Zero Discrimination in Education



Children’s human rights education refers to education and educational practices in schools and educational institutions that are consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a form of education that takes seriously the view that children are bearers of human rights, that children are citizens in their own right, that schools and educational institutions are learning communities where children learn (or fail to learn) the values and practices of human rights and citizenship, and that educating children about their own basic human rights is a legal obligation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention on the Rights of the child has important implications for the education of children. Approved by the United Nations in 1989, and signed and ratified by India in 1992. In the Convention are numerous articles that deal with education and with children’s rights education. First is the child’s right to education on the basis equal opportunity (article 28). This includes the right to free primary education and to accessible secondary and higher education. Second are the child’s rights in education (articles 2, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 19). This includes the right to non- discrimination, participation, protection from abuse and violence, and freedom of thought, expression, and religion. Third are the child’s rights through education (article 29 and 42). This refers to education where children are able to know and understand their rights and to develop respect for human rights, including their own human rights.

Discrimination on any grounds- religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any other is prohibited under Art 15 of the Constitution. This constitutes an important move away from the graded inequalities and discrimination based on the caste system. The Constitutional mandate however, has a long way to go to be translated in our society. Discrimination is widespread on various counts – caste, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, class, disability, region, language, family occupation, or a combination of these. These have found their way into every aspect of social life, including the education system. Dalits face the worst forms of discrimination and violence, given the religious basis of the caste system, concepts of purity, pollution and untouchability.


Article 21A Indian Constitution mandates the state to provide free and compulsory education to all children aged 6-14 years in such manner as the state may, by law, determine; for the state to make special provisions for the advancement of scheduled castes under Article 15(4) Indian Constitution. The Constitution categorically abolished “untouchability” and its practice in any form declaring it ‘offence punishable under law’. In the context of education, Article 30 (2) prohibits the state from discriminating in granting aid to educational institutions on the ground of its management under a minority. Art 29 (2) says that no citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.

This has been taken forward in the RTE Act to include 25% of seats under non- minority private unaided schools and prohibition of discrimination of children admitted under this provision. Article 46 of Indian Constitution recognises the state should promote with special care the educational interests of scheduled castes. Under Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 every child aged 6-14 years has the right to free and compulsory elementary education with adequate infrastructure facilities, free textbooks, writing materials and uniforms; the government should ensure that children from disadvantaged social groups are not discriminated against and prevented from pursuing and completing elementary education;

The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 specifies a number of criminal offences such as abuse in caste name, outraging the modesty of a women, rape, murder etc. sec. 7(1)(b) PCR Act recognizes anyone who molests, injures, annoys, obstructs or causes or attempts to cause obstruction to any person on the ground of ‘untouchability’ commits an offence. Sec 4 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 recognizes penetrative Sexual assault is a punishable offence for either description for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.


Caste based discrimination in the education system can be seen at two levels – institutional and relational. Institutional discrimination includes the many ways in which the education system denies equitable education opportunities, education services and supportive mechanisms to facilitate Dalit students to access an equal quality of education and to reduce educational inequalities between Dalits and non- Dalits. It may include both active and passive forms of discrimination, default and intentional.

The relational forms of caste based discrimination against students in the schools and higher education institutions take various forms too. At the school level, discrimination has been reported and studied- caste based verbal abuse and name


calling, in midday meals, teaching and learning practices, in the use of drinking water, in assigning cleaning tasks in schools, not paying attention to Dalit students and de- motivating them, preventing their participation in schools, heightened corporal punishments, and so on. Discrimination and violence against Dalit schools have been reported by students across the country, including sexual violence against Dalit girl students. The spate of suicides of Dalit students in professional and higher education institutions is the tip of the iceberg, reflecting the various forms of mental and physical harassment of Dalit students there. Doctorate students have reported various forms of discrimination by their educational institutions and even individual guides. The current and long-term negative impact of this discrimination on Dalit students in terms of their learning, educational achievements as well as future opportunities are yet to be fully grasped.


Studies have identified various forms of discrimination and violence is being practiced in education. These may be categorized along three major dimensions: -i) discrimination to accessing education, ii) discrimination within education, iii) discrimination to development and life opportunities through education.

In exploring access to education, discrimination includes the many conditions that prevent children from having equal opportunities to access different levels of education, as well as having access to unequal qualities of education. Lack of pre- primary education to prepare the child to schooling, lack of different levels of schools in the neighbourhood, physical and social barriers that prevent children from accessing schooling, no admission to children who are migrants or suffer from particular social or health reasons, lack of particular market oriented or desired courses of education, inability to access good quality education owing to cost, non- availability of seats etc. These discriminate a child from accessing schooling, from accessing desired type of schooling, from accessing equal quality of schooling.

