Supporting the Needy Dalits in Punjab

  • Lekh Raj Pall – General Secretary of ISCWA

Indian Scheduled Welfare Association (UK) [ISCWA] was formed by our elders in Derby, back in 1983. Following Dr Ambedkar’s mantra Educate Organise and Agitate, the primary aim was to provide financial assistance to bright students, from the ST/SC category, who otherwise would not be able to complete their education due to economic hardship. Number of branches were set up throughout England. Unfortunately, after a few years the organisation became dysfunctional due to passing away of aging leader. The founder of the organisation Master Menga Ram implored me to pick up the mantle and ensure the survival of the organization. After several years of his persistent demand I succumbed and agreed to revive the organisation and resume their abandoned mission.

Lekh Raj Pall

To build a team of helpers in England was tough and then to persuade members of the Dalit Community to give money was not easy. However, we found there to be a lot of deep concern for the betterment of the ST/SC community. Many with their generosity were willing to put their money where their mouth is. Having faced the challenge of re-organising the ISCWA-UK, and succeeding, the next major challenge was how to get the collected funds over to the needy bright students in India, the core mission of the organisation. We needed a team at the other end that was trustworthy, able to scout for potentially bright students, verify they were truly economically disadvantaged and ultimately hand over the money. After several trips to India (at personal expense) and meeting/begging many potential candidates I eventually came up three individuals who were willing to voluntarily take on this work. They have been doing sterling work for the past 8 years. They deserve a special mention. Our Punjab Team consists of President Sarpanch Paramjit Singh Jassal, from Gunachur, Secretaty Retrd CRPF Commandant Gian Singh, from Nawanshahr and Treasurer Master Harbans from Heon.

ISCWA supporters in London protesting demolition of Guru Ravidas temple in Delhi

We have thus far donated £9708 since December 2011. We started with financing 6th grade to 12th grade students. We learnt that our resources were not able to meet the demand. We quickly limited our selection of students starting from 10th grade upwards. For our continued support the student must prove their success each year. The amount of support we provide is not huge, but it is appreciated. The amount given to each student, each term, varies depending on the grade they study in. Those pursuing graduation obviously have higher costs than those at the lower grades, so the funding is set accordingly.

Some one asked me “How do you ensure the money actually reaches the student?”. Well the money is always given public. A call is given to all students to meet at a given time and location. They must be accompanied by their parent or guardian. Local dignitaries, Sarpanch, MLA, School Principle, etc. are invited to the meeting. After providing refreshments, paid for by the Punjab Team from their own pockets, the stipends are handout to each student and asked to sign for the record. A group photograph is taken and published in the local press.

A group photo of Students after receiving their stipend

As more and more of our students reached graduation levels and higher, we found more and more drain on our resources, whereby demand was exceeding supply. We had to take painful decision in cutting the number of intakes. We continue to enlist new donators in England to meet the demand back at home. In 2012 we held a Charity fund raising event that raised around £1500. This year we have resolved to do the same. It will be a ticket event where good food, entertainment and disco will be provided. We hope that people will join in large numbers and support the worthy cause.