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“First the journey from Mumbai’s Jhopadpatis to JNU, and now from JNU onwards to America”- Sarita Mali

I have had offers from two universities in America – the University of California and the University of Washington. I have opted for the offer from the University of California. This university has awarded me one of America’s most prestigious fellowships, the Chancellor’s Fellowship, on the basis of my merit and academic record.

The Thopadpattis [settlement of temporary shacks which have very few basic amenities] of Mumbai, JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi], California, Chancellor’s Fellowship, American and Hindi literature… As some journeys come to an end, we feel a sense of wonderment because more than the desire to reach the journey’s destination, it is the journey itself that is the most fulfilling. You may find this story incredible, but this is my story, my very own story.

For crores of people in India, that oppressed and deprived community from which I come represents the totality of life. But there are possibilities of success stories in there, as I’ve shown by reaching where I am today. When you are born into a community that is marginalized by society, what keeps you going is that ray of hope, which keeps sparkling dimly at you from afar. I too was drawn towards that far away from the light that twinkled at me in the form of education.

I was born into a social world where hunger, violence, crime, poverty, and the tyranny of the system were a routine part of our lives. We were not considered to be anything more than mere insects, and my only sources of hope in such a society were my parents and my studies.

My father used to stand and sell flowers at Mumbai’s traffic signal junctions. Even today, when I see poor children trying to sell some items by running around vehicles at Delhi’s traffic signal junctions, I remember my childhood. And the question arises in my mind, will these children ever be able to study? What will their future be like?

On festival days, all of us, brothers and sisters, used to sit with Papa at the roadside to sell flowers. We also ran after the vehicles with our flowers in the same way. And then papa would tell us that only education could free us from this curse of life. If we did not study, then our whole life would be spent struggling to feed ourselves, struggling to just keep ourselves alive. We would not be able to contribute to this country and society. By remaining illiterate, just like him, we would continue to be humiliated by that society.

I do not want to say all this, but I also do not want the hopes of any child selling flowers on the roadside to be broken or their spirit to be crushed. It was while seeing that hunger, the atrocities, the humiliation, and the crimes happening around me, that I came to JNU in 2014 to do my Master’s in Hindi Literature. Yes, you did read it right –“JNU”– the same JNU that many people are demanding should be closed and labeled as a terrorist, traitor, anti-national, and whatnot. And when I hear these words, a sliver of that hope within me breaks. Because it is by coming here that some lives such as mine can be transformed, and then, on moving on, pay it forward to our communities. But after hearing all those calls, I see these possibilities ending.

JNU’simpressive academic spaces and teachers, and the progressive student politics here helped me to understand this country in its truest sense and taught me new ways of seeing my own community.

First of all, JNU recognized me as human. Its progressive student politics not only raises its voice for the rights of farmers and laborers, the marginalized, the Dalits, the Adivasis, the poor, women, and the minorities, but at the same time, also support their efforts to resist-violently. JNU then made me that human who will speak out against all the kinds of exploitation prevailing in society. I am extremely excited that I have now got an opportunity to pass on to the whole world, my research, and all that JNU has taught me so far.

I came to JNU in 2014, at the age of 20, to do my Master’s. At the age of 22, I also stepped into the world of research and after my M.A., I also studied for an M.Phil. degree and then a Ph.D. Now – this year – after submitting my Ph.D. thesis, I have had a chance to do another Ph.D. in America and also teach there. I have always had a passion for education, and I am happy that this journey will continue for another seven years.

Until now, the teachers I have had not only taught me but have always guided me. All of them have played a significant role in my journey to reach this point in my life. First of all, I would like to Thank Rajiv Singh sir, my teacher at school, Dr. Satish Pandey sir, who taught me at Somaiya College, Professor Devendra Kumar Chaubey, my research director at JNU, Professor Om Prakash Singh, Professor Raman Prasad Sinha, Professor RambuxJat, Dr. Harish Wankhede, my co-research director, Dr. Pradeep Shinde sir, and Dr.Manohar Bhandarefrom Maharashtra, who was always there to help me in my research. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all of them.

Along with these teachers, I am also tagging the seniors, juniors, and friends from whom I learned a lot and who made this journey so wonderful. They should consider this a mark of my love and respect for themselves.

[Story Translated By Lotika Singha]

[This article is an English translation of Sarita Mali’s Facebook post, which was originally written in Hindi and reproduced by The Mooknayak here. Sarita is a student of JNU and Ph.D., research scholar.]

The Mooknayak
The Mooknayakhttps://www.themooknayak.co.in
The Mooknayak is dedicated to Marginalised and unprivileged people of India. It works on the principle of Dr. Ambedkar and Constitution.

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