Real Gandhian action, not token gestures, will eventually bring change

 

Making a fair demand for quality education.

Making a fair demand for quality education.

I am grateful to my good friend Sunil who has drawn my attention to a news item from India, which whilst in many respects disturbing, is also reassuring in illustrating how much children appreciate the opportunities to be gained from education. A report from the Hindu newspaper of 2nd November (you can read the article at http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-sundaymagazine/when-the-girls-came-marching-in/article6556251.ece#.VFzfJTMp9-A.gmail) describes the actions taken by students from aajakiya Balika Ucha Madhyamik Vidhyalay (Government Girls’ Higher Secondary School), in Bhim, Rajasthan in protest against the failure to appoint teachers to their school. The student population of this school numbers 700 but only three teachers make up the staff.

The authorities responsible for staffing the school having failed abysmally to provide sufficient teachers to deliver the curriculum, have now been confronted by a well organised group of girls determined to take matters into their own hands. Very appropriately choosing Gandhi’s birthday (Gandhi Jayanti) to begin their action, the girls marched through the town chanting slogans such as ‘Shiksha ka adhikar diya padhane wale koi nahin ’ (You gave us the right to education but no one to teach us), and Raghupathi raghav raja ram, sarkar ko buddhi de bhagwan! (Raghupathi raghav raja ram, dear god, please give the government brains!)”. The girls quickly gained the sympathy of local people who have declared their support for their cause. Their determination is such that they have attracted the attention of both local educational administrators and the national media. Gandhiji, who himself campaigned hard for universal education in India, would certainly have been proud of the actions taken by these girls who by all accounts conducted themselves in an orderly manner and with great dignity.

One student, Hemlata Kumari stated:-

“I am the eldest of three girls. My mother is a widow and a daily wage labourer. Coming to school my sister and I spend 40 rupees every day on travel, which is almost half my mother’s daily wage. She sends us to study and hopes that we will get educated and achieve a life that is different from hers. A life without hunger and struggle. Not having teachers is shattering our dreams and hopes.”

Another student voiced her opinion that:-

“We do not get clean drinking water or have toilets within our school campus. The boys’ school has toilets, clean drinking water and a steady supply of books and teachers. Why such inequality? How are they superior to us? With enough teachers, we will get better marks than the boys do.”

The actions of the girls, and the support they have received from the local community has certainly had an impact and stirred local administrators into action. So much so that they agreed to meet with the protesting students. However, when the officer in charge of education gave the excuse that there was an acute shortage of qualified teaching staff in the state, his comments were met with derision   by the students who responded that “there are enough teaching staff at every boys’ school, but the government is ignoring our voice since we are girls.” The students made it clear that if teachers were not appointed by October 7, they would lock the school gate and take further action. On October 8th, no new teachers having been appointed, this was exactly what they did.

The education authorities at this point accused the girls of disrupting classes. In response the students set up a tent to hold classes outside the school and did so very pointedly in a position where they could be clearly observed by the very people who were accusing them of disruption. The local community have rallied around the girls with shopkeepers and other providing them with food and voicing their support for the actions taken.

The students are demanding that the authorities appoint at least one teacher for each main subject of the curriculum and have demonstrated their determination to see their action through to a conclusion. Recent reports suggest that the school staffing has now increased from three to seven with the authorities recognising that the whole community is supporting the campaign. This is the first of what I am sure will be many successes achieved by these brave girls.

I was in Bangalore on Gandhi Jayanti this year and recall the publicity gained by Prime Minister Narendra Modhi when he and some of his cabinet took to the streets with brooms,  and claimed that in Gandhi’s name they were taking actions to clean the streets. I do hope that the Prime Minister has been watching the actions of these students who are demonstrating that peaceful and determined actions, rather than tokenistic gestures can bring about the changes that we surely all would wish to see.

9 thoughts on “Real Gandhian action, not token gestures, will eventually bring change

  1. Wow. 700 students and 3 teachers. It is easy to be a critic from this distance but it would seem that the authorities tasked with staffing are corrupt, incompetent, irresponsible, or just don’t care. Maybe all of the above. The girls are dealing with the situation more responsibly than the authorities.

