The free and compulsory education is one of the constitutional rights of children and the ‘state’ is duty bound to realize it. The centre and state governments provide free textbooks, uniforms, midday meals, scholarships and other facilities to the poor children for ensuring their right to education, who cannot afford for it.
But when the children of Utkramit Madhya Vidhyalay, Chandipur of Bokaro district in Jharkhand are denied these rights, they started unending resistance against the authorities. Consequently, their voices were heard by them.The problem of unavailability of the textbooks in time had begun with the introduction of the CBSE curriculum in 2002. Though the state government had declared for providing free textbooks to the children up to class eight but it never fulfilled the promise. The children did not get books in 2003, the books reached to schools in the month of November in 2004 and the session passed away without books in 2005. There was a copy write dispute between the state government and the NCERT consequently students received books during their final exam in 2006. In 2007, again the children were provided books in the month of October and finally children are kept waiting for books in 2008. This situation created anxiety in children of Chandipur School.
A Child Right organization “DHARA” had organized “Bal Sansad” (Children’s Parliament) in the district on June 13, 2008 where the children discussed about the issues of unavailability of textbooks, midday meals, scholarships and bicycles. Following the decisions, a delegate of 15 children in leadership of Vinod Kumar (12), Kartik Kumar (13) and Raju Kumar (10) of Chandipur School met Alku Das the Block Education Officer (BEO) of Kasmar on June 20, who assured them for providing book on July 15 as per the order of Bandhu Tirkey the Education Minister of Jharkhand. But when the books did not reach to the school, the delegation again met to the BEO in his office on July 16. The BEO was upset during the discussion and threatened children for throwing them behind the bars. He said, “Stop politics and get back to school otherwise I’ll throw you behind the bars”. This incident added fuel in children’s anger. They decided to go for unending resistance till they get the books.
After going back from the block office, children mobilized their classmates and lock the main gate of the school. They started shouting slogans “Bhikh Nahi, Adhikar Chahiye” (we demand our rights not charity) and “Khichdi Nahi, Kitab Chakiye” (we need books not mixed-rice). The children’s agitation continued for four days. The head teacher of the school Durga Das Mahto also threatened them for expelling from the school. He told them, “Stop agitation and get back to your classes otherwise I’ll give you red TC (transfer certificate)”.
Another key person Bhagwat Mahto the chairperson of the ‘Village Education Committee’, who is responsible to ensure midday meals in school, put pressure on children and convinced their parents for asking their children to call off the agitation. Consequently, the parents did not support their kids’ demands. It’s also because the children are not recognized as a stakeholder in the society and assumed that they will always take the wrong decisions. But the members of “Mahila Samiti” were quite aware about the genuine issues raised by children therefore they backed them. The chairperson of the Samiti, Basanti Devi says, “It’s a shame for us that parents did not support their children’s demand. They are not even able to think that how their children can study without books?”
The children’s resistance pressurizes the District Superintendent of Education Shivnarayan Sah to resolve the issues. He visited to the school on July 22. He requested children to open the locked gate and conducted a meeting in the school premises with children, parents and teachers. He listened to the children’s complaints. A student leader Vinod Kumar put forward the complaints by saying that the children were abused by the BEO when they had gone to his office for books, the scholarship has been stopped for last three years, girls’ children are not given bicycles and the mid day meals are also not being served properly.
The DSE was furious after hearing the complaints. He took action against the head teacher Durga Das Mahto and transferred him. He dissolved the Village Education Committee and ordered for formation of a news committee within a week. He also ordered for providing books immediately and distributed five sets of books to the children of class eight. He also ordered for an investigation on the matter of scholarship and distribution of bicycle to girls children. He said, “the officers will be punished if found guilty”. The block education officer Alku Das apologize to the children in front of the DSE and pleaded for giving him one more change to re-correct his mistakes. According to the DSE, the problems arose due to inaction of the BEO and the head teacher of the school. “They did not do their job and also failed to reported me”, he said.
The children were inspired to play the role of elders by the activists of “DHARA” through various training programmes, where they are being taught about their rights recognized by the United Nation Convention on Rights of the Child 1989, which the Government of India has ratified on 12 November 1992. Children leader Vinod Kumar says, “We learn about our rights – survival rights, right to development including right to education, participation and protection”.
According to Jeevan Jagarnath the director of DHARA, they form “BAL AKHRA” (children group) in every village; carry out various training camps, organize BAL SANSAD, cultural programmes and conduct exposure visits for children, where they learn about their rights, issues and redressal mechanism. “We are committed to realize the child rights, which are promised by the government of India through the various documents”, he said. “We had made an appeal to the parents to think about it and act accordingly but instead of parents, the children took action which is a good sign for the future”, he added.
The successful campaign of children for books has inspired the children of other schools in the district. The children of Baraikala and Baraikhurd middle schools have also started agitations in demand of books and other facilities in the schools. Bablu Kumar (10) of Utkramit Madhya Vidhyalay, Baraikhurd says, “We will also go for agitation if the books are not given by the end of July”. There are 44058 government and government aided schools in Jharkhand and 1740 schools are in Bokaro district but none of them has received the textbooks though four months have already passed. On the other hand, the textbooks are also not available in the market. In these circumstances how the right to education of children will be realized?