Jaspreet Kaur, who scored 99.5 per cent in her Class XII board exams | Photo by special arrangement
Jaspreet Kaur, who scored 99.5 per cent in her Class XII board exams | Photo by special arrangement

Ever wonder what happens to the Dalit toppers from the remotest villages of India? Do they pursue higher education, or do they become manual scavengers, or do they end up working as labourers in the fields of ‘upper caste’ landowners? As India celebrates its 74th Independence Day and our leaders use the occasion to make tall promises, these are questions worth asking.

If these questions bother you, then you must track the journey of 17-year-old Jaspreet Kaur from Punjab’s Mansa district. A Dalit with zero resources at her disposal, Jaspreet has topped this year’s Punjab School Education Board’s Class XII exams, securing 99.5 per cent in humanities.

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After 20 days of hitting the headlines, the collective efforts of an organisation, a professor, a lawyer and a few others, have helped her see new opportunities. Yes, it takes a bunch of people to tell a Dalit girl about her own potential and what she could do with it in a world dominated by the ‘upper’ castes/class. But with almost no social or cultural capital and financial stability, her real struggle starts now. Punjab’s Dalit topper’s biggest aspiration was to become a primary school teacher.

Also read: India’s oppressed groups had high hopes from Internet. But upper castes got in there too

Internet is her hope

When 29-year-old Ravi Verma, a practicing lawyer in Delhi High court, saw a news clip doing rounds on social media, he was moved. A Dalit topper only wants to become a primary teacher? Why not an IAS? Why not a judge or a journalist? These questions left Verma uncomfortable.

After trying to trace her for five days, Verma was able to connect with the reporter who had published Jaspreet’s story. Verma told him that he wanted to help Jaspreet enroll in Delhi University.

After Jaspreet’s success story flashed in the media, New York-based literary organisation Raag came forward with a scholarship of Rs1 lakh. A central government employee, after seeing the news, helped Jaspreet apply for the post-matric scholarship scheme meant for scheduled castes. Later, Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal assured Jaspreet of help while congratulating her on a video call, which led to a Delhi University professor coming forward and offering counselling to the Dalit teenager.

“All this is unimaginable for me. I never knew the power of the internet,” says Jaspreet.

People from the neighbourhood also came forward to help her in their own little ways, offering monetary support in the form of small cash sums of Rs 1,100 and Rs 2,100. Jaspreet now has Rs 1.5 lakh in her account.

Also read: The mother tongue fanatics are keeping India a poor, backward country

Anxieties, taunts and aspirations 

Jaspreet had never heard of Miranda House in Delhi University. “I have never even been to Chandigarh,” the 17-year-old says jokingly.

Aware of her social standing and the rare feat she has achieved, an anxious Jaspreet says: “Some people in our village have started taunting us, saying that I must have got these marks by luck. This angers me a lot. They are doubting my capabilities. What if an upper caste girl/boy secured these marks? Would they have the same things to say about her/him?”

“If just a few people from my own society can shatter my confidence, I am not sure how rich people in Delhi will see my journey. I have seen in films, they indulge in ragging poor girls.”

But Jaspreet has the support of her Hindi Teacher, Gurdas Singh. Singh rubbishes the claims that she got these marks through sheer luck. “Not everyone can accept the fact that a poor Dalit girl has excelled in studies. I have taught her since Class I. She is the brightest among all,” says Singh.

Also read: My teacher once asked how could I be good in Sanskrit: Tribal woman scholar who’s now a V-C

Breaking the intellectual monopoly

Even if Jaspreet gets into Miranda House or Lady Shri Ram, she is likely to feel left out. Every time her college mates will mention cinema, Netflix, fashion, literature, and popular culture, Jaspreet will probably get rattled because the teenager from a small village in Punjab lacks the ‘cultural capital’ of the upper-class students. The English-speaking elite might look like aliens to her. That’s the burden of opportunity cost the likes of Jaspreet have to live with when they leave their small villages and venture into big cities in a bid to make a mark for themselves. Sadly, not many are able to make it through.

Till now, Jaspreet has experienced a certain kind of discrimination and made peace with it. While her father runs a barbershop, she and her mother work in the fields.

But now, things would be different. While on one hand, a world of opportunities wait for her in India’s capital, on the other, she will also be exposed to urban social discrimination. Because she has challenged the intellectual monopoly of the upper classes through her merit, she would be rejected at every step. Her success would be scrutinised. The first rejection has already come from her own village.

This is why Bahujans must form cultural and social groups to work as support systems for the Jaspreet Kaurs of the world. The likes of Jaspreet lack the cultural capital only because they did not have the means and not because of their inability. Now, in the times of a digital revolution, they can easily pick up the threads.

Jaspreet needs this support because she is the first champion of her ‘Kaur dynasty’. The first ‘rural elite’ of her family. The Republic of India has to see that she doesn’t end up just being a headline.

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  1. Who says this girl doesn’t have social or cultural capital?! In fact, Jaspreet is an asset to Miranda House. I bet it, more than half of the students of Miranda House wouldn’t be knowing d name of a single river flowing through Punjab!

  2. This article is nothing but a political rant and disrespect to the millions of Rular dreams irrespective of their Caste .

