Dear Maneka ji,
My recent encounter with a situation has compelled me to look beyond the ‘Right to Education’ and instead ponder upon the ‘Right to Choose Education’.
I recently finished a fieldwork in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh. I was staying in Rachapalli village in Vontimitta Mandal, where I met Raaja Anna, a tribal labourer who works in the farms on daily wages. He has one son, while his brother has three sons and a daughter. These kids are always in the fields doing some menial work. I became curious about this, because they spent the entire day there – even during the time they should be in school.
On enquiring, I came to know that none of the kids from the household goes to school. The wife of Raaja’s brother passed away due to brain fever leaving behind four kids. After her death, the family became more concerned about the children.
According to Raaja, his brother’s son fell ill after having a mid-day meal at the government school. After a blood test, it was found that the kid was suffering from typhoid. The family attributed it to the rotten eggs he ate at school. Coincidentally, the other kids of the household fell ill too at the same time. They had already lost two children previously. After the loss of his wife, Raaja’s brother stopped sending the children to school entirely. Seeing his cousins not go to school, Raaja’s only son has also dropped out .
It bothers me to think that these small kids between three to nine are not getting the childhood they deserve. The school has tried to convince the family to send their kids – but to no avail. I have also tried to counsel Raaja Anna on why it is necessary for them to learn and educate themselves. One possible option could be that of the children not eating the mid-day meal in school – that’s where the problem lies, after all.
Somehow, Raaja is still demotivated and reluctant. He has left it completely to the children – whether they want to school or not. If my parents had allowed me to choose between going to school and playing, I would probably have chosen the latter, because school would have seemed burdensome back then. That’s where the parental responsibility of helping the children make the right decision comes into play.
The five kids are bright and intelligent. All they need is the direction in which they should go. When I tried to counsel them about going to school (and even tried to bribe them), they refused to listen to me and stopped talking to me entirely. What’s even more pathetic about the entire situation is that the girl Mahalakshmi , an angelic soul who is being raised without a mother, has no idea of what lays ahead.
Everybody is living simply on a day-to-day basis. Survival is not an ‘option’ – it’s ‘the’ way of life for them. The kids are learning just one skill – labour. Their physical prowess is far greater than their mental capabilities. I am not assuming that their future is uncertain and dark – but I feel responsible, because I think these children should have the chance to see both sides, and then choose which way they want to go. After all, as a collective society, we are all responsible.
Its a very complex situation. I am not trying to address what would happen even if they go to school – if they will get a job or have a bright future. I simply don’t know about these!
I do not know who is responsible or what has caused this situation. Is it the mid-day meal? Is it the mindset of Raaja Anna and his family? Is it the society’s fault for not making education a lucrative option? Or is the government not intervening properly? What I do know is that Mahalakshmi deserves a childhood many of us have been privileged to have.
Madam, we need to find a solution!
Image used for representative purposes only.