‘Digital Divide’ for Indian Schools; and Some Other Related Things

An Incomplete Reading List

This was conceived as an article initially. However, as the months rolled and the sense of uncertainty increased, schools grew more and more uncompromising towards students and teachers, the debilitating effects of which I could see first-hand at home. With rising anxiety and the undue stress of unreasonable work hours, unnecessary workload, strange software updates and next-to-none professional support, it became almost impossible to continue writing. Here is then, a reading list, which was supposed to be my bibliography. What I could have written, others write better.

  1. This video gives an overview of what “digital divide” means in the Indian school education context: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAT8t0bK4ik
  2. This is a comprehensive report and survey of the (lack of) digital infrastructure in Indian homes; it speaks about the gendered nature of this lack as well: https://www.ideasforindia.in/topics/human-development/disparity-in-access-to-quality-education-and-the-digital-divide.html
  3. PARI’s report on rural digital divide: I call this a report because it has “data”. However, it humanises the data and statistics by reporting individual stories and accounts of people and their lives and how they are responding to “digital partition”(The latter term is necessarily unsettling with its traumatic evocations). : https://ruralindiaonline.org/articles/schoolkids-digital-divide-to-digital-partition/
  4. One is also reminded of Devika Balakrishnan in this respect: https://scroll.in/article/963681/kerala-students-suicide-is-yet-another-reminder-of-indias-digital-divide
  5. For the girl student, digital divide can mean the end of education altogether : https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/23/india-girls-schooling-online-struggle/
  6. For differently-abled students, online classes have been a nightmare: https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/latest-studies/story/disabled-students-at-risk-of-dropping-out-as-they-are-unable-to-cope-with-online-learning-report-1701761-2020-07-18
  7. This is an article about Kashmir, which had had internet shutdowns for over a year now: https://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/opinion/e-learning-and-digital-divide-in-the-pandemic/
  8. While on one hand digital divide means lack of infrastructural access, on the other, it also means lack of familiarity and orientation to exist in the digital space. Private schools have been burdening teachers with enormous amount of work load, with little to none pedagogic support. The mental health conversation about teachers’ stress is not even initiated. Some examples: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/madurai/stress-filled-life-for-teachers-at-virtual-classes/articleshow/77176412.cms
  9. On top of this, teachers are facing rampant cyber harassment, which is a symptom of both lack of pedagogic support from institutions, and lack of cyber crime awareness. This is nightmarish: https://scroll.in/article/961738/for-many-of-indias-teachers-online-classes-amid-lockdown-have-been-an-awful-experience
  10. Proctoring exams have begun in some private schools, and the surveillance model is adding to a lot of undue stress on students. For lack of reports on this, I have added a non-India centric article. I heard about a private school in Delhi, where the AI shrieked “CHEATING” if anybody entered the room where the student was giving exams: https://www.theverge.com/2020/4/29/21232777/examity-remote-test-proctoring-online-class-education.
  11. One must talk about the mental health of everyone involved in school education in this uncertain scenario: https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/opinion/columnists/by-invitation/uncertainty-over-school-reopening-mental-health-of-children-needs-attention/articleshow/76266031.cms
  12. An important blog article that appeals to every stakeholder of school education(teachers, students and guardians) to be patient with each other. Absolutely agree with these lines here, “Let us be clear, as an employer, the school has to take care of employment, not the customer i.e. parents/students. But, what has happened is that the schools have pitched the teachers cleverly against parents (ever seen a parent writing emotional letters to his/her organization’s customers?). In this disaster, parents and teachers need to be together to overcome the profit-minded mentality, which does not exist in a teacher’s pure mind.” : https://medium.com/@digital_plus_mad/private-schools-in-india-and-the-corona-lockdown-98598d1fc3fe
  13. What the digital divide has revealed about the divide that was already present in Indian classrooms: https://www.financialexpress.com/education-2/online-learning-and-education-for-all-during-and-after-covid-19-pandemic/2021940/
  14. An intervention that have helped to some extent: http://www.anticaste.in/left-government-of-kerala-builds-12250-study-rooms-for-dalit-students-8500-more-in-the-offing/
  15. Other ways in which teachers are helping: https://indianexpress.com/article/education/west-bengal-parents-collect-printed-study-materials-from-madrassas-to-close-digital-divide-6526178/

