Monthly Archives: October 2016

Children of Kashmir, conflict and a collapsed education system.

Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization

“Education is the direct casualty,” is a statement frequently made in reference to the toll political disturbances take on students in Kashmir. Blasts, encounters, hartals, curfews, shutdowns and extreme violence has meant that schools have remained shut since July, leaving children with almost no alternative means for continuing their education. Yet, Class 10 and 12 examinations have been scheduled for November, this year, giving students just about a month to complete their syllabus and prepare for the tests. While politicians, students, teachers, parents and the education board have varying opinions on the postponement of these exams, what remains insufficiently recognised is the the lasting, negative impacts of growing up in a conflict ridden zone, denying Kashmir’s next generation a chance to learn and develop into fully functional members of society.

Education is a key factor that can help children of conflict cope with the realities of their present state and instil a sense of purpose in the future. It is imperative, for the sake of children, to find solutions that can make education a tool for social cohesion, respecting the right and dignity of every life and cherishing every childhood. The ongoing conflict in Kashmir has taken a heavy toll on its people, especially its children, costing many their lives, their limbs and a normal life. For children, this means a life bereft of their right to education and their daily routine of attending school.

Here’s what an education system looks like for a generation of unschooled children.

Taking on unsafe journeys to school…

Photo: Dar Yasin/ AP, Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Dar Yasin/ AP

Low attendance rates due to fear of sending children to school…

Photo: Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images, Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images

And…Teacher absenteeism due to unpredictable civil unrest

Photo: Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images, Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images

Conflict and curfew result in schools shutdown for weeks and months

Photo: Mukhtar Khan/ AP, Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Mukhtar Khan/ AP

Or schools turned into hideouts…

Photo: Mukhtar Khan/ AP, Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Mukhtar Khan/ AP

Pushing children to find ways to learn and play in cordoned off lanes

Photo: Mukhtar Khan/ AP, Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Mukhtar Khan/ AP

Or partaking in other activities due to lack of formal education structures

Photo: Mukhtar Khan/ AP, Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Mukhtar Khan/ AP

Living in constant fear and insecurity

Photo: Dar Yasin/ AP, Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Dar Yasin/ AP

Returning to damaged school infrastructure

Photo: Unknown, Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Unknown

Or make shift schools…

Photo: Zahoor Zargar/HT

Having poor access to a formal and structured education

Photo: Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images, Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images

And bleak prospects for the future

Photo: Qazi Zaid, Children of Kashmir, Conflict and A Collapsed Education System | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo: Qazi Zaid

In the name of God.

The death of a 13-year-old Jain girl who fasted for 68 days brings back the focus on the harmful effects of religious zeal on the well being of children. For those who celebrated her death, she was hailed the ‘bal tapasvi’ who sacrificed her life for a larger cause, and for others who mourned her untimely demise this incident reeks of religious and cultural relativism that often trumps all logic and rationality. This may have been an extreme example; however away from the spotlight many kinds of child abuse – beatings, dangerous diets, forced marriages, slavery, exorcism, sexual exploitation, genital mutilation, and medical neglect continue to thrive under the guise of religious practice. Many children continue to suffer in silence. Religion shapes social behaviour and plays a dominant role in the everyday lives of children. It comprises of rules, stories, symbols, and a preselected way of life by families in society, seamlessly passed on to the next generation. Often the profound influence that religion can have on children’s development and socialization offers the potential to reinforce protective influences and promote resilience. The beliefs, practices, social networks and resources of religion can strengthen children by instilling hope, by giving meaning to difficult experiences and by providing emotional, physical and spiritual support. Yet, many a times, children become victims of controversial and dangerous religious practices, they are compelled to meet conventional demands of their religion guided by blind faith and they remain bereft of the freedom of choice. Consequently, childhood is influenced in more ways than one; while some religions discriminate against the girl child, others believe in the sacrifice of children, the study of religious texts over formal education, participation of children in harmful rituals, often against a child’s will. The following images reflect the atrocities faced by our children in the name of religious beliefs. It brings into focus the issues that have become blurred by dint of their everydayness and ubiquity. It also raises questions about children’s rights and proposes changes in societal attitudes and improved legislation to protect children from increased exploitation, violence and the abuse of children in the name of God. Let us all raise our consciousness, and the consciousness of society because the abuse of children must never be justified or tolerated.

In the name of God | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
A Shiite Muslim has his child gashed with a knife during a Muharram procession ahead of Ashoura. (Photo-Danish Siddiqui / Reuters)
Holy men step over children as a ritual to bless them during a religious procession to mark the Gajan festival. (Photo- Reuters)
Holy men step over children as a ritual to bless them during a religious procession to mark the Gajan festival. (Photo- Reuters)
In the name of God | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
An unhappy child with her mouths pierced waits for the religious processions to begin in worship of goddess Maha Mariamma- as a thanksgiving gesture in return for fulfilled wishes (Photo- Unknown)
An age old practice of sending very young children to Buddhist monastries for lifetime commitment to celibate monasticism, without their understanding or agreement of the same (Photo- Unknown)
An age old practice of sending very young children to Buddhist monasteries for lifetime commitment to celibate monasticism, without their understanding or agreement of the same (Photo- Unknown)
In the name of God | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Despite the legal banning, every year, young girls are dedicated as Devadasis or `handmaidens to Goddess Yellamma, due to the desperation of parents to seek favors from the gods.. After being dedicated, the girls are auctioned to the highest bidder and enter the world of prostitution (Photo- Unknown)
In the name of God | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
A child compelled to take a dip in the Ganga, as a way to purify himself at the Maha Kumbh Mela (Photo- Kevin Frayer)
Despite the Bombay HC ban, children paicipate in dahi handi celebrations during Janmashtami on the higher tiers of the pyramid, with little or no safety measures, causing injury and the death of many. (Photo- Unknown)
Despite the Bombay HC ban, children participate in Dahi handi celebrations during Janmashtami on the higher tiers of the pyramid, with little or no safety measures, causing injury and the death of many. (Photo- Unknown)
In the name of God | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
A practice integral to Jainism, Bal Diksha or the induction of minors in monastic order, wherein the right to childhood conflicts with the right to religion. (Photo- Unknown)
For centuries, little Bohra girls have been made to undergo khatna – the ritual cutting of the clitoral prepuce – for reasons that are not even uniform across the community. (Photo- AFP)
For centuries, little Bohra girls have been made to undergo khatna – the ritual cutting of the clitoral prepuce – for reasons that are not even uniform across the community. (Photo- AFP)

