A recent Indian graduate from the Oxford University has written a touching note to honour her grandfather who battled caste-based discrimination all his life to gain an education.
Juhi Kore said her grandfather was no longer around to cherish their “shared dream of him attending my Oxford graduation ceremony in person”.
She told The Independent that she was “devastated” by his death and wanted to pay tribute to him by penning a LinkedIn post that has since gone viral.
“Since his passing, I’ve been thinking about how to best honour his legacy and my graduation seemed like a fitting opportunity,” Ms Kore said.
“I was absolutely devastated after he passed away as I hadn’t seen my family and him for almost two years, before he passed away.”
The post on LinkedIn has received around 32,000 reactions and hundreds of comments from people who were moved by her heartwarming tribute. But it was not what the graduate expected.
“I’m so overwhelmed by the support I’ve received and absolutely did not expect this kind of attention,” she said.
Narrating her grandfather’s early days in India, she wrote: “In 1947, the year India was declared a free and independent country, not every citizen was allowed to live a free and independent life.” India gained independence from British rule in 1947.
“One of those individuals was a young school-aged boy who belonged to a family of the lowest caste, in a rural village in Maharashtra.
“Despite being a school-aged boy, his family did not want him to attend school for two primary reasons: as the eldest of 4, he needed to work on a farm so his family could earn enough food; and his parents were afraid of how he might be treated by the students and teachers alike.”
She was referring to the caste system in India which is the world’s oldest form of surviving social stratification that divides Hindus into hierarchical groups.
While the Constitution of independent India banned any form of caste-based discrimination in 1950, the system persists to varying degrees where people in the lowest level of the hierarchy suffer abuse, bias and discrimination in public places.
She said her grandfather, then a little boy, made a deal with his parents to work in the fields till 3am to convince them to allow him to attend school in the morning.
“However, unfortunately for him, his parents’ second fear came true: after a 1.5-hour walk to school, without any decent footwear, he wasn’t even allowed to sit inside the classroom,” she said.
“Yet, he persevered. Since his farm work didn’t pay in money, only food, he would borrow old books from older similarly ‘outcast’ (scheduled caste) students and study under the village’s only lamp post late into the night.
“Despite all the bullying from his upper caste peers, discrimination from his upper caste teachers, and not being allowed to sit inside the classroom, his determination and resolve led to him not simply passing his exams, but outranking all his classmates!”
The boy went on to not only learn English but earned a Bachelor’s in Law while working full-time as a cleaner in a government building after his principal sponsored his education in Bombay, she said.
He got his Master’s degree at the age of 60 after retiring as a high-level government official where he started working as a cleaner.
“I’m so proud of that boy, my maternal grandfather, for instilling the importance of education in me, as I proudly announce: I have graduated with my Master’s from the University of Oxford!”
Crimes against people from oppressed communities continue to haunt the society even 75 years after India’s independence.
According to the 2021 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes continued to rise in 2020, with maximum cases being reported from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
She told The Independent that it is “heartbreaking” and frustrating to see incidents of caste-based violence and abuse in modern India.
“It’s absolutely frustrating that as a country we’ve come such a long way and yet we haven’t been able to get past such incidents,” she said.
“It’s absolutely the kind of treatment my grandpa suffered, but to see it happening now, is just…unbelievable. It was never right or correct at all, but it’s 2022!!!”
“In just two generations, he turned his reality of not being allowed to sit inside the classroom to having a granddaughter walk through the halls of the best university in the world,” she wrote.
“I’m so proud of him and I hope he’s proud of his legacy.”