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When the Indian Parliament passed the Right to Education Bill, mandating free and compulsory education for all children aged between 6 and 14, it was hailed as a landmark bill. No doubt, it is, but the government faces numerous challenges in the Bill’s successful implementation. Apart from the infrastructure of providing classrooms and teachers, the biggest challenge is how will the government bring the nearly 10 million children who are out of school back to school ?  I came across this interesting story of how youth in impoverished Indian communities lead the fight for Right to Education.

Orai, in the Bundelkhand region has a large ‘Dalit’ (downtrodden) population. Due to famine and drought, this region has experienced severe agrarian crisis. The region has very low literacy levels and high unemployment levels. Today, in this region where children have been denied schooling for generations, and where daughters were never sent to school, a spirited campaign launched by 21 year old Dalit student Kuldeep Kumar,( son of a mason, and studying for his Bachelor’s degree) aims at increasing literacy levels.

His organization, the Prayaas Jan Uthan Samiti, works with other groups, such as the Aasha Mahila Adhikar Manch and Dr B.R. Ambedkar Yuva Samaj Sudhar Samiti. Together they formed the Bundelkhand Dalit Manch (BDM), an umbrella body of Dalit NGOs which had the twin agendas of education and employment. Presently, there are nearly 35 organizations that work as part of BDM.

The area of our work was the tribal belt, where ignorance, disparity and discrimination were huge,” says Kuldeep. While Kuldeep personally visited 20 villages, his team ended up covering a whopping 103 villages! Instead of one, they visited three villages in a day with their message: Every child had a right to education. The team members found that many children had been denied school admission outright. Others were admitted but were not attending classes largely because of the caste discrimination they encountered, both from teachers and upper-caste students. Cattle grazed in the premises of many schools, and the dispensing of mid-day meals was irregular.

Kuldeep’s team decided to deal with the issues directly.

The children who were refused admission were handed Right to Education cards. They were told to show these cards to any school authority that denied them admission. Taking caste prejudices head on worked. Recalcitrant school officials found themselves cornered. In one instance, children demonstrated outside the home of an absentee teacher, holding placards that read, “Teacher, aao aur padho” (“Teacher, come and teach.”). When storerooms for the mid-day meal provisions were found locked, Prayaas members had them opened and ensured that meal schedules were followed. They left behind their mobile numbers so that they could be contacted if there were such disruptions again.

Female members of the team are in charge of motivating girls’ education, which they do by meeting the families and participating in public discussion forums. Read more of this story here.

What an excellent example of community service and responsibility demonstrated by the youth of Prayaas Jan Uthan Samiti!