Image source: https://medium.com/@ShwetaBarupal/digital-divide-a-critical-analysis-7156333237f7

Bio

Titas Bose is a PhD student at University of Chicago, working on post-independent Bengali children’s fiction. She completed her Mphil from Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2018, which was a study of Bengali folktale anthologies for children in the twentienth century. She has worked as a English teacher in Cambridge School, Sriniwaspuri and then as a Critical Writing Preceptor at Ashoka University.

She is a co-founder of the Delek Archives.

Creative Responses on Dalit Feminism By Teenagers: Part 3 of 3

This is one of the microadvocacy projects by the teen fellows of Orikalankini’s 13 week teen fellowship. Each week the teens meet an activist(Anannya G MadonnaAbirami Jotheeswaran and Priyadharshini) from a marginalised group to hear from them and express or apply their learnings in an art form. Applications for this is free but rigorous. The fellowship opens in June every year. Please follow orikalankini on facebook and instagram to be updated.

For this assignment, each fellow had to research questions for and have a telephonic interview with a Dalit feminist. We also had an activist speak to them and answer their questions for an hour. They have expressed their learnings in various forms.

By Thanvishree:

The image shows –
A woman banging her head as she is tired of being unjustified, being a dalit women. The reason for depicting it this way is that every dalit woman is facing so much violence for being a lower caste women and struggling everyday for her rights, respect and equality.

  1. The session was so interesting and I changed my perspective of seeing things. I never thought how being woman and being dalit makes the difference- Indian feminisim has no place for dalit women.They are deemed impure because of lack of ritual purity. CASTEIST PATRIARCHY is scary. Movies and the media representation of dalit women is absent.
  2. My interview with Dalit Activist taught me – liberty of marrying a dalit women is still not accepted by upper-caste families. Being educated parents of groom they reject their love when they came to know that she is dalit. They were afraid what people in the society and their community would consider their family as impure. Visualizing the mental status of women made me restlessness.

By Hiba:

By Saumya:

The image has a huge bold text : SMASH the Brahminical Patriarchy.

But upon a closer inspection, one can see the faint text in green. See if you can find them all!

Namely the words: oppression, cast away, excluded, snatched opportunities, historical injustice, bias, violence and discrimination. The reason for the text being formatted this way is because people fail to see the historical injustice done upon Dalits. Also the colour green is used for the so-called “ever-green” history.

The session was really informant and deeply touching. Dalit Feminism needs to be a part of each one of our feminisms. If your feminism isn’t inclusive then your feminism isn’t empowering or helpful. It’s time we learnt and informed ourselves.

My artwork aims to show that what I’ve learnt is: Most of the times other communities’ struggles are not really visible to us. The first step is to see that, acknowledge that and work towards that.

Artist Bios

I am Thanvishree, I shine when I use my passion to use my technological skills and communication skills, being eager to learn, face challenges in enforcing the idea of equality instead of patriarchy in people at young age.And educate elders how harmful patriarchal behavior is for society.

Instagram Id:thanvishreerk_goud

Fundraiser for the work I do: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-thanvishree?mlp_referrer_id=3660100&utm_medium=created&utm_source=virtual_bank_account

Hi everyone! My name is Hiba. I’m 16 and I’m originally from Sril lanka. But I live in the US now. I love all types of movies bollywood, Hollywood, C-drama, K-drama, you name it:)(the good kind😅). I like thrillers, comedy, romance, action, and etc. Honestly anything but horror. I enjoy listening to music and eating food:) I lose track of time when I’m engaged in deep and fun conversations with friends!

