November 8, 2015 1:25:20 am
“Sweep the floor or we’ll give you a TC (transfer certificate).” Ram Avtar says this is a threat he often hears at school. In Class VI, the 12-year-old already knows what that means.
“We use buara (broom) twice daily, once in the morning, and then before the meals,” adds Vishal Bairwa, Class III. That’s not all, classmate Om Prakash reminds him. “Whenever the school gets too dirty, we must collect the litter, make a pile and set it on fire.”
They are all Dalits, all students of Rajkiya Ucch Madhyamik Vidyalaya in Benada village, on the outskirts of Jaipur. The Gujjars outnumber the Dalits here.
Last year, the Rajasthan High Court had directed the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS), an NGO that works in the field of education, to review the status of toilets in a hundred schools in and around Jaipur, following a PIL. One of the observations of the BGVS was, “A serious concern that we would like to highlight is that the girls and children from Scheduled Caste communities are made to clean toilets by the teachers and administration. Very obviously these children face discrimination because they belong to SC communities, reinforcing the evil of untouchability and caste roles of traditional societies.”
“Children should be taught to keep their surroundings clean but there should be no discrimination on the basis of their caste or gender,” says BGVS Rajasthan President Komal Srivastava.
Ram, Vishal and Om Prakash don’t have to clean the toilets. But almost everything else reinforces those caste roles. Parents of Dalit children say their children are rarely asked to fetch water for the teacher, are given smaller portions at mid-day meal than their Gujjar classmates, and bear the bulk of the duty of cleaning the school.
“The Gujjars are rarely asked to sweep the floor and pick up the garbage. It is always the Dalit kids on duty,” says Manohar Devi, herself a Dalit, who helps run an anganwadi kendra on the school premises.
Lali Devi, whose nephew Vikas studies in Class V, says “Dalit children are preferred for all the dirty work.”
Ram Avtar adds that in his class, “Gujjars don’t allow us to sit in the front.”
School principal Rewad Ram Sharma denies children are made to clean schools, saying they pay a “Dalit woman” Rs 500 a month to clean both the toilets and the premises. “She shows up every 3-4 days,” he says.
However, the children say she comes just once a month and “only cleans the toilets”. The school, from classes 1 to 12, has 465 students and 17 teachers.
Even the Gujjars acknowledge the “difference” between them and their Dalit counterparts when it comes to cleaning duty. “We are asked to sweep only if we are late, as punishment,” says Mukesh Gujjar of Class VI. Rajendra Gujjar, Class X, adds the only time they pick up the garbage is during the annual cleanliness week.
Almost everyone in Benada knows the case of Krishan Kumar Bairwa, a Class IX student who dropped out. The story goes that Kumar touched the water bottle of a teacher, was beaten up, and left the school soon after.
According to Rameshwar Gujjar, 60, a village elder whose son has studied at the same school, “Of course teachers have to beat up students if they misbehave.”
Rajendra Gujjar claims Krishan’s beating was linked to theft. “Mobiles, bats, tennis balls have been stolen from the teachers’ room.”
Manish Kumar, who knew Krishan, however, says beating of Dalit children is routine. “The Gujjars threaten us all the time.”
Sarpanch Neetu Meena claims the parents haven’t reported any discrimination to her. “There might be discrimination in closed rooms but how would I know unless it is brought to my notice?” she says.
An analysis of the Unified District Information System for Education Data for 2014-15 reveals that the annual average dropout rate at primary level in Rajasthan is 9.57 per cent among SCs, which is higher than the 7.58 per cent for OBCs and 7.74 per cent for general category students.
At the upper primary level, the SCs (7.51 per cent) fare worse than even STs (7), apart from OBCs (5.47) and general category students (5.25). Only Muslims are worse off, with a 20.59 per cent dropout rate.
In all social groups, the dropout rate is higher among girls. The Dalit girl students of the Benada school claim they are singled out to fetch water. “They send us even during classrooms,” says Anokh Bairwa of Class VIII. “Also, they don’t give us marks easily.”
Ram Avtar’s mother Lali has another concern. Worried her son doesn’t get enough to eat in school, she ensures he has a “proper” meal at home. “Daab daab ke khilate hain unko (They are given a hearty meal), while we are just given a single chappati,” says Ram Avtar.
“Our kids stay in school for several hours. They should not discriminate over food,” adds Parvati, whose son Sohan Lal studies in Class VIII.
However, even the Dalit children and parents acknowledge things have improved in the past year. Seven more teachers and several students have joined as part of last year’s “merger scheme”, under which as many as 17,000 schools were closed by the Rajasthan government after being absorbed into other schools.
That addition of numbers has altered the caste dynamics to an extent. “Earlier they would often call us ‘chamar’, but it has decreased in the last one year,” says Radha Bairwa, who studies in Class VIII.
Anita Bairwa, in Class X, says they can even serve food to other children now. “We couldn’t earlier.”
However, for Krishan’s parents, who have five other children, none of whom has finished schooling, that’s little consolation. With no one else she can blame, mother Teja Devi lashes out at him. “The teacher was on a fast, Krishan knew the teacher was a Brahmin. It was his fault as much as the teacher’s. Why did he need to touch his bottle knowing his teacher is from an upper caste?” she says.
Father Shiv Ram says when he asked Krishan why he wouldn’t go back to school after the beating, the 18-year-old just shook his head and said, “We are poor.”
“Now he is earning Rs 4,000 per month at a four-wheeler service centre.”
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