VILLUPURAM: Among the hundreds of students walking into the lush green campus of Anna University in Guindy, there is a 17-year-old youth from Villupuram district who has walked more than anyone else to reach there. And nobody would have expected him to be in this premier educational institution if they had seen him a couple of months ago.
An Irula tribe member, Thirumurthy is the first person from his community in the district to pursue engineering education. But things were quite different and difficult for him.
“Our family has been working in the brick kilns near Kancheepuram. My parents somehow managed to enrol us in schools. But pursuing higher education always seemed to be a distant dream,” Thirumurthy said.
Son of Kuppan and Selvi, Thirumurthy has an elder sister Sasikala (20) and a younger brother Tamilarasan (15). The family lives in the Irula tribal colony at Kanakkankuppam near Gingee. Their urge to provide even primary education was met with difficulties. Sasikala had to stop her studies after facing discrimination in village school. But, this did not stop Kuppan from educating his duo sons.
“During vacations, we all used to work in brick kilns as every single rupee we earn could be used for our education,” Thirumurthy said.
Dreaming to become an engineer, he passed Plus Two with 963 marks from a government aided school in the village. However, lack of community certificate came as an obstacle, forcing him to go back to brick kiln.
“It is very hard working there. The owners prefer the workers to stay with their families close to the kilns, so that workers would not take leaves to visit their homes,” Thirumurthy said and added that each family used to get `450 for manufacturing 1,000 bricks. “In peak season, we won’t even get time to eat,” he said.
Things would not have changed unless activists of Pazhangudi Irular Pathukappu Sangam (PIPS), an NGO working for the uplift of Irulas, came to know about the family’s plight.
“The activists of PIPS contacted Tindivanam Sub-Collector Dr Prabhushankar two months back and submitted a petition to issue me a community certificate, which helped me to pursue higher education,” Thirumurthy said, expressing his joy on getting admission in Anna University.
However, in the middle of his joy, Thirumurthy expressed his regret for his younger brother who could not study in a good school due to financial troubles.
Tamilarasan, despite scoring 453 marks in SSLC, could not pursue Plus Two in the aided school in their village, which is quite popular in the region for its better standards, as the family could not afford the fee of Rs 7,000.
To save money for Thirumurthy’s education, Tamilarasan decided to join a government school in Alampoondi and continued working in brick kilns in spare time.
“Irulas belong to a sub-caste of Scheduled Tribes and are traditionally engaged in catching rats and snakes. Even in the villages, they stay at isolated corners as the villagers belonging to other castes restrict their entry,” Prabha Kalvimani told Express.
However, the main obstacle before Irulas is the difficulty in getting community certificate. Meanwhile, Thirumurthy is on a long walk, chasing his dream. For him, the four-year engineering course is just a beginning.