When 21-year-old Payal Kumari topped the BA Archaeology and History exam at Mahatma Gandhi University last week, it would have been a proud moment for her father—a school dropout who migrated to Kerala from Bihar 23 years ago.
The daughter of Pramod Kumar and Bindu Devi has come a long way from her days as the odd-girl-out in a Malayam-medium school to earning plaudits from the Kerala Chief Minister himself.
“I want to tell children in my parents’ village—Gosaiymati in Sheikhpura district—about my hardworking days. I want to inspire them to pursue studies. Also, this would be a great morale booster for scores of peers from migrant families settled in Kerala,’’ said Payal.
On her mind now are higher studies at JNU and the civil service examination. “I want to join a PG course at JNU or any other premier institute in the country. I want to become a government employee to serve ordinary people. Civil service exam is also in my thoughts,” she said. Payal and family’s story is not too different from that of other migrants, known as “guest workers”, who have been ensuring that their wards are educated in Kerala’s schools and colleges. And in a state struggling to fill its school benches amid a low birth rate, these children of migrant workers have been welcomed warmly.
Payal’s father Pramod, 47, first boarded a train to Kerala in 1997, when migrants from north Indian states were just trickling in. He landed a job as a helper at a sanitaryware shop in Kochi, where, every morning and evening, he would see schoolchildren in their uniforms.
In 2001, he brought his family to Kochi and, one by one, admitted his three children to school.
“I had been inspired by the importance of education given by Kerala parents. When I decided to bring my family to Kochi, my sole intention was to ensure education for our three children. Those were really tough days as I was the sole breadwinner with a monthly income of Rs 1,500,’’ said Kumar. He now earns Rs 17,000 as a salesman in a paint dealer’s outlet.
Payal, too, had her struggles. “It had been very difficult to learn Malayalam in the initial days. Nobody was at home to clear doubts of classes. But teachers helped. Initially, I had not been good at studies. But, I slowly picked up over years to become a rank-holder in the degree course,’’ she said.
As her father struggled to run a family with meagre income, her school and college teachers stepped in. “While in school, teachers helped me financially as my father could not meet all expenses. Later, at Marthoma Women’s College in Perumbavoor, where I did my degree course, the teachers and management helped to meet the financial needs. In my first year, a teacher, Lisy Kurian, bore the entire fee and also gave pocket money as well,” she said.
On Saturday, CM Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted: “Spoke to Payal Kumari. She is the topper of this year’s BA Archeology & History exams of MG university. What makes her success special is the fact her parents are guest workers. This is a matter of pride for our State. Congratulations Payal.”
Spoke to Payal Kumari. She is the topper of this year’s BA Archeology & History exams of MG university. What makes her success special is the fact her parents are guest workers. This is a matter of pride for our State.
— Pinarayi Vijayan (@vijayanpinarayi) August 22, 2020
Her elder brother Akash, 23, is now working with a private firm as an accountant after completing BCom. Sister Pallavi, 19, is pursuing her graduation.
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