By Paritosh Chakma
On 1st April 2010 India became one of the few countries in the world that have guaranteed elementary education to the children. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009 has made free and quality elementary education a Fundamental Right of every child aged 6-14 years.
Fundamental Rights are enforceable in the court of law. This is the best thing that could have happened to the Chakmas in Mizoram who have been officially recognized as the “most illiterate” community in the state in 2001 census. As the people can sue the state government for its failure to provide education up to Class VIII under the RTE Act, I consider this law as a potential tool against institutional discrimination that denies the right to education.
Over 8% of the total population of Mizoram the Chakmas are the second largest ethnic community after the Mizos who form the majority. That the largest minority (Chakmas) is the “most illiterate” community in Mizoram (the second most literate state in India) itself should be enough to indict the state government of Mizoram for not taking enough care of its minorities. The education officials have admitted that over 15,000 children mainly belonging to Bru and Chakma minorities do not go to schools. Yet the state government has not roped in the minority community NGOs to spread awareness like it did by signing education MoUs with Mizo NGOs namely, Young Mizo Association, Mizoram Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (apex body of Mizo women), Presbyterian Church, Baptist Church and Salvation Army, another Church body.
On the other hand, the education officials have cited “nomadic nature” of these tribes as the chief reason for inability to educate them. The explanation however is flimsy. As a matter of fact, there are more number of Mizos who are engaged in shifting cultivation (jhum) but primary education has effectively reached their children.
According to an independent survey conducted by the Mizoram Chakma Development Forum (MCDF), out of total 111 Chakma inhabited villages in Mizoram, at least 75 villages (i.e. 83%) do not have Middle School and the children have nowhere to go. A neighbouring village having a Middle School could be 20 kilometres or more away separated by hilly terrains without road connectivity. The demands of the Chakma villagers for Middle Schools went unheeded for years. While the state government of Mizoram has shifted the blame on scarcity of funds required to open and run new schools, the primary problem is exclusion of the Chakmas from the state’s policies.
Under the RTE Act the state governments and the local bodies will have to establish primary schools “within a walking distance of one km of the neighbourhood” and one middle school “within a walking distance of 3 km of the neighbourhood” (Model Rule 4). This is a boon for the Chakmas who have consistently alleged to have been discriminated by the state government.
The RTE Act gives the Chakmas of Mizoram and several other such disadvantaged communities across the country the power to hold the government accountable. If nothing else work, people can drag the government to court to ensure the enjoyment of their fundamental right to education.