Education in India still stuck in the dark ages

Publié le par hort

Cry Freedom!
August 2007
Harsh Mander Delhi

In a dilapidated slum shanty near the banks of the Ganga in Patna is settled a group of families whose profession is to clean dry toilets with their bare hands, and to carry human waste on their heads to throw into the forgiving waters of the mighty river. I found that not a single child studied in the government school, which, as it happened, was located literally just across the road from the scavenger colony. It took a while to coax from the guardians the reason for their steady resolve to keep their children away from school. It transpired that they had indeed sent their children to the school initially.
It is a custom in many government schools for the teacher to send children on errands. The upper-caste children were assigned tasks such as to fetch tea. The children from the scavenger colony were asked to wash the toilets, or to clean up after a dog had soiled the school premises. The children could not bear the shame, and refused to return to the school.. Children in rural India, and even parts of the cities, learn early the rules of caste, which survive unremittingly through their lifetimes, even as their country races into the 21st century.
A survey of practices of untouchability undertaken in 565 villages in 11 major states of India reveals shockingly that in as many as 38 per cent government schools, dalit children are made to sit separately while eating. In 20 per cent schools, Of the many forms of untouchability that persist in modern India, unarguably the most unconscionable is the wide prevalence of discrimination against dalit children within schools dalit children are not even permitted to drink water from the same source.

As the outcome of a major direction of the Supreme Court of India, millions of children in most government primary schools in the country are being provided hot, cooked, mid-day meals everyday. The mid-day meal programme not only strengthens the nutrition of children in government schools, many of whom are poor and do not have access to sufficient and nutritious food in their homes, it also encourages enrolment into schools, retention and regular attendance. But an equally important outcome is that since children of all castes and classes sit together and eat, it teaches them caste equality. Traditionally, caste and communal barriers are expressed most in the refusal to eat together; therefore, people of diversity sitting together gently can shatter a range of iniquitous social practices, and what better place for this to happen than the school?

However, there are disturbing field studies of caste discrimination within schools. Caste discrimination in mid-day meals is seen in various ways. The first is defiance of the Supreme Court orders to appoint cooks from dalit backgrounds. In states like Tamil Nadu only 14 per cent of the cooks are dalit. In many places where, although, dalit cooks have been appointed, upper-caste parents retaliated by not allowing their children to eat the meal, threatening to withdraw, putting pressure to replace the cook with an upper-caste cook and so on.

The other forms of discrimination are where children are not allowed to sit together and eat. Dalit children are required to sit apart from the dominant caste children; sometimes apart within the same space, other times outside of the school building while the dominant caste children sit inside, or on a lower level than their dominant caste peers. Some studies have also shown that dalit children are required to bring their own plates and/or are given less quantity of food, refused a second serving, not allowed to drink water from the public taps and hand pump at the school and so on.

The recently released report of perhaps the first nationwide survey of the continued prevalence of untouchability, jointly authored by social scientists Ghanshyam Shah, Sukhadeo Thorat, Satish Desh-pande, Amita Baviskar and myself (Untouchability in Rural India, Sage), finds such untouchability in all local state institutions. Almost 27.6 per cent dalits are prevented from entering police stations and 25.7 from ration shops; 33 per cent public health workers refuse to visit dalit homes, and 23.5 per cent dalits still do not get letters delivered to their homes. Segregated seating for dalits was found in 30.8 per cent self-help groups and cooperatives, and 29.6 per cent panchayat offices. In 14.4 per cent villages, dalits were not permitted to enter the panchayat building. They were denied access to polling booths, or for-ced to form separate lines in 12 per cent of the villages surveyed. Despite being charged with a constitutional mandate to promote social justice, local ins-titutions of the Indian State facilitate untouchability.

Dalit settlements are often segregated from the main village, and these traditions are reproduced even by the government, when building Indira Awaas housing colonies for dalits or by NGOs, post-2001 earthquake reconstruction in Gujarat. In nearly half the surveyed villages (48.4 per cent), dalits were denied access to water sources. In over a third (35.8 per cent), dalits were denied entry into village shops. They had to wait some distance from the shop, the shopkeepers kept the goods they bought on the ground, and accepted their money similarly without direct contact. In teashops, in about one-third of the villages, dalits were denied seating and had to use separate cups.

In more than 47 per cent villages, bans operated on wedding processions on public (arrogated as upper-caste) roads. In 10 to 20 per cent villages, dalits were not allowed to wear clean or bright clothes or sunglasses. They could not ride their bicycles, unfurl their umbrellas, wear chappals on public roads, smoke or even stand without head bowed.

