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To Learn With Dignity

Caned at nine for touching an upper-caste teacher, Kaila has vowed to educate the oppressed

To Learn With Dignity
To Learn With Dignity
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

As a child in a Dalit settlement in a village in Guntur district, Kaila would walk four miles to attend classes in a Telugu-medium school. Living without electricity, water or sanitation, he eventually obtained a postgraduate diploma in computer science and worked in the IT industry in Hyderabad and Mumbai for a few years. His earliest memory of caste discrimination is when he was nine years old: a teacher caned him for accidentally touching him. Being Dalit acquired another meaning for him at 26 when a relative gifted him a biography of Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar.

"The book changed my lifestyle, my habits and my thinking," he says, "I became an avid reader, developed critical thinking, a thirst for knowledge and a desire to help others like me." An association with the Bahujan Samaj Party, meetings with Kanshi Ram, and voraciously reading about Jyotiba Phule, Sahu Maharaj and Periyar followed. In Mumbai, he briefly started a Telugu Bahujan Welfare Society, but it did not last long. In 1999, he shifted to the United States and decided it was time to do something for the Dalit community. Starting a scholarship for bright students seemed easier than starting a school. The Ambedkar Scholarships were born in ’03, with two humble scholarships of Rs 5,000 each for Dalit students who passed class X with first class marks. The following year, the number of scholarships went up to 24. Last year, 37 students benefited from the scheme. This year the numbers will go up to 50. "I’m willing to expand the scholarship to other states provided I can find reliable volunteers," he says. This year there will be a special scholarship for children from families whose occupation is scavenging.

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