Education: Caste Divided?

“The backward classes have come to realize that after all education is the greatest material benefit for which they can fight. We may forego material benefits, we may forego material benefits of civilization, but we cannot forego our right and opportunities to reap the benefit of the highest education to the fullest extent. That the importance of this question from the point of view of the backward classes who have just realized that without education their existence is not safe.”
—Dr. B.R.Ambedkar

An article in one of the leading dailies caught my eye recently. It talked about a certain section of our society, Dalits. They are the people, who unfortunately, are the most discriminated, and are placed at the most bottom level of the caste ladder. Since they are considered to be outside the Hindu caste system, they are subject to many social restrictions and ridicule. They are thought to ‘pollute’ the people with whom they come in contact with. This prejudice has given birth to several oppressions over the years. Being a firm supporter of ‘everybody must get a chance for education’, I was appalled to read that Dalit children have to struggle to receive education due to the caste hostilities meted out to them.

Enter a school in Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra or a place where Dalit children occupy few seats, the portraits of many famous leaders adorn the walls but the portrait of B.R.Ambedkar eludes the list. Why? Because belonging to the lower caste himself, he became a messiah of his people fighting for their political rights and social freedom. On one hand, the government proposes free education for the Dalits up to PhD in all government and aided institutions, on the other the Dalit children are subjected to much ridicule in the schools. They are made to sit on barren floors while the others get mattresses, they are only allowed the back benches, the schools are far away from their local vicinities, they are subjected to innumerable regular beatings by the teachers, their notebooks not touched, they are not allowed to use the school toilets but are forced to clean them; the hardships are many. The dropout rate among the children is high due to the obvious reasons.

While many of us would voice that education is the only way to Dalit progress and their upliftment, the caste distinctions set deep root in our society makes this noble objective very far stretched. Education seems to be the only way by which they can break out from this lower rung of caste system and move upwards towards social prosperity. But even after the efforts of many leaders, these children fail to be a regular at the school and college campuses. The ill treatment directed at them by the faculty discourages them to the extent that they feel scared to go to school. Moreover, such kind of ruthless behaviour by the teachers also sends wrong signals to the other students who also learn to disdain these kids. Being the subject of constant mockery and ridicule, the Dalit children for most obvious reasons lose interest and the will to study.

The educational institutions are considered to be fair with all the children and their primary aim is to impart education and give rationality to the children so that they rise over and above the prejudices. But in this case, the schools are just acting opposite and are encouraging casteism and partiality. The problem is widespread and deep rooted. Also it is not hidden behind the veils. Then how is that no actions are being taken by the government to curb this injustice? Why are young children targeted to satiate the ill conceived caste notions? We are all aware of the failed promises of our political leaders, so why doesn’t the young India come forward? We always talk about how we need opportunities to prove ourselves and change the face of the country, so this is one area that needs immediate attention. If the problems are many, so are the ways to deal with them. What is just required is sincerity and diligence in our efforts.

Alvin Toffler once said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Taking inspiration from this quote, we must understand that the age old beliefs about unjust practices must be done away with. We all are equal in the eyes of God and hence, we must treat each other with respect and fairness. We always say that children are the future of tomorrow. These Dalit children are also part of that future and it is the moral duty of this nation to treat them with equality and prepare them for a bright future ahead.

Shikha Tandon

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