This is a non-refereed article published on: 21st May 2010
BACKGROUND OF CHILD DEFENDERS
It has been found that wherever there has been some success in reaching out to such poor children in contemporary India, this has been largely due to the relentless work of local level community volunteers especially the youth force. As child defenders they have given confidence to the parents to take the right decisions and enabled bridging the gap between poor households and public institutions. Most of these child defenders are those who have advanced to class 8 and above within the Indian school system; and this too with great difficulties. These boys and girls are the first generation educated in their community to achieve this level of schooling. Their achievement is particularly noteworthy given that they have to compete with other children of more privileged backgrounds.
Tekam Devrao (2) a child defender from Adilabad is from a tribal community hidden in the forests of Adilabad district in Andhra Pradesh, puts this achievement in broader context. He notes:
'There was not even one literate person in and around my village. One day the Naxalites (a Maoist group) distributed a pamphlet that none could read. I really wanted to know what they had written for us. I had to take the pamphlet to a village far away. I found out that the pamphlet was about getting the local tribal communities organised to fight for fair prices. since then I had an urge to be able to read and write. Those who read out the pamphlet even taught me some letters in the alphabet. I kept practising to write the letters even as I was tending the goats. I would also stop passersby and learn to read and write more letters and words from them. I was soon able to read and write as much as a class 6 student. At the same time, Naxalites started involving me in their activities. They put me in a hostel and even paid for the school fees as my family could not afford it. I have come up to class 10.'
Narsi Reddy, (3) another child defender narrated his resolve to study. He was denied education because he is a person with a disability and as a child limped badly because of polio. He explains:
'My parents thought I was worthless and that I was a burden; they did not want to own me up [sic]. I had to live outside in the cattle shed away from home. The cattle and the fields were my world where I spent the nights among the cattle. Food for me was sent to the farm. I rarely came to the village. When a night school was set up I started attending. As I was not learning much in night school, I decided to go to day school. But my people began to beat and abuse me. They wanted me to look after the cattle. In the daytime after everybody left for work, I would sneak into the house, eat and stealthily attend the day school. I was already 14 years and old for my class. I did not give up. I finished school when I was 20 years old.'
The ones who have attained the status of '10th class fail' are part of the achievers while some of them have been able to pass class 10. For example the journey of Pushpa (4) a child defender, who graduated class 10, has been against all odds. she says:
'I studied in a school run by Christian missionaries. My Telugu teacher liked me a lot because I was hard working. I would stitch together scraps of paper to make notebooks as I could not afford to buy new ones. I did even better than my classmates who could buy books. My teacher noticed my interest and encouraged me further. When my parents arranged for me to get married, I went to her for help. she helped me get admitted into a hostel in Warangal where I studied up to class 10.'
What these narrations have in common is individual determination to succeed in the face of adversity. They also show a people with a sense of self worth and fulfilment and are a sufficient cause for the community pride. Being fully aware about the prospects and quality of their learning on the one hand, they have acquired a place of pride in the family, and on the other hand, they are fully aware that they have not received the education that they actually deserved. Yet they are convinced that it is only education that can break the cycle of poverty and ignorance.
MOBILIZING PARENTS AND CONSOLIDATING LOVE FOR CHILDREN
As the lived experiences related above have shown, low quality education has...