Tamil Nadu girl clears the path to become first doctor in her tribe

Sangavi and her mother Vasanthamani. | Photo Credit: T Vijay

While NEET has abetted several institutional murders of students hailing from the marginalized groups, 20-year-old student Sangavi from the Malasar tribal community in Coimbatore has challenged the Brahminical meritocracy. 

Shalini S | TwoCircles.net

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COIMBATORE – Sangavi, a 20-year-old student from the Malasar tribal community in Coimbatore, has become the first person in her tribe to clear NEET (National Entrance Cum Eligibility Test), an all India pre-medical entrance exam. She is on the path to becoming the first doctor in her tribe. 

Sangavi was born and brought up in the M Nanjappanur pathi, a hamlet no one had heard of before. But now, Sangavi has become the identity of the village. 

Malasars are the tribal community residing majorly in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The etymology of the word “Malasar” is traced back to the unclassified Southern Dravidian language of the same name. The language is a mix of dialects of Tamil and Malayalam. 

Tamil Nadu has a tribal population of 1.10 % according to the 2011 census, out of which the Malasars amount to barely in thousand(s). They are known to be good cultivators and practitioners of herbal medicine, so was Muniyappan and Vasanthamani – parents of Sangavi. 

Her favourite colour being green, Sangavi, an only child for her parents, spent most of her childhood playing in the palm fields. As an eight-year old, she’d sit under one of the palm trees and play choppu saman – miniature medical kit toys – made out of stones and clay. She’d then take a string of wheat straw stored to feed the lactating cow and hear the heartbeat of the palm tree. 

“I cannot believe my dream is coming true. I wish my father was here to witness all of this” said Sangavi, who used to be anaemic, and would walk miles to school. 

As a coolie working in the paddy fields her father earned an income of 1200 INR – 1500 INR a week. He experienced a heart attack while working in the fields in May 2020 and “left her to walk alone.”

“He used to take me out once a week. While going out he’d point out to people and say if you want to dress like them and talk like them, you need to get educated,” said Sangavi. Her ambition is to become a cardiologist.

Sangavi says that the struggle to survive is such a daunting task for the tribe that its members can’t afford to send their kids to school. Her success in NEET seems to have changed the attitude of some of them who are mustering the courage to send their children to schools again. 

Sangavi felt discouraged a little while attempting NEET for the first time in 2018 as she failed by 6 marks. She became more resolute in studying after her father’s death even though education seemed meaningless because of the personal loss. “People around me pursued me to study because it is important for me to represent my people.”

After her father’s demise, she was offered financial help by a bunch of local groups like the Rotary Club of Personiv. The guardianship of Siva, a local media person, and the guidance of social worker R. Silambarasan has proved to be of immense help to her.

Minister of Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare of the state N Kayalvizhi met Sangavi on November 5 and promised to ensure her a seat in one of the government-run medical colleges. 

While NEET has abetted several institutional murders of students hailing from the marginalized groups, Sangavi has challenged the Brahminical meritocracy. 

Shalini S is a SEED fellow with TwoCircles.net. She tweets at @_Shalini_Nathan