Household strategies, schooling regimes and social exclusion in western Uttar Pradesh, India

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Aspects of the Research

 

Changes in schooling provision and the schooling market

We predicted that the rise in non-State schooling in Western UP would be dramatic, even in a district like Bijnor, which is not in the main belt of economic development in the zone surrounding Delhi. In exploring the nature of this growth we conducted interviews with teachers and school managers, as well as collecting detailed pupil data for secondary schools in Bijnor town and more limited data on all secondary schools in Bijnor district. These sources reveal that privatisation is taking place in several different ways. New non-State schools are being established, mostly since the UP Government made this easier in 1991. Government and Government-aided schools are having to raise increasing proportions of their incomes from their pupils’ families. Posts are not being filled when staff retire or leave, and no provision is made for expansion (e.g. to additional years, or extra classes in the face of rising student numbers). In addition, the experience of education for many children is increasingly divorced from the school, because of the increasing role of tuition in preparing students for 10th and 12th class exams. These trends, and their significance for patterns of social inequality and reproduction, are discussed in more detail in several of the papers presented so far.


 

Islamic schooling and gender

Islamic schooling has become increasingly significant in the lives of Muslim children in the environs of Bijnor town: large madrasahs are now providing the main source of education for many villages. In our research we have investigated what parents want from this form of education, and what the madrasah staff are attempting to create. The madrasahs offer different curricula to girls and to boys, and boys and girls attend in very different ways. In the largely-Muslim research village, girls are more likely to be in any kind of schooling than boys, and the overwhelming majority of girls aged 8-14 are attending a madrasah. Boys are less likely to be in schooling, but those who do attend some kind of school make more use of Government schools and the small private sector. We have also analysed the textbooks used by girls in several local madrasahs (the ‘Girls’ Islamic Course’) and assessed the extent to which its underlying messages contribute to a gendered class and Islamic project. In doing so we are unpacking the kinds of contestation that take place, between parents and madrasah staff, about how long girls should attend the madrasah and what kinds of schooling they should receive. We expect to reflect more directly on the implications of these trends for inter-communal relationships, and for the position of Muslims in Indian society


 

Youth transitions

We are currently working on a paper exploring the lives and opinions of Chamar young men who have spent long periods in formal schooling but have found it impossible to obtain secure employment. There is a wealth of literature that describes the emergence of a self-confident ‘educated’ ex-untouchable elite in northern India. This elite, disproportionately made up of young men, is said to be crucial in the wider social mobilisation and mobility of the Chamar ‘community’. The young men act as a bridge for other Chamars into the wider world, perform an intellectual function in circulating emancipatory discourses and serve as powerful icons of social change amongst ex-untouchables. Our paper refers to the emergence of such an elite, but stresses the small size and limited activity of this group. We emphasise instead the emergence of a ‘shadow elite’ amongst the Chamars: a group of young men who have spent long periods in formal school education but who have failed to obtain secure employment. As an increasing number of high-school graduates search for a dwindling number of white-collar, ‘respectable’ posts, who you know and how much bribe money you can pay have become the crucial considerations in obtaining secure employment. A very small number of Chamar households have succeeded in using government reservations for ‘Scheduled Castes’ to obtain valued jobs. But the vast majority remain dependent on local manual labour and therefore locked into exploitative relationships with the dominant Jat caste, who have been significantly more effective in obtaining valuable school credentials and white-collar jobs. Drawing on the statements of young unemployed Chamar men, we emphasise the frustration and humiliation associated with the prolonged quest for a secure job. We then argue that the hopelessness of the Chamar educated unemployed - powerfully encoded in feelings of being ‘useless’ or engaged only in ‘timepass’ activity - serves to question the Ambedkarite vision of ex-untouchable progress through ‘education’ that is frequently espoused by parents. We argue that the emerging Chamar ‘shadow elite,’ like those comprising the Chamar elite proper, act as local ‘intellectuals’ in rural Bijnor district or as agents of a new ‘political unconscious’ amongst the Chamars. Like the Chamar ‘intellectuals’ discussed in other literature, the educated unemployed also stand as important symbols of the social forces affecting Chamars in post-colonial north India.


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