Caste discrimination persisting in U.P. schools
On Independence day, a District Magistrate in U.P. handed over three
teachers of a primary school to the police, during a surprise school
visit. School children are among the worst sufferers in the state;
they continue to pay for a system they neither moulded nor understand.
Puja Awasthi reports.
17 August 2007 - After 60 years of Independence and many international
magazine covers later, the story of India is not all hope and glitter.
In its wide dark spaces, which threaten to get bigger and darker,
discrimination and inequity fester. And among its worst sufferers are
children who continue to pay for a system they neither moulded nor
On Independence day, Rigzyan Saifil, the District Magistrate of Orai,
handed over Mata Prasad Dixit, Amod Kumar, Dinesh Khushwaha, all three
teachers of a primary school in Majeeth village of Rampura block to
the police. During a surprise school visit, he was told by students
and parents that the teachers would regularly throw plates with
mid-day meals (MDM) at Dalit children, make them sit apart from the
rest of the class and cane them with a separate stick, washing their
hands soon after. Saifil had made the check on receiving informal
complaints. He was accompanied by the Superintendent of Police Raja
Srivastava and District Basic Primary Education Officer Hari Singh
Dalit children wait in the background for their mid-day meals while
others eat in front, at a government run primary school of village
Bhagwanpura of Jalaun district. Picture courtesy: Action Aid.
Sanjeev Kumar, a class four student in a government run primary school
of village Bhagwanpura of Jalaun district says his teacher does not
permit him to sit on the mat. "The Thakurs and Brahmin students in my
class ask me to keep away from the mat. My teacher asks me to sit on
the ground. In school during mid day meal (MDM), we are forcibly
seated very far and in the last. The children from the general castes
don't like to play with us. If I go to the teachers for checking the
home work or class work, they see it without touching it." Kumar is
lucky his teachers do not thrash him.
In 2006, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor
Munoz, noted: "Teachers have been known to declare that Dalit pupils
cannot learn unless they are beaten."
Pushpa Balmiki, 47, who belongs to the sweeper caste, is the founder
of Adharshila, a 12-year-old organisation which works with manual
scavengers in the state's Lakhimpur district. She says her Bachelor of
Arts degree -- which she received three decades ago -- came only
because her family had gained a reputation for 'dangai'
(aggressiveness). Considering that even today, only 18 per cent of
SC/STs (Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes) get any higher education,
Balmiki is clearly in a minority. This is reflected in Balmiki's own
family. Her husband has only passed class 12 and despite being an
accomplished athlete was denied the opportunity to compete at higher
Balmiki has a sharp recollection of what she went through in school.
They were known to be a no nonsense family, vocal about their rights,
she says. To counter discrimination they would demonstrate at the
college, often threatening to strike work. The refusals of teachers to
pat her back for a lesson well learnt or of classmates to share their
tiffins with her is etched in her mind. "But I felt its worst pinch
when doing my teachers training. A Muslim classmate and I were never
permitted to do kitchen duties that the other girls did by rotation. I
would often wonder what kind of lessons these teachers would take to
their classes," she says.
Today, it is the turn of Sanjeev Kumar and scores of other children,
and little appears to have changed.
Discrimination in U.P. takes various forms ranging from not permitting
children to drink from the common water pot, denying entry into
kitchens where the MDMs are cooked, asking the children to perform
manual labour such as the sweeping of school premises and loading of
bricks for construction work to even working in the homes of teachers.
Negative stereotyping and considering these children as uneducable,
favouring upper caste children, sarcastic comments on their caste and
traditional occupations are also common as are bodily expressions that
Textbooks also perpetuate myths, as has come to light in Gujarat. The
National Human Rights Commission report of 2007 quotes a social
science text prescribed by the Gujarat State Board.
"Problems of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes : Of Course, their
ignorance, illiteracy and blind faith are to be blamed for lack of
progress because they still fail to realise importance of education in
Therefore, there is large-scale illiteracy among them and female
illiteracy is the most striking fact."
Even lower-caste teachers bear the brunt of this discrimination.
Colleagues belonging to other castes do not accord them respect. In
non-Dalit localities, these teachers do not sit on mats or cots during
village survey activities and people belonging to the general castes
speak to them in an insulting manner.
