On 14th November, the country celebrated Children’s day, it seems insignificant to be talking about this day while, there are other more important issues to be addressed. 20th November was also the 25th Anniversary of the adoption of the Convention of the Rights of the Child by the world at the United Nations General Assembly. After 25 years, it is time to question ourselves as a nation and also look at the global picture, whether the world truly has become a better place for the children.
Since 1989, when the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted, extraordinary advances have taken place across the world, including in some of the poorest countries – most notably, towards the goal of providing universal primary education for all children. This has meant a new world of hope and opportunities for millions of children. But, still the advances have been unable to obliterate the looming challenges and obstacles to entirely realise this goal. According to the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 58 million children are still out of school today, while 250 million more are unable to read, write and count even after 4 years of schooling. And unsurprisingly, women and girls are the worst affected.
It is unnecessary to emphasise on the importance of education. The global inaccessibility to education violates basic human rights. The absence of education affects social unity and threatens stability of the society and puts the development of the entire society at stake. The breakdown of an education system is only the prelude to the breakdown of the entire society. Children stuck in turmoil-stricken countries are the worst affected. In countries like Syria, Iraq, Palestine and South Sudan, struck by violence, the loss of educational infrastructure like the school buildings and the death of educators is the more obvious outcome on education. But also, education initiates a critical and independent thought process in children. Children in these countries have witnessed violence and hatred first-hand from a very tender age, education also helps them to learn to come together in society and take part as active citizens in the development of their community. But, sadly in recent times we’ve seen the taking over of the education sector, to plant hatred into the young and impressionable minds of the children – schools are on the frontline in this effort. Iraq, for instance, is paying for insufficient investment in education over the past 10 years -- illiteracy has risen to 20 percent of the population, undermining the mental and cultural defences of people confronted with extremist discourses.
While, the world is trying to make education an important part of the peace-building process and is utilising learning as an equaliser, in India, with the coming of the NDA regime, following a historic win, education is being ‘Modi’-fied and unsurprisingly, we’re being sent thousands of years back. According to Professor Y Sudershan Rao, the head of the Indian Council of Historical Research (I.C.H.R.), Indians were flying aeroplanes, carrying out stem cell research and may even have been using cosmic weapons 5,000 years ago. The BJP government appointed Rao to the prestigious academic post soon after their win, as one of their first attempts to push Hindu values and mythology into the school curriculum, at the cost of academic quality and also against concerns of demolishing the secular nature of our country. "We have so many proofs that these events happened," Rao, 69, said in an interview, describing events in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epics about love and war, truth and deceit, that feature characters using inextinguishable fire and weapons with the destructive power of a nuclear arsenal. These views have found support from PM Narendra Modi also, making him the first Prime Minister to believe that, holy texts show that many discoveries of the modern world had been made by ancient Indians. Fellow historians are horrified by the views of Prof. Rao and are worried about the future of the I.C.H.R. set up four decades ago to guide research and hand out grants. Two states run by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have recruited controversial Hindu nationalist Dinanath Batra to advise on writing textbooks. In June, thousands of schools in Gujarat were given textbooks by Batra that claimed cars were invented in ancient India and told children to draw an enlarged nation to include countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
To bring back focus further closer to home, since the Saradha chitgate scam came into public view in 2013, in the state, numerous small investors and small chit-fund owners committed suicide and many are on the run from angered investors. Chandana Mondal, a tea stall owner, sold all her land for Rs 3 lakh and invested the money with Saradha Group, to provide for her physically challenged elder son. Her younger son even invested his daily tiffin allowance of Rs 10 in a recurring Saradha scheme. All that money is now gone. With no relief from the government, the family struggles to make ends meet. In another incident, a chit fund company owner Ajit Seal, 50, had committed suicide, he used to run a chit fund in the name of his daughter "Aparupa" and had as many as 156 offices across the districts and outside as well. The police had got a suicide note where Seal had written that he was forced to commit suicide as he would not be able to return money to his investors given, the condition of his business after the Saradha scam went bust.
These are only but a few stories. We cannot possibly begin to imagine the tribulations of the families suffering the effects the multi-crore Saradha scam coming out in the open. Over the past year, it has come up in discussions and news reports everywhere that, the people investing in Saradha all belong to the less affluent section of the society. These are people who earned these savings, which they invested by, working by the sweat of their brow. Their decision to invest in these ponzi schemes was obviously fuelled by lack of education and awareness but, also by strong desire to better the lives for their families and provide better facilities for their children. But, with more than a year after the scam was discovered, these people are still penniless and helpless. And their children probably find it difficult to keep up their education on empty stomachs. Thus, in this case too there is a violation of the Right to Education of these children.
Children’s right to education has become a security issue. It must be vigorously defended and reinforced. The best and most long-lasting way to attack this threat to education world over, is to attack the ignorance and unawareness from where, this threat takes root. Then, maybe we can think about this world becoming a better place for children and also the optimum fulfilment of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.