They were the first in their family to ever set foot into a college. Four youngsters talk of the difference college made to their lives. MADHUMITHA SRINIVASAN
In light of what happened in a Bangalore school recently, we were curious to find out if first generation college goers face similar discrimination. I have to confess: before I started working on this article, I was gearing up to hear some dramatic stories of discrimination, how hard it was to adapt to a college environment and fight for rights. But I am happy to have been proven wrong. These four youngsters talk encouragingly about attending college despite unfavourable circumstances and being the first ones from their family to ever set foot in a college. May be we need to credit the maturity that comes with age or may be these four are exceptions. Either way, it is heartening to hear some good news.
D. INDRA, 27 (Co-ordinator/teacher at Prema Vasam, home for the mentally and physically challenged and underprivileged children.)
Family: My mother is a housewife while my father is a painter.
Education: Being severely affected by polio since birth, I was taken to an institution by my parents hoping that could help me walk. I remained there till 1999 until Selvin Roy, a clinical psychologist at the home, sought admission for me in a private school. I graduated in Computer science from St. Joseph’s College and did my MCA from Anna University. I am currently now doing my B.Ed.
Experience: Getting admission into a private school was a challenge because most schools refused on the grounds of not wanting to upset parents and other students who, they said, would not accept me. But, as it turned out, the refusal to accept me stopped with the management. My fellow students help carry me along with my wheel chair to lab classes in other floors. Teachers made sure that my classes were always on the ground floor. My apprehensions about being accepted as one of them were proved false. They came forward to help me without my having to ask! My friends even submitted a request to the management to install ramps at prime locations, which was unfortunately implemented only by the time I left college. But I am happy that others like me will benefit.
Society says: My parents never expected me to study so they were thrilled. Others who saw how I led a normal life despite my physical disability said they were inspired to make their children study too. When I could study, why couldn’t their children?
M. RAJA, 28 (Lawyer, International Justice Mission)
Family: Bonded labourers rescued from a brick kiln. Father is now a daily wage worker and mother is a housewife. My sister’s in a government job and brother is studying B.Com.
Education: From going to school two or three days a week since I was helping my family at the brick kiln, I got to go to school full time after we were rescued. Those times were hard. We would hardly get three to four hours of rest and just one proper meal a day. This inspired me to arm myself with education to help my community and fight bonded labour. That’s why I chose to take up law. After a couple of failed attempts, I managed to pass the law entrance. I joined the Government Law College in Madurai and became a member of the Bar Council in 2011.
Experience: Initially I was afraid of ragging and how I would adjust to a city. Hailing from a small town, moving to Madurai was a BIG change. Back then, even thinking about going to Chennai was like going abroad! So I took a back seat for six months, observed the environment and slowly adapted myself. My friends were of great help. They taught me how to dress, how to socialise and helped me settle down in college.
Society says: I am the first person from my panchayat to ever go to college and take up law! So everyone was extremely happy and only wished me well. Never did I have to hear: “why do you have to study?”, “Stay back and help your father?” I am very grateful for that support from friends and family.
TAMILSELVAN, 23 (Designer/ owner Gorgeous boutique)
Family: Mother is a housewife, father is a tailor and sister’s a BPO employee
Education: I belong to a family of tailors (my father and grandfather are tailors) so I knew the basics — the practical aspects of it — but to learn about colour combinations, patterns, designing and research I felt that I needed to do a professional course. There wasn’t anybody to help, so I researched and zeroed in on National School of Design where I did a diploma.
Experience: I was aware that I belonged to a regular middle class family and my English wasn’t good too. But, contrary to what people would assume, there was absolutely no discrimination. In fact, since I already knew a lot about tailoring, I would stay back and help my friends. They would approach me with their doubts.
Society says: My family was extremely supportive of my decision. It was my sister who took a loan to fund my boutique. I don’t know if anybody has spoken behind my back but, to me, they were genuinely happy that I had succeeded. I hope to inspire kids from my background to consider this off-beat profession.
D. NAGARAJAN, 18 (II Year, BBA, Jaya College of Arts and Science)
Family: My mother is a maid and my father is a call taxi driver.
Education: From childhood I had always wanted to get into business after doing a degree. Friends in the neighbourhood advised me on what I should do and what course I could opt for. That’s how I got into BBA. I plan to do my MBA.
Experience: Though there were students who came from educated families, I wasn’t looked down on. In fact, many seniors are my friends and helped me cope in college. English was a problem initially. I couldn’t converse fluently and was shy. But my teachers made sure I participated in seminars that required me to give presentations in English. This helped improve my communication skills and confidence.
Society says: My elder brother and sister had to discontinue their education because of lack of financial support. Everybody is happy for me and encourage me to study well. I want to make difference to their lives.
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