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Education of Children and Civil Strife in Chhattisgarh

Satish Kumar (satishvoice01@gmail.com) is a research scholar at the Department of Social Work, University of Delhi.

This field study from Bijapur district of Bastar division, Chhattisgarh, ascertains the current status of participation of children from different social groups in elementary education and explores the specific factors caused by civil strife, based on interviews with and observations of children, parents, educational administrators and government functionaries.

The author would like to thank Sunita Chugh for her guidance throughout the conduct of this study and the anonymous referee for suggestions to improve the article.

Children are one of the worst affected groups in the ongoing civil strife in Chhattisgarh. More often than not, they get caught in the conflict between left-wing extremists and security forces (Human Rights Watch 2008). They are prone to attacks, injuries, abduction, recruitment, trafficking, intimidation, abuse and other forms of exploitation. Their right to education is often undermined by the concerns of survival and an overemphasis on law and order problems in these areas. In many cases, provisions of emergency relief do not include education, although it is a fundamental right of children and is regarded as an emergency relief measure (NCPCR 2012). Attacks on schools are common incidents in these areas. Furthermore, there are attacks on the education system, educational provisions, safe learning environment and equal opportunities and uniform conditions for success that the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009 and the National Policy on Education, 1992, guarantee all children aged between 6 and 14 years. These attacks pose several immediate challenges in achieving universalisation of elementary education and expansion of secondary education in these areas. The present article makes an attempt to ascertain the participation of children in elementary education in one of the worst civil strife-affected districts—Bijapur—of Chhattisgarh and explore the factors, caused by civil strife, that affect the education of children in schools.

Methodology

This study was conducted in Bijapur block, Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh. Bijapur district was carved out of Dantewada district in May 2007 and has been severely affected by civil strife since 2005.1 A high-level meeting, held in May 2014 to review the situation of civil strife in the country, has ranked Bijapur district amongst the top 10 worst civil strife-affected districts in India (Ministry of Home Affairs 2014: 26).2 This district has the lowest literacy rate (40.9%) in Chhattisgarh and the second lowest in India. The district is predominantly inhabited by the Scheduled Tribes (STs, 80%) and Scheduled Castes (SCs, 4%).

The study adopted an exploratory research design on specific factors of civil strife affecting children’s participation in schools and multistage sampling technique to select Bijapur block.3 A simple random sampling technique was employed to choose parents from one relief camp, and students and teachers from two Portakabin schools of the block. In addition, educational administrators and government functionaries (primarily the top leadership in governance structures) were interviewed. The study comprised 74 research participants, consisting of 23 children, 32 parents, 15 educational administrators and four government functionaries. Focus group discussions (FGDs) were held among girls and boys (separately) of Class 8, as also parents, teachers, educational administrators and government functionaries using separate semi-structured interview schedules for each. In addition, a non-participant observation method was employed to observe the activities of students in schools, the lifestyle of parents in the relief camp, in-class proceedings of teachers in schools, and reactions of educational administrators and government functionaries in ground situations. Enrolment and dropout-related data were collected from the district/block education office (Tables 1 and 2) and block resource centre (BRC) (Table 3, p 27), both of which are different centres of data collection and consolidation in Bijapur district and provide data on different variables.

Elementary Education

Children’s enrolment in elementary education reveals the progress made by the government to attain the universalisation of elementary education. It is also a potential indicator to measure the development of education in the concerned area. This study, therefore, collected enrolment data up to elementary level and analysed the participation of children from different social groups and the participation of girls both at primary and upper primary levels of education separately. The data shows a 10% drop in enrolment of ST children, and an increase of 3% and 7% in enrolment of SC and Other Backward Class (OBC) children respectively, from primary classes to upper primary classes in government schools of Bijapur block in 2015–16 (Table 1). In the case of girls, the enrolment gap between primary and upper primary levels remain at 8% and 4% respectively as compared to boys’ enrolment (Table 2). The overall enrolment data on elementary education indicates that more than half the children either drop out or discontinue in government schools after Class 5 and most of them are ST children.

