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Dia Chakravarty: "My choice to study here aged 17 with very little spoken English could have been a disaster."

It came as a great surprise to me that Standpoint was interested in what I had to say. The brief was to write about myself. What made me passionate about the work I do — campaigning for a smaller state and greater individual power? Simply put, it is the belief that no one knows better than me what is good for me, what is right for me. By that same token, I can never presume to know what is right for someone else and therefore cannot make choices for someone else. Individual choice is really what it boils down to for me. As long as I'm hurting nobody, the state should leave me in control of my life, my finances, my choices.

I suppose everyone has a story, and mine is this.

Looking back at my childhood, I now know that I had quite an unusual upbringing, though it never felt that way at the time. I was born in Bangladesh to parents of two different faiths who had both decided to keep their respective religions even after their marriage. The Bangladeshi education system doesn't really accommodate children like me, possibly because mixed-faith marriages are so rare in the country. Religion forms part of the core curriculum and one must start studying it at primary school.

My liberal, idealist parents refused to choose a religion for their six-year-old, and instead set up a school with their friends (like-minded, but not parents of mixed-religion children), following the old style O-level curriculum under the British Council. I could now carry on going to school without having to pledge my allegiance to either one of the two religions I had inherited.

But the problem was teachers, or the lack of them, and also the lack of students. This was an experimental school, more like a tutorial really. Our parents were our teachers, and students — particularly in the higher classes — were a rare thing. My class never had more than four pupils, who started leaving one by one as the O-levels drew nearer. What parent would want their child to be a guinea pig for a school that had never put a pupil through those all-important exams? My own parents, could have been the answer, except that they redeemed themselves by actually letting me decide whether I wanted to enter the mainstream education system or continue with my O-levels, so I was being forced to do nothing against my will.

During the year running up to the exams, I was taught at home by several tutors, most of whom had little experience of the syllabus. I was incredibly lucky to have the most amazing English teacher who provided me with a solid understanding of the language (though I never really spoke English outside lessons until I came to the UK), but I had to teach myself some of the other subjects. The lack of access to a laboratory also meant that I couldn't study sciences, but that was just the price I had to pay for my own choice.

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