Dalit March

mk gandhi

Dalit Arts & Culture

Discrimination in Education

Discrimination against Dalits in the educational system is a widespread problem in caste-affected countries. Alienation, social exclusion, and physical abuse transcend all levels of education, from primary education to university. Illiteracy and drop-out rates among Dalits are very high due to a number of social and physical factors. Legislation on the area is limited, and measures that have been taken are often inadequately implemented.

The forms of structural discrimination and abuse that Dalit children face in schools are often so stigmatising that they are forced to drop out of school. One of the main issues is the discriminatory practices conducted by teachers, which may include corporal punishment, denial of access to school water supplies, segregation in class rooms, and forcing Dalit children to perform manual scavenging on and around school premises.

In addition, Dalit children face discriminatory attitudes from fellow students and the community as a whole, in particular from higher caste members who perceive education for Dalits as a threat to village hierarchies and power relations.

Intolerance, prejudice and harassment towards Dalits are equally prevalent in institutions of higher education where discrimination is practiced by senior upper-caste students, teachers, faculties, and administrations. The caste bias manifests itself in the way teachers ignore Dalit students and unjustly fail them in exams, in social exclusion and physical abuse, and in the unwillingness of the university administration to assist Dalits and support them. As a grave consequence of this harassment, a disproportionate number of Dalit and Adivasi students have committed suicide in India.

The forms of structural discrimination, alienation, and abuse that Dalit children face in schools are so stigmatizing that they are often forced to drop out of school. Discriminatory practices against Dalit children exercised by teachers may include corporal punishment, denial of access to school water supplies, segregation in class rooms, and forcing Dalit children to perform manual scavenging on and around school premises (IDSN and Navsarjan briefing note, 2010). A Nepalese study on caste-based discrimination in school documented that indirect discrimination by teachers, such as neglect, repeated blaming, and labeling of Dalit students as weak performers, lead to social exclusion of Dalit students in schools. The consequence was irregular attendance in classroom, less concentration in studies, less participation in school activities, lower performance, failure, and school drop-out (D.R. Bishworma, 2010).Additionally, Dalit children face discriminatory attitudes from fellow students and the community as a whole, in particular from higher caste members who perceive education for Dalits as a waste and a threat. This is linked to a perception among some higher caste people that educated Dalits pose a threat to village hierarchies and power relations, and that Dalits are generally incapable of being educated (Vasavi et al., 1997).

The poor educational status of Dalits is due to both social and physical factors. The extreme poverty in which most Dalit families live is another underlying reason why the drop-out rate of Dalit children is so high. Many parents simply cannot afford to send their children to school and are dependent on their workforce to ensure the survival of the family. The distance to schools is also considered a huge barrier for Dalit children, and a significant part of the explanation for the low enrolment rate and the high dropout rate. Due to the unwillingness of higher caste groups to live side by side with Dalits, Dalit families often live in remote areas, away from the main villages and schools. This residential pattern has two major implications. Firstly, the location of schools within the main villages, and hence within higher caste areas, makes it difficult for Dalit children to gain access to schools, due to caste tensions. Secondly, the great physical distance to schools often result in Dalit children dropping out, as the distance is simply too far to walk on an everyday basis (UNICEF, 2006: A).

Migratory labour is another factor that adds to the high dropout rates. Many Dalits are landless and are forced into migrant labour, as this is often the only way to ensure the economical survival of their families. The continuous migration in search for labor implies a frequent disruption of the Dalit children’s education and makes them incapable of keeping up with the academic advancement of other children (HRW, 2007).

Finally, the lack of proper facilities is a general problem in many schools. Many public schools have second-rate facilities, i.e. lack of classrooms, basic infrastructure, qualified teachers, and teaching aids.

