33-year-old Dokka Narasimha now has a title to his name that he has struggled to get all his life. Doctor. The first PhD in English from his community. Narasimha hails from Edganpally in Rajapur mandal, Mahbubnagar district of Telangana. He belongs to the Budagajangam community, which is one of the most marginalised groups in India, even among the Dalit sections in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
From the discrimination that marked his childhood to completing his PhD from the English and Foreign Languages University (ELFU) in Hyderabad, it has been a long journey for the scholar. And one that he could not have withstood without his mother.
Speaking to TNM, Narasimha recounts his growing up years and how he beat the odds to achieve his dream.
'My mother, the woman behind my success'
Narasimha's community is traditionally dependent on storytelling using handmade puppets. They also make a living by selling handmade mats and baskets. Narasimha’s ancestors were storytellers, and until his middle school days, his grandfather and grandmother used to perform in the neighbouring villages.
His road to success was pocked with hunger and hardships. But amidst the struggle, his mother Yadamma's love and determination to get him educated kept him going.
“My mother is farsighted. She worked hard and pushed me to pursue my higher education. She insisted that only education could change our lives. Without that push, I would not have been where I am today,” Narasimha says.
In the caste-rigid society that we live in, affirmative action in education is a significant tool to fight poverty and discrimination. For communities like the Budgajangam, seeking education is their best bet at empowerment.
His father left his mother when he was less than a year old. His mother, who is now in her 50s, returned to her maternal home and became the sole breadwinner of the family. She worked in a local flour and rice mill.
“There were days when there would be nothing at home and I would not have lunch. But, my friends and teachers would share their food. My mother, however, would not bother if she had nothing to eat. She was only focused on my education,” Narasimha says.
He adds that his mother was often threatened by the upper caste people in the village whenever a fight broke out over petty issues due to their caste.
“However, she remained firm and did not succumb to their pressure,” he notes.
Narasimha studied in various parts of the district - Edganpally, neighbouring village Kodgal, Jadcherla town as well as Mahabubnagar for his Bachelors in Commerce.
In 2008, he took up the job of a primary school teacher but soon left the post as he felt he was unable to do justice to the children.
“The old staff in the school always disliked me. They discouraged me from introducing new teaching aids, a few even complained," he says.
Scaling greater heights with education
Narasimha, soon after quitting his job, pursued his Masters in English at the Osmania University, which opened doors for further education. He soon realised that English is “a powerful language and improves one’s chances of employment”.
"Those small doses of appreciation from my English teachers helped," says Narasimha.
He went on to complete his Bachelor of Education in English and Post Graduate Diploma in English Teaching (PGDTE), followed by a Master of Philosophy in English from EFLU in Hyderabad.
Before going to the next level of education, he would ask his mother: “Should I continue studying or take up a job?”
Yadamma never discouraged him from studying further. "She always asked me to do what I want as she believes that education will take us to new heights," he says.
From finding love to completing PhD
When Narasimha was doing his M.Phil in EFLU, he met Vijaya Lakshmi, who was doing her Masters in English at the Osmania University. The two met through a mutual friend. Soon, their love for English brought them together.
But the duo had another hurdle to surmount. Vijaya Lakshmi belongs to an OBC caste. And so, her parents were reluctant to approve their marriage. “Her father feared they would be boycotted by their community. But Vijaya Lakshmi was firm about her decision and soon we managed to convince them," the 33-year-old recalls.
Vijaya Lakshmi and Narasimha got married in 2017. “It was first education and then our ideas that brought us together," he adds.
Vijaya Lakshmi is currently a lecturer at Government Degree College in Telangana.
Three years ago, Narasimha was appointed as the Guest Faculty at Palamuru University even before he completed his PhD. He continues to teach at the university, which also has many underprivileged students like him.
Narasimha recently submitted his PhD thesis and was honoured with a Doctorate.
Narasimha's grandfather, Idaiah, never imagined that someone from his community will become a PhD holder, like his grandson. “He keeps telling people that I fought against all odds to study and achieve this,” says Narasimha.