The 2.20-minute-long video exchange between the child and the journalist has been widely shared on social media, with many praising the teenager for his clarity of vision and thought.
The fiery teen from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh in northern India fearlessly answered the reporter’s question of what he wanted to do when he grew up by saying that he wanted to become an Indian Administrative Service officer and serve his community.
The reporter, from an organisation called SM News, egged the boy on to talk about temples.
But he responded: “When we study, then we’ll get a job.”
He emphasised that constructing schools was more important than building temples. “I would rather be in a classroom,” he said, adding: “God has not blessed us. God will not give us anything. But education will.”
Taken aback, the reporter asked him about his caste — a social order that has long been used to discriminate against people. “I am from the Chamar community,” the boy replied.
The reporter said: “You are from the Chamar community, and you say this with such pride!”
Caste is one of the oldest form of social stratification that is handed down at birth and is used to divide Hindus into hierarchical groups and to determine their social status. Though caste-based discrimination is banned in India, the system has long been used across South Asian diaspora to entrench the privilege of members of the so-called upper castes while condemning those of lower castes to specific, less desirable roles or occupations.
The community, formerly considered “untouchables”, and historically marginalised and oppressed by the so-called upper castes, still face rampant abuse in many parts of India.
Chamars are classified as a Scheduled Caste under modern India’s system of affirmative action. The term chamar is considered derogatory.
The teenager reiterated proudly added that he looked up to Dr BR Ambedkar, not the gods in a temple.
Ambedkar, popularly known as Babasaheb, was a celebrated Indian scholar, politician, jurist, social reformer and the chief architect of the country’s Constitution.
He was a staunch defender of the rights of Dalits, or formerly untouchables, and led public movements to secure economic, political, and social rights for people from the marginalised community.
The reporter, who was slowly being booed by the crowd that had gathered around them, then asked the teen why he was willing to worship Ambedkar but not gods in a temple.
The boy responded: “Babasaheb gave us reservation and constitution. What did gods do for us? We don’t go to a temple. We go to schools.”
“God has given us nothing. I would rather get an education in a school,” the teenager added.
On social media, Indians praised the boy for voicing his thoughts at a time when India is increasingly becoming unsafe for minorities. Many appreciated his eloquence and intelligence, and called him a “rockstar” or a “legend”.
Ravi Nair, who shared the video of the interaction on Twitter, wrote: “Kids like him give us the hope that India hasn’t lost everything to the saffron mobs.”
Another user commented: “Yes kids like him rekindle the hope of a rational India!!”
“Shots fired. Full power!” another commented.
The young boy was called a “firebrand” and someone who “has answers to everything”.
One Twitter user praised him and said: “Wah re Chotey!! [roughly translates to ‘well done, lad’]. Smash these jokers.”
The interaction is especially significant as prime minister Narendra Modi and his party, the BJP, have for years focussed on religion and temples.
In February this year, Mr Modi inaugurated the first phase of a massive Kashi Vishwanath Temple Corridor project in Varanasi that had been built at a cost of Rs 3.39bn.
The project was aimed at transforming the pilgrims’ experience of Varanasi, which is known as the temple town of India.
Meanwhile, as per the economic survey presented by federal finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in January this year, India’s expenditure on education for 2021-22 was just 3.1 per cent of the total GDP.
In 2020-21, it was 3.1 per cent, while in 2019-20, it was a meagre 2.8 per cent of the country’s GDP.
The National Education Policy of India mandates that public investment on the education sector should be 6 per cent of the country’s GDP. India has never reached even close to that estimate.