In this section, we talk with the individuals and partners who are doing budget advocacy on the ground to affect transformational change in their community.
This month we talk with Vara Prasad, a Dalit student activist who lives in the Vizianagaram district in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. He has completed his Masters in Social Work from Andhra University and his Bachelors in Education. He is currently preparing for his Masters of Philosophy. During the pandemic, he works as a daily wage laborer in the fields to support his family in these challenging times.
Q: What inspired you to get involved with advocating for the rights of students?
A: As a Dalit, or Scheduled Caste student, I face a lot of issues in continuing my studies. My parents are old, and my family is financially unstable. I solely depend on government schemes that are meant to provide financial assistance to students such as the Post Matric Scholarship and Reimbursement of Tuition Fee to complete my studies. However, the Andhra Pradesh Government does not release these scholarships in a timely manner, causing a lot of financial stress and burden on students like myself. Like me, there are many students from my community facing similar financial burdens. No government body or unions, including the student’s union like SFI (Student’s Federation of India) and AISF (All India Student’s Federation), work on these issues faced by Dalit and Adivasis students. Therefore, I felt the need to be involved in advocating for my rights and the rights of other students like me.
Q: What accomplishment or achievement in this movement are you most proud of and why?
A: As a student volunteer with the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), I have organized several meetings with students in several colleges and engaged with government officials at different levels of governance. As part of this work, I have advocated for students who didn’t receive their scholarship funds and submitted 320 students’ data from seven colleges to the Collector, Deputy Director Social Welfare Department along with other networks and organizations. After two years of continuous struggle and advocacy all 320 students got their Post Matric Scholarship and Reimbursement of Tuition Fee scholarships. This for me is one of my biggest achievements in this movement which I am really proud of.
Q: How does the government’s budget directly affect your life and livelihood?
A: As a student, I have been completely dependent on government scholarships for my education. I have been availing the Post Matric Scholarship and it has helped me and my family financially. Apart from the Post Matric Scholarship, I am also a beneficiary of other schemes like MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) under which I earn Rs. 8000/per month (approximately $109 USD) which helps towards my livelihood and have also availed a housing scheme of Rs. 130,000 (approximately $1,780 USD) for the construction of my house. These government schemes have directly and positively impacted my life and livelihood.
Q: Why should the average citizen care about budgets?
A: Government budgets are a very important component of our lives and impacts us hugely, every single day. Every citizen should know about their government’s budget allocations, expenses and implementation of the schemes at the state and central level since it is our economic right, and we as taxpayers should be completely aware of how the government is putting it to use.
Q: What improvement in your government’s budget process would you most like to see happen this year?
A: The recent release of Rs.400 Crore (approximately $54,852 USD) for the Post Matric Scholarship and Reimbursement of Tuition Fee programs by the Andhra Pradesh government has given us lot of hope, as students. This year and for the years to come, I would like to see timely release of Post Matric Scholarship and Reimbursement of Tuition Fee money for all the Dalit and Adivasi students. I would also like to see more allocation toward some important schemes like YSR Vidyaunnati scheme which provides coaching for students from marginalized communities for competitive exams.