India has recently seen an increase in students crowdfunding their costs to pursue Higher education abroad through crowdfunding websites and social media over the past month.
One of these examples that came into the media limelight was that of Sumeet Samos, a former JNU student who managed to successfully raise 38 Lakhs in 3 hours to pursue an Msc in South Asian Studies from Oxford. Sumeet is also an anti-caste rapper and hails from Odisha’s Koraput. He could not get scholarships or loans from the University or his state government as he did not meet several criteria.
Crowdfunding has become a tool for students from marginalized communities to access a higher quality of education that was not possible for them before. However, like most things on the internet, there have been a variety of reactions, both positive and negative.
The negative ones usually come from those of privileged backgrounds and range from “just get a loan” to “we are paying for leftist anti-nationals education”. These arguments are all very reductionist and are simply turning a meaningful conversation around solidarity and the Indian system’s continued and grave failures in providing quality education to marginalized students into a conversation about the Savarna idea of “merit”.
Here are 5 reasons why these arguments are barely sensible.
The most common argument that has come up against crowdfunding is to just get an education loan and pay it back after you get the degree. The fact remains that even getting an education loan is a point of privilege. Most private banks expect collateral for education loans.
One example is HDFC, which expects collateral for any education loan higher than 7.5 lakhs. Many of the students who are fundraising do not have the collateral to put up to avail these loans.
While Government banks also offer these loans via the UGC, the most anyone can avail for foreign education is 15 lakhs. These loans are also extremely difficult to get due to bureaucratic red tape.
Many scholarships are indeed available for Indian students trying to pursue their education abroad, the question of accessibility remains. Indian government scholarships do not cover those that are doing a second master’s degree abroad, which most of these students are. For example, if one has done a master’s degree from a university in India and wishes to pursue another abroad, they won’t be eligible for government scholarships.
For scholarships from the respective universities and governments of the country the student is going to, many students from marginalized communities are not even aware of all the resources. Even if they are, these scholarships are highly competitive and upper-class and upper-caste Indians usually have an edge due to the social capital and resources that they already have to make an ideal application.
One of the arguments on the more ludicrous side of the spectrum against education crowdfunding is that humanities are not as important as STEM subjects. This frankly illogical argument comes from the entire glorification of science students in India and deserves nothing less than a stupid answer: Even our glorious PM Narendra Modi has a degree in “Entire Political Science”.
The Indian education system has always been biased in terms of class and caste. India is a country where marginalized students die of suicide because they are not given their earned scholarships on time. The theme of crowdfunding that came into the limelight over the past few months was an opportunity to introspect on India’s failing and underfunded public education and scholarship system but was turned into a conversation around whether these students deserved to go abroad by media and mostly privileged Savarna people on Twitter.
Crowdfunding, however flawed, opens up opportunities for students from backgrounds without traditional networks of privilege
Yes, they have to be internet + social media savvy
But the internet is more democratic than educational institutes and their appraisals of good students
— Sohini (@sohinichat) June 10, 2021
A lot of the arguments that are based on these students not being meritorious are rooted in casteism and islamophobia. True merit cannot be measured in a society where people are not allowed to have the same starting point.
Explained simply, the school you go to, the fact that you have a supportive household free from financial concerns, that you are part of a majority or high on the social hierarchy of caste are all factors that give you the upper hand in pursuing interests and achievements than someone who is marginalized. Looking at a Muslim or Bahujan student and claiming that they don’t fit into a narrow savarna idea of merit is just ignoring the ground realities of marginalized communities in India throughout history.
Almost all fundraisers started last month for foreign education are successfully completed except those started by Muslims.
Bahut heavy driver hai hum log. Ekdum mauj me ji rahe.
Jiyo aise hi jiyo.
— Anas Tanwir (बुकरात वकील) (@Vakeel_Sb) June 24, 2021
Savarnas on brahmins taking donations in temples: 🤑😍🙏🤐😇🤫
Savarnas on bahujans using crowdfunding to raise funds for their education abroad: 🧐🤬😤😫😭😰
— Deepika Singh (@Deepika_opines) June 19, 2021
It is not a secret that most universities in India, be it public or private are Upper-caste dominated casteist spaces. The Indian diaspora that goes abroad to learn is even more so in the same vein as many from marginalized castes, communities, and religions never had the opportunity to do so. In fact, if one took the time to read through these fundraisers instead of going to spout their opinions on Twitter, they will find that most are first-generation learners or from rural backgrounds from marginalized communities.
Crowdfunding education should not be a reality as ideally, the government should ensure that education is truly a great equalizer and is equally accessible for everyone. For years, foreign education has been seen as a pathway only possible for the wealthy, and these fundraisers have been a way to break that mould. However, the reality remains that even with the rise of crowdfunding, many students are still not able to reach their goals.
Many students from marginalized communities do not even have the opportunity to reach higher education because of the blatant sexism, casteism, and islamophobia in India. The conversation that we should be having is why does India still not have a free high-quality public education system that benefits ALL its citizens instead of a privileged few.