54 children eligible for primary schooling from these families prefer private schools

Across the country, doors of even private schools are set to open for the weaker sections, thanks to the Right to Education Act, but here is a government primary school run by a local body in Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu that does not have a single Dalit student.

Even though there are Dalit communities in areas such as Pachayankadu and Therukkukadu near Vedaranyam, their children keep away from the school.

Until the mid-1980s, Dalit children from these two habitations were being enrolled in the Panchayat Union Government Primary School at Pachayankadu, but alleged discriminatory treatment led to their en masse withdrawal in protest, says Birla Thangadurai, grandson of one of those who led the protest then.

“We only go to cast our votes in that school,” Birla Thangadurai, a resident and a member of the district committee against bonded labour.

The ward has over 100 Dalit families in the Scheduled Caste colony here, but 54 children eligible for primary schooling from these families are studying in private schools in adjoining villages.

When the children were pulled out from the panchayat union school, it was a private school run by a caste Hindu that opened its doors to them, but until today, they stay away from the panchayat union school located in their midst.

“To my knowledge, there were several Dalit students in early eighties, but none since then,” says Ponazhagan, a retired VAO.

“But, I am not aware of any overt discrimination, perhaps there were no committed teachers to ensure enrolment of Dalits since then,” he says.

Acknowledging the absence of Dalit students for years, Anbazhagan, Headmaster of the Panchayat Union Primary School, said he hoped to enrol at least 10 students in the coming academic year by canvassing in Dalit colonies.

‘A travesty'

“It is a travesty not to have a single Dalit enrolled in a government school, irrespective of one's memories of discrimination,” says Mr. Thangadurai.

He would like to see his five-year-old daughter join the Panchayat Union School.

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