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Facing bullying, Irula children quit schools

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Taunted by terms like “rat-eater” and made to sit at the back of class, separated from the other children, Kavita Kishore finds these children at home, when they ought to be in school

Miserable lotChildren of the Irula colony, at Abhishekapakkam in Puducherry, who are forced to stay at home from school as they were discriminated against by other students, teachers—Photo: T. Singaravelou
Miserable lotChildren of the Irula colony, at Abhishekapakkam in Puducherry, who are forced to stay at home from school as they were discriminated against by other students, teachers—Photo: T. Singaravelou

A visit to the Irula colony near Bahour or the one in Abhishekapakkam will reveal the scene of a number of children playing throughout the day. These children, at one time, sought to study in the local government primary school, but now they sit at home without any desire to go back to school.

“After much struggle, a group of us managed to put our children in school and hoped that they would study and lead better lives than us, but now we realise that the dream will not come true,” one of the women explains.

These children started school, but once they actually went to school reality hit them. The children at the school were unwilling to talk to them.

Even the teachers would treat them differently. They were taunted with the term “rat-eater” and were made to sit in the back of the class, separated from the rest of the children.

Many of these children put up with the taunting for a while, but soon they gave up. Although there were still a few of the Irula children who put up with this treatment and continue to go to school, the ones that were shy refused to continue attending after a certain point, the women said.

They had even tried to approach the school authorities, but they were sent away without their case being heard. However, a teacher in the school, when contacted, said, “There is no formal complaint, even though we have heard of such incidents”.

This is only the plight of the children that have gotten admission.

No admission

Unfortunately, there are quite a few children who do not obtain admission to schools at all. Since many of the Irula children do not have birth certificates or any documentation, many schools refuse to accept them, an Irula woman said.

Unfortunately, this sort of differential treatment is not only in the case of Irula children.

In several urban schools, when there is violence against children, it is rarely reported. Often the children themselves have been asked not tell anyone and are threatened to keep their silence.

In other cases, the parents are afraid that their child’s education will be affected so do not report it, an official from the Education Department told The-Hindu .

It is only when such cases are reported can the Department take any action, he said. However, many people hesitate to approach the Department.

The Department is currently undertaking the task of setting up the Right to Education Protection Authority (REPA), where parents and students can register their complaints, the official said.

REPA to be set up

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, the rules for which were notified in the Union Territory in September 2011, calls for the setting up of the REPA till such time as the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights is set up.

Till now, however, the authority has not been set up.

According to the rules, REPA will comprise three persons, including a chairperson who is either a “person of high academic repute”, or has been a High Court Judge, or has “done outstanding work for promoting the rights of children”.

Once REPA is set up, they will be able to address issues such as discriminatory bullying by fellow students, where children are ragged or bullied based on their gender, caste or community.

They will also address issues where teachers are found inadequate and where the RTE is not adhered to properly, the official said.

REPA will also have the power to initiate remedial measures and work with the Education Department to ensure that they are implemented.

The file is currently with the government, but the Department hopes to set up REPA before the end of April, since the government needed to file a progress report to the Planning Approval Board of the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan by April 16.

Until such time that the REPA is set up, the parents and general public should take the initiative to file complaints with the Education Department, since these issues will not come to light until complaints are filed, the official said.

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