Women sarpanches in Rajasthan keep a sharp eye to ensure that girls do not drop out of the education system
Despite the Right to Education Act, 1000s of children across Rajasthan are deprived of their basic right to schooling; but some women sarpanch leaders have taken it upon themselves to ensure that dropouts decrease and girls attend classes.
When Sharvan Lal, member of the village monitoring committee visited Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Bhadsiya village, 115 kilometers from district headquarters Nagaur in Rajasthan, he saw girl students lugging heavy buckets of water from a hand pump outside the compound to the kitchen. On his second visit too, he saw girls carrying buckets of water instead of attending classes.
When there were two officially appointed mid day meal workers in the school, why were the students working, he wondered. He approached the principal Shailesh Tripathi, who took offence and dismissed his query, terming it an 'interference' into the school's 'internal matters'.
The next day he informed other members of the committee at the panchayat office, prompting the sarpanch Radha Devi to visit the school, where students discreetly told her and other members that the principal had fixed one day for each one of them to fetch water. Those who didn't like doing the chore would skip school on the day allocated to them. Asha, a student of Class 11, told the sarpanch that she didn't want to fetch water, but could not gather the nerve to refuse “lest principal ma'am should fail us in the exam".
When the reports were verified by another member, Munni Devi, Radha Devi told the principal in no uncertain terms that the panchayat would be forced to take action against her if the practice was not stopped forthwith. The pressure worked and now none of the 129 girls enrolled in the school in Bhadsiya are made to do any non-academic work. Absenteeism has also decreased.
This is just one of the many ways in which Radha Devi has ensured that the brought down the dropout rate in the three institutions under the panchayat and increased enrolment.
Says the dynamic sarpanch, who has herself studied only up to Class Five, "I realise the importance of education. The government is doing so much for education so it becomes our duty to make sure that nothing comes in the way.
Radha talks about six girls from her village who dropped out due to their families migrating to brick kilns for work. Ensuring that their education did not take a hit was an uphill task for her.
Initially, the girls were put into a bridge course and later moved into regular classes.
Helping Radha in protecting the girl child’s right to education is the Delhi-based Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), an international centre for learning and promotion of participation and democratic governance. As part of a three-year initiative on Strengthening Gender Responses of Panchayats in Rajasthan (SGRPR), the organisation is working with local self government bodies in some districts.
Like in Bhadsiya, in Ekran gram panchayat in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district, sarpanch Anguri Devi has been working hard to keep girls in school. When Anguri went through the enrolment figures for 2012-13, she noticed that girls clearly constituted a smaller percentage of students – of the total 389 children, only 170 were girls. What was even more disturbing to her was the fact that most of them did not attend school regularly.
When Anguri made further inquiries, she found out that the fear of being teased and harassed was keeping the girls away.
As a first step, Anguri asked her son, Saheb Singh, to identify the boys who were misbehaving, and warned them of action. But when that didn't seem to help, she threatened them with rustication and also decided to speak to their families. The intervention worked.
"These may seem like small steps," says Nishu Kaul, programme officer, PRIA, "but they are very significant particularly as they indicate that the panchayats in patriarchal Rajasthan are actually working towards promoting an equal and safe environment for women."
(Women’s Feature Service)