A report released by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) tells of horrific incidences of discrimination, abuse and even violence against Indian children from lower castes and different religious beliefs, painting an ugly picture of the education system in the world’s second-most populous country.
The 77-page report, entitled, They Say We’re Dirty”, paints an ugly account of misuse of power by teachers that leads to rampant dropout rates among children from “marginalized communities” according to an article by Nita Bhalla for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A report by HRW says discriminatory practices such as verbal and physical abuse, segregation and denial of school meals are forcing many marginalized children to quit school.
“India’s immense project to educate all its children risks falling victim to deeply rooted discrimination by teachers and other school staff against the poor and marginalized,” said Jayshree Bajoria, HRW’s India researcher and author of the report.
Specific incidents in the report have children of lower castes reporting how they have been called “dirty” and “lazy” by both teachers and school staff members; how they are denied basic rights like going to the bathroom or eating food from the cafeteria; and that they take physical punishment from teachers that requires trips to the hospital.
The report is a disheartening blow back from India’s Right to Education Act (RTE), passed in 2010, which states that education is a fundamental right for every child in the country between the ages of 6 and 14. According to statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund, 80 million Indian children drop out of school without finishing their elementary school years. The Children’s Fund identifies the majority of these dropouts as coming from lower caste or Dalit (untouchable) communities, Muslim and indigenous tribes.
Some 160 children, parents, teachers and other professionals were interviewed for the report. Students related stories of being made to clean toilets, insulted verbally, and in one case, made to sit in the corner of the classroom while a teacher threw keys at the child out of anger, according to a press release on the HRW website.
The report concludes that the above-mentioned acts lead directly to truancy and eventually dropping out of a large number of students. India does not have the necessary infrastructure to monitor which children come to school sporadically, nor accurately assess which students are at risk for dropping out and which have dropped out already.
Despite the ugly claims of the report, India’s rise in education since achieving independence from the United Kingdom in the late 1940s has been nothing short of impressive. In its first year of independence, India’s literacy rate was 12%. Last year, it was reported to be 74%. In the last four years, India has doubled its education budget in order to fulfill promises of the RTE act.