In exploring discrimination within education, many forms have been studied and reported. It covers a wide range where children are seated at the back of the classroom, are not allowed to use the school facilities or equipments like other children, not paid adequate attention in their learning, humiliated or de-motivated from learning, assigned discriminatory non-acceptable tasks in schools, not allowed leadership positions, not given opportunities to participate in school activities, not provided early education in ones language, segregation in eating, drinking water or seating in classrooms in public schools, aside from discrimination and ill-treatment from dominant community teachers or students, segregated from other children while eating, refusing to eat food cooked by SC cooks etc. There are also cases where Dalit students are served from a distance, and several students bring their own plates for fear of utensils being touched by Dalit classmates. Girls from socially excluded communities have either stopped mid-way through their schooling, or have suffered mental tension due to instances of discrimination, verbal abuse and harassment,


corporal punishments, physical assaults, abetment to suicide, threats of assaults as well as actual assaults on them by dominant caste teachers and students.

More recently, the state has acknowledged the prevalence and negative impact of discrimination in education. The Right to Education Act, 2009, recognizes and prohibits discrimination of any form against disadvantaged and economically weaker sections. The MHRD study on “Inclusion and Exclusion of Students in the School and in the Classroom in the Primary and Upper Primary Schools” by TSG, EDCIL in 2012, has captured various forms of discrimination across 6 states. The MHRD has circulated guidelines against discrimination in schools. The NAC has also issued a series of recommendations on how to tackle discrimination within the school system. The UGC has similarly guidelines on addressing discrimination in higher education. There is an urgent need, therefore, to develop a strategic plan of action to implement all these guidelines and to take the process forward to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence from education institutions and make them ‘zero discrimination-violence zones’.

Initiation of Campaign and Steps taken so far;

Dec 2013: Initiated a Campaign towards Zero Discrimination in School Education

May 2015: National Public Hearing was organized in May 2015 to visibilize the type of discrimination/exclusion faced by children due to their identity vis-à-vis caste, ethnicity and religious minority.

The cases that were deposed at the public hearing reflected the gravity of discrimination children face in terms of being subjected to discrimination and humiliation in accessing their scholarships, meals and their learning abilities being questioned. The cases also showed a large increase in sexual assault within schools and hostels. As a follow up NDMJ traced the representations of individual cases submitted at the National Commissions of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It is being continuously followed up with the commission and other officials.

Apart from these cases, we are also monitoring the cases of discrimination and violence in schools through conducting fact findings and follow up being done.

CSEI also organised a Public Hearing on the implementation of the reservation for children from Disadvantaged Groups (DG) and Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) under section 12 (1.c) of the RTE Act. The public hearing of the implementation in Delhi state reviewed the discrimination and other challenges faced by parents from these communities in accessing admission in private schools in Delhi state.


Children’s Leadership

In the process, it is also felt that there is a need to build and promote the children leadership in addressing this issue on their own. Children have become an important part of large-scale population and are increasingly affected as a result of discrimination in the schools. All children have the potential to develop leadership skills. But is not being recognised well and not giving them opportunities to serve in leadership roles. Studies show that early experiences in life impact adult leadership potential. Therefore, we felt it is important to recognize their potential in taking up the leadership position especially children from the socially excluded communities (Dalits and Adivasis) and lead this campaign to make a bigger impact in the society.

National Consultation towards Zero discrimination in School Education:

In this context, a National level consultation is jointly being organized by Swadhikar- National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) and Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion (CSEI) on 8th March 2016 with the wider participation of civil society organizations to further strengthen the “Campaign on Zero Discrimination in School Education”. Leading from this, the consultation aims to develop a common agenda on non-discrimination and violence in education that would cut across all social axes such as religion, gender, disability, etc. that engender discrimination.

Objective of the Campaign: To promote discrimination and violence free environment in school education institutions in India for ensuring quality education for all children with special focus on socially excluded children

Campaign Strategies:

  1. Promoting National level children led campaign with wider CLOs, CSOs alliance
  2. Perspective and capacity building on Zero discrimination in school education tochildren, parents, teachers, education authorities and government officials
  3. Awareness building and creating visibilities to the general public on the rightsof the children
  4. Evidence building through monitoring the discrimination and violence inschools and Right to Information (RTI)
  5. Legal Interventions to access to justice to the victims of discrimination andviolence in education.
  6. Advocacy and Lobbying with government officials, parliamentarians, ministries,commissions at the state and National levels;
  7. Introducing Special legislations/Government Orders to address thediscrimination in violence in education.