Chennai, India – Harshali Nagrale is a first generation student of the Dalit community of India, formerly called “the untouchables” who have faced systemic persecution by the so-called high caste Indians for centuries.
Having done extensive work in public policy and the education of marginalized communities, the 25-year-old now wanted more specialized training in the field at a foreign university.
While securing entry into a master’s program in elections, campaigning and democracy at London’s prestigious Royal Holloway College, he has made an obstacle.
There was no way the daughter of a retired worker and a housewife could pay the $ 54,000 tax.
Nagrale’s attempts to obtain scholarships set up by the Indian government as well as by some foreign organizations have been unsuccessful.
That’s when she decided to try an unconventional method that has yielded results for disadvantaged students like her in recent times.
Nagrale launched a fundraising campaign on an online platform called Milaap, which details her work and the details of the course she wanted to join, and asked her community for financial support.
“I am the first woman to complete her graduation from my country and my family,” says her appeal on the crowdfunding platform.
“I am a first generation lawyer and it is truly a proud moment for me to be offering this course at this prestigious university.”
The move worked. Nagrale received an overwhelming response from Dalit students studying abroad, community groups and activists.
She has been able to collect 67 percent of her intended amount and is now working on her visa formalities. She said she will finance the rest of her living expenses through part-time work in the UK.
Option for aspiring privilege menus
In recent days, hashtags like #SumittoOxford and #sendAbhishektoCambridge have been on trend on Indian social networks, as more than a dozen aspirants like Nagrale seek donations for higher education at prominent Western universities.
In the past, some deserving students from poor families have been helped by the government, philanthropists and NGOs, but these scholarships are limited and extremely competitive.
In addition, Indian banks do not provide student loans unless those seeking financial support provide a guarantee.
Previously, part of the support came from universities that a student aimed to raise in the form of scholarships and grants. But the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has seen a decline in Western universities offering help to foreign students.
In such a scenario, crowdfunding has become an option, mainly for students who come from less privileged families, or those who have lost a family member who earns.
As more people began to seek help, many activists and organizations belonging to marginalized communities supported their campaigns by retrieving their requests or helping them find donors.
Activists said they have supported such students since they believe that education is the only way to be able to be empowered and improve their lives, or the lives of their communities.
Study community-related issues
Many students who are crowdfunding for 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 Mumbai, works on issues related to human rights and criminal justice.
He secured admission to the Viadrina University in Frankfurt, Germany, for a Master’s in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. But being the daughter of farmers, her only option was to seek help from foreigners.
“Even though I received admission offers from several reputable universities, I didn’t get a full scholarship,” he told Al Jazeera.
“So one of my friends and a former colleague suggested that since I’ve already done so much work in the field of human rights, I should try crowdfunding.”
Rupwate has launched a fundraising campaign on another crowdfunding platform called Ketto, and said it has managed to raise 80% of its requirements in “just eight days”.
“I think most of the people who admired my work have donated – my Dalit clients and friends who have settled around the world and who have accomplished something in their lives and who really want other students in the community. they realize 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 networks to fuel religious or ethnic hatred in society, and he found an adapted teacher training course at Oxford, for which he now needs financial aid.
“The shutdown of the Internet in our region in 2019 and 2020 disturbed me a lot. My father suffered losses because he could not run his sales business while he could not attend online classes in the my senior year of college, ”he told Al Jazeera by phone.
“I had the admission but I didn’t have the necessary funds, so I decided to set up a fundraiser in Milaap,” he said.
But Wani hasn’t even been able to raise the target amount of $ 58,000, though.
“I can’t defer admission. I’m really motivated to do the course and I really hope to be able to do it,” he said.
Spike in people looking for funds
Indian crowdfunding platforms including Milaap and Ketto say 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 has garnered more than 11,000 fundraisers in terms of education by 2020, an increase from 7,000 a year earlier. He said education was the second highest category for which campaigns are created after medical emergencies.
“While nonprofit organizations and communities that raise funds to support the education of disadvantaged children are common, many young individuals are also seeking support for community funding to pursue higher education,” Choudhury said.
On June 3, musician and activist Dalit Sumeet Samos funded a $ 50,000 stake in less than a day for his education in Oxford.
“The fundraiser, posted on our crowdfunding platform, has seen an overwhelming response,” Choudhury said, adding that all of his website’s campaigns were “verified by a dedicated team” and after approving the relevant documents. .
“In cases of fundraising 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 may not even cover the full cost of education and living expenses abroad.
“Many universities, particularly in the United States, fund students from marginalized communities if they are academically bright, talented and lead in a perspective that is unusual,” he said.
“Failure of government programs”
However, not every person who implements a fundraiser manages to get the required funds. Often, what makes it cutting edge is activism, a network of friends and good wishes and a proven track record of working in the chosen field.
Although fundraisers may seem like an easy way to raise money for education, putting your life story online for the world to see can come at a cost.
The ethics of crowdfunding for educational expenses has also been questioned. Many think that such an expensive education should not be pursued by people coming from marginalized communities, and they wonder if such costly degrees are worth it.
Some fundraisers have also suffered from a social media reaction, with users calling them “beggars”, “selfish” and even accusing them of hiding facts about themselves or their families.
Recently, Ansab Amir, a graduate of Aligarh Muslim University in northern Uttar Pradesh, applied for funding after securing admission for a master’s program in journalism at Goldsmiths University in London.
But the aspiring 22-year-old journalist has decided to end his fundraising in Milaap and return the money raised to donors because he and his family “have been subjected to abuse, harassment and threats and [my] mental health has been damaged by all this. ”
Dalit activist and writer Cynthia Stephen says most government scholarships are intended to give the impression of helping marginalized communities, but students rarely manage to get them.
“Denying a student from a marginalized community the opportunity to come is to deny them human dignity and their 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 to support marginalized communities.”