Equity by design

Arundhati Tulpule

The class 9 subjects of political science of the Maharashtra State Board – social service and personality development – aim to introduce society and societal elements to the students. For this purpose, we, at Aksharnandan school, use a variety of tools including communication with a not-so-close classmate, visits to slums and other residential colonies, watching relevant films, listening to talks, discussions with guests at school and public reading of relevant articles. These activities introduce the students to those sections of the society, to some extent, which are outside their immediate environment. However, this might not be enough to enhance their understanding and sensitize them to various social realities, for instance of individuals with different social status facing problems in living with dignity. To sensitize them to such realities, we undertook the following project in our school. This particular project* facilitated discussion on reducing inequality. The project was first conducted by Shri Milind Chavan, a social activist, with the class 9 students and teachers. The positive outcome from this exercise led us to conduct it every year with class 9 students.

The preparation for this project consists of two parts.

Part 1: To create 25-30 different role chits representing individuals in all sections of the society.

Some of the roles are listed below –

  1. You are a woman of 23. One leg is affected by polio. Your father is a potter. You are educated till class 10 and are now in search of a job.
  2. You are a woman of 22. You are born to supposedly upper caste parents and are a graduate. Your parents are employed in high designations. You aim to acquire further education. (The students should be made aware of the following fact – according to the Constitution of India, discrimination on the basis of caste is prohibited. The references mentioned are to make students realize social reality.)
  3. You are a man of 21, a tribal. Your family has migrated due to land acquisition for a dam project. You live alone in a small city and work as a labourer.
  4. You are a man of 20. Your family is rich. You are studying engineering in a private college in the city. Your father is a police officer.
  5. You are a woman of 25. You have been married for seven years into a wealthy farmer family. You are educated till class 12. You do not have a child yet.
  6. You are a man of 20. You are born to parents of nomad-tribe caste. Your parents did not have formal education. You are enrolled in a college and are eligible for scholarship.

These roles should be representative and a mix of male/female, highly educated, moderately educated, deprived of school education, dalits/upper castes, married/divorced/estranged, occupation – farmer/job/business/rural/urban/physical disability.

Part 2: Create a questionnaire of around 20-25 YES/NO questions. Sample questions as follows –
1. Can you appear for UPSC/MPSC exams?
2. Can you pay Rs 2 lakhs as fees for your college education?
3. Do you get enough food daily?
4. Do you have access to the Internet and email?
5. Are you free to come and go out of your home at any hour?
6. Can you buy a mobile costing Rs 10,000?
7. Can you vote as per your wish in the elections?
8. Can you purchase and wear the clothes you wish to have?
9. Can you choose your partner as per your wish?
10. Can you put your thoughts assertively in a meeting?
11. Will you be eligible for a loan of Rs 1 lakh?
12. Do you have access to a daily newspaper?
13. Do you go for a walk in the evening with your friends?
14. Can you work in a three-shift job?
15. Can you afford to travel by air?
16. Can you save a designated amount every month?
17. Can you afford to buy enough fruits for yourself and your family?
18. Can you afford a costly surgery?
19. Will you be protected from sexual violence?
20. Can you get a job in a foreign country?
21. Can you decide on the number of children you want?
22. Can you contest in a village level or ward-level election?

About the activity:

  1. Arrange the students along a line in the middle of the hall/ground so that they can move backward/forward.
  2. Distribute the role-chits to the students individually or in groups of two.
  3. Give students time to understand their roles as mentioned on the role chit.
  4. In the beginning, all students face in one direction. The ‘treasure’, which is a box of opportunities like good education, good livelihood, good healthcare etc., is at the end of the room, in the same direction the students are facing.
  5. The teacher reads the questions one by one. Students have to decide YES or NO for each question. If the answer is yes, they move one step forward. If the answer is no, they move one step back.
  6. After all the questions have been asked, the students would have been placed at different points in the hall/ground. The teacher then asks them to run to the ‘treasure’.
  7. The ones near the ‘treasure’ will get there sooner than the ones further away.

Processing:
After the activity is done, gather the students for processing the activity. Give them a copy of the questionnaire. Ask them to count the number of times they said yes and the number of times no. The child that has the most number of yes answers will read out their role loudly. The teacher will write their common characteristics on the board. Similarly, ask the students who have got the least number of yes answers to read out their role loudly. The teacher will write their common characteristics too on the board. The maximum YES group characteristics will most likely be – male, wealthy, parents at high designations, supposedly upper caste, etc. The minimum YES group characteristics will have females, tribals, poor, first-generation formal education, estranged, dalits.

Then the teacher can conduct discussion on inequality. After that, she can lead the discussion on how we can tackle inequality at the students’ level. Our experience is that students realize what group (privileged or unprivileged) they belong to. They also realize that a life of dignity is denied to many because of lack of opportunities or circumstances which cause lack of opportunity. They come to know about the different levels of under-privileged sections. For example, women, dalit women, poor dalit women, lonely poor dalit woman, ill and lonely poor dalit woman.

The discussion can also lead to the efforts that are being made at various levels to reduce this inequality.

Responses of students
Following are the responses we received from our students after the project –

  1. Through the activity taken today, we discussed reservation and the need for it. We could see that reservation is needed for some deprived sections of the society – dalit, women, transgender, poor. – Mihir and Arinjay
  2. The discussion on reservation led us to understand questions like what reservation is, why it is needed and who should be the beneficiary. Reservation is given after thinking on criteria like social and economical status, gender roles and castes. The activity game made us realize societal structure. – Harshada and Priyanka
  3. I earlier thought that reservation is injustice to upper-class and middleclass people. But through the discussions, I realized that reservation is not only caste-based but also given to women, people with disability and senior citizens. Therefore, I understood the definition of reservation and the criteria for reservation. – Sourabh and Sahil
  4. We had seen different kinds of people but we had not realized that among those might be people who are deprived of comforts and necessities. – Mugdha and Shalmali
  5. Through the activity game, we realized that upper-classes in the society get many comforts without a lot of effort. While, some sections and women cannot avail the opportunities due to inadequate income, there are many schemes for them but the schemes do not reach them because of circumstances or illiteracy. – Himani and Rahi
  6. We thought reservation was a very complex concept. We had many questions about reservation. We had not understood the need for and importance of reservation. Through the activity and discussion we realized that for the result to be just, all players should start from one point. But we have many differences in our country – caste, gender, economic status, etc. Those with higher caste and higher economic status can progress even when they lack skills. – Tapan and Omkar
  7. When we talk of reservation, we see deprived sections of the society. The upper class has money whereas the lower class has reservation. But, what about the middle class? This question continuously arises in our mind. – Purva and Mrunmayee
    The poor and lower castes have reservation and the rich can give donation. What about the middle class? – Nikhil and Vedang

Note: The article was originally written in Marathi and has been translated into English by Dhananjay Muli, a software engineer by profession and a volunteer at We, The People Abhiyan.

The author has been associated with Aksharnandan school, Pune for 21 years. She worked as a mathematics and history teacher. As an academic coordinator she has tried to enrich teaching – learning process with experiential activities. She can be reached at tulpulearundhati@gmail.com.

*This project has been inspired by ‘Privilege Walk’, an activity designed by a teacher in Australia. You can see how this activity is done on YouTube.