26-year-old Rishi Raj Yadav is a first-generation learner, pursuing a PhD in ancient history, is now contesting for the post of vice-president in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) election.
In 1993, when Rishi Raj Yadav was born into a family of farmers in drought-hit Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district, no one expected the visually challenged boy to be the first person in his village to make it to a university. The 26-year-old first-generation learner currently pursuing a PhD in ancient history is now contesting for the post of vice-president in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) election for the students’ wing of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
“My father owns a small piece of land in Dalota village of Jhunjhunu district on which he grows wheat and mustard. But, since water in our district is scarce, we are dependent on rain. It was difficult for my parents to bring up three children—one of them with only 15% vision in one eye and blind in the other,” he says.
The family took Raj to several hospitals, hopeful of treatment. “The doctors told them that the condition was incurable. They had almost given up. I felt like a burden. I had to attend a government school with any facility. I faced a lot of discrimination and humiliation,” he continues.
Raj’s life turned around when his uncle told his family about the Blind Relief Association in Delhi and enrolled him into Class 6 in 2004. “The studies and accommodation were free for students, that’s why I could complete my schooling. It helped me gain confidence,” he says.
Raj then received admission to Delhi University’s Hansraj College in 2011 under the children with disability quota in History (Hons). “I was the first one in the family to study at a national university. I also finished my master’s degree from DU’s department of history—the first one to do so in my village. People would come up to my parents and congratulate them all the time,” he said. He was also elected as the president of Hansraj College hostel in 2014.
In 2016, Raj won the only seat available for persons with disabilities in MPhil at the JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies. “I was in a different world where I felt no different from others. I started expressing my opinions more explicitly for the rights of people with disability at the campus,” he says.
However, he chose to write his thesis on “Culture of love marriages in ancient India”. “At the campus, my fight is for inclusivity, and off-campus, it is against the culture of dowry. I will do my PhD research on the same topic to spread awareness among girls to find their own partners and avoid dowry,” Raj, who married his college sweetheart last year, says.