School authorities in India have persistently discriminated against children from Dalit, minority and other marginalised communities, pushing them out of education, a report by Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
According to the report "They Say We're Dirty: Denying an Education to India's Marginalised", the discrimination ranges from differentiation in serving mid-day meals, and not being allowed to go to toilets, to making them clean toilets and classrooms.
"Under the Right to Education Act, the state government and the relevant local authorities are expected to ensure that no child is segregated or discriminated against in the classroom, during mid-day meals, in playgrounds, in the use of common drinking water and toilets, and in performing tasks such as cleaning toilets or classrooms," said the 77-page report.
The report was compiled by conducting research in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi, interviewing more than 160 people, including children, parents, teachers, education experts and officials, rights activists and local authorities.
All these states have a large population of low-caste poor, indigenous tribals and Muslims. Highlighting the discrimination in serving mid-day meals, Satyendra Kumar, Bihar director for New Delhi-based Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion, said: "If you see which children in school bring plates from home, it's always the Dalit children."
"When we ask teachers why they are not given plates in school, the teachers say the other children won't eat from the plates Dalit children eat from," he said.
As per a case study in the report, in 2010, 22 Dalit children of the Musahar community from a hamlet in Pindra in Uttar Pradesh stopped going to school after various acts of discrimination and physical violence against them by the principal and teachers.
Vijay, 14, told Human Rights Watch he dropped out after being beaten "The teacher didn't let us go to the toilet. One day, I asked her for permission to go to the toilet but she said, 'Sit down, go later'. So I urinated outside the window and she hit me so hard with a stick that my hand broke. I went to the hospital to get my hand bandaged. I had my hand in bandage for 10 days. Even now when I am working, I feel a lot of pain," said Vijay.
In Kamtachak in Patna district, Dalit children complained that children from other castes call them by their caste name in a derogatory manner, and do not mingle with them or include them when they are playing. Naresh, a 12 year-old boy, said he and other Dalit students have also been forced to massage a teacher's legs and clean the teachers' toilet.
"We were asked to massage a teacher's legs. If we refused, he used to beat us. There was a toilet for teachers, which is the one we had to clean," said Naresh.
According to the report, in elementary school, dropout rates for children from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were 51 percent and 58 percent, respectively, much higher than the 37 percent rate for non-Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe children.
"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 marginalised," said Jayshree Bajoria, India researcher and author of the report.
"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," she said.