“This is the end of a dream, but not the end of my journey,” said 22-year-old student from Aligarh Muslim University, Ansab Amir Khan, a day after he posted a tweet saying he has decided to take down his university fee-crowdfunding campaign after facing “the worst kind of harassment, abuse, and threats.”
Ansab is among the many young Indians, many of them first-generation learners, from socially and economically backward classes in India who have started fundraising campaigns for their education in foreign universities.
Currently a student at Aligarh Muslim University, Ansab got through Masters’ in Journalism from Goldsmiths, University of London.
“I promise to use this opportunity to report on issues concerning the unrepresented, the minorities, the oppressed, and the underprivileged of India and the world,” read his fundraising page on Milaap, which is now defunct.
After his tweet about closing the campaign went viral, the reporter reached out to him. But, Ansab was scared, hesitant and unwilling to continue with the crowdfunding or even speak to the media, lest his family is harassed again.
“My father had to hear a lot because of my fundraiser, stuff like he’s begging for money, why can’t he provide for me, and his personal history regarding our family (I come from a dysfunctional family). My friend had to cut her hair to avoid being identified because she was being followed in my hometown and catcalled. Fake accounts were created to slander me, and other fake accounts were created to defame me. So, I can speak to you personally if you wish to, but the reason I chose to end the fundraiser was to let my family and my close friends be at peace.”
He added, “I want to be a journalist. I wanted to be a global voice for issues that others rarely or badly raised on international platforms. This course would have made the transition that much easier, and my work that much more impactful. This incident has hollowed me, but I will still aspire to continue journalism. For all the good people who supported me.”
Ansab isn’t the only one to face harassment for wanting to raise money to pursue his dreams of education abroad. Golden Singh, belonging to the Bahujan community and currently pursuing her Masters from Jawaharlal Nehru University, says she has been facing abuses and trolls on her social media account ever since she posted her campaign page.
A first generational learner, Golden says the reason she steered towards crowdfunding her fees was when she got the offer from two International School of Social Studies, Hague, either the deadlines for most scholarships had closed or the applications did not get approved. She could not apply for any of the scholarships for SCs/STs offered by the Social Justice Ministry because she belongs to an OBC caste. “The total cost of my tuition fees and living expenses would round up to 30 lakh. I cannot afford to take a loan of such a high amount because it would take me a lifetime to pay it back, since I come from a middle-class family,” she adds.
“I was born in a village in Bihar and grew up in a small town of Maharashtra, where very few women from marginalized communities get to higher education due to deprivations and lack of accessibility. As a first-generation Bahujan woman graduate from a middle-class family, education was a privilege for me.”Golden Singh writes in her campaign page
Rapping His Way to Oxford, Inspiring Dalits in Bihar
Golden was inspired by her senior Sumeet Samos, a Dalit rapper from Koraput district of southern Odisha. Unlike Ansab’s, the story of Sumeet crowdfunding his way to Oxford University is one of hope.
Sumeet too is a first-generational learner in his family and could not afford to mortgage any property to take a huge loan. His applications to the different but limited number of scholarships and the grant by Odisha government also did not work out. That is when he looked towards crowdfunding. He needed Rs 27,13,480. just for his tuition fees.
To his surprise, he raised Rs 8 lakhs more than his required tuition fee amount within a span of three hours, after which he closed his campaign.
Soon, his inbox was flooded with heartwarming messages from other young Dalits with similar dreams. One of them was from a man in Bihar who invited Sumit to visit his city, Siwan, to “guide the youth.”
“I am still trying to process how big this is. As soon as the news reached my village, my neighbours and relatives started visiting my home to congratulate my parents. Local media interviewed my family. Some of the people from my village were saying that he is a Dalit student, one among us and now he is going to London. That is when it hit me the magnanimity of it all.”Sumeet Samos, Dalit Rapper
Although his crowdfunding experience too was filled with abuses, he believes he was successful in raising the required funds in such a short span “probably because of his network of influencers and public figures who shared his campaign page.”
Running From Pillar to Post, With Trolls & Unsolicited Advice
Unlike Sumeet, Ibrar, a journalist and a first-generation learner, is having to run from pillar to post to raise the required amount for his masters education. He has so far been able to raise about 41% of his required amount, almost a month after he started pushing out the campaign page.
“I come from a family residing in a Muslim ghetto in Calcutta. I am a first-generation learner as both my parents were not educated due to the financial constraint they had growing up. Irrespective, they were very supportive of educating me and my siblings, and have always encouraged us to pursue our academic pursuits. It was their encouragement which led me to do academically well all through school and college.”Ibrar’s campaign page read.
Besides the online trolling, Ibrar says he has been disappointed even with his “own community” for not coming forward to help him. He added, “There are family members who make snide remarks covertly and then there was a friend who didn't understand the idea of crowdfunding and felt that I was taking an easy route, not knowing that all other options have been exhausted.”
He says the online trolling mostly range from “unsolicited advice, shaming for using crowdfunding and Islamophobic trolling which I abruptly block.”
Is Crowdfunding a Sustainable Model to Fund Foreign Education
A spokesperson from Milaap, the crowdfunding platform where most students are raising funds for their higher education, said, “ Since January 2021 till date, around 9200 campaigns have been set up only for educational causes. These campaigns together have garnered support from 20,500 donors raising 6.6 C in total. In the first 5 months of 2021, we have seen a significant increase in the campaign set up and donations to educational causes.”
The spokesperson added, “Next to medical emergencies, education has been the second highest category for which campaigns are set up. While non-profit organisations and communities raising funds to support education of underprivileged children are common, many young individuals also seek support for crowdfunding to pursue higher education.”
The statement by the spokesperson also said, “All campaigns on Milaap are verified by a dedicated team, and fundraisers with relevant documents are only approved. Donations can be withdrawn only with supporting documents and donors are given an update about the utilization of funds. In case of raising funds to cover tuition fees, relevant documents from the institutions such as call letter, acceptance letter and other relevant documents are shared in the campaign page.”