Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Top marks, yet Dalits still struggle

Prachi Jatania

Mumbai, September 23: Sagar Shinde (16) was felicitated by the Harijan Sevak Sangh on Monday. But the tears in his eyes were prompted by frustration, not joy.

'Harijans' are now included in the Dalit category. Dalits include scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes, women, minorities and other marginalised sections of society.

Yet even with a caste certificate and a score of 80 per cent at the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination, Shinde is having difficulty gaining admission into the Science stream. And the story is the same for many other accomplished Dalit students like him. ''We too have to work towards our goals. Nothing comes easy,'' says Sagar sternly.

The felicitation ceremony was organised to honour the achievements of harijan students with a first class and above in the SSC and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examinations. The S K Patil Sabhagriha at Congress House saw a full house, with almost as many tales of ongoing struggle.

Being a painter's son and aspiring to be a doctor, Vinod Penkar (15) worries every day about his seemingly unattainable goal.

''Although we have progressed, it's mostly been in terms of high-profile government jobs. Others like us still struggle to make ends meet,'' laments Vinod's father, Chandrakant. His frustration is also fuelled by his inability to pay Rs 70,000 for his eldest son Rajan's engineering degree. ''He'll have to quit in his second year. I simply can't afford the fees,'' he says.

Many Dalit parents believe that although the stigma of belonging to the caste has gradually diminished, the community has to work twice as hard to prove its abilities.

''Even getting a decent job requires connections,'' says Meena Bhilde, mother of Sheetal, who scored 71 per cent in her HSC.

''And that's if you manage to obtain the caste certificate,'' adds a rueful Laxman Jadhav, another parent. Jadhav ran from pillar to post for six months to get his granddaughter Geeta's caste certificate. Nevertheless, over 50 students, with parents in tow, beamed with pride as they walked up to the stage to receive their eagerly awaited prize-a clock.

''I'm glad my community appreciates students' achievements like other communities do,'' chirped Shilpa Shindhe, who cleared her SSC exams this year. As Sagar, accompanied by his uncle Suryakant, accepted his prize, he had a message for his fellow mates.

''I never gave up because I was confident about my capabilities. Don't let anyone restrict your dreams within caste or class barriers,'' he said. Earlier in the day, he received a revised mark sheet that read 90 per cent. The SSC Board had initially erred in the calculation of his marks.

Source: The Indian Express, September 24, 2003


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