As a response to the low representation of Bahujan students among Indians studying abroad, an India centre at the University of Oxford has launched a fully-funded Savitribai Phule Graduate scholarship for lower caste and first-generation students applying to the university for postgraduate studies.
The scholarship was officially launched on Friday, 12 May, with a keynote speech by Lord Harries of Pentregarth, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Dalits, followed by a panel discussion with Barbara Harriss-White (Emeritus Professor at the University of Oxford), Surajkumar Thube (representative of Project EduAccess and the Oxford South Asia Alternative Forum), Raju Kendre (co-founder and CEO of Eklavya India) and Niharika Singh (the first Savitribai Phule scholar).
The Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development at Somerville College offers a set of graduate scholarships to Indian students working on topics relevant to India’s sustainable development, and the Savitribai Phule Graduate scholarship is the latest addition to that list.
“With its long history of women’s education and empowerment, Somerville College is honoured to establish a new scholarship in Savitribai Phule’s name to support the next generation of leaders from Dalit, Adivasi and other underrepresented backgrounds,” said Jan Royall, Principal of Somerville College.
“Our motto of including the excluded extends to people who have been subject to generations of social discrimination and prejudice under the caste system, and it is thrilling to think that these scholarships will offer brilliant young people from these under-represented groups a platform by which to change the world,” she further added.
Lord Harries, who has been fighting to include caste in the United Kingdom's Equality Act, lauded the work done by Savitribai Phule and Jotirao Phule in the field of education and against caste discrimination. He said,
"It is fitting that one of the first women’s colleges here is recognising India’s first female teacher who opened a school for girls and took it upon herself to educate the oppressed communities. She with her husband Jotiba Phule, championed the causes of Dalits and women in India, and tackled caste and gender discrimination."
The scholarship covers course fees and a grant for living costs. The students who belong to the Scheduled Caste, Schedule Tribe or Other Backward Class category or are first-generation learners can apply for the scholarship. The courses that are eligible for the scholarship include MSc Biodiversity Conservation and Management, MSc Economics for Development, MSc Environmental Change and Management, MSc Global Governance and Diplomacy, MSc Modern South Asian Studies, MSc Nature, Society and Environmental Governance, MSc Water Science, Policy and Management and MSc Energy Systems.
The first Savitribai Phule Graduate scholar, Niharika Singh, will be studying MSc Nature, Society and Environmental Governance programme at the university's School of Geography and the Environment.
“By pursuing my MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance at the University of Oxford, I will develop insights on global themes related to environmental governance and community development. Moreover, as a representative of the Dalit community, I wish to contribute in bridging the gap between environmental sustainability and caste marginality in India. Unfortunately, Dalits in India are invisible from the broader discourse of the environment as issues concerning accessibility to natural resources, discrimination and multidimensional vulnerabilities are largely unaddressed in the current environmental policy and discourse in India.”– Niharika Singh