Schoolboys in India buy bicycle for classmate excluded from free scheme due to his caste

Happy ending for teenager who skipped school after missing out on state-sponsored bike giveaway

by Simon_MacMichael   November 20, 2011  

India Flag

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?"

9 user comments

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Two emotions from reading this:

a) what his classmates did was absolutely wonderful and makes me want to buy them all something special.

b) it's abhorrent that in this day and age society can remain so divided by such petty distinctions.

posted by Velo_Alex [65 posts]
20th November 2011 - 21:51

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That's a great story and Gregg's pics with the theme behind them are superb...

posted by nick_rearden [859 posts]
20th November 2011 - 22:10

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Well there's hope for a country that really needs to shrug off such base divisions - what a brilliant example Sudam's classmates have set.

Hopefully these kids retain their ability to see through these ridiculous, artificial rules and begin to influence wider society.

posted by moonbucket [55 posts]
20th November 2011 - 23:21

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Don't miss Gregg Bleakney's great bike portrait photos. They are similar in the formal approach to those of two guys, whose names I forget, who are doing a bike portrait book in Africa. I invested in their book via Kickstarter.

In both cases, there is something very touching in meeting people whose lives utterly depend on their bikes. In these Indian photos, the bikes are rarely flashy or high tech, though some have very strong frames and are used, one guesses, to carry very heavy loads.

I'm hoping Gregg won't mind if I use a couple of photos to create my Bike art, Interpretation can add something different I think. http://situp-bike-art.com I'll contact him directly to be sure

posted by mike rubbo [2 posts]
20th November 2011 - 23:51

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India is frequently described in the various media as "the worlds biggest democracy..."

Incidents of discrimination like the above story is why I argue that it isn't, wonderful place though it may well be.

Top marks to the lads fantastic classmates kindness towards their friend.

Ooooh, me legs...

posted by Oh heck... [46 posts]
21st November 2011 - 11:00

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Heart warming story with regards to the boy's classmates but I was under the impression that discrimination based on the caste system is illegal. Is this state sponsored discrimination?

posted by Coleman [329 posts]
21st November 2011 - 11:07

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moonbucket wrote:
Well there's hope for a country that really needs to shrug off such base divisions - what a brilliant example Sudam's classmates have set.

Hopefully these kids retain their ability to see through these ridiculous, artificial rules and begin to influence wider society.

+1, I like the fact that the other kids evidently see him as more of an equal than the state does...

A while ago, and slightly OT, I worked with a team of Indians at a previous employer. All very competent and keen to express expert views etc, until another team member was taken on and they suddenly became quite withdrawn. Productivity and quality dived because they all fell 'into line' with this new chap and would always agree with him. The biggest problem with this was that he wasn't very good at the job. He left after a few months, and harmony was suddenly restored. It took a while for the 'white British' colleagues to work out what was going on; the new guy was from a higher caste than the rest, and they consequently deferred to him, despite all of them living in leafy Cheshire.

If I could have, say, 6 bikes, would it stop me drooling over others that I don't have?

posted by notfastenough [2877 posts]
21st November 2011 - 11:07

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mike rubbo wrote:
They are similar in the formal approach to those of two guys, whose names I forget, who are doing a bike portrait book in Africa. I invested in their book via Kickstarter.

Your thinking of Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler. Stan used to be my neighbour in Cape Town and has taken some amazing photos. Their Kickstarter project is here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bicycleportraits/bicycle-portraits-a...

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posted by mr-andrew [294 posts]
21st November 2011 - 17:26

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Your thinking of Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler. Stan used to be my neighbour in Cape Town and has taken some amazing photos. Their Kickstarter project is here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bicycleportraits/bicycle-portraits-a-photographic-book-part-iii-fin

Fantastic project. Worthy and great photo and video work. Thanks for the info Mr A.

Indian caste system? Always makes me sad that such an beautiful country and intelligent people can perpetuate such nonsense.

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1011 posts]
23rd November 2011 - 21:48

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