Four years after an ambitious law came into effect in India, guaranteeing free schooling to every child from six to 14 years of age, a new report released by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) illustrates that children from marginalised sections of society are fighting discrimination in classrooms, resulting in denial of education and steep drop-out rates.
The findings, spread across four states, also cite case studies in Varanasi, the epicentre of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and reflect on how Dalit children stopped going to school after facing inequity.
“The information has been deliberately released in the midst of polls, so that whichever party comes to power realises that more needs to be done than just sending children to school,” said Jayshree Bajoria, an Indian researcher at HRW, and the author of the report.
The account, They Say We’re Dirty: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized, released on Tuesday, documents discrimination by school authorities in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi, against Dalit, tribal and Muslim children. The findings reveal teachers and other students often address these children using derogatory terms for their caste, community, tribe, or religion.
“In Varanasi, like elsewhere, I found teachers and school staff used discriminatory practices against children from poor and marginalised sections, such as Dalits. I also found that the monitoring mechanism was just not working,” Bajoria said.
“In fact, the education officials do not have accurate records of students who have dropped out. In one case, I found that 22 Dalit children from the Musahar community in a hamlet at Pindra in Varanasi had stopped going to school because of the prejudice they had faced,” she added.
Shyam, 14, one of these 22 youngsters from Pindra village, told the Human Rights Watch: “The teacher always made us sit in one corner of the room, and would throw keys at us. We only got food if anything was left after the other children had been served. Once, the teacher hit a classmate so hard that she broke his hand. After this incident, all Musahar children stopped going to school.”
“Varanasi is a high-profile constituency. We hope that the political leadership will take this opportunity during their campaign to commit to full implementation of the Right to Education Act and zero discrimination in schools,” said Bajoria.
The research revealed several incidents where Hindu teachers in government schools made derogatory remarks about Muslim students. “Without an effective grievance redress system, children and parents from minority or marginalised communities have no recourse. Instead of becoming inclusive and equitable institutions, as envisioned under the Right to Education Act, schools end up alienating these children,” the report concludes.