Fundraiser for the work I do: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-thanvishree?mlp_referrer_id=3660100&utm_medium=created&utm_source=virtual_bank_account

I am Saumya Shinde from Mumbai. I am a 16 year old participant from the 13 week global teen fellowship by Orikalankini. It is changing the conversation around sexuality and menstruation.

I shine the best when I use my research and my communication skills to reform and inform the world to dismantle the patriarchy, toxic masculinity, internalised misogyny abd rape culture.

You can reach me via;
Instagram: @_saumya_2805
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saumya.shinde.735
Gmail: contact.saumyashinde@gmail.com

Creative Responses on Dalit Feminism By Teenagers: Part 2 of 3

This is one of the microadvocacy projects by the teen fellows of Orikalankini’s 13 week teen fellowship. Each week the teens meet an activist(Anannya G Madonna, Abirami Jotheeswaran and Priyadharshini) from a marginalised group to hear from them and express or apply their learnings in an art form. Applications for this is free but rigorous. The fellowship opens in June every year. Please follow orikalankini on facebook and instagram to be updated.

For this assignment, each fellow had to research questions for and have a telephonic interview with a Dalit feminist. We also had an activist speak to them and answer their questions for an hour. They have expressed their learnings in various forms.

  1. Diya

2. Khushi

3. Tenzin

I got to interview dalit feminist Priyadharsini.
And I felt that it doesn’t really matter whatever the roots you belong to but the thing that matters is you work hard yourself and you need to beautify yourself just like this lotus flower whose root is dipped in mud but still manages to shine out.

Artist Bios

I am Diya, I shine when I use my passion to read and write to create a world where people know their potential and have no resentment towards each other irrespective of their diversity.
You can reach me through instagram – @blithesquesttoread and my blog – diyaguptamyself.wordpress.com

I’m Khushi Patel an 18 aged teen. Presently working on myself in respect to understand the world out there a bit better.
I shine when I use my deep sense of emotions and calm, gentle way of expression to connect, galvanize, nurture people in order to create a safer place in the world for women and children with awareness about sex education and sexual abuse.
You could connect me via Instagram my username Id is @khwaab_khushi
Or mail which is beingkhushipatel@gmail.com

Fundraiser for the work I do: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-school-children-2?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=fundraisers-title&mlp_referrer_id=3649930

I am Tenzin Noryang and i shine when i use my creativity and hardwork to support and motivate people in order to make earth a safe place for everyone.

Fundraiser for the work I do : https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-school-children-2?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=fundraisers-title&mlp_referrer_id=3649930

Creative Responses on Dalit Feminism By Teenagers: Part 1 of 3

This is one of the microadvocacy projects by the teen fellows of Orikalankini’s 13 week teen fellowship. Each week the teens meet an activist(Anannya G Madonna and Abirami Jotheeswaran) from a marginalised group to hear from them and express or apply their learnings in an art form. Applications for this is free but rigorous. The fellowship opens in June every year. Please follow orikalankini on facebook and instagram to be updated .

For this assignment, each fellow had to research questions for and have a telephonic interview with a Dalit feminist. We also had an activist speak to them and answer their questions for an hour. They have expressed their learnings in various forms.

  1. By Shwethambari:

2. By Ummul:

The session with Ananya maam(Anannya G Madonna) and the call interview with Abirami maam(Abirami Jotheeswaran) was really insightful and it helped me to understand more about Dalit feminism. I learned how patriarchy is the basis for the discrimination, sexual abuse and assault , the lack of opportunities etc. So from this session and interview I learned that it’s important to  learn about Dalit feminism to be a better ally and only if we educate ourselves we can help others too.I also learned how our privileges can make us negligent and blind to the injustice which is happening around us .So it’s important to acknowledge our privileges through which we can help others .My artwork symbolizes how we should smash patriarchy, its values , its beliefs and its stereotypes and by which we can empower each and every person.

3. By Zoya:

4. By Sanmyukta:

Pass the mic

The complex structures of hierarchical casteism, patriarchy and oppression.

