Is your classroom inclusive?

"My dress is dirty. I belong to a small village. My identity is derived from my village name. My loving parents take great pains to provide food, shelter and love. I am at peace. Only when I step out of my home, reality hits me. And hits me hard. In school. At worksplace. People treat me as if I am a wild beast. Uncouth in appearance. Untouchable to the core. Unworthy to get an education. Society's parasite.

But, I want to go to school."

This is one of those recurring gut-wrenching narratives, I come across during my school visits. Despite the sugar-coated celebrations of a vibrant, independent India, what hit me that day was the naked dance of caste system inside the classroom. A messy boy in dirty dress on a filthy carpet ostracized in a corner. When asked, the class teacher replied casually, “He belongs to a lower caste that’s why he is seated in corner”.

I again asked is it not in his hands to at least make his classroom more inclusive. Teacher expressed his helplessness and said the villagers are not willing.

I wished to sit next to this boy, despite the teacher offering me a chair. The boy smiled and I was crying inside. His eyes were bubbling with curious imagination. Yes, there was a glint of fear. There was also a hope to come out of that fear and break free. We spoke. I felt at peace. The class watched as they usually hated this boy. A government-mandated midday meal, probably his only chance to have two fistful of rice, is not for him. Food will be ‘polluted’, you know. The more you try to change the more they remain the same.

There is always sunshine behind the dark clouds of casteism. I saw it coming. He was bright, knew his English grammar well. Infact, better than the rest of the class. His handwriting was impressive. That made my day. Boys like him teach us many things. He never complained for providing him dirty clothes (he should have) and never resisted being glued to a corner. His refusal to protest could be his survival need, but that refusal is deadening our (teacher, school, community) sensitivity to accept & then address the issue. We need to come out of this shameless discriminatory slumber.