By N Siddoji Rao (Founder, Help-Desk for Underprivileged)
I am from a homeless background and belong to a Scheduled Caste. I lost my parents at the age of seven. I had nine siblings. I lost three sisters and two brothers to hunger. I studied in government schools and stayed at government hostels. In the hostel, I had to eat rice full of black and white worms (when I added buttermilk to it, they used to float in it). But, since I was not able to get a decent meal anywhere, a worm-infested meal appeared like heaven to me. During the summer holidays, I used to do odd cleaning jobs in a hotel for three rupees a day regularly till graduation. I used to wear clothes handed over by others after altering them.
Despite hunger, poverty and being a social outcast, I managed to sail through and ended up at some of the best institutions such as Harvard University, Australian National University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Andhra Pradesh Residential Degree College, Andhra Pradesh Residential Junior College, etc, and excelled. I have worked in India, US and Australia. My performance has been outstanding and even extraordinary at times. It has been an amazing odyssey. From worm-infested rice to the world’s finest basmati rice, from torn clothes to the finest global brands, I have experienced it all.
Many factors have contributed to this journey. Since childhood, I have always tried to understand and know my subject much better than others. I always tried to do my work (whatever I do) much better than others, though I have had a language problem (I am not proficient in either Telugu or English ). Also, I was always prepared to sacrifice some happiness and comforts to achieve my goal of topping in schools, colleges and universities to attain greater happiness. Moreover, people from my background don’t have access to quality education. And they always have a negative opinion of people and the system; I, too, did due to the practice of ‘untouchability’ and the absence of support. However, I gradually got over my negative views owing to the support of the government and a few people who treated me with love and respect. The reason is that all my teachers, classmates and the general public always respected me because of my hard work and academic record. For me, government is God as it gave me a supporting hand when I needed it badly. The leadership training by the Ford Foundation international fellowship programme for social justice, my life experience and some important people (such as K Madhava Rao, S Prasada Rao, etc) have motivated me to work for the underprivileged rather than pursuing selfish career objectives. So, I aim to make the Dalit community an asset, indispensable to India in particular and the world in general to overcome ‘untouchability’ and enjoy true liberty. To achieve this, I have studied why some countries, communities and individuals are better developed than others. Through these extensive studies, I have realised that I need to make the Dalits more productive, more responsible and more communicative.
In addition, to bring desirable and effective change among Dalits, I have prepared myself for self-sacrifice, risk-taking, patience and commitment. That is why, I left my lucrative job in Australia. I have approached upwardly mobile Dalits for their support in achieving my goal and in helping the underprivileged. I have started an Information Centre for Dalits for the purpose of educational and employment opportunities in addition to career counselling (personality development ). I have started to use Dr Ambedkar, who built our nation with a modern, democratic and accommodative constitution and who is known for his hard work, talent, scientific mind, sacrifice and indispensability in motivating Dalits and developing a high self-esteem among them. Finally, people have been convinced of my aim and started to support it and change themselves. I have given 1,500 lectures at every level — villages, schools, colleges, and universities — to make Dalits more productive, responsible, and communicative. With the support of successful Dalits, I have created a help desk which supports to underprivileged Dalits. In this, we use the resources, skills, professional experience, time and energy of successful Dalits. The help desk carries out the following activities daily:
Counselling/lecture on how to get government officer-level jobs easily, personality development and professional leadership
Counselling/ lecture on employable skills, skill development — upgrading skills, overseas education counselling and education opportunities
Mentor young Dalit entrepreneurs and help them write project reports, etc
Legal advice on any issue
Solve scholarship or fee reimbursement problems
The writer won the Ford Foundation international fellowship in 2002
[Courtesy: TOI, June 9, 2014]