We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
– Martin Luther King
Few years back a study commissioned by Ken Livingstone, the then Mayor of London had discovered how ‘Black teachers face bullying and racism’ in the school and had linked the plight of the black teachers to the ‘continuing problem of underachivement among black pupils’. The landmark report had called for a formal investigation – akin to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry into policing – to address concerns that black teachers are isolated, maligned and robbed of proper pay and status. (Hugh Muir, Friday September 8, 2006, The Guardian). There were also calls for a public inquiry into racism in schools.
One is yet to come across a comprehensive study of a similar nature to know how ‘apartheid of different kinds’ unfolds itself in schools in this part of the earth and whether teachers coming from – socially oppressed communities- are similarly ‘.isloated, maligned and robbed of proper pay and status..’and how does it impact the performance of the students coming from similar sections of society.Ofcourse, one does get an inkling of the state of affairs through related studies, reports and investigations.
Around three years back a study undertaken by NCERT had focussed itself on a related aspect. The ‘National Focus Group on Problems of SC and ST students’ had looked at the interrelationship between students and teachers – coming mainly from the non SC-ST sections. It had found that these teachers have minimum expectations from such students and their behaviour towards poor students coming from Jhuggi-Jhopri clusters is quite humiliating and oppressive. They entertain certain stereotypes about the cultural background and inherent mental faculties of such students and have no qualms in practising labelling, classification and discriminatory teaching methods vis-a-vis these students.
As of now we have before us plethora of sample studies/enquiry reports occasioned by specific complaints lodged mainly by students to protest discrimination faced inside particular institutions. It is widely known that in recent times, a few premier institutions of the country reached headlines for following policies, adopting mechanisms, continuing processes which put students coming from socially oppressed communities in disadvantageous position and denying them their constitutional rights. A recent judgement of the Supreme Court which dealt with the expulsion of SC-ST students from IIT Delhi supposedly for ‘underperformance’ is a case in point. The highest court of the country had to reprimand the administration that it cannot expel such students on this criterion whom it has admitted by adopting rigorous admission procedures. It also advised it to look into its functioning itself to see whether it has taken enough steps to empower them through relevant measures. Two years back the report prepared by a committee appointed by UGC, which was chaired by the Chairperson had caused lot of uproar in the country. The said report had indicted the AIIMS administration in no uncertain terms about its turning a blind eye to the overt and covert discrimination faced by the SC and ST students at various levels.
Few years back Guru Tegh Bahadur hospital, situated in Delhi had similarly metamorphosed into a new theatre of conflict between the scheduled category students and the non-dalits. The dalit students studying there had in association with other like-minded groups had launched a vigorous campaign opposing the humiliation heaped upon them by the rest of the students. It was heart rending to know how they were herded together not only on a particular floor in the hostel, or how a few tables in the mess were kept ‘reserved’ for them.
The treatment meted out the scheduled category students in the premier institute reminds one of a three year old report of the Parliamentary committee wherein it had expressed concern over the ‘abysmally low’ participation of SC and ST students, ‘as compared to their percentage in total population.’ It divulged that ‘ the enrollment of SCs in higher education has ranged between 8.6 per cent in 1990-91 to 11.3 percent in 2002-2003.’ (Parliament of India, 172 nd Report on Higher Education, presented on 22 nd May 2006)
If students from socially oppressed communities going for higher education find it difficult to wage a consistent struggle against exclusions, discriminations and are condemned to face it, one can just imagine the plight of students coming from similar background who go for school education.
As one browse through daily newspapers, one finds how more than 1,000 children from several districts of Gujarat are found to be involved in manual scavenging. And this despite the fact that manual scavenging has been banned more than 16 years ago by the central government and has announced penal action against all those who are found to be engaged in such things.
