Balmiki community is highly discriminated by this society since long. Despite the various government programs which are aimed at the development of this community, discrimination and exclusion continues to be important factors in the low educational status of such marginalised communities. Within a broader discourse of educational attainment of the marginalised communities, a study was undertaken to explore evidence based understanding of the status and challenges of education of the children of the households engaged in ‘unclean occupations’ and the causes and consequences of exclusion and discrimination in education.
The study was undertaken in Rajasthan. In Rajasthan, two cities (Alwar and Jaipur) were selected to identify households associated or engaged in ‘unclean occupations’ in order to examine the educational status of their children. The survey covered around 500 households and as many as 3500 children.
I have done this survey in three parts, which comprises of parents, children and schools. We talked to them and found out that the main problem in Balmiki society stems from their occupation which is mostly related to cleaning jobs. Most of them belong to poor families. The main occupations among Balmiki community includes picking garbage, manual scavenging, working in houses as cleaners, pig rearing and daily wage labor. Due to caste stigma they are unable to change their occupation; few of them tried but failed. People of other castes do not purchase items from their shops. Almost 20% people drink alcohol during the day. Like most Indian families, the decisions were mostly taken by the men. Balmiki bastis face water problem and they draw water from hand pumps. There is no health facility in their area, and the only facility that is available is electricity. There are Primary and Middle schools but the children do not get any school funded scholarship. There are many castes including Balmiki, Brahman, Gupta, Saini, Jain, Meena, Gujjar, Chamar and kori. Every caste group has its own temple for worshipping.
During my survey, I went to their schools and interacted with the children and teachers. After talking to them, I found out that the main problem is discrimination. In the school premises, many Balmiki children were asked to clean toilets and school grounds. They also fetch water for their teachers. These children were asked to sit separately in the class which could be one of the reasons why they always feel isolated in the school, and they don’t mingle with the upper caste children because they are considered to be dirty. Some students who are pursuing higher education also face discrimination in all aspects, for instance, even if they are ready to pay rent, they were turned down by people. The upper caste people were unwilling to rent out their rooms to the Balmiki community and would rather keep their rooms empty than renting out to the Balmikis. The Balmiki community faces these kinds of isolations and humiliations in their daily life.
I was told by the teacher that these children engage in their own work and are not interested in studies which makes them irregular in attending classes. There are many such examples, like Sonu and Kajal who are studying in Subodha Shiksha pathshala (Bodh Shiksha Samiti). Both dropped-out in their third standard because they were asked by their school teacher to be in the school cleaning program since they belong to Balmiki community. These children always feel segregated at school, even if these children perform well in their studies they were always punished by their teacher. Their father works as a peon in another school and their mother is working in Nagar Nigam. Another example of discrimination faced by 14 year old Sitaram who stopped going to school because his father died four years ago and his mother is a daily wage labourer. Sitaram has four siblings but only two of his sisters are studying in 7th class and he works with his mother and they earn 100 or 150 rupees per day.
Only 40% of families sent their children to schools and few of them have privileges to avail some benefits from schools. Due to poor economic condition, most of the families are not sending their children to schools and many of the students drop out of schools to help their parents.The children were sent to school when financial aid was provided. Those who are economically sound (which is only a handful) send their children to private schools. Most of the parents think that there is no use in educating their children which is mainly due to their poor economic condition and poor quality of education. Educationally, only 1-2 students have done B.tech and M.tech. All children attend schools at least up to 10th class. In case of discrimination from other castes, it is not done openly but done subtly.
There are two religious spaces, namely Shiva temple and the other is of local deities. Girls after they are 18 years of age are married off. Dowry exists but it is not mandatory and they accept love marriages easily. Women take decisions in the family but not at an equal stake with men.
Unemployment among the Balmiki community is very high and widows are not getting pensions. Most of the discrimination is found to be towards women. And alcoholism is high which affects the family. There are problems of toilet facilities because most of the families are without toilets in their houses that makes them depend on public toilets. There are only two toilets in a locality due to which women face a lot of problems. People of Balmiki community are discriminated in private jobs too. People are often superstitious and are strongly in opposition of contract system in sweeping.
To conclude this survey, I have observed from my study that Balmiki community is a highly discriminated community in various ways in the society. The impact on the educational level is low in this community and they cannot pursue education due to structural reasons including access to basic rights like food, home and health. They are poor families who are denied social mobility and are highly discriminated in their own occupation. When they attempt to avoid discrimination by leaving the scavenging work, the society refuses to accept them. However, in comparison to their earlier days, their living conditions may have marginally improved. But as they are being deprived of their basic rights as humans, their right to education being affected by persisting discrimination in schools, it is difficult to make their voice heard or for doing well in their jobs. These are constitutional rights but in reality these rights have not been implemented at the ground level.
Anju Devi is a Phd scholar in Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies JNU, and an activist of BAPSA.