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Why Are Dalit Students Missing From Higher Education?

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This post is a part of JaatiNahiAdhikaar, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more.

Trigger warning: Mentions of suicide

New Dalit Rising

Today, people in the Dalit and Adivasi communities are rising in thousands. Now, they are more assertive and more cohesive about who they are. They are much more aware of their rights and significantly they are ready to break the sealing of Brahmanical hegemony from their life, from their society. After 2000 years of a Brahmanical prison of religion, injustice, prejudice, stigma and mental slavery, they are now freeing themselves. And, this is a very clear sign that Brahmanical hegemony is dying somewhere in the corner.

Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad along with party workers stage a protest outside Safdarjung Hospital over the death of Hathras gangrape victim, in New Delhi, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. (PTI Photo/Kamal Singh)

‌Right from the beginning, Baba Saheb strongly believed that all citizens are essentially required to be educated for the actual growth and development of any nation or community. He believed that education is the only power that can cut the shackles of discrimination and poverty.

His trust in education was so firm that he gave education the first place in his famous slogan “educate, agitate and organised.” For him, true education meant to understand society, awaken self-consciousness, fight for self-esteem and most importantly, payback to the community. Now, it seems like all these dreams of Ambedkar’s are fertile.

Over the last decade, we have seen tremendous mobility in the field of education. Many students belonging to oppressed communities are able to get into each and every premier institution and university in India and many more abroad.

Even though this university space is not free from discrimination and humiliation. Rohit Vemula, Payal Tadvi and many more are examples of those who faced severe discrimination and later chose to end their lives. In our Brahmanical system, Dalit and Adivasi students dying by suicide and dropping out from University are quite familiar instances, and this is the reason behind the lower proportion of representation in higher education today.

Those students who died by suicide remain heroes and an inspiration for the next generation. Because they resisted this Manubadi system like revolutionaries and created their own history; they challenged the system operated by so-called upper caste people and stood firm as they faced threats and tried hard to uproot the Brahmanical hegemony.

The institutional killing of Rohit Vemula did not go in vain but raised thousands of more ‘Ambedkarites’ in every university space and our Ambedkarite social movement was boosted to new heights. In a country like India, the life of the oppressed community is not easy.

You have to battle for everything, from food, shelter and clothes to rights, justice and equality. You get nothing without a battle. And this battle is not about power or glory but this battle is all about self-esteem, identity, rights and dignity. This battle is about justice and liberty. A battle against mental slavery.

Today, people from the Dalit community are responsible, serious, dutiful to their existence. They are constantly thriving to reach new milestones. After challenging the social and economic conditions, forthwith moving in the direction of politics.

A trend of politics, which is based on morale, ethics and social justice, a politics which is based on Philosophy, of Dr B.R Ambedkar. Politics, which annihilate the caste system and gender inequality.

ASA (Ambedkarite Student Association) from TISS, Mumbai and BAPSA (Birsha, Phule, Ambedkar Students Association) from JNU, Delhi are two student organisations that propagate the Ambedkar philosophy in their student politics in University spaces. Why? Because like other political wings in university spaces, they do not belong to any mainstream political party, but they emerge from the Ambedkarite social movement.

The 2019 student election result from Tata Institute of Social Science Mumbai was significant for the Dalit community. A Dalit boy from the Tapra Barmer, a remote village of Rajasthan came to Mumbai to Pursue his MA in Water Policy and Governance at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and he succeeded in winning the President seat of Tata Institute of Social Science with a huge majority.

This is a great achievement for our community. This victory was not just a student election, but a victory against Brahmanism and their hegemony. Clearly, he is creating a new swell in the existing discourse.

It will be apt to end with an immortal quote by BR Ambedkar which goes thus. “Men are mortal. So are ideas. An idea needs propagation as much as a plant needs watering. Otherwise, both will wither and die”.

So, as long as we live, Baba Saheb will remain, and we will work together to glorify his name till justice prevails, till Brahmanism dies and till the inequality vanishes. That idea of Dalit empowerment, which is only found in lip service even after 60 years of independence, is today an idea whose time has come, an idea that needs to be propagated by each one of us, cutting across political affiliations so as to ensure for future generations, ‘Dalit’, does not mean oppressed or marginalised, but empowered and enriched.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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