Chennai, India – Harshali Nagrale is a first generation student from the Dalit community of India, formerly known as “the untouchables” who have been faced with systemic persecution by so-called upper caste Hindus for centuries.
Having done extensive work in public policy and in the education of marginalized communities, the 25-year-old wanted a more specialized education in the field at a foreign university.
Although he got admission to a master’s program in elections, campaigns and democracy at the prestigious Royal Holloway College in London, he did get a block.
There was no way the daughter of a retired factory worker and a housewife mother could pay the $ 54,000 fee.
Nagrale’s attempts to obtain scholarships created by the Indian government and some foreign organizations failed.
That’s when she decided to try an unconventional method that has yielded results for disadvantaged students like her in recent times.
Nagrale organized a fundraising campaign on an online platform called Milaap, which detailed his work and the details of the course he wanted to join, and asked for financial help from the community.
“I am the first woman to finish graduation from my village and my family,” she says of her call to the crowdfunding platform.
“I am a first generation lawyer and it is a proud moment for me to be offered this course at this prestigious university.”
The movement worked. Nagrale received an overwhelming response from Dalit students studying abroad, community groups and activists.
He managed to raise 67% of the target amount and is now working on his visa procedures. He said he will fund the rest of his living expenses through part-time work in the UK.
Option for applicants with fewer privileges
In recent days, hashtags like #SumittoOxford and #sendAbhishektoCambridge have been trending on Indian social media as more than a dozen aspirants like Nagrale seek donations for higher education at major Western universities.
In the past, some rulers, philanthropists, and NGOs have helped some deserving students from poor families, but these scholarships are limited and extremely competitive.
In addition, banks in India do not provide student loans unless those seeking financial support provide collateral.
Previously, part of the support came from universities that a student intended to join in the form of scholarships and endowments. But the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has seen a decline in Western universities offering aid to foreign students.
In this scenario, crowdfunding has become an option, mainly for students from less privileged families or those who lost a family member earning income.
As more people have begun to seek help, many activists and organizations belonging to marginalized communities support their campaigns by retweeting their pleas or helping them find donors.
Activists said they supported these students as they believe education is the only means by which they could empower and improve their lives or those of their communities.
Study issues related to the community
Many students who are collectively funding their education at Western universities say they intend to study courses related to the struggles of their communities.
Archana Rupwate, a 34-year-old Dalit lawyer based in the western metropolis of Bombay, works on issues related to human rights and criminal justice.
He was admitted to Viadrina University in Frankfurt, Germany, for a master’s degree in human rights and humanitarian law. But being the daughter of peasants, her only option was to seek help from strangers.
“Although I received admission offers from several reputable universities, I did not get a full scholarship,” he told Al Jazeera.
“So one of my friends and a former colleague suggested that since I’ve done so much work in the field of human rights, I should try crowdfunding.”
Rupwate organized a fundraising campaign on another crowdfunding platform called Ketto, and said it managed to increase its requirements by 80% in “just eight days.”
“I think most of the people who admired my work gave: my established Dalit clients and friends around the world who have achieved something in their lives and who really want other students in the community to achieve their dreams, ”he said.
Maknoon Wani, a 23-year-old student from Kashmir administered by India, says he wants to study the effects of the internet and social media to feed religious or ethnic hatred in society and found a suitable master’s course at Oxford , for which he now needs financial help.
“The Internet outage in our region in 2019 and 2020 bothered me a lot. My father suffered losses because he could not operate his retail business while I could not attend online classes during the last year of college, ”he told Al Jazeera by telephone.
“I have admission, but I don’t have the necessary funds, so I decided to set up a fundraiser in Milaap,” he said.
But Wani has yet to raise the target amount of $ 58,000.
“I cannot postpone admission. I am very motivated to do the course and I hope I can do it “, he said.
Increase in people seeking funds
India’s crowdfunding platforms, including Milaap and Ketto, claim that the number of campaigns on their websites launched by people seeking help for higher education has increased significantly in recent years.
Milaap co-founder Mayukh Choudhury told Al Jazeera that his website hosted more than 11,000 education-related fundraisers in 2020, up from 7,000 a year earlier. He said education was the second highest category for which campaigns are conducted after medical emergencies.
“While non-profit organizations and fundraising communities are common to support the education of disadvantaged children, many young people are also seeking support for crowdfunding to continue higher education,” he said. dir Choudhury.
On June 3, Dalit musician and activist Sumeet Samos funded a staggering $ 50,000 in less than a day for his training at Oxford.
“The fundraiser, posted on our crowdfunding platform, saw an overwhelming response,” Choudhury said, adding that all of his website’s campaigns were “verified by a dedicated team” and then to approve the relevant documents.
“In fundraising cases to cover tuition fees, relevant documents from institutions such as call letter, acceptance letter and other relevant documents are shared on the campaign page,” he said.
Namrata Pandey, a New Delhi-based education consultant, says crowdfunding still cannot cover the full cost of education and living expenses abroad.
“Many universities, especially in the United States, fund students from marginalized communities if they are academically bright, talented, and bring an unusual perspective,” he said.
“Failure of government programs”
However, not all people who set up a fundraiser manage to get the necessary funds. Very often, what makes it avant-garde is activism, a network of friends and welcome, and a proven track record of work in the chosen field.
While fundraising may seem like an easy way to raise money for education, putting your life story online so the world can see it can come at a cost.
The ethics of crowdfunding for educational spending has also been questioned. Many believe that such an expensive education should not be pursued by people who come from marginalized communities and question whether such expensive titles are worthwhile.
Some fundraisers have also suffered a backlash on social media, with users calling them “beggars,” “selfish,” and even accusing them of hiding facts about themselves or their families.
Recently, Ansab Amir, a graduate of Muslim University in Aligarh, northern state of Uttar Pradesh, applied for funding after securing admission for a master’s program in journalism at Goldsmiths University in London.
But the 22-year-old aspiring journalist decided to end fundraising in Milaap and return the money raised to donors because he and his family “had been abused, harassed and threatened and [my] mental health was damaged by all this.
Dalit activist and writer Cynthia Stephen says most government scholarships are designed to give the impression of helping marginalized communities, but students rarely manage to get them.
“To deny the opportunity to a student from a marginalized community is to deny him human dignity and his constitutional right,” he told Al Jazeera, calling crowdfunding for higher education a “good trend.” .
“But it is also a measure of the failure of government programs in supporting marginalized communities.”