Kerala government's scholarships help tribal girls take flight towards a better future

From the outside, their house appears unassuming, but stepping inside reveals the harsh reality of their impoverished existence.
Last Updated : 21 February 2024, 07:26 IST

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Thiruvananthapuram: In the quiet south Kerala village of Vithura, nestled amidst serene landscapes, lies the humble residence of Muraleedharan and Jayalekshmi, members of the Kani tribe.

From the outside, their house appears unassuming, but stepping inside reveals the harsh reality of their impoverished existence.

For over a decade, Muraleedharan has been confined to his bed, incapacitated by a stroke. Jayalekshmi, his wife, tirelessly navigates the challenges of daily life, struggling to make ends meet.

Yet, amidst the shadows of adversity, a ray of hope emerges.

Their younger daughter, Sivalekshmi, has shattered barriers and made history as the first member of their tribe to obtain a student pilot licence from the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Aviation Academy, thanks to a scholarship from the Kerala Government.

A student pilot licence signifies more than just a piece of paper; it symbolises the opportunity for Sivalekshmi to embark on a journey towards her dreams of flying high in the skies.

Soon, she will commence her training to earn a commercial pilot licence, paving the way for a brighter future not only for herself but also for her family.

Along with Sivalekshmi, another tribal girl from Kottayam, Dhanya, who belongs to the 'Ullala' tribe, also secured the government scholarship and got the student's pilot licence.

Sivalekshmi hopes to receive continuous support from the Kerala government to pursue her passion for flying airplanes, as her family has no financial capacity to spend about Rs 32 lakh for a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL).

"It has always been my passion, but I never thought I could make it. I am thankful to the government for this support, and I want to earn a CPL and work as a pilot," she told PTI while returning to the ST hostel in Thiruvananthapuram from her academy.

Jayalekshmi said that her husband had suffered a stroke and has been bedridden for over 12 years.

"I do not have a job, and when my daughter cleared all the exams to get admission to the academy, we were informed about the fee. At that point, we had no other option but to drop the idea, as we could not afford to pay such a hefty fee," Jayalekshmi explained.

However, it was during this challenging time that Jayalekshmi and Sivalekshmi had the opportunity to meet SC, ST and Devaswom Minister K Radhakrishnan, expressing Sivalekshmi's desire to join the Aviation Academy.

"He immediately agreed and assured us that if Sivalekshmi wanted to pursue her studies, the government would provide financial support. Within three weeks, the necessary funds were allocated. I am deeply thankful to the Minister for his invaluable assistance," said Jayalekshmi, expressing her gratitude to the minister.

Sivalekshmi is still not ready to talk about her achievement and a lot of persuasion was needed to finally make her speak.

"She still does not share photos of herself in uniform or any programmes inside the academy, fearing that I may show them to someone else. She says she has not reached anywhere yet and wants me not to speak about it until she becomes a pilot," Jayalekshmi said.

With the financial situation that they have been living in and the tragedies and adversities they faced, Sivalekshmi still seems skeptical about good things happening to her.

Her father, Muraleedharan, started his career as a conductor in the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) and rose to become a station master.

He managed to construct the house in which they live now with the help of a bank loan. However, it was when he got paralysed due to a stroke that more than a year of treatment could not help him get out of bed.

Muraleedharan is unable to move on his own and cannot speak. The couple's elder daughter, Sreelakshmi, is now attending coaching classes for Public Service Commission (PSC) examinations, hoping to get a government job to support her family.

"He suffered a stroke while in service, but he is yet to get his pension or any other benefits. We need to spend around Rs 600 per week for medicines alone," said Jayalekshmi, who now works as a domestic help in two households to earn a livelihood and also takes care of her elderly mother, who stays in their ancestral house.

"I go and help them, and my mother gives me some money from her pension," Jayalekshmi says.

She hopes that her daughter will one day have a better life, overcoming the poverty they suffer, and is now desperately looking for a better job so she can take better care of her husband and daughters.

However, Dhanya's family is in a better situation than Sivalekshmi's.

Her father works in the Kottayam Municipality, and her mother is a temporary employee at a veterinary hospital.

"From childhood onwards, I wanted to be a pilot. So I applied for the course and got selected. But we also did not have the financial capacity to afford the fee, so we approached the government. I got my money passed in just a week," Dhanya told PTI.

Prashant Nair, IAS, Special Secretary, SC/ST Development and Backward Classes Development Department, Government of Kerala, said such support from the government was a conscious decision to change the outlook of the department and make training and placements inspirational as well as highly remunerative.

"This includes the foreign education support for 310 students from the underprivileged sections, spending Rs 25 lakh each. Focusing on education, health, and livelihood through direct benefit transfer is any day better than indirect beneficiary schemes. The youngsters are hugely talented and intelligent, and we just need to provide the right opportunities," Prashant Nair told PTI.

Officials hope these two bright tribal girls will one day fly high, inspiring several such underprivileged girls from marginalised societies to dream big.

Published 21 February 2024, 07:26 IST

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