Odisha’s Catholic Dalit medical student struggles to pay for study

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By Purushottam Nayak

Bhubaneswar: A young Dalit Catholic and student of St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, struggle to pay for his medical education.

Larent Digal is pursuing his Medical Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS). 

Digal is one of the successful candidates in the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) 2020 in Odisha. NEET is one of the toughest national-level examinations in India. 

He was a victim of the anti-Christian violence in 2007-2008 in the Kandhamal district of Odisha, eastern India. During that time, he had to hide in the jungle to escape the persecution. 

“I have undergone pain, agony and threat in life just because I am Christian. I am blessed of being Catholic and knowing Jesus my saviour,” said Digal.

Digal was born on June 4, 1999, at Linepada under Our Lady of Holy Rosary Parish, Daringbadi in Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese. He completed a high school certificate course in 2014 at Daringbadi government’s school and an intermediate and undergraduate degree in 2016. 

He succeeded NEET after three attempts while staying at Solidarity for Developing Communities (SFDC), an NGO, Berhampur. Odisha. This NGO helps medical aspirants from Dalit and Tribal backgrounds. 

“Failure is the pillar of success,” said Digal who has scored 446 out of 720 total marks.

His parents Pradeep and Kuntola Digal are grateful to God for this success. He is a member of four of six siblings. His sister, Jocy Digal, is a nun belonging to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Annecy.   

His younger brother Anjan Digal is a seminarian of Salesians of Saint John Bosco (SDB), Hyderabad.

“I was shocked and shattered after hearing the incident of Graham Stains, an Australian Christian missionary who was burnt to death along with his sons—Timothy (10) and Philip (6), at Monoharpur village in Keonjhar district in January 1999. In the same year, Lorent was born,” recalled his mother Kuntola.

“I was thinking it is wrong to be Christian in the secular country where the Constitution allows freedom of religion and freedom of speech,” she continues.

It was confirmed that Christians are not liked by the extremists after anti-Christian violence 2007-2008. They had to run to the deep forest to save themselves when Digal was nine years old.

“We had no fear of tigers or wild animals, but fear of human beings who forced us to spend four to five days in the jungle without food and drink during the anti-Christian violence,” expressed father Pradeep, a mason. 

“I am proud of my faith in Jesus, who rescued me from the persecution” affirmed Pradeep.

After his six months of admission to St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, from December onwards, the medical student is struggling to pay the amount of 1 lakh fees annually to the college, since his father has no work due to COVID-19. 

The father is also struggling to meet the hostel fees for his son. Other students have paid some amount of 1 lakh except Larent. The hostel fee for four years is Rupees 4 lakhs. 

“If we do not get funds and the students cannot arrange their fees they cannot get into a medical college and all their and our efforts will be in vain,” said Bijay Singh, founder and executive secretary of SFDC, which completed its 25 years of service. 

SFDC was started on May 31, 1993. Young Digal is grateful to Singh and SFDC.  

“Despite financial hardships to pay for my medical education, I hope to finish it. I hope to serve society with compassion after completing medical education,” said Digal.

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