Laudable youth initiative providing education to 'Dalits'
AT a time when children of Harijan, a community that largely serves our society as sweepers and cleaners, are stymied by gross discrimination, a group of youths has stepped forward to provide them with basic education. The Harijans are a kind of community who are under the sub-division of Sudra caste in Hindu society. The term "Harijan", meaning the "Children of God", was first used by Mahatma Gandhi to refer to the "Dalits" in 1932.
An online forum, "Gouripur Helpline" came up with the initiative in February this year. They picked a spot inside a kitchen market in Gohata area of Mymensingh's Gouripur upazila and started giving pre-primary education in English, Bangla and Mathematics to the local children of Harijan. The forum is comprised of 20 boys and girls, mostly college students, who believe that it is their social responsibility to do something for the neglected children of the minority community.
These children are not even allowed to sit beside their classmates in other schools. Such an adverse condition coupled with poverty forces them to drop out. The members of the forum have created a fund through small contributions. They also distribute biscuits and education materials among the children during classes.
India's caste system is among the world's oldest forms of surviving social stratification. The system which divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (the Hindi word for religion, but here it means duty) is generally accepted to be more than 3,000 years old. The system bestowed many privileges on the upper castes while sanctioning repression of the lower castes by privileged groups.
Often criticised for being unjust and regressive, it remained virtually unchanged for centuries, trapping people into fixed social orders from which it was impossible to escape. Despite the obstacles, however, some Dalits and other low-caste Hindus have risen to hold prestigious positions.
Historians, though, say that until the 18th Century, the formal distinctions of caste were of limited importance to Indians, social identities were much more flexible and people could move easily from one caste to another. New research shows that hard boundaries were set by the British rulers who made caste India's defining social feature when they used censuses to simplify the system, primarily to create a single society with a common law that could be easily governed.
Our neighbouring country India's constitution banned discrimination on the basis of caste, and, in an attempt to correct historical injustices and provide a level playing field to the traditionally disadvantaged, the authorities announced quotas in government jobs and educational institutions for scheduled castes and tribes, the lowest in the caste hierarchy, in 1950. But despite such legislative steps it is difficult to change the minds of people.