Struggle on to come into light
Wards of the Harijan people at a classroom of a school in Kushtia as schooling among the children of the backward community sees a steady rise. Photo: STAR
Schooling among children from backward Harijan community in the district sees gradual rise, thanks to initiative by a few non-governmental organisations and growing awareness of the guardians.
Around 250 Harijan children are now studying at different schools and colleges in the district, which was unthinkable only a few years ago. They are also doing good results.
A survey in 2003 conducted by Friends Association for Integrated Regulation (FAIR), a local NGO working with the Harijan community, found that only around 20-25 Harijan children in the district were school goers and most of them dropped out between classes I to VIII.
Enrolment of Harijan children in educational institutions has so far been very thin as the people of Harijan community are traditionally considered 'untouchable', and practically denied equal rights in different sectors including study at schools with other children despite provision for equal rights for all according to the country's constitution.
“The main cause of dropouts among Harijan children is that they are generally not treated equally with other children at the schools,” said Dewan Aktharuzzaman, director of the FAIR.
FAIR took initiative to make at least 3,000 Harijans conscious about education which is their constitutional right. Two national NGO Human Development Foundation and Manusher Jonno Foundation extended financial support to FAIR.
After study on the life and culture of the community, the NGO set up three pre-school centres to prepare their children for education and create awareness among the elders. They also formed 'Advocacy Group' with civil society people. This Advocacy Group visited different schools and colleges in the district and officials of district administration and launched a strong campaign so that the Harijan children are not denied access to schools and colleges.
“We faced much difficulties when we tried to make teachers and others understand that education is constitutional right of all Bangladeshi citizens,” said advocate Badruddoza Gama, a former lawmaker in Kushtia, also a member of Advocacy Group.
"People of my community are more aware now. They understand that education can bring change into their life," said Panna Lal Bashffore, the lone graduate from Harijan community in Kushtia district.
Panna is now studying LLB under the National University.
Now at least 150 children are studying at different primary schools, 40 at high schools, one has passed SSC this year while five students will appear at the HSC next year from different colleges in the district.
FAIR sources said more 100 children are preparing at its six pre-school centres set up at four different Harijan's colonies -- four in Kushtia town and one each in Kumarkhali and Bheramara upazilas.
The Harijan children are doing good result in different classes and FAIR is regularly monitoring the matter, said sources at different educational institutions.
With the help of national NGO Manusher Jonno Foundation FAIR organised a national convention in the district last year where leaders of Harijan community from across the country took part.
"Our aim is to increase awareness among the Harijan community. We hope that at least 40 Harijan children will pass SSC within four to five years and it will help to make a good change in the community,” said FAIR Director Dewan Aktharuzzaman.