Dalit children being made to sit and eat separately from other children, being beaten, abused and forced to do humiliating tasks, form part of the cases uncovered during the ‘Zero Discrimination in School Education’ campaign in India. These cases are highlighted in the report ‘Exclusion in Schools – A Study on Practice of Discrimination and Violence’ by the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ-NCDHR) and the Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion.
The campaign raises awareness across India of the serious obstacles to education encountered by Dalit and Adivasi students and issues key recommendations for change. In connection with the campaign public hearings and consultations took place across India, where students, parents and teachers could voice their experiences, difficulties and challenges in the education system. A study on discrimination in education was simultaneously undertaken in eight key States resulting in the report ‘Exclusion in Schools – A Study on Practice of Discrimination and Violence’. The report documents serious human rights violations of Dalit and minority students in schools in the states surveyed.
“Although we were well aware of the serious discrimination faced by Dalit and minority students in our country, listening to our children tell their stories of abuse, violence and discrimination is heart-breaking,” said Ramesh Nathan from NDMJ. “The Government, States and school authorities, must urgently take serious measures to ensure that our schools do not engage in descent-based discrimination, hurt, abuse and humiliation and actively protect our children’s right to an education by enacting Anti-Discrimination legislation.”
Education is acquiring knowledge, information and developing skills to lead a life with dignity and self-sufficiency. Historically, caste social structure which is a construction of the Brahminical philosophyhas hierarchized social relations and led to unequal distribution of resources, denial of education to a larger section of the population on the basis of their birth. This has led to denial of equal rights, denial to acquire knowledge and living in abject poverty and poor conditions of the dalit and adivasi communities. Even in today’s time and age, access to quality education has been and continues to be a privilege enjoyed by a few. In recent times, violence against children is on the rise, however, the nature of violation is ‘identity’ based. Therefore, the impact of violence and discrimination against children are severe because of their vulnerable age. Along with age, their ‘identity’ also makes them vulnerable due to the biased mindsets and unequal social systems that are operating. Violence and discrimination against children on the basis of their identity is very much rampant in the society is also visible in the education system as the structures have not changed and are seldom challenged. The biggest obstacles confronting dalit (SCs), adivasi (STs), children from minority communities and differently abled children in attaining education remain discrimination, economic instability, neglect, violence and layered taboos. The prevailing mindsets, layered caste beliefs and gender-based discrimination in schools are major hindrances to access education by children coming from marginalized communities.
Discrimination and atrocities on Scheduled Castes and other oppressed sections (especially on Scheduled Tribes, Religious Minorities and on women) increased in post-independent India. Dr. Ambedkar through his relentless effort in protecting the interests of the socially oppressed sections provided multiple safeguards in the Constitution. However the objective of attaining equality in social and political democracy has totally been ignored at present time. For example the systemic institutionalization of caste system (as a state of mind) in modern forms continuously prevents the country in annihilating the unjust, fraudulent rigmarole caste social order. Schools, being a part of this hierarchical society are reproducing the same social inequalities in one way or the other. The same television and radio jingles have failed to create a favorable atmosphere which challenges the inequalities persisting in society. Furthermore, incidents of untouchability, discrimination, suicides and violence in schools are being reported in the media.
Discrimination is violating the right to education
The cases listed in the report reflect the gravity of discrimination children face, ranging from humiliation and segregation to examples of violence and sexual abuse carried out by teachers or institutionalized in the school culture. The mental and physical abuse endured by the children result in increased drop-out rates from schools of Dalit and minority children. For those children who stay in schools that sanction discrimination, the fear and humiliation they face make it very difficult for them to focus on their studies, and learn what they need to in order to progress in the school system.
Case: Dalit students beaten for drinking water from the Principal’s pot
In a Government school in Rajasthan the Principal, from the dominant Jat caste, forced eleven Dalit students to squat for the whole day and brutally beat them claiming that they defiled his pot by drinking water from it.
The parents of the students complained at the unacceptable behavior and blatant practice of untouchability of the principal, who subsequently told all eleven students that they were no longer to come to school.
Based on suggestions from students, teachers, rights defenders and community leaders comprehensive recommendations are issued in the report. The recommendations are grouped into four sections: Central Government, State Governments, Commissions, and Education Department and School Management. Please read the full list of recommendations in the final chapter of the report.