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Sometimes under the shade of a tree, and at other times in the house of a Bhim Army member, Bhim Pathshalas play a key role in teaching Dalit children about BR Ambedkar, Sant Valmiki and others to teach them about their history. Spreading slowly in the rural pockets of the state, these Pathshalas are helping strengthen the Dalit movement in UP.
“The facilities in government schools have always remained questionable. This is why the students look out for tuition classes. But since most of the Dalit students cannot afford tuitions, they tend to lag behind. To ensure that the students become educated and remain on par with others in the society, Bhim Army members came together to teach the kids. The classes are conducted for free. In fact, they are provided with free stationery items and books – the cost of which is borne by Bhim Army members, who contribute for the cause,” said Kamal Walia, Saharanpur district president, Bhim Army.
Spread in Uttar Pradesh including Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Agra and others, Bhim Pathshalas are not just coaching classes for school books, though. The teachers, who are graduates and post graduates, also focus on Dalit history and tell students about the struggles and lives of Dalit icons.
“’Jo qaum apna itihaas nahi jaanti, vo qaum itihaas nahi likh sakti’ (They cannot make history, who forget history), Baba Saheb Ambedkar had said. We are just making his dreams come true by making the students aware about their history and making them educated,” said Walia.
Chandrashekhar Azad, founder of Bhim Army and the son of a former headmaster had started the schools to ensure that Dalit children did not miss on their crucial early education. Azad, who is in jail as of now, had garnered national headlines after violence broke out in Saharanpur on May 9, 2017 when Bhim Army had called a mahapanchayat against alleged atrocities on Dalits.
Teaching the students in Bhim Pathshalas for the last two years now, Sarita Ambedkar, national spokesperson, Bhim Army Women’s Wing said, “Students are still discriminated in schools in the name of their caste. Teachers and other students look down upon them as inferiors only because they are Dalits. Many even engage in name-calling. This discourages students from going to school. This is why we teach the students and prepare them for competition outside so that when they become educated, the same people who look down upon them will praise them for their education and capability. Struggle is a part of life and we teach these students how to fight with the existing discrimination and become confident individuals.”
Vinay Ratan Singh, national president, Bhim Army said, “Bhim Army is not just a Dalit movement. It is a movement about liberal people and Bhim Pathshalas help in bringing kids together to become a part of this movement at a young age.”