Kali Charan Shakwyar, an assistant teacher in a Junior High School of
the Maharajpur village of Jalaun district's Madhaugarh block says, "We
are harassed by both non-Dalit children as well as their parents. In
schools, non-Dalit children don't greet us. In spite of incomplete
homework, I cannot punish non-Dalit children. If I scold any non-Dalit
child, then the parents quarrel with me. I am not even invited to
marriages." He speaks of another female teacher who was forced to quit
her job after she got married with the head master citing rules that
call for teachers to work in the place of their residence. The
headmaster insisted that the lady had lost the right to live in the
same village post marriage, even though she continued to live with her
Simmering tensions, but government in denial
Since September 2004 when Uttar Pradesh launched the MDM, protests,
sometimes violent, have occurred with parents refusing to let their
children eat food prepared by lower caste cooks. In October 2004, in
Mawar, a village in Kanpur (Rural), which is home to 2,500 Muslims and
Dalits, parents of Muslim children objected when the principal chose
Savitri, a Dalit, to cook the mid-day meals. Angry parents threatened
to withdraw their children. The confrontation turned ugly and the
Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) had to be rushed in to control
matters. However while these more visible forms of discrimination grab
headlines, other daily occurrences go unnoticed.
A reading of the crimes registered under the SC/ST Prevention of
Atrocities Act, 1989 makes that obvious. In U.P. the Act makes a
provision of Rs.15,000 to Rs.2 lakhs for victims of atrocities. In
2001-02, Rs.14.45 crores were spent to benefit complainants. Yet, as
revealed by statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau, of the
3,790 crimes registered in the state under the 'Crimes against SC/STs'
head there were none complaining of discrimination in educational
Mandarins in the state's education department are unwilling to accept
that caste related biases in education are a serious problem.
Sarvendra Vikram Singh, additional director Secondary Education, U.P.
says: "There are no written complaints of this sort."
Sanjay Singh, secretary of the Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan, a
voluntary organisation that works in three of the state's poorest
districts to strengthen rural communities explains that complaints are
rare because local politics is geared towards perpetuating
discrimination. "An upper caste teacher would not like to upset the
balance in his village by taking a stance against discrimination
whereas Dalit teachers would prefer to work in villages dominated by
their kind," he notes.
Policymakers are concerned, but little achievement
Theoretically, there is admirable concern for children especially from
socially backward groups. This is reflected in the guiding principles
of the Constitution of India: equality before law, equal protection to
all and non-discrimination, expanded further in Articles 14, 15, 17,
25-28, 29 and 30 which promise social and economic justice to all in
addition to the guarantee of doing away with biases.
The National Policy on Education, 1986 (NPE) was a first in its
attempt to provide for equal access to education to all, irrespective
of class, caste, creed or gender. More specifically it catered to the
needs of SCs, STs, the handicapped and other minority groups.
This has been followed by other policy initiatives, which within a
broader framework look out specifically for the disadvantaged. Thus
while the 2001 launched Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) aims for
universalisation of education, it has particular directives for
bridging social and gender gaps while the Integrated Child Development
Services (ICDS) launched in 1975, focus on areas predominantly
inhabited by the SC, ST besides drought-prone regions and urban slums.
In addition, there are specific schemes for fee concession,
scholarships, book banks, merit scholarships, training for state
services, hostel grants, running of Ashram schools (for STs) and
Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (for SC, ST and minority community
Implementation of these well-intentioned national schemes in the
states remains poor. Elementary Education In India, Where do We stand,
a 2004 publication of the National Institute of Education Planning and
Administration (NIEPA) has studied the proportion of students from SCs
and STs that make it through the education system.
According to this report, nationally, the total enrollment of SC/ST
students -- from pre-primary to class 12 -- stands at 26.4 per cent
which is in tune with their share in the population. (According to the
2001 census while SCs form 16.20 per cent of the population, STs
account for 8.08 per cent.) However a closer reading of these
enrollment figures reveals that while at the primary level SC/ST
enrollments form almost 30 per cent of the total enrollments, these
taper off to 25, 20 and 18 per cent at the upper primary, secondary
and higher secondary levels respectively.