Further data was collected from the Bijapur Block Resource Centre (Table 3) on dropouts and out-of-school children. There were altogether 7,590 children in the age group of 6–14 years in Bijapur block in 2015–16, 6,432 (84.7%) of who were currently enrolled in elementary classes.4 Of the total, 9% children were out of school, 5.9% dropped out from their respective schools and 0.2% migrated from their native villages to other places, probably due to the ongoing civil strife (Table 3). In total, 15.1% eligible children were unable to access schooling facilities in Bijapur block in 2015–16, despite the fact that around 30% villages in this area are out of the government’s reach, leaving thousands of children out of school.

The gender-wise classification of data indicates that out of 4,120 boys and 3,470 girls aged 6–14 years, 14.4% boys and 16% girls were out of the school system in 2015–16. Most of these boys were non-enrolled (9.1%) and dropouts (5%). Amongst girls, 9% were non-enrolled and 7% were dropouts. The primary data, particularly FGDs with boys and girls, revealed that boys are more likely to remain out of school because of (forced) migration to neighbouring states in search of livelihoods and girls are more vulnerable to drop out from schools, due to safety and security issues.

As this data is confined to the enrolment of children in government schools, a separate analysis of children in private schools is undertaken to ascertain the overall participation of children in elementary education in Bijapur block. Table 4 shows that while a relatively small proportion (2,336) are enrolled in private schools of Bijapur block in 2015–16, the enrolment rate nevertheless declines dramatically in the upper primary classes. It is just 28.8% of the total enrolment in primary classes. Of the total primary classes enrolment, ST’s share is just 50% (although they constitute 80% of the population), which points out a total of 33% decrease from 83% enrolment of STs in primary classes of government schools of the block in 2015–16. In respect of SCs, OBCs and others, the enrolment at the primary level has increased by 14%, 12% and 8% respectively. The percentage enrolment at the upper primary level indicates a marginal increase in the enrolment of STs and other communities and a slight decrease in the enrolment of SCs and OBCs from primary classes to upper primary classes of private schools in 2015–16.

The enrolment of girls in primary classes points to a gap of 10% in comparison to that of boys’ at the same level of education in 2015–16. The enrolment gap widens more at the upper primary level (16%) between girls and boys (Table 5).

Factors Affecting Participation

Enrolment and dropout-related data often fail to capture the qualitative impact of civil strife on the education of children. The study, therefore, lays emphasis on exploring the qualitative impact of civil strife on the education of children, which are as follows:

Destruction/closure of schools: Availability of school buildings is central to development of the education system. They reflect the efforts of the government to provide educational opportunities to all eligible population. In civil strife areas, left-wing extremists or andarwale (insiders)5 perceive these schools as state institutions to foster democratic values in children and as barracks for security forces to run combing operations against them. This becomes a motivation for the extremists to instigate attacks on schools. Educational officials and government functionaries told this author that extremists claim that their attacks on schools do not cause any disruption to children’s education. The oft-given reason is that they target only those schools which are occupied by security forces. However, parents categorically pointed out that extremists also attack or force villagers to destroy non-occupied schools, due to the fear of occupation by security forces in near future. Lack of information regarding the occupation of schools by security forces or closure of schools due to fear of extremist attack further deprives them of the opportunity to ensure alternative arrangement for the continuation of their children’s education.

Destruction/closure of schools not only deprives hundreds of children receiving an education but also reduces the attendance rates of both students and teachers in functional schools of adjacent areas where the school is destroyed/closed. This also results in the reduction of retention rate of currently enrolled children and the prospect of enrolment of new children in the next academic session.

