The wooden door of Surekha Rathod’s house is held together by small strips of coloured ribbons. This is no decoration. Some days ago, Surekha’s drunken father, who was locked out, tried to break in with an axe and sliced off the door. “I had a narrow escape, even though I was inside the house,” says her mother, Sunanda.
“My husband drinks all day and gets very abusive. As a result, I have to send my daughter too to work to run the family.”
A school dropout, Surekha, 13, has been working as labourer for the past few years. She has no hope of going back to school. Her father has ensured that. Her two siblings are in Standard III.
“There is no one to help me and even though my neighbours are all my relatives, they don’t say a word in my support,” says Sunanda. There is no question of her seeking police help and no one at Mardi (Tivsa taluk) has heard of the Domestic Violence Act.
Sarpanch Indutai Rathod says the entire village tried to enforce a ban on drinking alcohol but it did not work. Most of the people who live here are from the Adivasi and nomadic tribes. “It is very difficult to get them to send their children to school,” she explains. Surekha’s family owns no land and she sells firewood for Rs. 50 a day if she does not get any other work.
Eleven-year-old Akash too does not go to school. He has studied up to Standard VII.” I do odd jobs in the village. My mother is ill all the time and father drinks all day,” he says. His sister Jayshree (14), also works for daily wages. Now she is helping neighbours build their houses. Akash and his family migrate to other cities for work. Already, many children from this village have gone to other places with their parents. Though his family has four acres of land , it is not very productive. “We have tried to tell Akash’s father to stop drinking but he does not listen,” says the sarpanch.
Teachers also to blame
It is not only the abusive parents but teachers also cause children to drop out. Nitin Jimte from Mardi is keen on going back to school. “I dropped out in Standard VI because my teacher used to beat me up.” His father is a peon in a nationalised bank and owns three acres of land.
At Malegaon, also in Tivsa taluk, Prahlad Adsad, who is on the local Child Protection Committee, says 71 children are out of school in the village.
There is a large Bharadi community here which is nomadic. Its members travel around for six-eight months a year, taking their children with them. Saku Sawant‘s husband is a well known astrologer. Yet the family, which owns six acres, has to live a nomadic existence. “Rain is scanty, and there is no work in the village. So all of us have to travel,” she says.
The community has visited almost all parts of the country. “Our men are good at astrology and at advising on birthstones depending on the “rashi.” The women do hard work,” says Saku. “About sixty people and 25 children have already migrated for work,” says Tanaji Shinde.
“I too will leave in a few days. The children cannot pursue their studies unless they are put in hostels,” he says. In fact, the community has been making a strong demand for hostels where they can leave their children while they go for work.
Asha Sawant has two sons and a daughter. They will never go to school, she says. Her husband Ramesh migrates every year for work and the whole family travels with him.
In Amravati district, there are 6,000 members of the Phase Pardhi community, a Scheduled Tribe, who are demanding rights to common grazing land. At Pardhi Beda (hamlet) at Shirpur village in Nandgaon taluk, there is one school with classes up to Standard IV. The hamlet is two km from the main village and the road non-existent. The teacher comes at will and students study at the most for an hour a day, if they are lucky.
There is no anganwadi here and it is difficult for small children to go to Shirpur. Most children work on the fields nearby. Bandu Pawar, a Standard IX dropout, says the entire hamlet migrates for work. Girls are not sent to school and even if they pursue education it is mostly up to the primary level like 12-year-old Kiran, who works for daily wages now. Among a community of 400 people, there are four boys in high school.
The entire district is plagued by child labour and migration for employment. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is non-existent here and the frequent excuse the administration gives is that people do not want work.
For the impoverished people, it makes little difference that the President of the country hails from Amravati.