Opinion

Millions of Indian children are being denied school education due to discrimination

As the World Education Forum sets the new global education agenda, India has a unique opportunity to help the marginalised children in the country.

Two years ago, 10-year-old Madhu walked up to the microphone at a public hearing and related how she was chased away from a government school in Patna by teachers because she was a Musahar Dalit and considered “dirty” by them.

Dozens of parents and children from marginalised communities had gathered to share their grievances at that hearing called by visiting officials from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Right to Education Act. After hearing Madhu’s story, the commission intervened and 50 Dalit children from her slum were enrolled in an adjoining government school.

But a year later, while the school’s register included the names of the Dalit children, nearly all of them were out of the classroom, working as rag pickers. They were just not welcome there.

Madhu’s story and countless such tales highlight an important lesson learnt from the last set of global education goals: providing access alone is insufficient. There have to be concerted efforts to keep marginalised children in school and ensure their learning by providing quality education.

Pervasive discrimination

There is a chance to remedy this now. On May 19, India will join other countries at the World Education Forum in South Korea to discuss the new global education agenda to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, which expire this year. During discussions last year, countries had agreed that the overarching goal of the 2015-2030 education agenda will be to “ensure equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030”.

This presents an important opportunity for India to address a key barrier to fulfilling its goal of education for all: discrimination.

Discrimination against children from Dalit, tribal, and Muslim communities in government schools means millions of the poorest and most vulnerable are getting left out. Lack of effective monitoring mechanisms to check prejudice by school staff means, at worst, ill-treatment and, at best, neglect. This, despite India’s Right to Education law banning discrimination in schools.

There are other problems too. Protecting the rights of children living with disabilities, ensuring their ability to access education, remains a distant priority among school authorities. Also, not enough is being done to bring and keep girls in the classroom.

High dropout rate

India has made significant progress toward universalising elementary education since the enactment of the 2009 Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. Its various schemes, such as the mid-day meal programme, benefit millions of children daily. It is a great achievement that more and more children are being enrolled into schools.

But the sad truth is that not all stay there. According to government’s own estimates, six million children remain out of school – and more crucially, two out of five drop out before completing elementary schooling. Numbers are much higher for children from disadvantaged groups.

Apart from helping prepare the global agenda, the Indian government is also planning to draw up a new education policy. The Ministry of Human Resource Development is currently seeking input on 13 school education issues, including on inclusive education for marginalised groups.

However, while the government’s consultation paper acknowledges “lower learning outcomes” for children from historically disadvantaged and economically weaker communities, it fails to note the exclusionary practices that contribute to this.

Access to childcare

To succeed in bringing and retaining marginalised children in schools, the government will have to ensure zero discrimination in classrooms. Girls and children with disabilities will need even more attention. For this, any future teacher training should go beyond improving learning outcomes to focus on inclusive learning practices that are effective, ensure greater participation of children from marginalised communities and healthy interaction among children from different backgrounds. Civil society groups can be important government allies in this venture.

It is also time to expand the Right to Education so that all children are entitled to 12 years of free and accessible education by 2030. Equally, there needs to be universal access to early childhood care and education to guarantee children’s long-term development, health and well-being. These goals are part of the proposed global agenda and India too sees them as priorities. The government should set an example at the World Education Forum by announcing special commitments toward implementing these goals.

India has a unique opportunity to offer a better future to Madhu and millions more children. It should not squander this chance.

Jayshree Bajoria is a researcher at the Human Rights Watch and author of the report They Say We’re Dirty: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized. Her Twitter handle is @jayshreebajoria.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

In a first, some of the finest Indian theatre can now be seen on your screen

A new cinematic production brings to life thought-provoking plays as digital video.

Though we are a country besotted with cinema, theatre remains an original source of provocative stories, great actors, and the many deeply rooted traditions of the dramatic arts across India. CinePlay is a new, ambitious experiment to bring the two forms together.

