Chennai, India – Harshali Nagrale is a first-generation student in the Dalit community in India. He was once known as a “untouchable” and has been facing systematic persecution by the so-called upper-caste Hindus for many years.
This 25-year-old young man has done a lot of work in public policy and education in marginalized communities, and now wants to receive a more professional education in this field at a foreign university.
Although she was admitted to London’s prestigious Royal Holloway College in elections, elections and democracy, she encountered obstacles.
The daughter of a retired mill worker and the mother of a housewife simply cannot afford the $54,000.
Nagrale tried to obtain scholarships established by the Indian government and some foreign organizations, but failed.
At that time she decided to try an unconventional method, which has recently brought results for poor students like her.
Nagrale launched a fundraising campaign on an online platform called Milaap, explaining in detail the jobs and courses she would like to join, and seeking financial support from her community.
“I am the first woman to graduate from my village and family,” she wrote in an appeal on the crowdfunding platform.
“I am a first-generation lawyer, and it is indeed a proud moment for me to get this course at this famous university.”
This worked. Nagrale has received enthusiastic responses from Dalit students studying abroad, community groups and activists.
She was able to raise 67% of the target amount and is now in the process of applying for a visa. She said she will pay for the remaining living expenses by working part-time in the UK.
The choice of low-privileged aspirants
In recent days, hashtags such as #SumittoOxford and #sendAbhishektoCambridge have become popular on Indian social media, as more than a dozen aspiring people like Nagrale seek to donate to higher education in famous Western universities.
In the past, the government, philanthropists, and NGOs have helped some deserving students from poor families, but these scholarships are limited and highly competitive.
In addition, Indian banks do not provide student loans unless the bank seeking financial support provides collateral.
Earlier, part of the support came from universities that students planned to join in the form of scholarships and endowments. However, the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has led to a decline in the amount of assistance provided by Western universities to foreign students.
In this case, crowdfunding has become an option, mainly for students from poor families, or students who have lost family members.
As more and more people begin to seek help, many activists and organizations belonging to marginalized communities support their activities by forwarding their requests or helping them find donors.
Activists said they support these students because they believe that education is the only way for them to gain power and improve their lives or community life.
Research community-related issues
Many students who are crowdfunding for education in Western universities say they intend to take courses related to the struggle in the community.
Archana Rupwate is a 34-year-old untouchable lawyer who lives in the western metropolis of Mumbai and works on issues related to human rights and criminal justice.
She has a master’s degree in human rights and humanitarian law from Viadrina University in Frankfurt, Germany. But as the daughter of a farmer, her only choice is to seek help from strangers.
“Although I received acceptance letters from several well-known universities, I did not receive a full scholarship,” she told Al Jazeera.
“So a friend of mine and a former colleague suggested that since I have done so much work in the human rights field, I should try crowdfunding.”
Rupwate launched a fundraising campaign on another crowdfunding platform called Ketto and stated that she raised 80% of the funds in “just eight days.”
“I think most people who appreciate my work have donated – my clients and Dalit friends, who have settled globally and have achieved some achievements in their lives, and really hope that other students in the community will realize their dreams. “she says.
Maknoon Wani, a 23-year-old student from India-controlled Kashmir, said that he wanted to study the influence of the Internet and social media on fostering social, religious or racial hatred, and found a suitable master’s program in Oxford, for which he now needs financial help.
“The Internet shutdown in our region in 2019 and 2020 bothered me a lot. My father suffered losses due to his inability to run a retail business, and I was unable to take online courses in the last year of university,” he told Al Jazeera by phone.
“I was admitted, but I didn’t have the necessary funds, so I decided to set up a fundraising event on Milaap,” he said.
But Wani has not yet been able to raise the target amount of US$58,000.
“I can’t postpone admission. I’m really motivated to do this course and I really hope I can do it,” he said.
A surge in people seeking funding
Indian crowdfunding platforms, including Milaap and Ketto, stated that the number of activities initiated on their websites by people seeking help from higher education has increased significantly in recent years.
Milaap co-founder Mayukh Choudhury told Al Jazeera that his website hosted more than 11,000 education-related fundraising events in 2020, an increase from 7,000 a year ago. He said that education is the second largest category after medical emergencies.
“Although it is common for non-profit organizations and communities to raise funds to support the education of poor children, many young people also seek crowdfunding support to pursue higher education,” Chowdhury said.
On June 3, Dalit musician and activist Sumeet Samos raised a staggering $50,000 for his education in Oxford in less than a day.
“The fundraising campaigns posted on our crowdfunding platform have received an overwhelming response,” Chowdhury said, adding that all activities on his website were “verified by a dedicated team” and after the relevant documents were approved.
“In the case of raising funds to pay tuition fees, relevant documents from the institution, such as telephone notices, admission notices and other related documents will be shared on the event page,” he said.
Namrata Pandey, an education consultant in New Delhi, said that crowdfunding is still unable to cover the full cost of overseas education and living expenses.
“Many universities, especially in the United States, will fund students from marginalized communities if they are academically talented, talented, and bring unusual perspectives,” she said.
“The failure of the government plan”
However, not everyone who sets up a fundraising event will get the funds they need. Usually, the forefront is activism, a network of friends and wishers, and a good work record in the chosen field.
Although fundraising may seem like an easy way to raise funds for education, putting your life story online for the world to see may cost you.
The ethics of crowdfunding education expenses has also been questioned. Many people think that people from marginalized communities should not receive such an expensive education and question whether such an expensive degree is worth it.
Some people seeking funds have also received strong opposition from social media, with users calling them “beggars” and “selfish” and even accusing them of concealing facts about themselves or their family members.
Recently, Ansab Amir, who graduated from Aligarh Muslim University in northern Uttar Pradesh, asked for funding after he was admitted to the master’s program in journalism at Goldsmiths University in London.
But the 22-year-old aspiring journalist decided to end his fundraising in Milaap and return the funds raised to donors because he and his family “have been subjected to abuse, harassment and threats. [my] All of this damages mental health.”
Dalit activist and author Cynthia Stephen said that most government scholarships are designed to give the impression of helping marginalized communities, but students rarely manage to obtain them.
“To deprive students from marginalized communities of opportunities is to deprive them of their personal dignity and constitutional rights,” she told Al Jazeera, calling crowdfunding for higher education “a good trend.”
“But this is also a measure of the failure of government programs to support marginalized communities.”