Dalit students forced out of classrooms

Narayan Bareth/Jaipur, September 25, 2000
The Pioneer

Did someone say "Annihilate the Caste"? Or that "Untouchability is the greatest sin against the humankind"?

The kids of Government school at Naverabera in Barmer district will vouch for the fact that caste discrimination, in its ugliest forms, is an everyday phenomenon, especially in rural hinterland, and political sloganeering has achieved precious little towards creating an egalitarian society.

To cut the story short, as many as 38 Dalit students here were forced out of their respective classrooms recently after they wanted to share drinking water with their upper caste counterparts. Not only this, these students were barred from even getting near the only common source of drinking water in the school, a "matka".

After their feeble protest, they were made to face the inevitable: ostracism. They couldn't attend school for four days after their expulsion on Aug 16; and they were re-admitted to the school only after an NGO working in the area intervened and threatened to take up the matter with the higher authorities, both in the State and at the Centre.

According to Unnati, an NGO championing the Dalit cause in the region, "this is not an isolated incident". The NGO's Dalit Resource and Information Centre division was first to raise its voice against the prevalent obscurantist practice. However, this meant more trouble for the NGO itself as its members were summoned to the local panchayat and chided for taking up the matter. Thereafter, the NGO petitioned the district administration which deputed two of its official to look into the matter.

Sujeet Sarkar of Unnati told The Pioneer that after their visit to the school, the district education officer and tehsildar admitted to have observed the retrogatory practice, but quite intriguingly, "this didn't find mention in their official enquiry report". According to another activist of the NGO, the officials were more interested in a "compromise" between the errant teachers and the victims.

However, on the NGO's insistence, another probe was ordered by the district administration, this time by a sub-divisional magistrate (SDM). "The SDM probe conclusively proved that the upper caste teachers including the principal in the school were discriminating against the Dalit students," an activist said. Consequently, an FIR was registered at the local police station.

A chastened panchayat along with some influential upper caste villagers then pressed for a "compromise" to "ensure harmony and brotherhood in the village". The matter has been left to the District Collector even when the SDM has promised "suitable action" as per his enquiry report.

However, this is hardly any consolation for the terrorised victims, the 38 school kids.

According to the NGO, this practice, widespread among villagers, often goes unnoticed. "Not only the matka, they are barred from drawing water from cement tanks too. In effect, they are left at the mercy of upper caste students. To quench their thirst, they must first appease their upper caste friends," an activist said.


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