Forced to learn in the Bengali medium, tribal students in the Cachar District of Assam are falling dreadfully behind.
Carrying bundles of sticks, a young man tells the painful story of his failed education. A member of the Dimasa tribe, he attended school in the Cachari Hills of Assam. However, his classes were taught in Bengali, and so he struggled to understand content and take exams. After failing his final exams for the third time, he walked away from his education.
The Dimasa-Cacharis are one of the largest tribes in northeast India and said to be the earliest inhabitants of the Brahmaputra Valley. Their cultural heritage and tribal customs face the dangers of extinction feared by many traditional communities in India. And more, opportunities for development and socio-economic advancement lag in the community as Dimasa-Cachari children vie for education in the Bengali medium, which they find difficult to understand.
Our community correspondent Ajit Singh was born in the Cachar district of Assam. He identifies with the struggles faced by these tribal students as he watches his own siblings suffer similar experiences. Still, Ajit believes that education is a path towards a better future. Reporting from the lush hillside of region, he reveals the difficulties that students face in an educational system that is not concerned with meeting their needs.
A conversation with a mother in the Dimasa-Cachari community reveals, “All the schools in the area are taught in the Bengali medium.” And when asked why his children have a difficult time learning, a concerned father explains simply, “This is not our language.” And so, tribal students are left behind in the Assam education system and many drop out of school at young ages.
Of the six fundamental rights in the Indian Constitution, Cultural and Educational Rights are among them. Granted to each Indian citizen, these fundamental rights have been written into the constitution in this way:
“Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part there of having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.”
“All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”
In the context of the constitution, the Dimasa-Cachari people face trying circumstances. As one community member states, “The language of such a unique indigenous community in the region has not been given official recognition by the government.” And so, the Dimasa-Cachari people are provided the rights of education and cultural conservation by the constitution, yet their children are forced to attend schools that do not adhere to their educational needs nor preserve their cultural heritage.
Nevertheless, in recent months, Assam Governor J.B. Patnaik released an order to implement reforms at the primary level of education across the state. According to government reports, the reforms are based on the National Curriculum Framework of 2009 and require continuous and comprehensive evaluation of student progress throughout the academic year. According to the government notification, those students who fall below a 40% threshold on comprehensive exams will be provided special instruction arranged by school officials.
Will educational reforms in Assam correct the disparities that leave Dimasa-Cachari children behind in the current school environment? And if they do, what will become of the Dimasa language?