Displacement of children: Since the launch of the Salwa Judum (an anti-extremist campaign) in June 2005 in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, a large number of people have been displaced to relatively safer areas, either within the district or adjacent districts of neighbouring states. Those who have been displaced within the district are given shelter in the makeshift relief camps installed at different places in the district and those who have shifted to border states like Andhra Pradesh have made their own arrangement for shelter. Camp residents report that neither the government/district administration nor the panchayat representatives took any step to ensure the continuation of education in the relief camp. As a consequence, almost every displaced child underwent at least a year-long academic gap—the year they fled from their native villages to the relief camp. Children could not appear in the final exam and are thus denied admission to the next class. This severely affected the continuation of education of displaced children. Lack of schools in the visited relief camp till 2011 meant that the children have undergone prolonged study gaps and some have naturally lost interest in seeking education, and thus, have remained unenrolled. Education of girls also receives low priority in the relief camp due to the engagement of girl children in domestic work and care of younger siblings. Educational administrators and government functionaries, during interviews, divulged that children who have been displaced with their families to the districts of neighbouring states face problems in getting admission in schools there, due to the lack of school-leaving certificates and change in the language of instruction.

Loss of academic records: The sudden eviction of communities due to the ongoing civil strife causes loss/damage of academic certificates of many children. This not only deprives many children from taking admission in schools but also forces children to repeat their previous grade/class. Children, during FGDs, reported that many of them did not have academic certificates of the last one or two years due to the damage/loss of certificates. They also reported that some of their friends, particularly of SC and ST communities, face denial of admissions in residential schools, due to the loss of caste certificates. Children who repeat their previous grade due to loss of academic records eventually become over-aged for their next grade, which causes a huge enrolment of overaged children in schools. This is evident from the data of Bijapur block, which points to the enrolment of a large number of overaged children in elementary education. The overwhelming presence of overaged boys in schools sometimes discourages parents from sending their young daughters to schools. The RTE, too, serves a limited purpose in this region. This is because it only covers the 6–14 age group population and excludes children aged 15 and above, while most of the children in civil strife-affected areas are late starters or repeaters and are, therefore, overaged for their age-appropriate class.

Disappearance of children: The disappearance of children is another cause of concern in civil strife-affected areas. This not only deprives many children of an education but also creates a culture of fear in the area. As a result, many parents are unwilling to send their children, particularly girl children, to schools. The interview with educational administrators and parents revealed various reasons for the disappearance of children in these areas. Most often, left-wing extremists abduct children to enrol them in armed cadres; if not, contractors take them to the neighbouring states as child labour. Sometimes parents voluntarily send their children, particularly older boys, to adjacent districts of border states to protect them from abduction by extremists and intimidation by the security forces. In addition, teachers cited indiscriminate killing and disallowance of identification of dead children by security forces under the banner of anti-extremist operations as another important reason for the disappearance of children in these areas. The abduction or disappearance of children ultimately results in the non-enrolment of eligible children in schools and restriction of children by parents from going to schools. It also instils a sense of insecurity among teachers who, as a consequence, perceive the regularity of school attendance as a threat to their lives. It discourages many teachers to take postings in these areas, particularly in interior-located schools.

Recruitment of children as SPOs: To retaliate against or counter left-wing extremists, Salwa Judum, a state-backed civilian vigilante group, recruited a large number of local youth and villagers. These recruits were termed as special police officers (SPOs), now known as assistant constables, by the Chhattisgarh government. A large number of children below the age of 18 years were also recruited, most of whom have now become legally adults. However, some of them are still underage. The field data reveals that out of 32 families interviewed under the study, 24 families had an SPO in their home. All of these 24 SPOs were incidentally male and eight of them have still not attained the age of 18 years (Table 6). Some SPOs intimated that this job was given to them as gainful compensation for the loss of livelihood due to relocation/displacement of families on the order of the state government. The study found that those families which did not have an SPO in their home were the families of the Mahar community—an SC sub-caste. However, the reason for not having any SPO in their families remained uncertain. The recruitment of children as SPOs has two major implications for their education in these areas. First, it keeps a large number of children out of school and second, it diverts interest from education because this is the only opportunity of employment in these areas.

