By Ghania Siddiqui:
Having been brought up in a city like Mumbai, where the strong class divide propels you to think in a particular way, and having a particular lifestyle it becomes easy to say that class, caste, religion and money divides our Indian society. “Indians ke saath toh yahin problem hai!” we say but the problem begins with this sense of othering. The moment we place ourselves on a pedestal as urban dwellers, we begin to indulge in the process of discrimination.
Cutting the long story short, I have just returned from a village having spent an entire month in Rajasthan. I was working with Neenv- Shiksha Ka Sawaal, which emphasized upon finding out the current situation of Government schools in Rajasthan.
We worked in a team of five people at the Baran district, around 100 km from Kota. The area is dominated by the tribal community of Sheharyas, Bhils and Meenas. The district is divided into eight blocks and we managed to survey approximately 60 schools in six blocks.
The work included inspecting schools in line with basic standards and this is what we found:
• Most schools had the structure of a building but only a few were in usable condition, and almost 70% boundary walls were either incomplete or broken.
• While most schools had hand pumps for drinking water, only a few were fit for drinking. If the school had a tank, either they weren’t cleaned on a regular basis or weren’t in a usable condition.
• A common observation was that the numbers of children attending the school were less than those listed.
• While the RTE has made it compulsory that every school must have at least two teachers in every school irrespective of the number of children, most primary schools had only one teacher.
• Most parents were not aware of anything like a School Managing Committee, let alone the knowledge of how many times meetings for the same are held.
• Those who were members of the committee, told us that meetings were not held on a monthly basis (as advised by the law) but the teacher forges dates and asks members to put thumb impressions, without holding any meeting.
The second part of the work entailed making committees for filing RTIs in the coming months. We worked in association with a local NGO- Sankalp Sanstha, which has been working in the district since 1982.
With cracked walls, leaking ceilings, incomplete school structures from 10 years, broken toilets, high chlorine and fluorine infiltrated water, sometimes no building to house or call a school; the condition of the schools made us question innumerable factors. While the infrastructural conditions are one side of the coin, the socioeconomic, cultural and political scenario made it a complex situation.
Small time local farmers need the assistance of their children during the harvest period, due to which children miss months of school. Discrimination by teachers on the basis of caste is one major reason why children from most backward tribal community still suffer. To our surprise, we discovered communities and villages that have just attained freedom from bonded labour as late as 2 years ago, and communities that are still suffering as bonded laborers. The sheer arrogance, nonchalance and ignorance of the local authorities were not only despiteful but enraging.
But, that is not merely the point I’m trying to make. While the dilapidated buildings and the creaking hand pumps are one side of the story, there lies a sea of hurdles that merely the government can’t handle and also overcome. We need to change our mindset.
Can someone from the village be belittled when they didn’t have access to the same privileges and services that we do? The young nineteen year old boy we see aimlessly wandering near the stations with just a bag and eyes filled with hope to make money, has a family to support that probably can’t survive with even two breadwinners in the house. And patriarchy plagues everyone, the woman hidden behind the dupatta and the girl wearing shorts being ogled at in a city. I realized that while we have become global citizens today, it is no reason to emulate the west, because progress and western ideology don’t necessarily coincide. It is necessary to find an inclusive solution. While our dear Prime Minister can proudly release schemes like ‘Make-in-India’, the approach of the society needs to focus on improving working conditions like agriculture that are dying out rather than taking an ‘only-industry’ approach. After all, is providing the cheapest labour force in the world a matter or worry or pride?