CAIRO – Muslim students are facing a deeply rooted discrimination in Indian elementary schools, denying them right to education amid lack of accountability for the violators, according to an international human rights group.
“Whenever the teachers are angry, they call us Mullahs,” Javed, a 10-year-old Muslim boy from Delhi, said in the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published on the group’s website on Tuesday, April 22.
“The Hindu boys also call us Mullahs because our fathers have beards.
“We feel insulted when they refer to us like this.”
Under the title “‘They Say We’re Dirty’: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized,” the HRW released a 77-page report that details discrimination against Muslim, Dalit and tribal children at Indian schools.
The report, that was conducted in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi, warned that minority students are “at risk of dropping out, or have dropped out”.
The report is based on testimonies of 160 respondents, including children, parents, teachers, and a wide range of education experts, rights activists, local authorities and education officials.
It unveiled grave violations against students by obligating marginalized pupils to “sit at the back of the class or in separate rooms, being insulted by the use of derogatory names, denied leadership roles, and served food last”.
“The teacher tells us to sit on the other side,” said Pankaj, an eight-year-old tribal boy from Uttar Pradesh.
“If we sit with others, she scolds us and asks us to sit separately. The teacher doesn’t sit with us because she says we ‘are dirty.’”
Shyam, a 14-year-old Dalit boy from Uttar Pradesh, shared similar horrifying stories.
“The teacher always made us sit in a corner of the room, and would throw keys at us [when she was angry],” he said.
“We only got food if anything was left after other children were served…. [G]radually [we] stopped going to school.”
The most shocking is that minority students in Indian schools complain that they “are even told to clean toilets, while children from traditionally privileged groups are not”.
“We were asked to massage a teacher’s legs. If we refused, he used to beat us,” said Naresh, a 12-year-old Dalit boy fro, Bihar.
“There was a toilet for teachers, which is the one we had to clean.”
The appalling HRW report coincides with the Indian national elections that are soaked with rivals’ promises to apply reforms at elementary schools.
“India’s political parties focused on education during the election campaign,” Jayshree Bajoria, India researcher and author of the report, said.
“But whoever takes office will need to do more to ensure that children attend classes.
“An important law is set to fail unless the government intervenes now.”
Imposed four years ago, the education law that guarantees free schooling to every children ages 6 to 14 failed to eradicate the age-old discriminatory attitudes “based on caste, ethnicity, religion, or gender”.
“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 Bajoria.
“Instead of encouraging children from at-risk communities who are often the first in their families to ever step inside a classroom, teachers often neglect or even mistreat them.”
Millions of Indians began voting in the world's biggest election earlier in April.
The elections come amid expectations that India's 814-million-strong electorate are going to inflict a heavy defeat on the ruling Congress party, in power for 10 years, and elect hardliner Modi from the BJP.
Representing 180 million, nearly 14 percent of the population, India Muslims are being wooed since their votes would decide at least 100 seats.
According to HRW, the lack of punishment for the violators incites discrimination against minority students.
The HRW has urged India to adopt “more active” measures to monitor the treatment of minority students in classrooms.
Almost 50% of Indian children drop out before completing elementary education, according to the government.
“Non-discrimination and equality are fundamental to the Right to Education Act and yet the law provides no penalties for violators,” Bajoria said.
“If schools are to become child-friendly environments for all of India’s children, the government needs to send a strong message that discriminatory behavior will no longer be tolerated and those responsible will be held to account.”
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