Restriction on accessing secondary education: Not surprisingly, left-wing extremists sometimes restrict children from getting education after the completion of Class 8. They see children as productive warriors and a new generation of rebels to sustain their protracted armed struggle against the state. The chief reason for the restriction is the assumption that children educated up to elementary level are easier to persuade to join the armed cadres and be used as combatants to fight against the state. As a result, children of residential schools often do not want to return to their villages on holidays/summer vacations. Parents, too, do not want their children to come back home after the completion of elementary education. However, children pointed out that they do not have any alternative other than returning home because of lack of residential schools for secondary education and the exorbitant costs of higher education. It, thus, tends to lead low enrolment of children in secondary/higher education.

Conclusions

The analysis of the multifaceted dimensions of civil strife on the academic life of children insinuates that the right to education as well as the right to protection of children is strictly limited in areas of civil strife. The conflict-induced factors further aggravate the problem of educational poverty in these areas. Although these factors affect children from all social groups and across genders at each level of education, their effects are particularly severe on the enrolment of children of ST communities who are more likely to drop out after the completion of primary education. In these areas, boys are more likely to remain out of school due to forced migration to other places in search of livelihoods, while girls are more vulnerable to drop out from school due to safety and security issues. The exclusion of children from the education system increases their vulnerability of getting enmeshed in the conflict trap. Thus, there is a need to ensure that schools remain safe learning zones. It is also necessary to recognise that education is an important measure for conflict prevention and peace-building. Acknowledging this imperative role of education in the conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction efforts of the state will be the beginning of “conflict in reverse.” The government, therefore, must eliminate educational poverty in these areas of civil strife and recognise that conflict prevention is better and cheaper than conflict resolution.

Notes

1 At that time Bijapur was part of Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh. Due to high level of extremist incidents after the launch of Salwa Judum (an anti-Maoist campaign), it was bifurcated from Dantewada district to ensure operational efficiency.

2 The list of the 10 worst affected districts has been removed. However, the 2014 annual report of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India mentions, “a meeting of Chief Secretaries/Directors General of Police of all the left-wing extremism (LWE) affected states and the Directors General of Central Armed Police Forces was held under the Chairmanship of the Union Home Minister on 27.06.2014 to review the LWE situation in the country”…A meeting was held by the Additional Secretary (LWE) on 22.08.2014 with the Nodal Officers (Naxal Matters) of the 10 LWE affected states to review the operational issues related to LWE” (p 26).

3 Bijapur district has four developmental blocks, namely Bijapur, Bhairamgarh, Bhopalpatnam and Usoor. Of them, Bijapur block was selected based on four considerations: concentration of SC and ST populations, literacy rate of the block, extent of civil strife and seriousness of safety and security issue.

4 This marks a huge enrolment disparity of 5,207 students from a total enrolment of 11,639 (combined enrolment figure from government and private schools). The enrolment disparity was explained by educational administrators as the enrolment of a large number of overaged children in elementary education due to the cumulative effects of study gaps on account of the ongoing civil strife.

5 Local people in these areas colloquially call the left-wing extremists as andarwale (insiders) and the security forces as baharwale (outsiders).

References

Human Rights Watch (2008): “Being Neutral Is Our Biggest Crime: Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in India’s Chhattisgarh State,” Retrieved on 10 January 2016, https://www.hrw.org/reports/2008/india0708/india0708web.pdf.

Ministry of Home Affairs (2014): “Annual Report,” New Delhi: Government of India.

NCPCR (2012): “Education as Emergency Relief: Bal Bandhu Scheme for Protection of Children’s Rights in Areas of Civil Unrest,” New Delhi: Government of India.

Updated On : 12th Sep, 2017

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