These plays, ‘filmed’ as digital video, span classic drama genre as well as more experimental dark comedy and are available on Hotstar premium, as part of Hotstar’s Originals bouquet. “We love breaking norms. And CinePlay is an example of us serving our consumer’s multi-dimensional personality and trusting them to enjoy better stories, those that not only entertain but also tease the mind”, says Ajit Mohan, CEO, Hotstar.

The first collection of CinePlays feature stories from leading playwrights, like Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattani, Badal Sircar amongst others and directed by film directors like Santosh Sivan and Nagesh Kukunoor. They also star some of the most prolific names of the film and theatre world like Nandita Das, Shreyas Talpade, Saurabh Shukla, Mohan Agashe and Lillete Dubey.

The idea was conceptualised by Subodh Maskara and Nandita Das, the actor and director who had early experience with street theatre. “The conversation began with Subodh and me thinking how can we make theatre accessible to a lot more people” says Nandita Das. The philosophy is that ‘filmed’ theatre is a new form, not a replacement, and has the potential to reach millions instead of thousands of people. Hotstar takes the reach of these plays to theatre lovers across the country and also to newer audiences who may never have had access to quality theatre.

“CinePlay is merging the language of theatre and the language of cinema to create a third unique language” says Subodh. The technique for ‘filming’ plays has evolved after many iterations. Each play is shot over several days in a studio with multiple takes, and many angles just like cinema. Cinematic techniques such as light and sound effects are also used to enhance the drama. Since it combines the intimacy of theatre with the format of cinema, actors and directors have also had to adapt. “It was quite intimidating. Suddenly you have to take something that already exists, put some more creativity into it, some more of your own style, your own vision and not lose the essence” says Ritesh Menon who directed ‘Between the Lines’. Written by Nandita Das, the play is set in contemporary urban India with a lawyer couple as its protagonists. The couple ends up arguing on opposite sides of a criminal trial and the play delves into the tension it brings to their personal and professional lives.

Play

The actors too adapted their performance from the demands of the theatre to the requirements of a studio. While in the theatre, performers have to project their voice to reach a thousand odd members in the live audience, they now had the flexibility of being more understated. Namit Das, a popular television actor, who acts in the CinePlay ‘Bombay Talkies’ says, “It’s actually a film but yet we keep the characteristics of the play alive. For the camera, I can say, I need to tone down a lot.” Vickram Kapadia’s ‘Bombay Talkies’ takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions as seven personal stories unravel through powerful monologues, touching poignant themes such as child abuse, ridicule from a spouse, sacrifice, disillusionment and regret.

The new format also brought many new opportunities. In the play “Sometimes”, a dark comedy about three stressful days in a young urban professional’s life, the entire stage was designed to resemble a clock. The director Akarsh Khurana, was able to effectively recreate the same effect with light and sound design, and enhance it for on-screen viewers. In another comedy “The Job”, presented earlier in theatre as “The Interview”, viewers get to intimately observe, as the camera zooms in, the sinister expressions of the interviewers of a young man interviewing for a coveted job.

Besides the advantages of cinematic techniques, many of the artists also believe it will add to the longevity of plays and breathe new life into theatre as a medium. Adhir Bhat, the writer of ‘Sometimes’ says, “You make something and do a certain amount of shows and after that it phases out, but with this it can remain there.”

This should be welcome news, even for traditionalists, because unlike mainstream media, theatre speaks in and for alternative voices. Many of the plays in the collection are by Vijay Tendulkar, the man whose ability to speak truth to power and society is something a whole generation of Indians have not had a chance to experience. That alone should be reason enough to cheer for the whole project.

Play

Hotstar, India’s largest premium streaming platform, stands out with its Originals bouquet bringing completely new formats and stories, such as these plays, to its viewers. Twenty timeless stories from theatre will be available to its subscribers. Five CinePlays, “Between the lines”, “The Job”, “Sometimes”, “Bombay Talkies” and “Typecast”, are already available and a new one will release every week starting March. To watch these on Hotstar Premium, click here.

This article was produced on behalf of Hotstar by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.