Bengaluru, April 12: What is worse than being Dalit? Being Dalit and uneducated.
Well, if you listen to Mohan Dasari's story, who belongs to the nomadic tribe of Maala Dasari in Karnataka and is contesting the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, one thing that helped him overcome most obstacles in life is his strong educational background. The Maala Dasari tribe is a part of the schedule caste community in the southern state, which is going to polls on May 12.
Dasari told OneIndia that despite his social background and poor financial conditions, quality education and equal opportunities given to him helped him fight against all odds. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate, who is contesting the polls from Bengaluru's CV Raman Nagar constituency (a reserved seat for schedule caste and schedule tribe candidates), got his bachelor of engineering (BE) degree from the prestigious National Institute of Technology Karnataka (NIRK). Thereafter, he went on to do his masters in technology (M Tech) from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, Rajasthan.
Importance of education
Armed with degrees from country's best engineering colleges, Dasari joined a multi-national company in Mumbai and was enjoying a comfortable, well-paid life. But that was not something the AAP politician had in his mind. During his growing-up years in Karnataka's Hagari Bommana Halli in Ballari district, Dasari had witnessed poverty and inequality from close quarters. Son of a telephone mechanic in the government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), the 34-year-old techie-turned-politician gave his mother the credit for helping him complete his education.
"Most of my friends left school midway. They were unable to complete their education because of poverty. Almost all of my tribesmen are poor and socially ostracised. I was lucky that my parents, especially my mother, worked really hard to send me to engineering colleges," Dasari recalled.
The horror of witnessing his classmates leaving school education midway to work and earn money continued to "agonise" him while he was working in Mumbai. After a few years of work in the Maximum City, Dasari shifted his base to India's IT hub Bengaluru where he along with a couple of friends started Aarushi Foundation seven years ago.
"The NGO works for the education of needy children. We help poor children from government schools to study in private schools of Bengaluru. We finance the education of underprivileged children in private schools. The goal is to give them quality education and restrict their dropouts. Till date, we have helped send at least 200 children to private schools," said a proud techie-turned-politician.
The Dalit angst
At a time when Dalit angst against the Narendra Modi regime is out in the open across the country, Dasari has his own take on the matter as an "insider". Talking on the subject of Dalits, Dasari said that since ages the SC/ST communities in the country have been deprived of basic necessities.
"Give us an equal opportunity and quality education; we are as good as anyone. I am an example of that. Unfortunately, most of the Dalits and tribals don't get education and opportunities. That is why there is a large-scale discontentment across the country," he said.
Dasari, who condemns the recent violence during the protest movement in six states of the country against the alleged dilution of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, lamented the fact that untouchability is still practised in various parts of India, including Karnataka. "The Dalits and tribals are mostly poor and they have been denied education. Reservation is the need of the hour. Reservation is not a luxury but a necessity to start on a level-playing field in society."
The votes of the Dalits in the upcoming Karnataka polls hold great importance for any party that wishes to win. As per a leaked Census report undertaken by the ruling Congress government, though was never officially shared, the Dalits form 18 per cent of Karnataka's population. The ST, on the other hand, forms 7 per cent of the total population of 6.1 crores in the state. The votes of the Dalits will have an impact on 60 out of the 224-Assembly seats up for grabs in the coming elections.
How politics happened
Regarding joining politics, Dasari, who has already contested two elections, said that activism taught him about social problems and how to solve them. "But without political power, we can't bring real change in society. That is why I joined politics."
His debut election was the 2013 Assembly polls in Karnataka which he contested as an independent candidate from Bellary but lost. In December 2013, he joined the AAP to practice "honest and pro-people politics". In 2014, Dasari, who is a state co-convenor of the AAP, again contested the Lok Sabha polls from the Chitradurga constituency.
"I had little time to campaign. But my experience tells me that people want change. I campaigned for only 15 days and got 15,000 votes. It was a big morale boost for the party as well as me," he said.
As far as the upcoming elections are concerned, Dasari is pitted against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) heavyweight and two-time MLA from the CV Raman Nagar constituency, S Raghu. The Congress is yet to announce its first list of candidates for the 224-member Karnataka Assembly elections.
When asked what gives him the confidence to fight an election against a seasoned politician like Raghu, Dasari said that he and his colleagues have been campaigning door-to-door since November last year. "Already we have campaigned in around 40,000 households. We have got a tremendous response from the people. My constituency has mostly urban and well-educated people who are financially sound. Most of the voters in the constituency are scientists and techies, and they are all like me," he smiled.
There are around 2.4 lakh voters in the constituency. Dasari said he is confident of winning the polls because of the misgovernance of the sitting MLA. "I have also done a lot of social and civic works in the constituency. People know me because of my work. I am hopeful this time CV Raman Nagar voters will vote for honest and clean politics. They will also vote for development," he signed off.