Part III: Dropouts prompted by ailing education system leads to child marriage, early age labour in Assam minority region

Representational picture | Alamy

This is the third story in a four-part TCN Ground Report series on how poor teacher-student ratio is leading to dropouts in schools of Muslim minority areas of Darrang district in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, where the teacher-student ratio or pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) is much higher than the 30:1 PTR stipulated in the Right to Education Act. 

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In the first part, data from the school year 2019-2020 for the Dalgaon education block shows that the Muslim minority area with a PTR of 49:1 in upper primary schools (from 6th to 8th standards) was far poorer than the worst-performing states, and in lower primary schools (from 1st to 5th standards), with a PTR of 35.88:1, remained almost at par with Bihar 38:1 PTR and Delhi Union Territory, the bottom performing states in India.


In the second part, we reported that such massively high PTR leads to poor learning and eventually dropouts.


Mahibul Hoque |


ASSAM – “It’s a child marriage case of-course,” said Pallavi Sarma, child protection officer of Darrang District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) under the department of Assam State Social Welfare Department, when this reporter enquired about a minor girl who was being given consultation at the joint office of DCPU and District Child Welfare Committee (DCWC) at the district’s headquarter Mangaldai.


Talking to, Pallavi said, “Child marriage cases are common in our office and most of the child brides are in the age group of 13 to 15 years”.  


The closet at the DCWC office is filled with files of child marriage cases. 

The girl was rescued by the child protection officials and has been sheltered by the social welfare department of Assam. 


“Most of the girl brides are school dropouts between 7th to 10th standards,” said officials concerned in handling the child marriage cases. 


Shattered dreams

Enuara Begum from No 3 Baruajhar village of Darrang in Assam got married when she was 14-years-old. Her mother, Huzura Begum, who is in her mid-forties said they wanted her to study but she was unable to do well. “So she dropped out. She was out of school and growing up. We were apprehensive about her and as she was out of school, we had to get her married early,” she said. 


Enuara had no option but to get married as a child despite her will to study further. “I hoped to study further but due to poverty, my parents could not arrange for tuitions. In school, I was not able to understand English and Maths. When I was at home people would disturb me and my family by saying things about me. Then father decided to get me married,” she said.


Many like Enuara are victims of child marriage in Darrang.  


According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for the year 2019, the Darrang district had 23 cases of child marriages, the highest in Assam. However, the actual number of such cases is much higher in the region, especially among Muslims as many cases go unreported.


On October 14, the Darrang district police rescued a 7th standard student from No 1/2 Baruajhar village and arrested two persons related to the case. The rescue operation was carried out only after local activists and journalists asked the senior police officials to intervene. 


The activist, who wished to remain anonymous, told, “The number of cases reported is much lower than the original child marriage cases. Parents do not disclose about the marriage of their daughters nor the neighbours”.


Many young brides—who are below the legal marriage age—this reporter reached out to, did not speak on the record as they feared legal consequences that may arise against their parents.  


They said that if they had not left school, their parents would not have gotten them married very early. 


Senior government officials who are involved in rescuing girl children from child marriage told that most of the cases they intervene in are mostly young people who are between 13 to 15 years old. “7th to 9th standard girls are in their adolescent age. During this period their physical features change and in such situations, if they are out of school parents generally tend to get them married off due to prejudices and existing social practices,” said authorities.


“Among the child marriage and child labour cases we receive, the victims are mostly school dropouts,” said a senior child welfare committee official confirming that among other reasons, slow learning due to higher PTR leads to dropouts of children in 8th to 10th standard. 


According to officials from child protection units (CPU) and child welfare committees (CWC), they receive child marriage and child labour cases involving children as young as 10-years-old.


Diluwar Hussain, who is now 21-years-old, from Bechimari Jungle village told that he dropped out of school as he failed in mathematics in 10th standard. “I was extremely good at athletics. I also won a state championship in relay running and then wanted to be a sportsperson. But as I could not continue school, I started working in the market when I was 16 years old,” said Diluwar, who now sells watermelon at the water clogged Bechimari daily market.


Twenty-three-year-old Harunul Rashid from Baruajhar village has taken up farming as he failed in mathematics and English in his tenth exam. He said, “In school, I could not understand English and Mathematics. Teachers were not there to guide me. So, I didn’t reappear in the tenth boards’ examination again and started working as a farm labourer. Now I work on my land while some of my friends got teaching jobs.”


Similarly, Safiqul Islam from Arimari village, who is 18-years-old school, left four years ago when he was in 7th standard. He said he dropped out of school as he didn’t like studying. He said the classrooms were jam-packed at his school No 3 Shyam ME Madrasa and he couldn’t take notes or even hear what the teacher was saying during the class. 


With such a huge teacher-student ratio it is not possible to comply with the continuous comprehensive evaluation (CCE) method to monitor the progress of a child as envisaged in the RTE.


“Since I left school I have gone to Karnataka to work in the coffee estates. I have worked for a daily wage of Rs 350 to Rs 400 a day there. With the money, I can help my family. I earn while working outside (of Assam) then why should I continue schooling where I see no future?” Safiqul said many of his friends had left school and usually go to southern India to work.


Dropouts lead to child marriage and migrant labour

To corroborate the statements of CWC and the young people who have been child labourers and victims of child marriage, interviewed several school headmasters and senior teachers from the region.


Imran Hussain, the headmaster at Baruajhar High School, said that in his school the PTR was 92:1. “This huge PTR reflects how overburdened we are. For students who are already slow learners from their previous school years and enrolled in 9th standard, we cannot simply provide the necessary care. So many fail in the annual exams of 9th standard and many in 10th board exams. Most of these students drop out from schools and at such a stage of life, girls are married off as child brides and boys become labourers who generally migrate to Kerala or Karnataka along with their families or friends,” he said.


The discriminatory allotment or posting of teachers in the Dalgaon Education block is linked to slow learning which, many teachers feel, can be understood from the fact that most children fail Science subjects and English.


Samsul Hoque, principal at Bechimari Higher Secondary School—the school with the highest enrolment in the Darrang district— said that science posts in most high (6th to 10th standards) or upper primary schools (6th to 8th standards) remain vacant in the region. This leads to very poor comprehension among children who eventually fail in board exams.


“In my school, we require at least six science subject teachers but there’s only two of them. These two teachers cannot take care of 287 students from the two classes. With such shortage of teachers, it is very difficult to expect the better academic performance of students from the whole region,” Samsul said while demanding rationalising teachers to Dalgaon education block if the educationally backward region has to progress socially.