• India: shining a light unlocks free lunches and schooling

    Posted by Micah

    15 October, 2013

    “God has answered our prayers wonderfully”, said David Jayakumar in an email this week. Twenty children denied schooling in Alinagar, a village Bihar, one of the poorest states of India, were granted admission. David, who heads up Micah Challenge, is pleased that the children will also have access to free lunch, uniforms and textbooks.

    Church leaders had been advocating for the children to receive free education, a legal right in India since 2010 when the RTE (right to education for all children aged 6-14) came into force. But despite the law, the poorest children or those from ethnic minorities often miss out.

    Micah Challenge has been championing the cause of children in very poor areas of districts in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh as part of their work to promote Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3, that 100% of children should attend primary school and that girls should have equal access to education. Meetings are held in villages with Christian leaders and they learn about how to advocate using their rights under the law.

    In the Bihar case, a local man, Mr Paulus, who ran a home for poor boys and girls from nearby villages had tried to admit 30 of his children to the village school. But the Headmaster kept denying admission to them on trivial grounds.

    It was when Micah Challenge visited that the full extent of the issue became known. Apparently the Headmaster had been getting a midday meal cooked for about 20 -30 children every day but had submitted expenses for 100 -150 children to the government.

    This illegal payment would double his monthly income. He would pay up to a quarter in bribes to officials to keep them quiet about the fraud but would still be pocketing an extra Rs 50,000 a month.

    The Head’s corrupt behaviour went further. He was selling rice meant for the midday meal to the general public and pocketing the cash for his own gain.

    David explained, “Our efforts were successful because we knew the RTE law. The Headmaster could not get away with his corrupt behaviour if we exposed his actions.”

    Talking to the Headmaster about RTE provisions, David and the local pastor approached a local politician, a Christian, who took up the matter with the Block Officer. The officer later instructed the Headmaster to admit the children.  

    “We could sense God's grace in all our endeavours,” said David.

    The RTE’s patchy success is seen in many rural areas where there is a lack of knowledge about rights, prejudice against poor children especially scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and corruption.

    The incident uncovered in Bihar is only one among many thousands. David is convinced that training in rights and the law and presenting a united front to corrupt officials will bring change.

    The work of groups like Micah Challenge to expose corruption as it affects the poor is part of the global campaign against corruption - EXPOSED. David Jayakumar’s work highlights the impact of corruption on the most marginalized children and also shows that united action to shine a light on corrupt behaviour can bring justice.

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    This blog was originally published on the EXPOSED 2013 Campaign.