Yesterday, voting kicked off for the world’s largest election, with Indians in 20 states casting their votes in the first of seven phases, leading up to counting on the 23rd May. With 900 eligible voters, this is the largest election ever seen, but an illegal yet culturally pervasive caste system is stunting the course to genuine democracy.
Children on the Edge supports two active and engaged local partners in Patna, Bihar State. These organisations work to break the cycle of discrimination against the Dalit caste through education and community activism.
The caste system assigns individuals a certain hierarchical status according to Hindu beliefs. Traditionally there are four principal castes (divided into thousands of sub-categories) and a fifth category of people who fall outside of the caste system; the Dalits.
Veena Jacob who leads local organisation Navjeevan says “In the Bihar elections yesterday only 41% of voters turned out. Many Dalits were stopped from voting, even though the Dalit cause is not really a concern for any of the candidates. There was firing in Nawada constituency as people came to vote without ID cards. This firing was done by criminals, not by the police”.
Many Dalit people have no way of getting ID cards because of a lack of literacy or access to computers. The work we support here creates opportunities through local women’s groups where Dalit women can learn about their rights and legal entitlements and how to access them, from filling out forms and signing their names to protesting about the bad treatment of their children and learning how to start a small business. A new Computer Centre provides IT access and training.
Veena describes how “The situation is very intense during this period of election, which is taking place in stages. The people we work with are so poor they can easily be paid to vote a certain way and are very frightened not to follow through with it once they have taken money out of desperation”.
The Indian Constitution includes specific protections for Dalits, who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy and make up about 15 to 20 percent of the population, but as the election unfolds it remains to be seen whether they have any genuine opportunity to have a voice within the world’s largest democracy.
Through a brilliant array of events and activities, a small group of 12 and 13 year-old students from The Prebendal School in Chichester, inspired their fellow pupils to raise over £1,648 for Children on the Edge.
Year Eight students at The Prebendal School raise funds for a different charity each term. They are all encouraged to put a case forward for a chosen charity or cause before the decision is put to a vote amongst students and teachers.
Pupil, Lily Eitel, aged 13 decided to put forward Children on the Edge as her charity of choice in September 2018. She said:
“We were already aware that Children on the Edge was based in Chichester and we really wanted to support a local organisation that benefitted many children worldwide. This made it more real for all the Prebendal pupils”.
Lily prepared a formal presentation and encouraged as many students as possible to vote for us. She was delighted when Children on the Edge won the vote. She and her friends soon set about raising funds through a host of fun activities, including a drinks party for parents, cake sales, mufti days, a Christmas jumper day and a movie night.
Lily said: “We really enjoyed fundraising for COTE at The Prebendal. It made us all realise how privileged we are compared to all the children we helped”.
Eloise Armstrong, our Fundraising Manager visited the school last term to give a presentation in one of their weekly assemblies about our work and how the students' fundraising will be making a huge difference.
Recently, Eloise went back to collect a fundraising cheque for £1648. She said:
“As a Chichester-based charity, we were delighted to be chosen by the year 8 students at The Prebendal School. We were so impressed with the creativity and zeal of their fundraising activities. The money raised will help provide much needed education for refugee children in refugee camps and Internally Displaced Peoples’ camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar”.
Jane Garfield, Head of Languages and Year 8 tutor at Prebendal School said: “Our Year 8 pupils worked incredibly hard to raise money for this very worthy cause. We are really proud of them and it was because of their amazing efforts and endless enthusiasm that such a large amount of money was raised”.
We'd like to say a huge thank you to all the staff, parents, and especially the students at the school who helped to raise such an incredible amount of money.
If your school would like to fundraise for Children on the Edge, please email email@example.com or call our Fundraising Team on 01243 538530