Kerala School Struggles to Break Caste Barriers
Kerala has the highest literacy rate among the states of India. But like the rest of the country, it has not been able to break caste barriers and a school in the northern district of Kozhikode displays this point. The Government Welfare Lower Primary School in Perambra village has become a Dalits only school. Because other communities in the village have stopped sending their children there, nothing has changed for good at the Government Welfare L P School, Perambra. Even after starting an LKG section and providing the best amenities, including a pedagogy park and a smart classroom, the school remains “untouchable” for the civil society. Thirty scheduled castes Sambava (Paraya) live in the Chermala colony situated near the school, but there are upper caste Nair, Nambiar and Thiyya (OBC) families residing near the school too. Most of the residents of the colony are daily wage workers who earn around Rs 500 a day. No non-Dalit student has studied in the school during the last 15 years.
A teacher of the government welfare school said, “The upper caste parents told us that they don’t want their kids to sit with the Parayas”. Headmaster Raghudas Tettiyil said, “The school has a very good infrastructure. Despite that, people don’t wish to send their children to this school. There are only 15 students in the school and all of them belong to SC category. No upper caste child has studied here in the last 15 years even though we have tried our best to increase the strength.”
The discrimination seen in the school is merely an extension of the ostracizing practised in other aspects of village social life, according to the school teacher. The Paraya colony itself is being ostracized. None of the other caste neighbours invite them for weddings or other functions. These people are not included in any of the social activities in the locality, the teacher says.
Children from the colony are quoted saying that classmates and others insult them by calling their caste name, Paraya. Kerala had a very unpleasant past where frantic caste and religion based discrimination and untouchability was practised. Even now, these problems persist. 99 percent of Sambavas said that they would be insulted by their caste name (Paraya) by others. “This does not just affect the children; if you are born in a lower caste family, you will always be segregated from society. No matter how many changes occur, this unjust practice of casteism remains. Upper caste members will insult you calling your caste name. They will discriminate against you as your skin colour is dark and your language has a different accent,” says one resident of the Chermala colony.
Headmaster Raghudas Thettiyil – Govt Welfare L P School, Perambra
Students from the Chermala Sambava colony are untidy, they have many diseases since they live in an unhygienic environment. This is also a reason why parents are hesitant. Recognizing the manner in which poverty causes Paraya children to give up their studies, Headmaster Raghudas Thettiyil and others have worked hard over the last ten years to ensure that the children stay and study.
The concept of social justice still remains. A myth to the downtrodden castes and groups. In the absence of equality, national integration of the country will never be strong. Article 46 of the Constitution of India provides special care to the educational and economic interest of the weaker sections. But these constitutional provisions also have not been able to bridge the gap between the upper castes and scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and the general population.
by Athira G R