Minister of state for school education Deepak Joshi had to face embarrassing moments during a Unicef-organised function in Bhopal on Tuesday when school children asked him straightforward questions on liquor and untouchability issues.
First, some students asked him why there was a liquor shop near their school due to which many drunken men harass them and pass lewd comments at them. And then girl students asked him why the teachers force poor students to sit separately at a city school, telling them -- “you stink…sit away from us… you will ultimately be labourers.”
The function was organised by the state unit of United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) for online release of the report ‘State of the World’s Children 2016’. The Unicef officials had invited children from different areas of Bhopal, four of them also shared the dais with Joshi, while others were invited in groups to come on the dais and share their views and ask direct questions to the minister.
Class 10 student Shabnam Agaria from the Kotra area of Bhopal told minister that in the Barkehedi area, students from poor families were made to sit separately and asked to copy answer sheets of the students from rich families after they finish writing them. “When students go to school in the morning, many times teachers don’t open the gate…they keep chatting among themselves and tell them why they need to study as they were destined to be labourers.”
While Aafreen from Aishbagh questioned why liquor shops continue to be near their school due to which they face harassment on a daily basis, other students raised issues concerning child labour, violence against children, child abuse and poor condition of government schools in the city.
Joshi, who didn’t see this coming, in his speech expressed surprise and dismay over what children shared. “When Unicef officials invited me for the release of the report, I thought it would be a simple function where I would come and release a report. But what children have told me makes me think whether our democracy is going in the right direction. But when I think about it, I feel children’s openly sharing their views on a dais without any fear is a step that strengthens the democracy.”
“We have a lot to do to improve education and security of children here. We have to end discrimination meted out to them and their exploitation.”
Joshi said he sought details of the schools from the children where they were facing problems and discrimination. “I have noted the names of the schools and I will myself inspect them and investigate the matter. I will try to reply all the questions that were put to me by the children”, he said, adding that he will look into legal mechanism through which liquor shops near girl schools could be shifted.
Officer-in-charge UNICEF’s state unit Manish Mathur said, “We need to specifically focus on reaching the most disadvantaged children first. Since we are talking of education, health, data tells us that 379 children five years of age die in Madhya Pradesh each day – something which needs urgent action”.
Gauranshi, Savita, Sonu and Bipin Sen were among those children who shared the dais with the minister.