Thirteen-year-old Umesh Vegad from Vallabhipur taluka of Bhavnagar district – who gets 8 Rs for removing a caracass from the road – says he is made to sit on the floor of the school while others get to sit on the benches. “Teachers and children from Patel and Darbar community treat us differently. I clean my class twice a month and urinals once every week. I get work of moving dead animal bodies from the roads to other places and I get paid Rs8 for that,” says Umesh. ( http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_i-get-paid-rs8-for-clearing-animal)
There is no doubt that the most vulnerable among the lot seems to be those who are admittted in the scores of ‘Ashram Schools’ – residential schools – where they are at the complete mercy of teachers and non-teaching staff. It is a different matter that the shocking state of affairs inside such schools – where they die because of snakebites or consuming contaminated food on ‘independence day’ ; where they are humiliated, insulted and starved ; where they are raped and brutalised does not become a matter of concern for the so called ‘civil society’ of the country.
Perhaps few recent news clippings from such residential schools can give an idea about the gravity of the situation. It need not be emphasised that it is just a random sampling and could better be considered tip of the iceberg.
Caste abuse in Indian schools: UNESCO
Education for all: Report lists India among 30 countries that will miss 2015 goals
NEW DELHI, NOVEMBER 9: Higher caste teachers in India have physically and verbally abused lower caste students and India will not be able to achieve the literacy goals set for 2015, says a UNESCO-commissioned report on the Education For All (EFA) programme. Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) is the Indian version of EFA.
India is among 30 countries that the UNESCO feels will not make the target.
(VARGHESE K GEORGE
Posted online: Indian Express, Thursday, November 10, 2005 at 0018 hours IST)
Nobody would have imagined in their wildest dreams that 66 girls studying in N Jhalarsingh Kanyashram, a government-run school for SC/ST girls in Gajapati district, (Orissa) would walk a distance of 25 kms from their hostel unannounced, to protest the behaviour of three teachers who allegedly made casteist taunts to them.Altogether there are 250 girls studying in the institution. Of them 238 live in the hostel.
It is learnt that the triad would “always keep telling” them that “You all belong to lower castes,”
“They have inflicted unbearable torture and trauma on us. Even over a trifle thing, they make fun and remind us of our so-called low-caste background. It’s very very cruel. For long, we put up with the trauma, hoping things will improve someday. But nothing of that sort happened,” one of the girls said on condition of anonymity,
The students walked a distance of about 25 km through Hatigada, Lathar, Libiriguda, Saralapadar, Rubudisingh, Alisingh, Paleri, Paika Antarada and reached Nuagarh to voice their problems before the block development officer (BDO), but in vain. The day being a second Saturday, the BDO’s office was closed. The girls then met zilla parishad member Labin Raita and samiti member Dalima Dalbehera.
The SC/ST welfare director R K Choudhury has promised ‘..strong action against those found guilty.”
Ofcourse, it was not for the first time that SC/ST students studying in Gajapati district had undertaken such an action. Earlier, a group of students of Ekalabya Abasika Bidyalaya at Chandragiri and Laxmipur Abasika Bidyalaya near Koinpur in Gajapati district walked out to protest against alleged mismanagement and misbehaviour of teaching staff.
(Caste taunts by teachers drive 66 SC/ST girls run away from Orissa school, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/city/bhubaneswar/articleshow/4874588.cms, Sunil Mohan Patnaik, TNN 9 August 2009, 11:31pm IST)
Another news report which appeared in ‘The Statesman’ which covered the incident tells us : More than 70 residential schools are run by SC/ST welfare department, ITDA and the mass education department in Gajapati. The students are given stipend ranging between Rs 400 and Rs 500 per month for their education and this is utilised for their food and accommodation.
It is difficult to imagine the situation in which large number grown-up girls from underpriveledged backgrounds, studying in various government schools, are condemned to live where they have limited protection in their own premises. Male teachers are put in charge of the girls and outsiders have free access to the girls’ hostels. They stay in badly maintained accommodations and are prone to diseases due to congestion.
There is only one matron for a hundred girls and the buildings where they stay only have the compound wall for their safety. The state government ~ which is ready to pour in lakhs of rupees for the education sector ~ has forgotten that safety measures for hostel students is an important aspect of quality education.
While the students of Gajapati could unitedly protest the humiliation heaped on them, for students of Kasturba Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in Barwani district, (MP), where around 1,071 girls are studying at present, things unfolded themselves in such a rapid manner that they could not even get a chance to say anything.
