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 three 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 26 education centres. 16 centres will be based in the poorest slum areas of Patna, where our partners Navjeevan and Sharanam 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. Sharanam’s expertise lies in community engagement and advocacy.
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.
The work here strives to foster self expression and critical thinking with a particular focus on child rights. We are aiming to combat issues such as child labour, human trafficking and child marriage.
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.
Change must take place on a community level to enable Dalit groups to recognise and access their rights. To instigate this change Community Action Groups will be formed in each community, which will comprise of parents, staff and community leaders.
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