    • I was particularly heartened by the fact that the community has got behind these girls. They see their actions as justified and recognise that they have a just cause for greivance. There is a proud history of protest against oppression in India and this has often led to effective and lasting reform. Let’s hope that this is the outcome of this actions.

  2. Richard,
    The moment I read the article I was very disturbed for the reason, we are not able to provide education to our children 67 years after becoming an independent nation. I also remembered you and thought my good friend Dr. Richard Rose is always propagating the virtues of inclusive education and here we are not being fair to our girls. As we all know if we educate a girl/ women we educate a whole family. Though the same may not be true if you educate a boy /man. Like you I am hoping our dynamic forward looking Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi will make inclusive education a mass movement.
    Cheers,
    Sunil.

    • Hi Sunil,
      Thank you for drawing my attantion to this situation. I agree with you that the education of girls is vital to the welfare of every nation. Where maybe I am less confident is in the idea that a prime minister will take the lead in promoting inclusive schooling. As Gandhi indicated, if we truly want change, we should not wait for others – including (and possibly especially) our political masters to take the lead – we need to act ourselves as agents of change.

  3. We do have a long long way to go. On the same vein, some young women in rurual India, are demanding, very rightly so, that one of the conditions for marriage is ‘bathrooms and toilets’. In fact, there are reports about young women leaning their marital homes due to lack of this highly essential and basic feature in a house. UNICEF in one of its recent reports has mentioned that one of the reasons for high infant mortality in rural India is open defecation.
    I am sure that every time someone protests for the right reasons we move a a little forward, albeit, very little.

    • Hi Rajani,
      India as an re-established independent nation in the twentieth century (it was, of course an independent collection of States well before the arrival of the British) gained its authority through non-violent direct action. This can make a huge difference when it is well co-ordinated and has a just cause. I think it is noticeable that women are the leaders in many such movements in India today. They are following in the footsteps of Kasturba Gandhi and Sarojini Naidhu and hopefully the national politicians will sit up and take notice.

  4. Though the differences that are being shown towards the education of boys and girls is narrowing down, perhaps in the rural areas educating the girls is still at a low priority. It certainly is heartening to see the girls taking an initiative to protest against what they have or rather what they don’t have 🙂
    Having said this, the rural areas should have qualified teachers staying there who are willing to teach; and should receive a remuneration that is commensurate with what is needed to be given. However all the three going together seems a rarity.
    There are people who are qualified to teach but dont want to teach for various reasons.. There are people who want to teach but are not qualified.. And if both are there, then the remunerations is not what is expected at all.. There is also the feeling that there is a lot of work to be done as a teacher but what is got is much lesser that the ‘value’ of the role.
    In my view, this dearth of qualified teachers is also one of the main reasons for the low employability of students who pass out of colleges..
    If we want to create a change, we need to have a vision of how we need our students to be; and put the legislations into action, and bring the desired results out without monitoring..

    • Hi Malathy,
      You make some very important points. I am aware that teachers in government schools are very badly paid and work with limited resources. In rural schools this is even worse. However, in this part of Rajasthan it appears that there is no problem recruiting for the boys’ schools. Is this a case of less priority given to girls education? I suspect it may be. The girls are a fine example to us all. Their motivation is all about ensuring that a good education enables them to gain a better life. I am sure that most of us have nothing less than admiration for these youngsters.

  5. Hi Richard,
    In India we are used to government apathy towards anything that does not give them political mileage the article was more painful to read as it said the school hasn’t had a head teacher for 8 years and no core subject teachers for 10 years. More disturbing is the fact that the ‘boys’ school next door does not have any of these problems. Despite all these the government officials had the nerve to accuse these brave girls of disrupting classes – would be interesting to know which classes were being held with no teachers around! Having said that, it was great to see the results they achieved – peaceful civil disobedience still works. I hope these girls become an inspiration for every child, not just girls, to demand and get what should in fact be given without having them to even ask.

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