Case studies

Demanding Equal Education

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30 year old Upendra Ganjhu and his wife live in the remote village of Baniyadih in the Chatra district of Jharkhand. Until recently, their 5 children were not receiving a regular education because, more often than not, the school would be closed. However, even when open, the children were facing discrimination because of their caste. Supported by PACS and partner Gramoday Chetna Kendra, he and a group of other villagers have helped to ensure that their children receive the discrimination-free education that they are entitled to.

A right to education

Under the Right to Education Act, it is compulsory and free for all children in India, aged 6-14, to attend school. Whilst at school, they are also entitled to a free Mid-Day Meal.

However, isolated amongst hilly terrain, getting to the free government school (which serves a few remote villages) is not easy for the children of Baniyadih village.

In addition to the arduous journey, other factors were putting the children off school. “The major issue was non-appearance of teachers,” explains Ranjeet Yadav – a Community Facilitator for Gramoday Chetna Kendra (GCK). “Discontinuation of classes also had implications on Mid-Day Meals, which was the only source of nutritious food for many children.”

However, even when classes were running, the children from Baniyadih found themselves facing a different problem…

Discrimination at school

A farmer by trade, Upendra is a Ganjhu – a sub-caste of the deprived Scheduled Caste community. Even though the caste system was abolished in 1949, those from Scheduled Castes (otherwise known as “dalits”) still face discrimination and exclusion, looked down upon by other, "higher" castes.

In Baniyadih, Upendra and the other Ganjhus find themselves discriminated against by people from the dominant Bandot or Rajput castes… and the same was true in school.

“They [the teachers and other children] would reprimand our children and tell them to sit at a distance,” explains Upendra. “The treatment was as if we are not even human.”

 After making the arduous journey to school, children from Baniyadih village used to face discrimination and exclusion when they got there.

Confronting the issue together

Under the PACS programme, GCK started working with the villagers, bringing them together to help tackle the problems they were facing. They formed a Community Based Organisation (CBO) of 7 members, both men and women, and the issue of education was highlighted as a key problem to focus on first.

“Before, we seldom bothered about the school and whether our children were attending it or not,” admits Upendra, who is one of the CBO members. “But GCK made us aware about the importance of education. Illiteracy has been at the core of our poverty. Often we get cheated by landlords, traders and even government officials and so it was our resolve that we would make every effort to provide education to our children.”

Supported by GCK, the members started visiting the school and would confront the teachers, questioning their absence from classes. At the same time they also enquired about the Mid-Day Meal menu, uniforms, study materials and other entitlements under the Right to Education Act.

A collaborative process

The process was done collaboratively, working with the Head Master - Arjun Toppo – to improve things: “The members of GCK sat with us and we together worked on a plan to improve entire atmosphere in favour of education.”

“When the committee together questioned the deeds of the teachers and started looking into the functioning of the school things took a positive change,” says Upendra. “We also got actively involved in the School Management Committee that looks into Mid-Day Meals and other entitlements for children.”

Not only did this involve ensuring the teachers turned up on time and the Mid-Day Meals were served, it also involved improving the school environment: “Earlier the school campus was filled with bushes, dumped soil and looked like a cattle shelter,” says Ranjeet. “But the group members and other villagers cleaned the place and made it fit for classes.”

 Thanks to training from GCK and PACS, Upendra and the other members of Baniyadih village CBO are able to speak out and demand their rights.

Eliminating discrimination

Together, the consorted effort has helped to improve the school. But it has also helped to address discrimination: “Things have started to turn for better,” says Head Master Toppo. “Now the enrolment in the school has reached over 190. More than half of those are from the Ganjhu community.”

Like all the members of the group, Upendra proudly wears a red ribbon as a mark of his commitment to end discrimination and exclusion. “GCK empowered us that all are equal in the school. This opened our eyes and also infused a kind of fearlessness and equality in the society,” he says.

Indeed, having worked to end exclusion at the school, they are now helping to ensure that children are receiving nutritional supplements from the Anganwadi Centre under the government’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme.

“The PACS project came as a miracle for our community” says Upendra. “Had it not come we would have remained in darkness. Our fight against social exclusion became possible only because of GCK and PACS.”

 Members of the CBO in Baniyadih village stand proudly, wearing their red ribbons as a commitment to end discrimination and exclusion.

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