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Why NEP 2019 Aggravates The Toxicity Of Discrimination In Education And Society

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

Savitribai Phule, a revolutionary in her own right and a worthy wife of a great revolutionary Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, launched her first school exclusively for girls in Pune, 172 years ago in 1848. That was to assert the right to education for women. Women of all castes and Shudras were banned from accessing education besides other restrictions about livelihood as per Hindu codes of law.

The Phule couple had to go through life-threatening opposition from the religious bigots in Pune. The law of the land has changed since but religious ethos stays on hindering the education of these discriminated large sections of our society.

Marginalization Begins At School Level

Segregation of students based on their caste at birth, identifying them with a wrist band of a certain colour and assigning of cleaning duty in school premises according to their caste and gender status is rampant in schools across India. This may not and cannot have an official mandate from the school managements. Still, influential caste people manage to enforce it, as the Director of School Education, Chennai reported in one of such cases – “Allegedly, these practices are enforced by students themselves and supported by influential caste persons and teachers.”

There are umpteen number of cases of gradation and discrimination based on caste and gender all over the country. Girl students, especially from lower castes, are assigned the toilet cleaning work even in schools.

books left openBut the policymakers and those in power do not recognize this toxicity in our social system. All versions of National Education Policy (NEP) 2019, followed by Final NEP 2019 and ‘NEP 2020 For Circulation‘ (whatever that means!) skips mentioning caste-based discrimination in its listing of various reasons for under-represented groups (URGs) or socio-economically disadvantaged groups (SEDGs). The NEP 2019 has coined this strange term first as URGs and now refined to SEDGs, consciously avoiding the usual SCs, STs, minorities, OBCs, etc. for whatever reason.

The NEP 2020 says, “The Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) can be broadly categorized based on gender identities, socio-cultural identities, geographical identities, disabilities, and socio-economic conditions (such as children of migrants, children from low income households, children in vulnerable situations, victims of or children of victims of trafficking, orphans including child beggars in urban areas and the urban poor)” (Para 6.2).

These ‘socio-cultural identities’ come closest to caste-based identities. If the policy on education really means so, then it is all the more perilous. It, sort of, grants sanctity to caste-based gradation as our culture, creating a situation of thought-conflict as is happening in the case of Tirumala temple case.

These situations of caste-based or gender-based discriminations can be attributed to one cause, i.e. our religious beliefs, our notions of religious purity and duty. The SEDGs are not SEDGs merely because of a lack of infrastructure or lack of access to schools. It is a direct result of our value system which questions the right to the very existence of these groups, especially girls. The numerous instances of girl infanticides or feticides and resultant declining gender ratio should be disturbing and guiding factor for policy makers, especially on education.

If the girl lives on to ‘exist’ despite all the threats at every stage, other notions like ‘impurity’ during menstruation are imposed to kill their spirit of enthusiasm. Then there are notions of a girl’s ‘duty’ to the family. The segregation of duties between a boy and a girl within the family leaves girls doing household chores like cooking, cleaning and fetching water, besides babysitting for siblings.

NEP 2019 On Girls’ Education

But, the policy on education is oblivious of all these stark realities or maybe, it is aware and hence has a dedicated chapter called 6.2. Education of girls as a cross-cutting theme! However, the opening lines of this chapter show how the policymakers are confused.

covid impact on girls education
Covid-19 impact on girls’ education

It claims “Indian society has long upheld the high status of women and girls and the importance of girls’ education. Early history dating back thousands of years indicates the preeminent role women played as leaders in politics, defense, religion, literature as well as the fabric of Indian society.” If it is so, why the policy recommends ‘Changing mindsets and halting harmful practices to foster gender equity and inclusion‘. The policy recognizes the missing link in our social evolution and irreparable damage that had done prompting Savitribai Phule to initiate a course correction. Course correction which was vehemently opposed and continues to be done! The means have become more gruesome or sophisticated depending upon the caste and social status of the girl concerned. It is a double whammy for the girls from caste-based discriminated groups.

Special Education Zones

The proposed policy on education is too lofty to make any discerning sense about provisions for improvement in the environment for girls’ education. It proposes to focus on girls from SEDGs and proposes Special Education Zones (SEZ) for them. But those will be run by philanthropists who will have complete autonomy in finances, curriculum, administration, etc. The government then expects that these philanthropists will run these SEZ on a not-for-profit basis and will also mitigate opportunity costs and fees for pursuing education.

SEZ or proposed school complex projects combined with vocational and hobbies to be included in the curriculum as regular courses will create educational ‘ghettos’ to produce a mediocre, low skilled force of irrelevant youth, boys and girls. They will be at best single skilled at bonded labour for the capitalist owners of philanthropist trusts.

The Current Scenario

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown a different kind of challenge. It has forced digital distance teaching upon the teachers who are one of the least computer literates in the country. Some might argue that banks had the same situation when automation was introduced, and the banking industry coped with that. But teaching and banking are poles apart. In banking, it was all about handling the transactions mechanically, with scope to correct the mistake. Man-machine relation in banking is purely transactional.

Same is not the case with teaching. Teaching deals with tender, curious human minds and involves the production of knowledge, not just transaction. Absence of data connectivity and access to reliable devices, especially for girls in particular and SEDGs, in general, will deny any meaningful education to the large population. The education divide will further aggravate with the digital divide and stratification of models of learning.

The National Education Policy needs to shed its ambivalence about our culture and social values and invest heavily from government funds in education. Education and defense should draw equal importance for defending our sovereignty. These two sectors should get the same amount of budget allocations.

Indian government’s spending on education is awfully low. And now the government wants to rely more on philanthropists, reducing its funding substantially. There is no empirical evidence that philanthropists work in the best interest of marginalized sections, but there is research which proves to the contrary.

Privatization, through philanthropists or otherwise, and excessive autonomy with a stated vision of ‘education system rooted in Indian ethos’ will only further aggravate the toxicity of discrimination in education and society at large. Education policy should realign its focus.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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