We found that restrictions on entry by dalits into Hindu temples were as high as an average of 64 per cent in 11 states, ranging from 47 per cent in UP to 94 per cent in Karnataka. Such restrictions endured even after conversion of dalits to egalitarian faiths. As many as 41 of the 51 villages surveyed in Punjab reported separate gurudwaras for dalit Sikhs, and even where dalits worshipped in gurudwaras frequented by upper caste jats, they were served in separate lines at the langar, and were not permitted to prepare or serve the sacred food. In Maharashtra, despite mass conversions of Mahars to Buddhism, dalits were denied temple entry in 51 per cent villages. Reports from Kerala and Andhra Pradesh chronicled divisions in the church between dalit converts and others, even discrimination against ordained dalit priests.

Untouchability persists even into death; in half the villages (48.9 per cent) dalits were debarred from access to cremation grounds. In Maharashtra, even where dalits have their segregated cremation grounds, these are permitted only on the eastern side of the village, so that upper castes are not polluted by the winds that pass from west to east.

The study reports discrimination against dalits even in the labour market. Although normally dalits are coerced into agricultural labour in unfavourable conditions, sometimes even of bondage, they are excluded in the lean agricultural season when work is scarce, and therefore upper-caste workers are preferred. In 25 per cent of the villages, dalits were paid lower wages than other workers. They were subjected to longer working hours, delayed wages, verbal and physical abuse, not just in 'feudal' states like Bihar but notably in Punjab. In 37 per cent of the villages, dalits were paid wages from a distance, to avoid physical contact. The study found evidence of discrimination between non-dalit and dalit workers, evidence of caste surmounting proletarian solidarity.

Although the large majority of dalits are landless, even in the fewer cases where dalits were landowners, they were denied access to water for irrigation in more than one-third of the villages. In 21 per cent villages, they were denied access to grazing lands and fishing ponds, and violent upper caste opposition was reported when dalits were allotted government lands for cultivation or even housing.

Untouchability extended even to consumer markets with dalit producers in 35 per cent villages barred from selling their produce in local markets. They were forced to sell in the anonymity of distant urban markets where caste identities blur, but this additional burden of costs and time reduced their competitiveness. Caste taboos apply particularly to products like milk, so that in 47 per cent of the villages with cooperatives, dalits were not allowed to sell milk to the co-operatives or even private buyers. In a quarter of the villages, they were prevented from buying milk from cooperatives. Dalits are not only disproportionately burdened with poverty to start with, caste discrimination in labour and consumer markets condemn them to lower wages with harder work in uncertain employment, and restrictions on their access to natural resources as well as markets for their products.

With untouchability persisting unashamedly in State institutions like schools and police stations, in public spaces like temples and shops, in farms and markets, and in homes and hearts, the dalit still lives in India waiting hopelessly, and sometimes in anger, for the long betrayed dawn of equality.

The writer is a former civil servant and Convener,
Aman Biradari

Vision India: Together We Can !

By Nishikant Waghmare
28 July, 2007

As Indians we must have one motto: "One People! One Nation ! One India!" Now, let us look back at the Indian society. In villages where 81% of Indians live untouchability is practiced. Do untouchables get drinking water? Do they socialize like others? Have their Human Rights violations- rapes, beatings, and cold blooded murders stopped? Will they get justice in their lifetime?

The fact is that although a Dalit has made it to the post of the President of India Mr. K. R.Narayannan (1997-2002), but the condition of Dalits remains unchanged. The scourge of untouchbility prevails in India. (60 Minuties the CBS story was anchored By Christine Amanpour in 1999.)

No matter how many Lok –Sabha seats (122 SCs and STs) are reserved, it doesn't do much good if a Dalit cannot drink from public water taps and is condemned to live in the outer fringes of society. It is with a heart full of love, gratitude, and trust that I take up my pen to write for the Dalit cause. The Indian National Congress Party and Bhartiya Janata Party – led by National Democratic Alliance( NDA) is toying with the idea of job reservation in the private Sector for SCs/ STs'. I believe that for SCs/STs' jobs are the only route to socio-economic empowerment as they do not own any means of production, like land! President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said, "Our greatest enemy is poverty and not human beings, and if we want progress, we will have to fight poverty." Eradicating poverty, illiteracy, and reducing inequalities within upper caste and Dalits is the ,challenge we must face as a nation.

It is crying shame that after 60 years of the Independence, 350 Millions of our people live in poverty. The UNDP Report shows that in India 23crore and 30 lakh people live in starvation. I am sorry to state that after India gained Independence we have no social justice, social security, health care, sanitation, education, infrastructure, drinking water, food, and socio-economic empowerment of all its citizens. We have less cars in on the road but more accidents. Train accidents have become more frequent and also India Air Force MIG 21 crashes. Is anyone thinking about it?

