‘I’m proud of who I am and where I come from’

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Bangalore, May 19:  As this story goes to print, N. Shiva Kumar is already a national celebrity. The newspaper boy who cracked the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) entrance is now hopping TV studios, his Facebook account has over 500 friend requests pending his approval and his inbox is brimming with congratulatory mails even as he appears for his final semester engineering exams.

Who doesn’t love a good underdog story?

However, until a few months ago, only 13 of his closest friends at the Bangalore Institute of Technology (BIT) knew that Mr. Shiva Kumar is from a Scheduled Tribe and sold newspapers to fund his education. In a country where students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds have been known to be harassed to the point of suicide in “institutions of excellence”, his discretion is understandable.

From a tribal haadi

But as the 23-year-old packs his bags to go to Kolkata for an IIM education, he no longer feels the need to hide his identity. “I’m proud of who I am and where I come from… I no longer feel the need to hide it from anybody,” says the young man whose father, Nagendra, a truck driver, migrated with his mother, Jayamma, to Bangalore 25 years ago from a tribal haadi in Chandagalu village in K.R. Nagar taluk of Mysore.

Of course, the world loves underdog stories but does it like sharing space with underdogs?

It’s not like the thought hasn’t crossed Mr. Shiva Kumar’s mind. Krishna Veda Vyasa, the man he refers to as “uncle” and the patron who funded his education from the time he was in Class 9, has warned him about the possibility of discrimination.

“He told me that because of the media publicity many people will watch me very closely. One slip and they might start referring to me as a reservation candidate without merit,” says the youth who scored 81 per cent in Class 10, 76 per cent in PU and has maintained an average 67.6 per cent in engineering. He says his academic track record gives him the confidence he needs to rub shoulders with the country’s elite at the IIM-C.

Until he reached engineering college, his education was almost entirely funded by the reclusive Mr. Vyasa, who refuses to be interviewed. The State-sponsored SC/ST scholarship of Rs. 20,000 a year and the money he made running a successful newspaper agency for The Hindu allowed Mr. Shiva Kumar breathing space. “The scholarship made me independent… it gave me dignity.”

But he still wishes that he had more State support earlier in life.

“What if I hadn’t found uncle?” he asks pointing to a neighbour who had to sell his wife’s jewellery to fork out the Rs. 50,000 that an English medium school demanded as donation for his eight-year-old daughter. “Many school managements did not even give him information on the RTE Act let alone admit his daughter under the quota,” he says.

Two demands for CM

Speaking to this newspaper on the day Chief Minister Siddaramaiah inducted Ministers to his Cabinet, he has two demands for the man who hails from the same district as him: enforce RTE Act more strictly and impose a ceiling on school fees and donations.

“After all, not everybody is as lucky as me to find a benevolent stranger,” says the young man who wants to work for a few years in the corporate sector before turning to the civil services. “I will be able to serve society better as an IAS officer.”

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