Indians from marginalised groups crowdfund for Western education

Harshali Nagrale is a first-generation student from India’s Dalit community, formerly referred to as “the untouchables” who have faced systemic persecution by so-called upper-caste Hindus for ages.

Having done extensive work in public policy and the education of marginalised communities, the 25-year-old now wanted to get a more specialised education in the field at a foreign university.

While she secured admission into a masters programme in elections, campaigns and democracy at London’s prestigious Royal Holloway College, she hit a roadblock.

There was no way the daughter of a retired mill worker and a homemaker mother could afford the $54,000 fee.

Nagrale’s attempts to get scholarships set up by the Indian government as well as some foreign organisations were unsuccessful.

That is when she decided to try an unconventional method that has delivered results for underprivileged students like her in recent times.

Nagrale set up a fundraising campaign on an online platform called Milaap, detailing her work and course details she wanted to join, and asked its community for financial support.

“I am the first woman to complete her graduation from my village and family,” reads her appeal on the crowdfunding platform.

“I am a first generation lawyer and it is indeed a proud moment for me to be offered this course at this prestigious university.”

The move worked. Nagrale received an overwhelming response from Dalit students studying abroad, community groups and activists.

She was able to raise 67 percent of her target amount and is now working on her visa formalities. She said she will fund the rest of her living expenses through part-time jobs in the UK.

Option for less-privileged aspirants

In recent days, hashtags such as #SumittoOxford and #sendAbhishektoCambridge have been trending on Indian social media, as more than a dozen aspirants like Nagrale seek donations for higher education at prominent Western universities.

In the past, some deserving students from poor families have been helped by the government, philanthropists and NGOs, but these scholarships are limited and extremely competitive.

Also, Indian banks do not provide student loans unless those seeking financial support provide collateral.

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