A teenage schoolboy in India who began playing truant because he was the sole member of his class not to be given a bicycle under a state-sponsored scheme because he belongs to a lower caste is now happily pedalling to lessons after his fellow pupils clubbed together to buy him a bike.
The family of the youngster concerned, Sudam Bhoi, is officially classified as belonging to ‘Other Backward Classes,’ (OBC), grouping together some 3,000 castes which together make up between a third and a half of India’s population, with estimates of the actual number subject to wide variations.
His 41 year-ten classmates at the Indira Gandhi Anchalik High School near Sambalpur in the state of Orissa, however, come from families belonging to the higher Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) which combined make up around a quarter of the country’s inhabitants.
That meant they qualified for a scheme operated by the state government which provided each of them with a cheque for 2,600 Rupees to enable them to buy a bicycle, reports the Times of India.
"But Sudam was excluded from the scheme as it was meant for the students of SC/ST and women category,” explained Gopiranjan Nath, a teacher at his school. “We felt sorry for him but we could not do anything in the matter.”
Happily for Sudam, his classmates decided that they could do something for their fellow student, who had started missing school due to being left out of the scheme.
"Sudam remained absent from school because he was feeling isolated and unhappy,” said one, Suraj Mirdha. “So we decided to collect money from our share to purchase a cycle for him."
Suraj says that the class chipped in about 60 Rupees each to help buy a bike for their friend.
In Sterling, that equates to around 75 pence – the price of a bar of chocolate or can of soft drink for a British teenager, but around half of the minimum daily wage for a skilled worker in Orissa.
"We collected about Rs 2,400 from our share,” said another student, Banita Mallick. “We finally managed to purchase a cycle for our classmate with the help of a local cycle shop owner."
The Times of India reports that Sudam feels proud of his classmates’ gesture, which has also been appreciated by local villagers.
One, Rajaram Sarangi, told the newspaper: "This is really a classic example of brotherhood and friendship. Sudam is really a lucky boy to have such friends and classmates."
Mr Sarangi added that the state government’s scheme, which aims to provide bicycles to nearly 3 million boys and girls in the current financial year, should be based on the financial situation of a student’s family, and not the caste they belong to.
An American travel writer and photographer who specialises in cycling, Gregg Bleakney, has produced a stunning series of images called Portraits of India on Two Wheels, which you can view here.
The inspiration behind the pictures lay in him considering the question, "If cycling was NOT something I did by choice, but was designated by the caste I was born into, would I still love it the same?"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.