The margins of the society: a spotlight

Anjali Noronha

January is the month we celebrate Republic Day. January is also the month of the birthdays of two iconic women teachers – Savitribai Phule and Fatima Sheik, who dedicated their lives to educate women, girls, and boys of the deprived communities. As we acknowledge and celebrate these two occasions, let us take a moment to reflect how far we have come as a country in terms of educating the less privileged among us.

At the time of independence, the education of girls, especially girls from the deprived classes and castes, was not accepted as the norm. Beginning with only 9% literate women in 1947, female literacy rates have grown to 77% in 2023. There remains a gender gap though with male literacy at 84.7%. However, the gross enrollment ratio (GER) of girls has overtaken that of boys in elementary and secondary education in all categories – average, SC, and ST – by 2011-12 and remains so till date. The dropout rates, however, increase substantially with the level of education, from about 1% in primary education to about 15% in secondary education, with girls having a slightly higher dropout rate at higher levels. This decreases their access to higher education.

While the scheduled caste indicators are around the overall average rates, the scheduled tribes are much worse in all indicators, except gender parity. Their enrollment rates in secondary, higher secondary, and higher education are 10-15% lower than the overall and SC rates. Similarly, their dropout rates are 3 to 7% higher than the overall rates and 2 to 5% higher than the scheduled castes. This means that fewer boys and girls of the scheduled tribe communities reach secondary and higher education and therefore are unable to access better economic opportunities.

Unlike the publication of category-wise GER till 2018 by UDISE (Unified District Information System for Education), there was no separate data published for Muslims as a group until 2018. Post 2018, some data on Muslim enrollment as a percentage of overall enrollment has been published. It shows that both Muslim girls and boys are participating in education at all levels at the percentage of their population. We, don’t, however, know whether all their children are in schools.

The de-notified tribes – the Pardhis, Banjaras, Gadialohar, Kanjars, Bahelias – are the most deprived sections of the society and their participation as a separate category has not been tracked. They are mostly nomadic and their livelihoods rendered illegal due to various Forest Acts since the British rule. They were notified as criminals by the Criminal Tribes Act 1871, but were de-notified as criminal tribes in 1952. Since then, they have been called de-notified tribes or DNTs. However, they have been listed in the Habitual Offenders Act (HOA) of 1952 and continue to be harassed, especially by the police. They form no cohesive category – their enumeration is under different categories in different states and districts – SC, ST, or OBC, and sometimes even in the general category of the otherwise privileged! It is only in the past two decades that they have got some attention and various schemes like dedicated hostels to help them access education and livelihood programmes are being unveiled to aid this community.

Women and Dalits have made great strides in school education in the eight decades after independence, particularly in access and participation. What Savitribai Phule and Fatima Sheikh began seems to be coming to fruition because of the many special provisions, like free cycles for girls or scholarships for Dalits, given by the constitution and implemented by successive governments.

While all communities are educating their children, the society at large is still oblivious to the many stigmas and challenges that exist for these less privileged communities. The articles we have featured in this issue of Teacher Plus narrate the experiences of people from these marginalized communities. Their experiences show how each story of educational development has a support system behind it, whether in the form of a social organization, family, or youth group. The spotlight is small, but we hope that these articles will generate some interest in the situations of these communities and goad us as a society to work towards their upliftment.

All data mentioned above has been taken from Educational Statics at a glance – Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of School Education and Literacy 2018 and UDISE Report 2020-21 – Government of India, Department of School Education and Literacy.

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