Why are ‘these’ people neither educated nor healthy ?

DSC01752.JPGQualitative data from women living in the SC colonies (Schedule caste/dalit/untouchable families live outside the ‘regular’ village) show that access to health and education is severely limited by a combination of factors.

These are excerpts from some of the people interviewed.

‘Our children used to drop out of the school and take care of animals. Children of other castes were getting educated. Our survey showed that almost 350 dalit children were not receiving education. People of the upper castes call the panchayat for a meeting and demand that our children should be refused entry into schools. Even if they did attend, they had to sit at the back or outside the classroom’  Dalit mother from a self help group, Karnataka

 ‘When I was studying in the government school,, we used to be punished for going late. Teachers used to treat us badly. If there was no place in the classroom, we had to sit outside. They used to hit us on our knuckles. We go late because the girls have to take care of the younger children and the boys have to take care of the cattle.’ 13 year old dalit girl, Raichur, Karnataka

 “Doctors never used to touch us. They treat rich and poor differently. They used to take bribes’  dalit activist, Karnataka

When the mid-day meal program was launched, a directive was passed that the cooks should be from the SC community. Aa dalit convert to Christianity, applied for the post of cook. This was followed by opposition from the forward castes in the village, In other parts of Karnataka,   there were 25 social boycotts , following application for the post by Madiga women. When social boycotts happen, the dalits are not given access to groceries, water, pounding mills, local transport or work. Social boycotts are a systemic and structural attempt to suppress any efforts by the dalit group to reassert and redefine their identities in an oppressive social structure. Any reason is enough to trigger a social boycott’  Lawyer, Karnataka

The ANM (auxiliary nurse midwife) doesn’t  visit our area to check mothers or children and  the anganwadis are located in the main village. We do not have access to them.’ Mother, SC colony Karnataka

Crain Souidien has published an article about education in India and how it is influenced by caste. He says “Educability – essentially a notion describing learning potential – is the most important means at the disposal of ‘Indian’ teachers to manage their relationships with children and their parents. In the discourse of educability in India, lower-caste children are habitually described as ‘ineducable’. Features of their home background and their caste status are naturalised as attributes that belong – sometimes congenitally – to lower-caste groups. This discourse is used to justify the discriminatory treatment teachers mete out to their SC learners”

Education and health outcomes in India are much poorer if one is from the SC/ST community.  While it is easy to blame ‘them’ for these outcomes, one also need to take an objective look at all aspects of this phenomenon.

Crain Souidien talks about how describing SC/ST children as ‘ineducable’ helps to perpetuate the dominance and mobilization of hegemonic values which the dalits and adivasi students need to adapt to and to adopt.

In the health arena, there is ample research evidence to show that poor health outcomes – malnutrition, maternal deaths, morbidity and mortality due to acute infectious diseases are much higher in this same SC/ST group.

In the health arena, policy makers and NGOs talk about ‘these people’ who have benefits and facilities which they don’t use. In a way the onus of not being healthy is put on the SC/ST groups. Common statements by public health professionals include ‘they don’t care about hygiene’,’ they prefer monetary benefits rather than social, education or health benefits’, ‘what can we do if they don’t care about their own education and health’

Sometimes, we (AND THAT MEANS YOU AND I) have mindsets – we grow up for the most part of our lives believing something. Maybe we were taught that the schedule castes and tribes are inferior, maybe its because we are told that we are superior and others are inferior – in education, in looks, in wealth, in talent, in smartness, in IQ..

Many of us may feel that a lack of opportunity means a lack of smartness. Maybe that feeling is ingrained in us. As long as we feel that way, there will be inequality in the world and those of us who ‘give’ education or health to others, will ALWAYS in inadequate and incomplete if our attitudes don’t change.


S. Balagopalan, ‘“Neither Suited for the Home nor for the Fields”: Inclusion, Formal Schooling and the Adivasi Child’, IDS Bulletin, 34, 1 (2003), 55–62.


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