Sumit Turuk hails from Maoist-affected Narayanpatna block of Koraput district in Odisha. (HT photo)
Sumit Turuk hails from Maoist-affected Narayanpatna block of Koraput district in Odisha. (HT photo)

Odia Dalit rapper’s Oxford dream inches closer to reality due to crowdfunding

Sumit Turuk from Maoist-affected Narayanpatna block of Koraput district in Odisha was selected by St Anthony’s College of UK’s Oxford University to pursue an M.Sc programme.
By Debabrata Mohanty
PUBLISHED ON JUN 05, 2021 02:28 PM IST

27-year-old Odia Dalit student’s dream to study at Oxford University is now closer to reality after a fundraising effort to finance his course fees met with an unprecedented response, HT has learnt. Sumit Turuk from Maoist-affected Narayanpatna block of Koraput district in Odisha was selected by St Anthony’s College of UK’s Oxford University to pursue an M.Sc programme in Modern South Asian Studies.

“I reach out to you because I have run out of options to pay for this opportunity. The total sum of course fees, college community charge and college deposit come to 26240 pound sterling, equivalent to 27,13,480 Indian Rupees. I have to submit a financial declaration for the same by June 30, 2021. As the fees have been raised, I am now also hoping to work part-time to secure my living expenses and other costs, but I would appreciate having a headstart on this. Any contribution will help, and I sincerely thank you if you can spread this campaign, move it through your networks or help in any other way,” he posted on the fundraising site.

The programme is a 12-month master’s degree course offered jointly by the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies and the Faculty of Oriental Studies. It involves the students to study the South Asian region, its rich history and its complex present-day societies from several disciplinary and analytical perspectives, culminating in a 12,000-word thesis.

The son of a school teacher and an auxiliary nurse midwife in Koraput district, Turuk could probably never have been able to pay the course fees at St Anthony’s College in Oxford University. Goaded by his friends from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, where e pursued his MA in Spanish language, Turuk took to, a fundraising website to crowdfund his course fees and realise his dream.

The Odisha government initially assured him of contributing to his course fees but couldn’t as the degree was his second Masters.

The crowdfunding amount included visa costs of £348, international health surcharge of £475 for one year, living expenses of £17000, emergency expenses including rent insurance or £1000 and round-trip airfare of £700. The course starts in October.

On Twitter, several people ran a hashtag #Sendsumittooxford appealing to people to donate for the cause. “This is urgent! Sumeet is one most brilliant young scholar from Dalit community. He has secured admission in Oxford but is unable to join the course due to fund shortage. We need to come together and secure his admission,” posted one Twitter.

Another user tweeted, “Please note that 28 lakh covers just the tuition fee. Oxford is an expensive city & living expenses can be hard to manage. Donate generously!”

The response was overwhelming and beyond Turuk’s expectations. Within 3-4 hours of posting his appeal on the website, he received help worth 37 lakh, more than what he asked for. “I never thought people would reach out and help so quickly. I thought I may raise some money through crowdfunding in 15 days. But this was too quick,” Turuk said. He is now aiming to raise 47 lakh to cover the high living expenses in Oxford.

His mother, Bharati Bag, an ANM working in Koraput, said she is too happy for her son’s achievements. “He has always been studious since childhood and started reading books at the age of 3,” she said.

Turuk said at Oxford University, he plans to pursue research on caste in central universities in India. “I want to chart the trajectory of Dalit-Bahujan students and their anti-caste political engagements starting from the Ambedkar Students Association in Hyderabad Central University in the 90s, formation of the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association in Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2014, to Rohith Vemula movement in 2016. I want to pioneer a topic of research that is vital to understand and has never been done before,” he said. “I want to study the impact of this trajectory on the shift, like discussions around caste among young students and university campuses, through the digital media boom and large anti-caste political mobilizations in recent years,” he added.

The 27-year-old has been quite active on social media talking about the realities of caste discrimination in higher education. He has travelled across the country attending around 100 events sensitizing young college and university students.

Since 2016, he has been an active rapper under the name Sumeet Samos. His first hip-hop single “Ladai Seekh Le” (Learn to Resist) was released in 2018. Most of his writings and songs are about SC/ST students, Savarna oppression, Ambedkar-Phule ideology, manual scavenging, caste discrimination and atrocities against Dalits. His student activism, advocacy and community-building against caste was featured in Princeton University’s Lewis Centre for Arts. He has also written for several newspapers and news websites. Between 2018 and 2020, he worked with French Radio Live (Paris) as a presenter and worked as a performing artist in various theatres of France. In 2019 he was featured among one of the 15 youths to watch out for the decade by the Times of India.

Turuk said his goal is to create networks and support systems through advocacy groups and by policy intervention through the SC/ST departments in every state to make higher education more accessible to SC/ST students, particularly those from rural areas.

Narayanpatna, from where Turuk hails, has been the epicentre of Maoist activities since mid-2000 in Odisha when the local tribals under an organisation named Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh started a movement to drive the moneylenders and landlords who had usurped tribal lands. With tribal forming 82 per cent of the Narayanpatna population, it has been among the most underdeveloped areas of Odisha.

Between 2006 and 2008, CMAS chased away upper caste landlords and distributed around 3000 acres of land among the landless poor tribals. However, Maoists later supported the Sangh leading to a violent confrontation between CMAS activists led by Nachika Linga police. The crisis boiled over after there were series of landmine explosions targetting police and police stations in which tribals and policemen were killed. In 2012, the erstwhile Biju Janata Dal MLA Jhina Hikaka was abducted by Maoists and then released after prolonged negotiations. The state police brought the area under its control a few years later.

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