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India: Education is our right

Maths lesson

The train journey from Delhi to Jaipur was quite different from British rail – it left on time, tea and biscuits were served followed by breakfast.

We all lugged our cases up and down stairs refusing help from the porters and then discovered that for 40 ruppees (60p) we could have had porter service – such Scottish thrift.

Slums stretched for miles along the embankment – practically on top of each other. Stretches of farm land would come into view with women crouched in the fields working.

Small stone and shack farm holdings were dotted here and there. Slums blocks were frequent sights where people had been resettled. I was now familiar with the idea that poverty had different levels in India – all unacceptable.

Driving in Jaipur is horrendous with the horn blaring all the time as cars, autorickshaws, motor bikes,trucks and everything else compete for a space to overtake. 

We visited a learning centre called Anganwad, and were met with the sound of loud drums and children singing. Beautiful floral garlands were draped round our necks and the red dot (tikk) dapped on our heads as a sign of welcome.

This centre deals with many health issues, care of pregnant women, basic education for 3-6 year-olds who are fed twice a day, preventative malnourishment, vaccinations and a safe place for children.

At the time of writing this, the one and only toilet in the village was not working and would not be fixed for another few months. There is no sanitation or running water in these villages.

The centre has recently opened and is hugely successful due to the commitment of the villagers and the system of collective working with a development committee who liaise with government officials to discuss issues.

We then drove to Tijara where we visited a Muslim school. Again the welcome was wonderful and white head shawls called Lubri were presented to us. This is Diwali and so schools are closed but every child and parent were there to greet us.

Again a local council in the village has been set. We witnessed this dialogue between the Principal, parents, teacher and pupil. The Council of parents and community worker had mobilised families to attend school.

A few years ago it would have been considered a crime to send girls to school. There are many myths which have hindered the Muslim community to realise the value of education but due to the empowerment of the school management committee a better education is possible.

The most frustrating aspect is that it is extremely difficult to employ good teachers for remote villages. Salaries for teachers are 1800 ruppees a month (£30). This is considered a really good salary but they do not wish to come to remote areas where they is no protection for them.

Nearby in another Muslim school, a children’s collective has been formed by the children and was chaired by an 11 year old boy called Sulin. They wanted a good teacher, so they went to the homes of children who were not attending school and persuaded them of the value of education. Girls are part of the group.

They were singing a song as we arrived and I felt very humble as the words were translated to me. “It’s our right – We are not begging – Education is our right – It’s our right – We will fight for it.”

They recognised their right and that the Indian government has decreed all children have this right to attend school to the age of 14 – interestingly child labour is not allowed under the age of 14. Accessing this right is a huge problem.

Sulin wanted to be a politician when he grew up – listening to this young boy of 11, I felt the seeds of hope.

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