Daring to be ourselves- Girls of Madhubani

More than anything else the group has given us an opportunity to come out, reclaim spaces, find our voices, and stand up for ourselves and other children in the village”. This is feedback received from ‘Saraswati Kishori Samuh’(Saraswati girl’s group), in Macholiya village, Bisfi block, Madhubani. Very recently, the group together with Village Child Protection Committee was able to convince the parents of an 11-year-old boy to stop sending him to work at a tea stall, and the girls readmitted him to school. The girls say that they are not afraid anymore of the criticism received from some elders of the community. These conversations were shared with us in a review of a year of work towards formation of children’s groups in Madhubani. Leher’s work with children’s groups at the village level has been a slow process, one which was given much thought and preparation. The objective was to facilitate and guide children through a purposeful group experience, through the phases of a collective and for them to experience the significance of working in a collective. For this, a number of activities were conducted over a year across 36 children’s groups (27 girls and 9 boys). The activities took children through a process, where they got to understand themselves and their group members together, understand the potential of a collective, find their unique identity as a group, and elect a leader democratically. Towards this, the children also planned and carried out a group project work and organized elections. It is our last day in Madhubani. As we travel back into the town after the girls group review, the self-assured, confident and strong voices of the young girls resonate within us. The determination and courage of these girls is infectious.

Photo - Abhishek Chandra/ SPS, Daring To Be Ourselves- Girls Of Madhubani | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo – Abhishek Chandra/ SPS
Photo - Abhishek Chandra/ SPS, Daring To Be Ourselves- Girls Of Madhubani | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo – Abhishek Chandra/ SPS
Photo - Abhishek Chandra/ SPS, Daring To Be Ourselves- Girls Of Madhubani | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo – Abhishek Chandra/ SPS
Photo - Abhishek Chandra/ SPS, Daring To Be Ourselves- Girls Of Madhubani | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo – Abhishek Chandra/ SPS
Photo - Abhishek Chandra/ SPS, Daring To Be Ourselves- Girls Of Madhubani | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo – Abhishek Chandra/ SPS
Photo - Abhishek Chandra/ SPS, Daring To Be Ourselves- Girls Of Madhubani | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization
Photo – Abhishek Chandra/ SPS

Numbers don’t always do the talking

Numbers Don’t Always Do the Talking | Leher NGO in India | Child Rights Organization

Child protection has mostly been synonymous with child labour, child trafficking, child marriage, abuse and more recently juvenile crime and data is always presented in numbers. Data on the subject is presented in the form of numbers, statistics, percentages, etc. The practice of limiting the picture on child protection to mere numbers has been critiqued widely. Numbers do not always tell the entire story. They cannot always present the journey of a community towards social change – a parent who is now more confident and feels acknowledged by the community for allowing his 16-year-old daughter to continue her education by postponing her wedding, a shop owner who now is hesitant and fears selling gutka, pan, beedi to the children in the village, a teacher who is no longer irregular to school and is watchful about the quality of mid-day meal being served, a girl who is confident enough to tell a boy teasing her that she will report him to 1098 if he continues teasing, or children changing the route they take to school to ensure they are safe and that that another girl does not drop out! 2 years into the journey, it is the rich conversations, experiences, stories, which are very telling, which reaffirms the need to focus on ‘repeated conversations’ and ‘process’ in order to drive community organization for social change.

Childrens Groups and the Battle of Ballot Box

Photo: Sarvo Prayas Sanstha, Children’s Groups and the Battle of Ballot Box
Photo: Sarvo Prayas Sanstha

Most parts of India are not unfamiliar to the use of unfair means for canvassing during elections. Ugly war of words between representatives from opposite parties are also not new either. It does not matter at what level the elections are being fought, these practices and behaviours are pervasive. Children who witness this from close quarters can often equate elections with winning and wielding power. Leher’s work on child protection with communities in Madhubani, also involves facilitating the organization of adolescent children’s groups of girls and boys. Having just completed a year of processes towards group formation, the groups recently conducted elections to elect a President and Secretary for each group. We learned from our team, that the process of election was planned meticulously by the children only requiring a little help at the time of execution. It was fiercely competitive to the extent that in a few groups, there was a tie and ballots had to be cast again. There were heated arguments between the former and newly elected representatives. Our team was taken aback with how the word ‘chunaav’ changed the dynamics and energy of the groups. Maybe it is inherent to the terrain—Bihar. Elections in these informal groups of children, made them political, and they associated politics and elections with power and ‘varchasav’. Children must be political. However, they absorb from the political climate around them, and it shapes their perceptions and expectations of adult life, and leadership. Children organizing themselves into groups presents a unique opportunity for them to learn and practice democracy, leadership, responsibility and collective action. It is important for children to learn about the significance of elections in a democracy, role of an elected leader and that there is a lot more to democracy than winning or losing an election. We have an opportunity to begin these conversations with children. May be someday someone from among these groups will grow up to become ‘the leader’ we have been waiting for.