The Dalit people or ‘untouchables’ are India’s lowest caste. They are shunned by society and suffer from exclusion, discrimination and exploitation.
Bihar is the poorest state in India and 81% of its population are suffering from poor health and nutrition, lack of access to education and substandard living conditions.
Bihar also has one of the highest concentrations of Dalit people and being a deeply conservative region the caste system (despite being outlawed by the post-independence constitution) still dictates the order of modern life for millions here.
Cities and villages are divided by caste with a clear hierarchy of rights and opportunities assigned to a person based upon their heritage. Many Dalit people live on the edges of communities and are forced to live in slums or unstable dwellings.
Government primary schools in Dalit majority areas are scarce, and those that do exist are so poorly staffed and equipped that children rarely attend.
If they do manage to enrol in schools, Dalit children are frequently discriminated against, being made to sit at the back of the class and restricted from touching or interacting with children from other castes. As a result, those who do make it into school often drop out at an early age.
We have identified three groups of children within the Dalit caste who we believe represent those in the greatest need. These are orphaned children, slum-dwellers and rural children.
What we are doing to help
We are working to bring together two small, active and engaged local partners to provide quality education for Dalit children aged 6-12, up to grade 3, which will enable them to access and integrate into mainstream, government middle schools where they will be able to continue their education up to grade 10. This will better their chances of employment in the future, not only in a general educational sense but because preference for government jobs is given to Dalit children who have completed grade 10.
This education will be delivered to over 800 Dalit children through 25 education centres. 15 centres will be based in the poorest slum areas of Patna, where our partners Navjeevan provide daily lessons in reading, writing, Hindi and English. We will also support children’s clubs in the slums every weekend as outlet for play, creativity and self-expression. Navjeevan have been working in poorest areas of Patna for 8 years and their particular strength of these centres is in ensuring that girls and disabled children are able to access their schools.
We will also be supporting 10 centres in outlying rural villages of Vaishali District, where we will partner with NGO Parivartan Kendra (PK) to coordinate non-formal education for over 400 children from the Dalit community.
These centres will become bright, child friendly spaces equipped with the resources necessary for these children to engage and learn. They currently provide a basic education for children as well as a focus on helping children understand their rights.
The work here strives to foster self expression, and the curriculum includes a focus on caste discrimination, the local governance and justice system and their rights under both Indian and international human rights law.
The project as a whole will provide 29 teachers from within these communities with initial intensive teacher training followed by monthly refresher trainings. The training will include specific issue-based material, which will be relevant to the environments in which they teach.
Teachers will develop theoretical and practical knowledge on child rights, child protection and Dalit rights. Clear strategies and resources will enable teachers to both teach and support these extremely marginalised and vulnerable children.
The education centres for children form a platform from which to bring change in the wider community. An important component of their work is establishing women’s groups, attached to each centre in each community.
These groups are established through a democratic process. Once formed they are educated on their rights and supported by the two organisations in encouraging the community to come together and understand the strength of their unity.
They will be trained on non-violent dialogue and action so that they can claim their entitlements such as housing, food and education, which they are entitled to under Indian law.
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