In what reveals the persistence of caste-based segregation of children in primary schools in rural Karnataka, around 13.7 per cent of Dalit children surveyed in the State have claimed that their teacher had asked them to sit separately from ‘higher caste’ children in the classroom, says a study released by the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Mangalore University.

Released on October 18 here, ‘Discrimination and social exclusion: A study on the development experience of Dalits in Karnataka’ was spread over ten taluks in Belgaum, Gulbarga, Chitradurga, Mysore and Kolar — chosen for their socio-cultural diversity and their considerable Scheduled Caste population.

Over ten months ending in July 2011, the study enumerated the harassment and discrimination faced by 2,425 Dalit families or 12,677 people in 50 villages, of which 825 families have children going to primary school.

Interviews with members of Dalit households threw up the same disconcerting facts in all districts, and the study concluded that the “practice of untouchability by teachers” was responsible for the segregation.

Discrimination is also seen during midday meals, with around 114 families admitting that their children have had to sit separately during lunch and were served in a separate set of plates.

Researchers have observed that school authorities disallow Dalit children from serving food or entering the kitchen.

Shockingly, while 72.8 per cent of the parents interviewed said their children have never been appointed class monitors, nearly 33 per cent of the parents said their children have been given the task of cleaning classrooms on a “frequent” basis and “during school functions and festivals”.

Though the survey reports a lesser degree of discrimination among the students themselves, it notes that just 31.4 per cent of Dalit children had been extended invitations to their ‘upper caste’ friends’ houses.

“When the Dalit children go to these houses, only some have said they have been allowed into the house. Even if they enter, they are only allowed up to the passage of the house,” states the study.

Higher education

Illiteracy remains a problem for the Scheduled Castes in the visited villages.

At 45 per cent, illiteracy is higher than the national average.

Even among the Dalit literates, the “access to professional and higher education is very low”: of those who can “read and write”, only 12.6 per cent had completed pre-university level courses; less than 1.2 per cent had gone on to complete diplomas and industrial training courses.