For Savita Gangaram Barela (11), Kavita Motiram (13), Rita Hawaldar (11) and Saraswati (9) the ‘Khichdi’ and ‘Halwa’ they consumed a day before independence day (14 August) – when they were getting ready to participate in the celebrations – proved fatal. They died within few hours after consuming this contaminated food in a hostel at the tribal dominated Niwali village in Madhya Pradesh.
Around 92 girls had to be admitted to different hospitals after they developed symptoms of food poisioning. While the school authorities tried to pin the blame on contaminated water from a well in the hostel, the district authorities differed with their assessment. According to them the sudden illness can only be explained through the contaminated food the girls consumed on 14 th August. (Hindustan Times, 19 th August 2009, Fourth victim dies of food poisoining in MP School)
If the girls from Barwani had to pay with their lives for the acts of omission and commission on part of the management, an altogether different story unfolded itself in Gulabrao Ukey Adivasi Ashramshala in Wardha district, 150 km from Nagpur, which was started with the ‘noble aim of providing quality education to the tribal population.’ The Maharashtra government also promptly provided aid for its work. Little could have anyone the premonition that the Ashramshala would metamorphose into a torture chamber for the tribal children and a day would arrive when the proprietor and peon of this residential school would be sent behind bars for allegedly raping minor girl students over the past three years.It is learnt that at least five minor girls were found to be sexually exploited by the duo.
The accused peon allegedly raped an 11 year old girl in standard VI after threatening her with a knife on August 7. The whole incident came to light when the victim narrated the whole sordid saga to her parents when she went home over the weekend. When a police complaint was lodged, further enquiries revealed shocking stories of more such victims in the school. Two of the victims happened to be orphans who were lured to the school by the duo with the promise of providing them education and a good life. (Aug 20, 2009, Hindustan Times).
It is ‘normal’ to find staff working in similar Ashramshalas wanting on many occasions, the management also seems to condone caste apartheid getting practised before their own eyes, but the apathy on part of the government seems to be the key factor in worsening the situation. The manner in which a fifty year old school established with the purpose to rehabilitate children of “denotified criminal tribes”, Vikas Vidyalaya — the oldest boarding school for Dalits in Allahabad — finds itself lying in shambles just goes to vindicate this. It happens to be the only school in eastern UP where Dalit children belonging to the denotified tribes category from Azamgarh, Jaunpur, Allahabad, Pratapgarh, Mirzapur, Fatehpur, Kaushambi, Ghazipur and Sant Ravidas Nagar are admitted and can study upto class X.
The school building has 13 classrooms of which 10 rooms are not in proper condition for teaching, as roofs and walls have developed cracks. “We cannot take classes in these rooms due to the imminent threat to the lives of the students,” said BB Joshi, Principal of the school.
One of the two hostels has not been used for long after its roof had collapsed. “In the space meant for two students, eight students live in each room in the hostel,” said Joshi.
“The school gets Rs 18 per day per child for food as opposed to Rs 40 given to other government-aided schools. Only Rs 150 per year per student is given for books and Rs 300 annually for clothes,” added Joshi.
The children study under trees and stairs and are exposed to heat, rain and cold in the absence of proper classrooms, said SP Tiwari, general secretary of the Teachers Association.
“There are only 19 staff members against 42 sanctioned posts. There are no teachers for maths and science,” added Joshi. The teachers and staff are yet to receive the benefits of the Fifth Pay Commission. (School for Dalits running on its ruins, Vijay Pratap Singh, Posted: Aug 21, 2009 at 0246 hrs IST, INDIAN EXPRESS)
Definitely one can go on narrating instances of institutionalised discrimination getting practised at various levels inside these schools.
Any close watcher of the situation would vouch that there is nothing ‘surprising’ about the situation. Few years back hundreds of students from a Ashram School in Thane ( Maharashtra) had undertaken similar ‘long march’ a la the students of Gajapati district, to protest the inhuman treatment meted out to them inside the school where they were even not properly fed.
It was only last year that few students from a government run residential school for tribal students in Jharkhand died when they supposedly consumed contaminated milk. Of course, as it happens in all such case, a poor lady who use to supply milk to the school was declared the main culprit and all the other bigger sharks were allowed to go scot free. Nobody bothered to note that the children in the school had consumed the milk earlier also and did not face problem of food poisoning.
