Changing the landscape for Dalit and Tribal Peoples
Dalit children are used to being ignored and sometimes bullied in India’s schools, but those that have participated in life skills training have found their voices. CWS partner Ekta has devised a popular programme that combines netball and other games with learning. Discrimination based on the caste system runs deep. Dalit families are likely to live in a separate area in the village with limited resources.
In the rural areas, Dalit and Tribal children usually sit at the back of the classroom where they are often ignored by their teachers. The expectation is that they will take on menial chores or work as agricultural labourers just as their parents do. The landowners expect them to follow caste rules and do whatever they are told.
Our five partners in the state of Tamil Nadu are determined to end discrimination based on caste and gender. They have already trained many Dalit and Tribal on human rights generally and those protected under Indian law. With this knowledge and new-found confidence many more Dalit and Tribal people are having a say in their communities and have been elected to positions on the local panchayat or local council. Through their advocacy, partners like the Human Rights Foundation have achieved quota for women in local government and embedded better representation in state law.
Ekta focuses on improving gender awareness and understandings of masculinity as well as protecting women and children from future violence. Part of its work is with children and young people, training them to work together to promote human rights and social justice.
When Ekta starts a new programme, it talks first with parents to get their support which is critical to the success of the programme. Normally the children would have to work after school, often in the fields. They may also challenge their parents based on their learning. Ekta gives prizes to the children – an added incentive to attend. The children and young people have fun and are eager to learn. The teachers can see the difference it makes in the classroom as well.
Who am I?
In one of the early sessions, they consider the question, Who am I? The discussion might cover favourite foods, who is their hero or what their aim is in life. At first the answers often mirror what their parents do at first in their small rural village. After all the discussion, the leader asks them to think of ways they can turn their ‘defects into merits’, before playing yet more games.
Often taught in the outdoors, the staff trainers form immediate bonds with the children who have been let off work to attend this after school programme. The mostly Dalit trainers teach them good communication skills and how to make sensible decisions. After months of lockdown, the students were motivated than ever. They are keen to play games and learn. At the end of the sessions, the children are happier and more confident.
The Speak Out programme teaches children’s rights, encouraging them to stay in school and keep regular attendance. By example, they show the benefits of positive thinking and the importance of stopping sexual abuse and child labour. The programme explores the different expectations families have about education, chores and food allocations for boys and girls. Through games and drama, the group learns to work as a team, a skill that will help them stand together to challenge injustice and adversity.
Sessions cover topics like:
- Be Yourself
- Be Healthy
- Be Empowered
- Be Money Savvy
- Be a Changemaker
The children and young people are keen to talk about body image and learn about good nutrition. They take part in activities that encourage positive thinking and saving money. Through group discussion and activities, they may study waste management in their community and role play peacemaking in their village. In school, the children are often the last to speak but, in these sessions, they share their ideas more freely.
At the end of the most recent training Ekta reported the students had been able to apply their learning. Children enjoyed learning netball skills, but many had also begun to eat more nutritious foods and had stopped using vulgar and abusive words.
In a session on menstruation, staff were able to provide good information. One girl reported that she had not hesitated to tell her mother when she reached puberty because of the training she had received.
The children from the villages said they were worried about the growing hatred among religious communities, the financial strain caused by Covid and the serials their families were watching on TV. Thanks to the programme they were able to think about what they could do to change their situation rather than worry about what was happening.
“All the children informed us that beating and scolding by the head of the family is normal. A husband is entitled to beat his wife. Only after the sessions, did they come to know about the different forms of violence, that beating and harassing is violence, and is a violation of human rights. Many children assured us that they will call Child Helpline and Women Helpline when they see such instances in their villages,” says Ekta.
Working together to Change their Community
After studying their community, the different groups plan an activity to improve lives for everyone.
One group started a kitchen garden on the school grounds. They grow lady’s finger or okra, tomatoes, green chili and other vegetables which they sell to the cook who makes lunch. The group used the money to buy fencing material to keep cows and goats from eating the neem, tamarind and other saplings that they planted. Seeing their interest in gardening, the teachers have bought them seeds, fertiliser and other supplies.
In another school, the children found it difficult to get home after the extra class so they asked the village chief to help. The chief found someone willing to drive them home in a van.
Another group has asked the headmaster of their school if they can have a children’s library. With his support they wrote to their District Collector or local council administrator and are waiting for his response.
Training promotes Well-being
Throughout the training the leaders emphasise the importance of going to school rather than leaving early to toil as a child labourer making bricks or in the fields. If a child does not attend for more than two days, other children go to his or her house to find out why they are not in school. The children remind the parents why they need to send their daughter or son every day.
The schools are clean and tidy because the children have learnt to take pride in themselves and their communities.
The Dalit and Tribal children who take part are used to living on the edge. Their parents have few resources and they face discrimination on a daily basis. Learning through play has proved a winning way to make change for the children and in their communities. The programme reaches 1,200 – 1,400 girls and a smaller group of boys each year.
Together with our partners we can give children and young people the confidence to speak out for justice in their homes and community.
Donations to the Spring Appeal for Child Justice support this work in South India.
October 5, 2022