In U.P. the SC population stands at 21.15 per cent while STs form .06
per cent of the population. The state mirrors the national trend in
enrollment. Thus while at the primary level the SC/ST component in the
enrollment is a high 23.75 per cent, it dips to 20, 13.21 and 11.28
per cent at the upper primary, secondary and higher secondary levels
The dropouts continue to live the hopeless lives of their uneducated
and poor parents.
Caste and private schools
Private educational institutions are also not blameless. At The Avadh
School (TAS) in Lucknow, an adoption programme for children from
disadvantaged backgrounds ran into trouble with parents of other
children. In 2004, the CBSE affiliated school started by adopting five
girls each year. These girls were to study free of cost till class 12,
with the school taking care of their uniforms, books and other expenses.
Principal Nandini Bidalia says that although children themselves are
accepting of the new students, the response from parents has been
disheartening. Parents tutor their children to stay away from the
adoptees. They have also complained about a lack of hygiene and poor
language skills and have expressed fears that these might rub off on
their children, says Bidalia. "In fact, soon after we initiated the
programme, a whisper campaign started against the school suggesting
that we were forced to take in undeserving children because we were
not getting "proper" children," she says.
Bidalia however feels that the reactions may have to do more with
social status than caste. Her contention is that the children's
physical appearance, their lack of language skills have also to do
with the fact that they come from poor backgrounds (which she has
equated with social status) and hence the bias.
The TAS experiment is however somewhat of a novelty. Most privately
owned schools satisfy their conscience for social service by running
after-school classes for the socially disadvantaged on the same
campus. The Delhi Public School, one of India's most respected
schools, in one of its Lucknow branches for instance runs a 'Shiksha
Kendra' after regular school hours to cater to children from the
nearby slums and also children of class four employees of the school.
Principal Anu Dhingra proudly announces that the children get books
and tuition free of charge, failing to justify how the ratio of 1:25
for the 50 students of the Kendra compares favourably with the 1:15
teacher student ratio she has adhered to so strictly in the school she
Dhingra is not alone. Private school managements have been less than
friendly to socially disadvantaged children. In 2004, only 12.48 per
cent and 10.32 per cent of the total SC children enrolled in primary
and upper primary schools respectively were going to private schools,
in U.P. For ST children this figure is 28.16 and 17.90 per cent
respectively, according to data from U.P.'s District Information
Centre for Education reports. The lower percentages cannot solely be
attributed to higher fees as many of the best private schools in
Lucknow are known to take in either the children of alumni, or else
design the admission process in a manner that lower caste children
with parents of little education are automatically kept out.
For instance, admission to private schools comes after an interview
conducted in English with parents. There is also an unspoken
preference for children of professionals. School admission forms have
columns that ask for the mother's education qualification. This loads
the process against children, many of who may be the first generation
of learners in the family aspiring for admission to such schools.
The low percentage of SC/ST students in private schools also extends
to teachers. Private schools mostly employ upper caste teachers. For
every SC/ST teacher in private schools, there are 22 who find
employment in government schools, according to the NIEPA. (While there
are no provisions to provide reservation in private educational
institutions, it is interesting to note that the U.P. state government
recently announced 30 per cent reservation for SCs/STs and the poor
among the upper castes in jobs in private industries in return for
concessions and subsidies.)
What is the way out?
Rajeev Dhyani, Programme Manager for Saksham India Trust, a Lucknow
based resource centre for the development sector, says acknowledgement
is the vital first step. "The government needs to seriously consider
the problem which is crippling the future. For instance a study on the
cases of caste discrimination pre and post the MDM scheme would be
revealing," he says.
Balmiki suggests that the state's Dalit chief minister Mayawati pay
urgent attention to education. "The aspirational benchmarks that
Mayawati has set cannot be achieved in isolation. Only political
empowerment is not important, education is the first step towards
ensuring a better life, better opportunities."
As suggested by an NIEPA discussion paper on disparities in
educational development, better allocation of resources to schools
that serve areas dominated by lower castes or where literacy levels
are low, involvement of NGOs in government schools, flexible models
for education planning, participatory decision making and curriculum
changes that reflect the truth about discrimination would also go a
long way in remedying the situation.
In the 60th year of Independence it is clear that the implementation
of these remedies is long overdue. ⊕
17 Aug 2007
Puja Awasthi reports on development issues, and is based in Lucknow.
This article is part of a series on education sponsored by
Aide-et-Action India, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to
making education the lever for development.