I got my confidence back.
These elite institutes are structurally designed to exclude and marginalize students coming from the most vulnerable sections of our society. You will slowly realize this.
For now, just know that you are not alone.
We all experience it. So there’s nothing to worry about. We, as first or second generation learners, have a golden opportunity that was denied to us for centuries – the opportunity to study. You can and must utilize this space to take the “caravan” forward.
No, I do not wish to romanticise our struggle. Rather, I would like to encourage you to fight against these exclusionary spaces.
Yes, we have come here to study, but not just to study syllabuses. We are here to learn and practice fighting for our dignity and rights. This is a space where you will have to learn to speak for yourself. You will have to learn to assert your identity in the strongest ways possible. You will be humiliated for who you are at every step. You will be made to feel lesser, “non-meritorious” and “undeserving”. The taunts about reservation and merit will constantly cross your path. You will be judged for the clothes you wear, for the way you “look” and “speak”, for the “brands” you use. You will be made to feel different for the music you listen to and the films you watch.
Don’t let them win. Don’t let these things make you feel ashamed of your identity. Our history is one of oppression and not one of shame.
Around me, all that I see is upper caste and upper class students leading every discourse on every platform. It makes me feel uneasy. It does not feel normal to me, and I know you too feel the same way.
Cherish this feeling of unease and discomfort because it will lead you to question and deny their leadership. Fight to occupy each position. I wish to see my Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi students leading spaces of discourse.
When I arrived at my university, I didn’t know a single person there. The strangeness and elitism of the place scared me. I stopped talking much. But as I interacted with fellow Ambedkarites, I gained the confidence that I could survive in such a Brahminical space. They are now family to me, and inspire me each time I feel like giving up. Our identity and our struggle holds us together.
With their support, I have started questioning the existing structures, the status quo, the Brahminical hegemony within the academia. Without them, I might have remained voiceless. So my advice to you is, form your own support networks and forums where our experiences, problemsm and thoughts will be discussed. Let our struggles inspire you rather than demoralize.
In these dark times when we are losing bright stars like Rohith and Anitha, I know it is difficult to not lose hope. But remember always how much Babasaheb struggled. And he had no one guiding him, no one by his side. Today, we have the trails blazed before us and we have each other. We have his great legacy along with that of Savitri Mai, Fatima Sheikh, Birsa Munda, Mahatma Phule, Periyar and many others to inspire and guide us.
There are groups who do not share our struggle but will try to show sympathies and “represent” us. They want to raise “our” issues. Do not believe in them.
We are capable of raising our own voices. Speak for yourself and for your fellow Bahujan students, even if you think you don’t know how to speak, and even if your broken words fail to describe precisely what you feel and experience. Speak! Lead your own struggle!
You are not alone in these academic agraharas. We stand together and fight till the end. Don’t give up the battle. You have to study and fight at the same time. Study like Babasaheb and fight like him too. For the majority of people from our community, to whom the doors of these educational institutions are still closed. You represent their hopes and aspirations. You cannot afford to lose. You don’t have that privilege. Fight!
May the last words of our Babasaheb — educate, agitate, organize — always motivate you.
Love and rage from a fellow struggler.
Jai Savitri, Jai Bhim!
This article was originally published in Students’ Voice magazine of Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Study Circle, a reading group of the All India Students Association in Delhi University and has been republished here with permission.
Contact Tejaswini Tabhane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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