Many schools still discriminate while distributing midday meal, find reports. Educationists call for change in fundamentals before right to education ushers in the revolution promised
Jasleen Kaur | November 27, 2012
As many as 186 schools across five states allowed caste or gender-based discrimination over the last two years while serving midday meal to their students, according to reports collated by 41 independent monitoring institutes and submitted to the human resource development ministry.
The states with most instances of discrimination and untouchability are Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, it has emerged.
According to the reports, children from the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe (SC/ST) categories are segregated from their counterparts from other communities and are made to sit and eat separately in these schools. Besides, food cooked by SC/ST cooks is often refused by many children, or their parents, it was reported.
There are also cases where Dalit students are served from a distance, and several students bring their own plates to school, apprehensive of the common utensils being touched by their Dalit classmates. The reports have been received from the monitoring institutes between October 2010 and September 2012.
The damning reports, showing caste-based discrimination in schools even after education was made a fundamental right through the Right to Education (RTE) Act, is however not the only such account of prejudice in educational institutions. A report released in October this year had stated that Vardhman Mahavir Medical College, affiliated to Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi, practised caste-based discrimination.
The incident came to light after the National Commission for Scheduled Castes set up an inquiry panel, led by Rajya Sabha MP Bhalchandra Mungekar, appointed its commissioner, to probe failing of 35 medical students — all scheduled caste candidates —in their Physiology paper.
RTE: Status check after 2 years
Implemented in April 2010, RTE not only provides free and compulsory education to all children between six and 14 years as a fundamental right but also comes with an objective to develop a sense of social equity among students by encouraging them to sit and eat their meals together — irrespective of economic status, caste, religion and gender. As a law, it stands for equality and is clearly against discrimination.
But has it really enforced ushered in a change of mindset nearly three years on?
For starters, implementation of 25 percent reservation under RTE itself faced tough resistance from private schools. There were reports that many schools held separate classes for children admitted under this quota.
While the Act has undoubtedly opened doors of formal education for children from all backgrounds, it has still not been able to bring in a change in public mindset.
Vinod Raina, an educationist and member of the drafting committee of the RTE Act, said laws cannot change historical belief of a society. “A lot of change depends on the enforcement of law. It is apparent that many instances of discriminations have been mentioned in the report but no action has been taken against them,” he said. So we have still not reached the stage where enforcement has begun.
“The change will come when we start taking action.”
Enforcement as important as law
While it is important to ensure that the law is properly enforced, it is equally important to note that elementary education, which remained neglected in our society for years, lacks basic inputs necessary for implementing the RTE Act even today.
According to former NCERT director and educationist JS Rajput, unless the state provides the basic right of equality there is no point in implementing the RTE Act. “The monitoring system of midday meal is not taking place. There are no efforts for proper orientation of teachers during their training,” he said. “The RTE Act was implemented in April 2010 but go to any school and you will find that no one is actually affected by it.
“How can we say the Act has been enforced when we still have more than 10 lakh vacancies?”
The report released by Mungekar in October pointed out incidents of student suicides, failure to clear exams and cases in which degrees were delayed for years in higher education institutions. It also cited several other cases of discrimination — like that of a PhD student at an IIT who was not given his degree for nine years, as he was vocal about Dalit issues.
According to the report, SC/ST students are looked at and treated differently at even prestigious institutions like the IITs, and many of these students fail to get standard cooperation that their other counterparts take for granted.
The education system in our country has not been fair to students from weaker sections, and it is important that the change begins at the most basic level: the school, where a child is nurtured and an individual is prepared for a society.
While the country has a law in place that promises that equality, what is much more important now is to ensure that the fundamentals are taken care of and implemented properly. And one of these aspects is to ensure that teachers are trained properly so that they can become the tool to initiate that change. The rest, as they say, will follow.
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