India stands highest in the world for blind people, HIV positive, and illiteracy and poverty. As Indians become more educated we will be more productive. Mostly, Indians also lack sense of humor. Our strength, however, lies in our family values.

In India politicians, such as M.Ps' M.L.As, Ministers, Governors, and Civil Servants from services like IPS, IAS, IFS, and IRS and several other officials of the country consider themselves above the law. Corruption is deeply rooted each and every department of public service and Ministries. Corruption has become the way of life in India and people have learned to respect it. Many top public servants are under CBI investigation after being arrested on the charge of corruption.

Our Politicians must think about health care, education, and infrastructure development. Our politicians must have vision, courage and ideology to make a real difference. Dr. BabaSaheb Ambedkar wanted to do more for his country, but in the existing set-up, he observed, it was difficult to maintain one's interest in its affairs when the people were not prepared to give a hearing to any view, which did not agree with that of the Prime Minister of India. "It is Sin," he sighed," To take birth in such a country whose people are so prejudiced. Anyhow I have done a lot in spite of the words of abuse hurled at me from all sides. I will continue to do so till my death."

We have been living in this country for thousands of years, in a hopeless system, which lacks enthusiasm. So long as the present system continues, there is no scope for progress. Under the Hindu religion, which is founded on inequality and injustice, we can achieve nothing. Manusmriti describes the chaturvarna.

Chaturvarna is disastrous for the progress of mankind. Under this system, shudras are restricted to perform menial jobs only. They have nothing to do with education. Who would be Interested in ameliorating their lot? Brahmins, Kshatriyas and vaishyas benefit alike from the slavish condition of shudras. The shudras have nothing but slavery to share. Chaturvarna cannot just be blown away. It is not only a part of tradition; it has become a religion.

There is no equality in Hinduism. Narrating an incident that happened with Gandhi, Dr. Ambedkar said, " I once went to see Gandhiji. Gandhiji told me that he believed in chaturvarna. 'What kind of chaturvarna'? I enquired, pointing towards my hand with the little finger in the bottom and thumb on the top or this way – with the palm lying flat on the surface of the table and fingers lying side by side. What do you mean? By the Chaturvarna? Where does it begin and where does it end?' I asked Gandhiji. Gandhiji could not reply."

Commenting on the contribution of the so-called lower castes, Ambedkar further stated, "The Hindus wanted the Vedas and they sent for Vyasa, who was not a caste Hindu. The Hindus wanted an epic and they sent of Valmiki who was an untouchable. The Hindus wanted a Constitution, and they sent for me."

I hope all political parties must think big. Otherwise there is no future left for future generations. All leaders must forego their egos and work together for the development of India. It is my hope and prayer that we will always live a happy, and peaceful life based on non-violence, truth, equality, love, and compassion as taught to us by Buddha.

India has the men and women to rise to the challenge and ensure a future of racial harmony. A clever person cannot achieve self-realization, which comes only to a wise person. Wisdom and compassion is the way forward. 

Two Dalit girls drown as cop throws them into floodwater
Patna, Aug 23,2007 
Two minor Dalit girls drowned and angry villagers alleged a policeman had thrown them into floodwater because they were collecting firewood from his orchard in a Bihar village Wednesday.

Kamli, 10, and Chandni, 8, of Manipur village under Mathurapur police station in Samastipur district, were allegedly thrown into floodwater by Lalal Singh, a Bihar Military Police constable, for collecting firewood from his orchard.  'The girls died as they did not know how to swim,' said Arjun Paswan, Chandni's father. Samastipur district magistrate N. Sharwan Kumar has ordered a probe into the incident. 'Stringent action will be taken against the policeman,' Kumar said. Singh was reportedly under the influence of liquor at the time of the incident.

The villagers held a demonstration with the girls' bodies and blocked the Samastipur-Darbhanga Road for four hours, demanding Singh's arrest. He was reportedly absconding.  The incident highlights the plight of the socially marginalized community in Bihar.

Four days ago, Navin Kumar Paswan, a nine-year-old Dalit boy of Purnea district, lost vision in one of  his eyes after he was hit by the headmaster and schoolteacher for demanding more food during the mid-day meal in his school.

Recently, three Dalit girls, Class I students of the Kasturba Gandhi Residential Girls School in Saharsa district, were allegedly branded with hot iron for refusing to clean the classroom as directed by the school warden.

Earlier this month, a Dalit woman employed to cook mid-day meals in a village school in Rohtas district was barred by upper caste Hindu men, but the government announced that she would continue to cook the meals.

Publié dans education

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