Remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges for many students, but Tushar Joshi’s circumstances are tougher than most.
Tushar, who lives in the Mayapuri slum community in west Delhi, has won the 2021 Sydney Scholars India Equity Scholarship, worth up to $60,000 a year.
In August he commenced his Master of International Relations, specialising in International Law.
Tushar, 22, connects to online classes in the one-room home he shares with his mother, father and sister. At night, to avoid disturbing his family’s sleep, he studies in a corner by the light of a dim lamp.
Just outside their home is one of Delhi’s largest open drains, which fills the house with flies and mosquitoes. Their community sits beside a railway line and the noise of passing trains is deafening.
“There is a lot of noise,” said Tushar. “As part of this scholarship, I will receive a stipend, which will allow me to pay to go to a reading hall to study in peace and quiet.”
The University’s India Equity Scholarship for residents of slum communities in Delhi was created in collaboration with Indian charity, the Asha Community Health and Development Society. The scholarship is one of the University’s most generous, covering postgraduate tuition fees, a living allowance, textbooks and – when Tushar is able to travel to Sydney – flights, health insurance and a place at a residential college.
During the pandemic, the University is also providing essentials for remote study, including a laptop and high-speed internet.
“This scholarship recognises the vital importance of Australia’s relationship with India and reflects our commitment to help talented students realise their potential, whatever their financial situation,” said Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Mark Scott.
“We are delighted to welcome Tushar to the University and can’t wait for him to join us in person as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
I’d like to make a positive contribution in my life because I understand the difference it can make when you support people.
Tushar is the first in his family to attend university. His father Santosh, a labourer in a scrapyard, is illiterate. His mother, Samta, supplements the family income by looking after young children.
“To see their child studying at such a university as Sydney – my parents are very excited,” said Tushar. “There is a hope that we will come out of the slum community.”
Until he was 15 years old, Tushar expected to become a labourer like his father. He was, he said, “a mediocre student” until the Asha Society provided him with free academic coaching and study materials. After performing strongly in his final high school exams, he went on to complete his BA (Hons) History at the University of Delhi, again with support from Asha.
He spoke no English when he began his undergraduate degree – one of several things that marked him as different from his fellow students.
“In India, the language you speak says a lot about your background. I often felt out of place,” he said. “But I had knowledge of my subjects and my professors supported me at every turn.”
He hopes one day to work for the United Nations, helping others. “I’d like to make a positive contribution in my life because I understand the difference it can make when you support people,” he said.
The Asha Society is still an important part of his life. He is an ambassador for the organisation, encouraging other students from his community to finish school and pursue tertiary education.
“I met Asha’s founder and director, Dr Kiran Martin, when I began my university education,” he said. “She took me under her wing and has been mentoring me ever since. She has opened unbelievable doors of opportunity for me, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have her in my life.”
During India’s nationwide pandemic lockdown in 2020, many in Tushar’s community lost their jobs, including his father. During this time, while his own family was surviving on a single meal each day, Tushar joined the Asha Warriors, a team of approximately 300 Asha-supported students who visited homes, distributing food and essential supplies, and encouraging people in their communities to wear masks, observe social distancing requirements and wash their hands.
As he embarks upon his two-year degree, Tushar is enjoying the focus on critical thinking, and the opportunity to study with students from other parts of the world.
He is looking forward to a time when he can come to Sydney in person.
“I’m excited about the diversity of Australia,” he said. “I want to live in that kind of community.”