Dear fellow young dreamers, leaders, game-changers and believers,
I write this letter to share an experience that thoroughly changed my outlook and perspective on a widely discussed topic, however often misunderstood arena – rural India.
You might think this is going to be one of those long endless life-changing stories. Oh, I bet you’re not wrong, but – hear me out!
Cutting the long story short, I have just returned from the village after having spent an entire month in Rajasthan. I wasn’t visiting family, and neither was I out there to add another life event post on my Facebook account. I was working on a Campaign called– Neev Shiksha Ka Sawaal-Soochna Evam Rozgar Abhiyaan (The Question of Education – Campaign for Information and Employment), which was being conducted by noted civil rights organization Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan and a host of other civil rights organizations of Rajasthan supported by Rajasthan Patrika. It emphasized upon finding out the current situation of Government schools in Rajasthan.
Well, what is the situation? Just as miserable as you can imagine!
We worked in a team of five people at the Baran district, around 100 km from Kota. The area is dominated by the tribal communities of Sheharyas, Bhils and Meenas. The district is divided into eight blocks and we managed to survey approximately 60 schools in six blocks.
The work included inspecting schools in line with basic standards and this is what we found:
Most schools had the structure of a building but only a few were in usable condition, and almost 70% boundary walls were either incomplete or broken. While most schools had hand pumps for drinking water, only a few were fit for drinking. If the school had a tank, either they weren’t cleaned on a regular basis or weren’t in a usable condition.
A common observation was that the number of children attending school was less than those listed. While the RTE has made it compulsory that every school must have at least two teachers irrespective of the number of children, most primary schools had only one teacher.
Most parents were not aware of anything like a School Managing Committee, let alone the knowledge of how many times meetings for the same are held.
Those who were members of the committee, told us that meetings were not held on a monthly basis (as advised by the law) but the teacher forges dates and asks members to put thumb impressions, without holding any meeting.
The second part of the work entailed making committees for filing RTIs in the coming months. We worked in association with a local NGO, Sankalp Sanstha, which has been working in the district since 1982.
With cracked walls, leaking ceilings, incomplete school structures from 10 years, broken toilets, high chlorine and fluorine infiltrated water, sometimes no building to house or call a school; the condition of the schools made us question innumerable factors. While the infrastructural conditions are one side of the coin, the socioeconomic, cultural and political scenario made it a complex situation.
Small-time local farmers need the assistance of their children during the harvest period, due to which children miss months of school. Discrimination by teachers on the basis of caste is one major reason why children from the most backward tribal communities still suffer. To our surprise, we discovered communities and villages that have just attained freedom from bonded labour as late as two years ago, and communities that are still suffering as bonded labourers. The sheer arrogance, nonchalance and ignorance of the local authorities was enraging.
But, that is not the only point I’m trying to make. While the dilapidated buildings and the creaking hand pumps are one side of the story, there lies a sea of hurdles that merely the government can’t handle and also overcome.
Mindset. My mindset. Your mindset. Our mindset.
Having been brought up in a city like Mumbai, where the strong class divides propel you to think in a particular way, where making money and having a particular lifestyle is the only aim- It blurs the reality and truth of our Indian society. Enmeshed within our middle class privileges, it is difficult for us to think that the things that are readily available to us – proper education, housing, access to safe and clean drinking water, healthcare facilities – are something that is severely away from the reach of a multitude of this country.
The problem begins with this sense of othering. The moment we place ourselves on a pedestal as urban dwellers we begin to indulge in the process of discrimination.
Remember the moments we thought that every other gaonwala (the ones from the village) is ‘unpadh’ (uneducated) or ‘gawaar’ (illiterate)? Or the moment when we looked down upon that person who spoke in not such fluent English? Or the moment we look down upon with contempt at people thronging from villages into cities and wondering how did this ‘gaonwala’ (villager) get here!
Well, we’ve all had those moments and while the disgust, irritation and English Nazism must have totally belittled this particular ‘gaonwala’, he has suffered a set of problems not so different from you and me. The girl you see hiding her face behind a duppatta, she too suffers from patriarchy that is widely embedded in the society. Denying that we have overcome the same would be lying to ourselves.
For had that been the case, women in cities wouldn’t be ogled at for wearing either a burqa or a skirt. The young nineteen-year-old boy you see aimlessly wandering near the stations with just a bag and eyes filled with hope to make money, has a family to support that can’t possibly survive with even two breadwinners in the house. Because, the demands of the family have changed beyond capacity due to the forced ideas of capitalism and need.
Do you feel a sense of connection now?
The problems of our society are merely different on the surface; however as the urban middle class, we have simply separated ourselves from the rural society, removing them, as noted social activist Harsh Mander would put it, not just from our conscience but also from our consciousness.
The youth today believes that the solution to making more money, suffering less discrimination, misogyny, patriarchy, class divide and religious fanaticism – would be merely going abroad. But, just like our other tainted beliefs and ideas, this is wrong! Must I remind you that this self-indulgent, consumerist concept of living is a western driven idea rather than being Indian. Also the stringent ideals of morality set up for women aren’t actually Indian but are a result of the western influence, particularly the rigid social customs of Victorian England. It doesn’t solve the problem but is a mere escape for our selfish needs which I see the urban society merrily indulging into.
In conclusion, I’d like the youth to stop for a moment. Please give up the constructed idea of a village that you might have developed by watching those popular Bollywood movies – that which settles amidst the lush greenery of the forest, with a clear view of the star studded sky, pure air and a tractor to roam upon as the narrow stream passes the small shack made of hay – and also give up the pride we uphold of staying in our cemented concrete jungles – that which allows all the liberties of a soft comfortable ride to work in a Mercedes, movie on a Friday evening with friends, golf on a Saturday afternoon and brunch on a Sunday morning.There is more to India than we can possibly know and see and it’s time we saw just a little beyond our little screens and worlds.
And for those of us who indeed want to make a change in the lives of our fellow citizens, we need to accept and unlearn our privileges and ensure that the basic right of an Indian citizen to lead a dignified life, one through which the individual can harness his/her social and intellectual capital to the fullest, is realized.
A concerned youth of this country