Madhya Pradesh, which tops the list of states in ‘atrocities on tribals’ witnessed deaths of few students in a Ashram Shala because of snakebites last year.The school which had been built in marshy area had no provisions for protection from such poisionous reptiles.
Last year a two member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice Aftab Alam had issued a notice to the central and state governments ( 24 th Oct 2008) over a petition filed by a students organisation about the inhuman conditions existing in 1,130 hostels meant for SC-ST students spread in 240 districts of the country. The said organisation had undertaken a study in 2006-2007 of such hostels and made it a basis of their petition. Their survey had pointed out that many such hostels have been built in jungles where students have to study in candlelight and are compelled to consume impure water.
The plight of the SC-ST students inside such Ashram Schools is a marker of the situation which exists at the grassroot level. One can see it as a deeper malaise of our society where we are ready to protest the ‘racial attacks on Indian students in Australia’ but are not ready to look inward and see for ourselves what we are doing to our own people.
Looking at the overall situation it does not appear surprising that despite 60 plus years of independence and all talk of affirmative action programmes, till today for majority of SC-ST boys and girls, getting education still happens to be a game of hurdles.
A close look at the recent changes in economy and polity in our country makes it clear that the situation is getting worse for them . Unless urgent steps are not taken to ameliorate the situation there is going to be further shrinkage of avenues of education as well as employment within educational institutions. First and foremost, the economic reforms of the 90s and the consequent process of privatisation and commercialisation of education and the abandonment of affirmative action in these sectors, has further marginalised these sections. Secondly, the technological changes signified by the ‘information technology’ revolution has given birth to a new ‘digital divide’ wherein the dalits and tribals are finding themselves at the receiving end.
It is evident not only in the decrease in the Gross Enrolment Rate of SC and ST boys and girls but also in the increase in their dropout rate. It may be noted that the GER of both Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe boys and girls in 2003-04 decreased with reference to 2001-02 in several states.
Gross dropout rate represents the percentage of student who drop out from a given grade or cycle or level of education in a given cycle/school year. The drop out rate in respect of Scheduled Caste boys & girls increased in 2003-04 with reference to 2001-02 in several states. The increase ranged from 0.04 to 28.98 per cent in 2003-04. Similarly, the drop out rate for Scheduled Tribes boys & girls also increased in 2003-04 in several states with reference to 2001-02. The gap between general candidates and Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe was 6.7 per cent and 15.1 per cent in 2001-02 and rose to 10.4 and 16.6 in 2003-04 respectively.
Question naturally arises about apportioning the blame for the state of affairs as it exists today.
It is true that the state itself comes out in rather unflattering terms when one takes up the issue. But the key point worth emphasising is that caste discrimination much like gender discrimination or racial discrimination has a specificity which transcends the binary of ‘state as perpetrator’ and ‘people as victims’ . In fact it implicates the partisan role played by the people themselves.
In fact in this case a section of civil society itself becomes a distinct beneficiary of caste based order and it helps perpetuate the existing unequal social reactions and frustrates attempts to democratize the society because through the customary arrangements the dominant classes are assured of social control over people who can continue to abide by their commands without any protest.
Of course the uncivil nature of the civil society presents before us a unique challenge where the need then becomes to rise above a mere discourse on civil and constitutional rights and address the failure of the largest democracy of the world to go beyond mere form. We have to appreciate that it concerns the greater hiatus that exists between constitutional principles and practice and corresponding ethical ones based on a diametrically opposed ideal. Everyone has to see that under the purity and pollution based paradigm which is the cornerstone of our caste system, inequality receives not only legitimisation as well as sanctification. As inequality is accepted both in theory and practice, a legal constitution has no bearing on the ethical foundation of caste-based societies.
The founding fathers of the Constitution had solemnly resolved to secure to all citizens Justice: Social, Economic and Political, Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. And equality of status and of opportunity, and to promote among them all fraternity, assuring the dignity of individual and unity. It also emphasised that :The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, place and birth or any form. The Directive Principles of the Constitution underlined The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interest of the scheduled castes/tribes and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
The plight of the SC-ST students in the Ashram schools once again proves that we are still far away from fulfilling the resolutions made by them.