Recommendations for Government:

  1. Governments should adopt special measures in favor of descent based groups and communities in order to ensure their enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular concerning access to public functions, employment and education.
  2. National and local governments should take effective measures to reduce dropout rates and increase enrolment rates among children of affected communities at all levels of public and private schooling.
  3. Governments should take concrete steps to eradicate the existing prevalence of caste-based discrimination in schools, including stereotypical and demeaning references in e.g. school books; ensure inclusion of children of affected communities in schools; and disseminate general information about the importance of non-discrimination and respect for affected communities in the entire education system.
  4. Governments should take all necessary measures to remove obstacles, including child labor, which keep children from regular full time education. Governments should also pay particular attention to the need of providing adequate education to illiterate children and adults who have not had any formal education.
  5. Governments should enable and improve educational and professional training for Dalit girls and boys so they can move to other professions of their own choice.
  6. National and local governments should promote a public campaign to raise awareness both among the public and among government officials, teachers, and media practitioners on discrimination based on work and descent. Areas of attention should not only include the print and broadcasting media but also alternative avenues of information dissemination, such as local oral information through theatre, songs, etc. as well as information via the internet.

Dalit and “Right to Education”

Human rights education the universal declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) declares under Article 26 (2) that: education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.

Besides the UDHR, the International Convention on the elimination of All Forms of Racial discrimination is significant in the context of dalit rights. The Committee on elimination of Racial discrimination (CERD), the monitoring body of this treaty, in its interpretation of Article 1 of the Convention in general Recommendation stated that “discrimination based on ‘descent’ includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status.”

Furthermore, in its Concluding Observations on the reports submitted by India in 1996, the CeRd affirmed, “that the situation of the scheduled Castes and scheduled Tribes falls within the scope of the Convention.” (Report of the CERD) Thus, in view of these positions taken by CeRd, Article 7 of the Convention is relevant to the dalit issue and human rights education. under this Article “states Parties undertake to adopt immediate and effective measures, particularly in the fields of teaching, education, culture and information, with a view to combating prejudices which lead to racial discrimination and to promoting understanding, tolerance and friendship among nations and racial or ethnical groups....”

There are cases of low enrolment in school and high dropout rates. There is a lot of discrimination when it comes to getting the benefits of the Government’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme. This exclusion from education is definitely related with social exclusion processes which are operating in the society at large, of which school is a sub-system. The social exclusion in education has been well documented by various authors. Some of these aspects of social exclusion in schools are as-

  • Problems in accessing education
  • Problems related to school

Dalit parents are not welcomed by the schools to get their children enrolled in schools and also the schools fail to motivate both parents and children to continue the studies. The prejudices and biases against dalit community continue to be practiced in the form of discrimination. No non dalit children are denied admission in school. On the other hand Dalits are denied admission on various grounds.

The roots of educational deprivation of dalit communities must be traced back to their position as untouchables in the caste structure of traditional Hindu society. These were the most polluted of castes that were hereditarily assigned the most defiling of occupations. Dalit Muslims and dalit Christians are not treated as scheduled Castes by the government, though they experience untouchability from their coreligionists, and are therefore not entitled to positive discrimination policies. On the other hand, dalits who are converted to sikhism and Buddhism do not face such deprivation.

The general approach has been to make the education ‘universal’. The tendency of making it universal ignores many aspects. Government statistics itself tell the whole story. However, there have been efforts to universalise the elementary education but no efforts seem to take place on analysing the poor education indicators of Dalit children. By focussing on universalizing the education, a special focus on Dalit children’s education is lost, due to which the Dalit children continue to get marginalized. It is evident that usually the schools are not located in the Dalit habitations. The schools are ‘owned’ by non Dalit dominant community as they are able to influence the school administration.

The government’s flagship programme for achieving the goals of primary and elementary education, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is supposed to focus on Dalit children’s education on principle but it does not seem to have any specific programme for Dalit children.

The issues of discrimination in education have been ignored resulting in lowest educational indicators of Dalits. We need to focus on this issue and make it an agenda of action.

In relation to the schools, the following measures need to be undertaken: the curriculum must 1) acknowledge the existence of caste discrimination and the way the leaders from dalit communities (like fought for the abolition of untouchabilty, and 2) address the issue of caste relations and human rights; teachers must be sensitized on caste discrimination during training programs; enabling pedagogies must evolve; and specific academic support to dalit children must be provided. In addition, schools need to reach out to dalit communities and strengthen school-community relations.