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Tuesday, Nov 30, 2021
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Dalit Diary

In seventh grade, Maya Pramod was banished to the back benches because of caste. She tells a very personal story here—of her journey from virtual ostracisation to an international award at Brandeis University.

Dalit Diary
Illustration by Saahil
Dalit Diary
outlookindia.com
2021-04-23T13:47:39+05:30

I made the trip to school for the mid-day lunch. Seeing me sitting on one of the front benches, the seventh grade teacher says, “The back benches are where your people sit”. Taking me by the hand, she leads me there. I had sat in front as I am short and the disease of scoliosis—a very painful, disabling curvature of the spine—made it difficult for me to view the blackboard clearly. That incident sparked several questions in my mind: who ‘your people’ were, if it signified dark-skinned people like me, and whether it should govern my choice of friends. I invited the teacher to my house…if one can hardly call that a ‘house’. Her response was one of extreme embarrassment and discomfort, as if she would be marked out for entering the colony house of a scheduled caste. Her words and attitude made me think. Thus did a seventh-grader, her mind besieged by these perplexities, start climbing the steps of progress over 18 years ago.

A Stone Angel Looks After Me

The Bluestone Rising Scholar prize, to be awarded at Brandeis University near Boston, was officially announced on August 27, 2019 by Vinod Mishra of the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies in Delhi. I was on a long journey home from college. Four days before that, I was invited to take part in the Ambedkar international conference at The New School in New York. Alas, it included no travel allowance. Yet the selection makes me happy, for it comes after I have been sending papers for seminars to be held in foreign universities for the past three years. Yes, two of them were accepted, but a similar lack of travel allowance meant I could not attend. I didn’t expect the Ambedkar Conference to be like that. I send emails to the New School University, coordinators of the conference, even Dr Mishra. There is no reply. On the way back from college on the 27th, I receive a mail saying, “I need to contact you; please send your number”. When I call Dr Mishra, I expect him to reaffirm the lack of travel allowance, but he asks me if I have a passport. Yes, I do. “I am very proud to say that Bluestone has announced their ‘Rising Scholar’ for this year and that the winner is from Kerala,” he says. As it transpires, I am the awardee. It is the motivation I need halfway along a road filled with isolation, frustration and academic pressure. In September, I go to Chennai for the visa interview.  I receive it in Ernakulam on October 5.

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