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Human Rights Value Education

Education is a human right denied to many Dalit children. Navsarjan works to restore that right.

As an agent of social mobility, education can lead to the emancipation of the Dalit masses. Today, however, the education system perpetuates caste discrimination, reproducing discriminatory practices and effectively denying many Dalit children their basic right to education.  As a result, the chance to break out of the cycle of caste-based occupations and menial labor is lost. 

At school, Dalit children are frequently forbidden from sitting with non-Dalit students during the mid-day meal, and from participating in school cultural programs. They are insulted with caste-based slurs by both teachers and students. Many are forced to clean the school’s toilets while non-Dalit children are free to play. The government teachers themselves enforce this discrimination, often refusing to pass Dalit students and giving them less attention in class.  As a result, the dropout rate of Dalit children (especially girls) from primary school is alarmingly high.

Navsarjan’s Human Rights Value Education strives to:

1.     Completely eradicate discrimination in public schools

2.     Achieve a zero dropout rate of Dalit children from primary schools

3.     Create educational opportunities for Dalit children to counter the challenges posed by the privatization of education

4.     Ensure that there is no child labor in Dalit communities

5.     Ensure that Dalit children get access to the government education scholarships to which they are entitled

6.     To sensitize teachers on issues of discrimination suffered by Dalit children

7.     Encourage personal growth

8.     Allow children to develop scientific skills and rational beliefs

9.     Empower through values of equality, both in terms of gender and otherwise

10. Ensure that the most disadvantaged Dalit communities, such as the scavengers (Valmiki community), receive priority-based opportunities

11. Reduce sub-caste discrimination among the Dalit communities

12. Focus on female students, and give them priority-based opportunities

13. Create a duplicable model of social empowerment

 

Bhimshalas

Bhimshalas (“Bhim” from Bhimrao Ambedkar, and “shala” from the Gujarati word for school) are a key part of Navsarjan’s grassroots education strategy. Bhimshalas are extra-curricular education centers, run by a Navsarjan-trained volunteer from the local community usually out of her or his home.

The Bhimshala volunteer plays a key role in eliminating discrimination at school by lodging protests with the school administration, and—with the help of Navsarjan—taking legal action when necessary. 

Activities done with children in Bhimshalas include:

  • educational games
  • cultural programs
  • programs in which the students can share their experiences of discrimination at school
  • picnics and exposure to public places such as the police station, post office, railway station, PHC (Primary Health Center), and milk cooperative; and games and sports

Nearly all Bhimshalas function with Navsarjan libraries, a collection of about 100 books designed to encourage literacy and maintain interest in education.  These libraries include educational children’s books written by Navsarjan founder Martin Macwan designed to encourage Dalit and non-Dalit youth to question caste and gender discrimination.

Due to the Bhimshala program, discrimination has been drastically reduced in dozens of village schools, and Dalit children are getting extra help with their studies, receiving further encouragement to stay in school

  

Children’s programs and camps:

As the twin evils of caste and gender based discrimination are forced upon children at a young age, Navsarjan strives to establish a counter-consciousness and sense of unity within the minds of children to combat such discrimination. 

Children’s programs and camps run by Navsarjan's fieldworkers bring together all the Dalit children of one village, across sub-caste lines.  In many villages, Dalits of different sub-castes do not interact frequently, and untouchability between sub-castes is often practiced.  These children’s programs emphasize unity and equality through cultural programs, book readings, and group discussions. 

Educational kits are frequently distributed to the children.  These kits include books (including those written by Martin Macwan to challenge caste and gender discrimination, and to encourage children to ask questions) and crayons to encourage creativity.  For many children, these are the first books they have ever owned.  Among other achievements, the books foster literacy in areas where illiteracy is rampant, especially for girls.

 

Impact on Dalit children

In addition to ending discriminatory practices in many schools around Gujarat and encouraging Dalit communities to value education through donations to Navsarjan’s primary education work, Navsarjan’s Human Rights Value Education Program has led to important changes in regard to the children themselves. 

 1.     Children express the fact of their discrimination: For the first time, children have begun to stand up and raise their voices in protest against the discrimination they face.  They are given the opportunity for this crucial expression in Bhim-shala activities. 

 2.     Children question sub-caste practices:  Because of caste-based socialization, the children were under the effect of a system of differential relationships based on sub-caste, even among Dalits.  Now, when they are exposed to awareness programs, they interact with other children as equals, regardless of sub-caste. 

 3.     Children combat discrimination: Dalit children are upset about caste-based discrimination, and they oppose such practices whenever they see them. 

 4.     Children have come closer to Navsarjan’s fieldworkers:  Children who have been restricted by both teachers and parents—who often urge their children (especially girls) to drop out early and begin daily labor—interact with Navsarjan’s activists and express their right to continue their education. 

 5.     Children spread their awareness to their peers and siblings:  Inspired by the awareness process, these children are mobilizing other children to get in touch with activists.  For them, “activism” has become a buzzword. 

 6.     Children’s aspirations have risen: Children have begun to express their dreams and aspirations openly, and have increased expectations of their futures.

   

Challenges

  • There are certain sub-castes within the Dalits that are not ready to have their girls educated.
  • In villages that are close to towns, upper caste students get private education in the towns, so the teachers do no care to teach anymore, since most of the students left at school are Dalits or other poor.
  • Some Bhim-shala volunteers who are trained are unwilling or unable to hold regular classes because of financial difficulties, or because of getting married and changing villages. 
  • Migrant laborers often do not keep their children in school.