Dalits, Bahujans and Adivasis (DBA) have historically been pushed to the margins of Indian society, and the education system is no exception to this pattern of oppression and discrimination. It is not unknown that DBA students have to overcome several systemic barriers in order to access higher education institutions (HEIs). By the Indian government’s own admission, the enrolment rates of students from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are abysmally low at 14.7% and 5.6% respectively (AISHE 2019-20).
Even for those who overcome these barriers and join HEIs, the journey ahead is difficult as a result of discrimination on campuses and gatekeeping of funding opportunities by elite/ savarna networks. This in return means that DBA students are severely underrepresented in higher education institutions across the world and rarely have access to opportunities for professional and personal development.
Recognising these problems, we have been providing DBA learners customised mentorship support for all aspects of university and scholarship applications for higher education. Under our 2022-23 Mentorship Programme, as of May 2023, 24 DBA mentees had received admission offers from universities abroad. One of them received the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship as well as Essex University’s Postgraduate International Excellence Scholarship. Yet another mentee received the Royal Holloway Departmental Scholarship.
Moreover, we worked with the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development at Somerville College, University of Oxford – albeit in a limited capacity – and assisted in setting up the Savitribai Phule Graduate Scholarship for DBA (SC, ST, OBC) learners.
Encouraged by how our mentoring and advocacy contributed to achieving these positive outcomes, we have decided to continue supporting DBA learners with their graduate applications through our India Graduate Mentorship Programme 2023-24. Moreover, we will work towards helping them avail more opportunities for professional and personal development, such as through internships, research assistantships and leadership programmes.