This is the story of a young girl from a village in Maharashtra. She had done some studies in her village school but like millions of other girls like her, had dropped out. Never did she dream that she would study further. But through the magnanimity and vision of her employers in Mumbai, she successfully passed her matriculation. She then got a chance, once again because of them, to live and work in a home in London and study at the same time. Her chosen field was catering. In three years, she has graduated to become a first class chef.

I remembered this girl when I saw the faces of some of the young men and women, first generation learners, who have excelled in the recent standard 10 examinations. The media showed us the homes of these young people who have grown up either in villages or in city slums. One ran away from home, worked nights in order to earn the money to study. What comes through in their diverse statements about what they want to do in the future is their determination to overcome the circumstance of their birth. One, for instance, is clear that he wants to join the civil service. Others are still not so sure. But the very fact that these boys and girls have passed their matriculation must ignite a thousand dreams in their minds, and those of their families. Yet, these dreams are not automatically realised. Leaving school is only the first step, especially for children from poor families who invest not just money but a huge amount of energy and emotion into their educational achievement.

This is the reason the story of this Maharashtrian girl in London is so striking. She was lucky to find people who saw her potential, encouraged her to study, and invested further in giving her a professional training. But even this would not have worked without a special brand of determination.

Even in Mumbai, had a girl from this type of background entered an elitist school, she would have had problems with her peers. But in London, she faced something for which even her sponsors could not have prepared her. During a three-year catering course, this girl found no one, not a single person from a class of around 20 boys and girls, would speak to her. All of them were white and British. She was the only Indian, spoke a halting type of English, and was obviously from a different class background from the rest of the class. Yet, despite the uncouth and heartless behaviour of her colleagues, she refused to be cowed down. She must have felt despair in an alien land where it was difficult to make a friend and impossible to comprehend why even basic curiosity prevented people from speaking to someone who was different from them. Yet, she decided that her priority was to study, work hard, and do well. And that is precisely what happened.

This girl experienced what many others striving for change also do -- a kind of majoritarianism that comes into play not just in politics but also in daily existence — in offices, in educational institutions, even within families.
The reason I cannot forget my conversations with this young woman is because, despite the boorish and insensitive behaviour of her classmates, she nursed absolutely no bitterness. She described to me, for instance, how they would all get up and leave the table in the canteen if she joined them during the break. As a result, she had to resign herself to sitting by herself during the breaks. This happened not over one term or a few months, but over three long years. But she persisted in sitting at the same table and over time they stopped getting up and leaving. But they continued to ignore her and acted as if she did not exist.

Fortunately for her, the teachers had a different mindset and recognised both her talent and her determination. Thanks to their fair-mindedness, and her own sense of self worth, she has graduated with flying colours and can look forward to a rewarding career.

What this girl experienced is what many of those who are striving for a change have to go through. A kind of majoritarianism comes into play not just in politics but also in daily existence — in offices, in educational institutions, even within families. We seem to lack the ability to accept and welcome difference; the majority will always try and bulldoze everyone to conform, to be like them and punish those who through no fault of theirs are different. Even if you belong to the same race, class or creed, you can be an outcaste. But if you are from a different race, class or creed from the majority, then your ability to be accepted, to be one of the crowd, becomes so much more difficult. Only the strong can survive such treatment. Luckily, despite life's unfairness, there are people like this brave young woman from Maharashtra.