We are extremely privileged to announce the Savitribai Phule Scholarships in time for Savitribai's birthdate on 3rd January.
We request your help in creating a corpus, out of whose interest we will support young women from 'scavenging' castes go to college. Our wish is to contribute to the war against caste and untouchability, whose most criminal manifestation is manual scavenging, by helping them in their higher education. Our struggle will not have started in earnest till large numbers of young women from these castes are doctors, scientists, professors, and in positions of administative importance.
We have made a beginning towards creating this corpus, thanks to extremely generous donations from Dr.Anandalakshmy and Mrs.Ganga-Parvathi. The scholarship scheme will be a part of Premalaya Social Development Society so that we can provide you with a receipt which you can use for income tax deduction under 80G.
Please forward this appeal to friends who might help!
Shiva Shankar, December 2017
About the Scholarship
"Shudras and Ati-shudras (Dalits) now have the right to education, and through English, casteism can be destroyed and Brahminical teaching can be hurled away." - Savitribai Phule
Indian society is divided into different castes. Ambedkar has observed, "Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which has therefore to be pulled down. Caste is a notion and it is a state of mind." It is in a similar spirit that Ambedkar has also said that in India, a person becomes a scavenger not because of his profession, but because of his birth, and this is completely irrespective of whether s/he wants to take up scavenging or not. Many Dalit writers have written the same.
Omprakash Valmiki in his autobiography 'Joothan' writes:
One day the headmaster Kaliram called me to his room and asked: 'Abey, what is your name?' 'Omprakash', I answered slowly and fearfully. Children used to feel scared just encountering the headmaster. The entire school was terrified of him. 'Chure ka?' Headmaster threw his second question at me. 'All right ... see the teak tree there? Go climb that tree. Break some twigs and make a broom. And sweep the whole school clean as a mirror. It is, after all, your family occupation.'
It is not only the scavenging castes that face such discrimination, indeed no caste within the Dalit community can escape oppression in some form or the other. Going a little deeper, we also see various forms of discrimination amongst the Dalit castes too. In Tamil Nadu, Arunthathiyars suffer discrimination from Paraiyars and Pallars, and in turn oppress others. Therefore caste is a notion that needs to be fought across all sections of the society, Dalit or not.
However, there are a few crucial differences between scavenging castes and other non-scavenging Dalit castes. These differences are hardly ever acknowledged or discussed within mainstream Dalit discourse. Scavenging is an occupation that has expanded because of governmental policies. Prasad and Wilson (2000) note in different writings that municipalities consciously recruit people from particular Dalit castes into scavenging jobs. In most states, people from scavenging castes speak a language different from the state's official language. Both these factors play a crucial role in suppressing people from these castes, and their struggles for rights and freedom. One example here is the scavenging caste in Kerala. Arunthathiyars do scavenging in Kerala, but Dalit discourse in Kerala has remained silent about them. Though scavenging castes have different histories, cultures, professions, yet these differences have been suppressed by mainstream Dalit discourse.
Following Ambedkar, we say that the most important way to eradicate the idea, itself, of scavenging, and the resultant caste stigma, is to encourage the present generation to educate themselves. Education in recent years has become very expensive, hence we have come together to start a scheme that will support students who have qualified for a university education, but who lack financial resources. Although our primary focus would be women students from scavenging castes, we will also support students from other Dalit castes who face discrimination.