HYDERABAD : Adversity can either make or break you, and Naguri Shyam Joel belongs to the former category. Caste discrimination has not dimmed his resolve to give back something good to society, and work towards the development of disadvantaged communities. This 21-year-old, who is studying Anthropology at Hansraj College in Delhi University (DU), has founded a platform called Abhitha to help women from marginalised communities build skills and find space to sell their products.
In one of these initiatives, the members of Abhitha supply the raw material to women from SC and ST communities to make home decor. They then sell the products in central universities like University of Hyderabad and DU, and give the proceedings back to the women. Shyam, who was selected for Kalinga Fellowship 2019, talks about the caste discrimination he faced at his village Jukkal in Kamareddy district. “We belong to Scheduled Caste (SC) and we were forced to live on the periphery of the village. We were afraid to walk into the centre of the village.
In the city where I live now, this bias is generally not seen. Awareness about rights, a sense of security and access to justice are much better in the city than in my village. But I keep hearing about sophisticated forms of segregation in urban spaces too,” he shares. “My father, who is a teacher, was ordered to vacate our rented home when he started providing tuitions to Dalit students. I remember standing in a separate queue with my mother to fetch water from the well in her village.
In schools too, there were bathrooms earmarked for ‘reserved guys’. What pained me was that the school authorities were blind to this bias.” It was, however, an accident that forced this youngster to work towards the empowerment of his community. “A few years ago, I met with an accident and went into a coma. That incident made me rethink about life and made me realise that I have to do things differently,” says the recipient of Ambedkar National Dignity Award.
Shyam is now dedicated towards raising awareness about government schemes that benefit the scheduled and backward classes. He has conducted workshops on personal and menstrual hygiene among women with the help of health professionals. He had won `2 lakh when he was selected as a Changemaker for Rubaroo, and he is spending that money to support his various projects. “My parents are living examples of the transformative power of education.
If my parents, both teachers, were not educated, they would have ended up as bonded labourers like my grandparents. Today, me and my three elder sisters, who are working in various organisations, are reaping the fruits of their firm belief. I realised that my education should become a source for the development of my people who lack resources.” — Kakoli Mukherjee kakoli_mukherjee@newindianexpress. com @KakoliMukherje2