Unicef has acknowledged that caste remains a key factor in illiteracy in India. The following article can be found directly here: http://www.unicef.org/india/children_2359.htm
Despite a major improvement in literacy rates during the 1990s, the number of children who are not in school remains high. Gender disparities in education persist: far more girls than boys fail to complete primary school.
The literacy rate jumped from 52 per cent in 1991 to 65 per cent in 2001. The absolute number of non-literates dropped for the first time and gross enrollment in government-run primary schools increased from over 19 million in the 1950s to 114 million by 2001.
90 million females in India are illiterate, but 20 percent of children aged 6 to14 are still not in school and millions of women remain non-literate despite the spurt in female literacy in the 1990s.
Several problems persist: issues of ‘social’ distance – arising out of caste, class and gender differences – deny children equal opportunities. Child labour in some parts of the country and resistance to sending girls to school remain real concerns.
School attendance is improving: more children than ever between the ages of 6 and 14 are attending school across the country. The education system faces a shortage of resources, schools, classrooms and teachers.
There are also concerns relating to teacher training, the quality of the curriculum, assessment of learning achievements and the efficacy of school management. Given the scarcity of quality schools, many children drop out before completing five years of primary education; many of those who stay on learn little.
Girls belonging to marginalized social and economic groups are more likely to drop out of school at an early age.
With one upper primary school for every three primary schools, there are simply not enough upper primary centres even for those children who complete primary school. For girls, especially, access to upper primary centres becomes doubly hard.
I came across this research by Healthbridge who have conducted fieldwork into the issue of the Bidi-rolling in India.
To access the full report, just follow this link: http://www.healthbridge.ca/tobacco_poverty_Appendix%205%20India%20Final%20Research%20Report.pdf
The tobacco industry often boasts that tobacco growing generates employment and provides positive economic benefits to farmers and others. But the actual facts are quite different. Though a labour intensive industry, its wages are one of the lowest in the country at Rs 17,898 per annum. A large part of the industry also comes under the unorganized sector where wages are often fixed arbitrarily and where unending flow of unskilled labour keep wages low.
The majority of the profits, therefore, remain with the large manufacturers. Farmers often believe that tobacco will prove to be a profitable cash crop; however they often find themselves caught in a cycle of poverty and debt. Serious health risks, hard working conditions, contractual arrangements, the use of children in tobacco growing, and the environmental practices of tobacco growing have negative impacts on human capital and land, the two crucial assets for rural livelihoods. There are also many occupational hazards faced by those working in the tobacco fields, including health hazards such as green tobacco sickness, pesticide exposure and nicotine poisoning. And, while tobacco farming is not unique in its use of child labour, the particular hazards posed by tobacco cultivation places these children at increased risk of injury and illness. The production of bidis (small, inexpensive, hand-rolled cigarettes made from cheap tobacco and rolled in tendu leaf, commonly smoked in India) involves intensive labour: growing tobacco, plucking/collecting tendu leaves and rolling and packaging the bidis. While no accurate statistics are available, the Central Tobacco Research Institute (CTRI) has estimated that in India more than 6 million farmers and 20 million farm labourers are engaged in tobacco farming, spread across 15 states. Bidi rolling provides employment to an estimated 4.4 million people, in addition to 2.2 million tribal workers involved in tendu leaf collection. Further, nearly 4 million people are engaged in the wholesale and retail sale of tobacco.
Bidis harm not only those who smoke them; everyone connected with bidi manufacturing faces various health and occupational hazards. Bidis are mostly rolled at home where rollers expose their entire family (including newborns and children) to harmful tobacco dust and fumes. Most bidi workers suffer from chronic respiratory problems, skin problems, green tobacco sickness, asthma, TB, eye ailments and chronic backache. Bidi workers are largely illiterate and live below the poverty line, struggling each day to earn enough to feed their families two meals. They do not have health cards and therefore cannot access treatment at hospitals. Instead of paving a way out of poverty, bidi work simply allows for subsistence at the most marginal level. Most of the workers are women and children, already vulnerable and exploited groups, with no access to educational or other career opportunities. Deprived of a normal childhood, it is not only their size which is typically stunted; these children become the core of a repetitive cycle of systemic poverty.
NISD’s project is unique in comparison to other children’s education projects because here we want to educate children, particularly girls, that will save them from hazardous bidi rolling business. It will break the vicious cycle of poverty- early marriages-early and repeated pregnancies-unhealthy children-school drop out- bidi rolling and again poverty. NISD wants to bring all these children in the school, retain them in the school, give them life and employable skills so that they will not come in bidi business and break this cycle.
Nisd really tackle the root causes of poverty by addressing the complex web of problems that trap children into it.
Prakash, leader of the project in India, tells us about the biggest changes that he has seen during his time there:
Question: What are the biggest changes that you have seen during the years of being involved in the project?
When we started our work we could see many young children are with their mothers in the Bidi factories when she was rolling bidies. Children sleep, eat, play in the tobacco atmosphere which was hazardous for their health. Not only that but children were exposed to tobacco dust since they are in mother’s womb. But due to continuous awareness and motivation now bidi rollers understands the dangers of tobacco and keep their children either in pre-school centres or at home, when they role bidies.
Earlier when we used to asked mothers about future of their children, particularly girls, they use to say that she will roll bidies. But if you ask any woman in NISD Project area she will say that I don’t want to bring my daughter in this hazardous work i.e. bidi rolling.
Earlier Money Lenders were very common in these villages. They used to give loans ( on very high interest rates) to these women and exploiting them. NISD started Self Help Groups in these villages and now there are around 100 Self Help Groups in our project villages. These SHGs now cater the loan need of these women and money lending system is abolished completely in NISD’s project villages. SHGs not only fulfilled monetary needs but also built their unity and solved number of social and other problems of women and children of these villages
With your continued support, we can carry on bringing about meaningful and lasting change.
Prakash, the project leader was kind enough to answer some questions that I asked him about his involvement and experience with the project.
Question: How and why did you become involved in this work?
After completing my MA in Economics I decided to go for Master of Social Work (MSW). After receiving MSW degree I worked with grass root NGO for 4 years, funding organisation for another four years and there after decided to start a small work where I can use my education, experience and knowledge for the betterment of down trodden people of my area. I belong to Sangamner area so I started my work there. Since my child hood I was seeing processions and marches of Bidi Rollers for their lawful rights and was slightly aware with their problems. Sangamner is a pocket where bidi business is concentrated and women of around 50 villages are earning bread by rolling bidies. In the initial stage I got support from OXFAM to conduct an action research on Problems of Bidi Rollers which helped me to learn more about their problems .
Question: What is your vision for the children involved in your project?
Bidi Rolling is a cycle and after mother or mother-in-law the daughter or daughter-in-law take over this work. I thought that NISD was small agency so we couldn't provide meaningful employment to bidi rollers to keep them away from hazardous work. But we can bring some comfort in their lives by way of taking different activities. However I was very sure that we can at least save the lives of young generation and stop them to come in this business. This is possible by taking steps on children’s health, education and skill building program.
My and NISD’s vision is “We want a world where inequality based on class, gender and religion is absent and no person will get exploited by any one. We want a world where basic needs become basic rights and where poverty and all forms of exploitation are eliminated. Each person will have the opportunity to develop her or his full potential and creativity, which will lead him/her towards sustainable development.”
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