  3. I say this shouldn’t be about caste if any child like j Kaur is bright we should support them our government has duty to help them and please don’t bring caste in every thing we have people from so called upper class who are in same position but no one writes about them so my fellow Indians their shouldn’t be any class upper or lower we have people from so called lower class who are filthy rich same with upper class who are rich so we have rich and poor in every class it shouldn’t make any difference what class ur from if we can we should help every one we can our politicians play this class card all the time so please think every one should be equally treated no matter what class it’s up to us as Indians to make difference not politicians

  4. I would recomend her to do her higher study in any college near to her village where she remain connected to the environment in which living she scored such high merit. I think that her home is ideal study place for her.She can get access to internet at her home through help from various help groups which have been discussed in the news article.

  5. I would like to contact Jaspreet Kaur and help her in pursuing higher studies in DU. Kindly provide her contact no. asap.

  6. The author is talking total rubbish. Why the need of pin pointing at ‘upper’ is needed. Dalits and SC’s are getting everything, be it government jobs or college seats and yet they are crying. It’s mere a case of financial problem and nothing else. These type of so-called journalist try to polarise and create hateful among people for just few incentives. Shame on you if you call yourself journalist.

  7. writer puts first champion of her ‘Kaur dynasty’, we salute the no means achievement of our dearest Jaspreet Kaur, for it we are making people to pour help, but writer must remember Kaurs are making waves across the globe with diverse and high ranking achievements rising from very humble backgrounds
    Kind Regards,
    feel comments are not being published

  8. Pl don’t try to suppress people from small places and lower income groups, ppl know, writers, like of this story, may be knowing the art of playing with words but surely by twisting the facts, putting factually incorrect views, they need to put true picture and not to get publicity for wrong things. Totally disagree with personal forcefully put in the story

  9. Worst kind of journalism, putting facts in the story without verifying the facts, only on hearsay, do the writer think whatever is being told is absolutely right, story is factually wrong, as she is not the topper as writer claimed in this story and writer tried to label the reporter who breaking the story highlighted the successes and plight of intelligent from downtrodden family, as anti dalit, without verifying the facts.. Pl be responsible enough to check the facts and pl not every time play with words unnecessarily

  10. Why do you have to equate urban culture to only the ‘upper’ class?
    By writing this as ‘upper,’ you severely undermine the children coming from general families as well as those from non-metro upper class. You need to understand this is more of a rural-urban divide sick heads.
    If you try to divide the society solely on these basis, then my dear, your journalism is bound to suffer.

  11. Why is it necessary to mention ‘Dalit and ‘bahujan samaaj ‘ when the main focus of the article should have been how her economic deprivations which are the main reason for her being left out and scrutinised. Indian culture has outgrown these social stigmas long before. It is only their perpetuation through such biased and edited articles meant to ‘target’ a particular group/sect. Even a Pandit or Thakur, who is a labourer or daily wage earner may have a similar story. Caste is no longer a determinant of a person’s economic status, leave behind the social one.

    • Haaa ha…….. He says Indian culture has outgrown these social stigma long before! He seems to be a resident of Europe and not India. The castiest stooges keep propounding this unbelievable lie that castism in India is extinct. It’s practiced day in and day out.

  12. I wonder why even in 2020, young minds our sterotyped when it comes to their future. Why is it necessary to mention ‘Dalit and ‘bahujan samaaj ‘ when the main focus of the article should have been how her economic deprivations which are the main reason for her being left out and scrutinised. Indian culture has outgrown these social stigmas long before. It is only their perpetuation through such biased and edited articles meant to ‘target’ a particular group/sect. Even a Pandit or Thakur, who is a labourer or daily wage earner may have a similar story. Caste is no longer a determinant of a person’s economic status, leave behind the social one.

    • people who are not born with Helen Keller handicaps choose to behave as if they have them, but one can learn braille and read some statistics about the condition of Dalits,of course one cannot be happier that way, if Dalits can top exams today, who is responsible for keeping them at the bottom for so long?

  13. I don’t understand why it has been pre-supposed that she will be at the receiving and of ragging? Movies don’t give an accurate view of the world which made Jaspreet think that she will be ragged.. She’s a girl who has gotten such amazing marks and deserves the respect she deserves, which she will get. Luck can help you pass but not top, her hardwork won’t go unrecognised. I wish her all the luck for her future :))

  14. I agree with the author wholeheartedly and wish jaspreet Kaur all the luck in the world to realise her aspirations. As far as social support is concerned, the kid will have one more obstacle to surmount, which as the author has already pointed out is far more difficult than to accomplish than academic ones. But, once in a rare while, talent overcomes insurmountable obstacles, hope rare times become commonplace.

  15. I really like your articles and news reporting and thank you The print for allowing this Brilliant journalism in your news portal. The issues which are important to us and our society are being raised here especially social justice related issues.. I really like to contribute Monetarily but I am economicaly stable right now but definitely I’ll contribute whenever I be little bit stable

  16. Inspiring story. But we don’t know this kind of incident will occur in future once the common entrance test, according to NEP,, is introduced even for arts and science course. This will make higher education inaccessible to so many aspiring Kaurs.

  17. Miranda has very open and egalitarian culture. She must join it with open mind and without fear. She will gain great success. They are thousands of students in DU who like her come without cultural capital. But it takes a month to gain much. This is what Du is known for. Nothing to fear.

  18. If someone gives me her cell phone number, atleast till she passes out of college,I can keep her mobile data running. I will feel highly blessed and honored to lend her this little help .

  19. people who oppose affirmative action/reservation in education and job on basis of merit…should come face with reality…that merit is not privilege class birth right…i would say a student coming from well off family securing 95+% is not more meritorious than student scoring 60% from poor/underprivileged class.

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