breaking down the caste system, one book at a time

January 20, 2008

india.jpg

ny times did an article highlighting the dismal state of indian schools that is found among poor neighbourhoods where majority of the inhabitants are members of the lower caste. this reminds of the state of kenyan schools where economics and not merit are the determing factor on the type of education a child receives.

Sixty years after independence, with 40 percent of its population under 18, India is now confronting the perils of its failure to educate its citizens, notably the poor. More Indian children are in school than ever before, but the quality of public schools like this one has sunk to spectacularly low levels, as government schools have become reserves of children at the very bottom of India’s social ladder.

The children in this school come from the poorest of families — those who cannot afford to send away their young to private schools elsewhere, as do most Indian families with any means.

India has long had a legacy of weak schooling for its young, even as it has promoted high-quality government-financed universities. But if in the past a largely poor and agrarian nation could afford to leave millions of its people illiterate, that is no longer the case. Not only has the roaring economy run into a shortage of skilled labor, but also the nation’s many new roads, phones and television sets have fueled new ambitions for economic advancement among its people — and new expectations for schools to help them achieve it.

Besides economic markers, education has become the great divider among men where the 20% of those considered poor are illiterate. There are a couple of things that stood out for me that ring similar to the kenyan experience, because a large part of indian is agrarian, one sees that many kids are allowed to go to school for a certain period of time before they too are released to the working fields. unfortunately, to many parents, an extra pair of hands garnes a large produce which translates to a little more income coming in.

Due to the ingrained caste system that discriminates on the educaton system, Kancha Ilaiah has taken upon himself to write out this injustice by showing the importance of those thought of lower caste.

“This book is a weapon for India’s millions of low-caste children who are fighting for respect, just as African Americans did and do in the U.S.,” said Ilaiah, who also wrote the best-selling anti-caste book “Why I Am Not a Hindu.” “How do you change ancient prejudices in any society? You do it through repositioning caste at childhood. If young children are taught respect over a bedtime story or in class, that could help enormously.”

In the book, Ilaiah tries to highlight the achievements of low-caste workers.

“Weavers discovered how cotton is spun into cloth. Laundry men discovered the country’s first cleaning detergent and saved us from diseases,” he writes. “Farmers nurtured us with cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables. Why not respect those who produce our food?”

“There has actually never been a more important time to teach to the next generation that dignity for all labor is a human right,” Ilaiah said.

He is not without his critics who feel highlighting the inequalities with further breech and blur the distinctions of the caste system.

“There is no need to grill our kids on caste,” said Rattan Lal, 45, a member of the Brahmin caste who was shopping for books with his 13-year-old daughter. “Any kind of education about caste would only be dividing the country. It’s drawing too much attention to the issue in the first place.”

Shopping nearby, Anahita Singh, 33, who also hails from a higher caste, said she felt that the issues might be painful but that they had to be discussed. “I want my child to grow up as a balanced human being who should never pass judgment based on caste,” she said.

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2 Responses to “breaking down the caste system, one book at a time”

  1. Yaye Says:

    it’s really time we put those cast systems that divide emotionally our people away,it’s crazy how it affects the way we think,we socially advance , marry…
    it’s a practice that needs to disapear simply..
    great post:)
    life in dakar is interesting…lol
    yaye

  2. darkdaughta Says:

    Hi there, Nehanda,
    Thanks for popping by. I read this post in particular and thought about how unspeakable these dynamics are, not just in the colonial countries where they rot the minds, hearts and spirits of adults and children alike, but also here in north amerikkka where so many different experiences of caste based colonialism mingle among different immigrant populations. We come together, us wimmin in queer communities, in activist communities, in feminist communities, in arts communities with none of this stuff able to be spoken and vented.

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