The system benefitting the savarna men.

How can we stand and watch in silence,

As casteism and patriarchy is engulfing the society.

How can we stand and pretend that everything is okay,

As our growing ignorance lets someone get away with oppression?

To what extent are we willing to suppress in order to uphold our privileges?

Equal.

“Being Equal” is what we say.

Is being equal about

what we see on the mainstream social media?

Or is there more?

Is being equal about

Supporting the rights of the ones only I care about?

Or is there more?

Is being equal about

uplifting a few?

Or is there more?

Is being equal about

Just talking?

Or is there more?

Isn’t being equal about

Supporting the ones that need it the most?

Isn’t being equal about

Being anti-patriarchal?

Isn’t being equal about

Being anti-sexist?

Being anti-homophobic?

Being anti-racist?

Being anti-casteist?

We can only be anti-casteist

If we hold safe spaces.

Create policies.

Call out casteism.

And most importantly

Pass the mic!

5. By Mira:

Artist Bios

I am Shwethambari. I shine when i use my creative skills and politeness to connect and motivate people in order to develop a better conscience, and for them to realize their power to create change.

Fundraiser for the work I do : https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-queer-and-dalit-folx?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=email-campaign&mlp_referrer_id=3660706

I am Ummul , I shine when I use my passion to read and my collaborative skills to create a world where people accept and embrace each other for who they are and help eachother and support eachother when a person suffers from any type of mental illness. Instagram Id:ummul_waheedha18

I am Zoya, and I shine when I use my humor and insightfulness to make people understand the importance of saving our wildlife and help them bond with each other while saving our earth!

Hello! I am Sanmyukta Shinde from Mumbai! I shine when I use my passion, kindness and perseverance to create, engage and inspire in order to create safe spaces and empower women!

Fundraiser for the work I do: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-abuse-victims-get-legal-services-to-fight-their-battles?utm_source=whatsapp&utm_medium=fundraisers-title&mlp_referrer_id=3666504

I’m Mira, a grade 12 student who is interested to see a non judgemental society. I shine when i use my helpfulness and silence to support and grow with people in order to live peacefully with each other. Contact me on instagram, damn_i_cant_find_a_username and email, smiramantrini@gmail.com. Fundraiser for the work I do: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-queer-and-dalit-folx?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=email-campaign&mlp_referrer_id=3660706

Schoolchildren and Mental Health Care: Two Worlds That Rarely Meet

— By Ayushi Khemka

I remember coming back home from school and switching on the small 14 inch TV that we had in our room and getting glued to watch some random American disney shows dubbed in Hindi. Most of them were based on the high school experiences of teenagers and I, being one, used to love watching those pretty white people all dressed up in casual clothing and not a strict uniform, running here and there in their brightly painted school corridors and rummaging through their lockers. I used to be fascinated by not just the aesthetics of the schools that were shown on these shows, but also some of the minor characteristics of such schools, one of them being the presence of a counsellor. 

I went to one of those famous private North Delhi Jesuit schools, getting admission into which is an aspiration for many of the parents out there. The school had a huge playing ground, big spacious classrooms, massive auditorium and even a state-of-the-art swimming pool. Now, this is not me flexing about my school but rather, establishing the privileged ways in which the school functioned and provided its students with multiple facilities. As is common in every school, there were instances of bullying, harassment and abuse at my school too. All the facilities, you see, do not really mean much when it comes to providing a safe space to all the students. The facilities never extended to catering to the mental health of the students who came from a diverse socio-cultural background.

Years later, when I graduated from school and went to college, I soon grew a familiarity with the concept of a counsellor as people around me threw in the word in some random conversations or some such. Move ahead a couple or two years more and I watched another show based on high school experiences of a young girl, this time on Netflix, and had one of those whimpering (not a banging) mind numbing moments, if you will. With all of its problems around portraying suicide in an irresponsible way, I did find some parts of 13 Reasons Why speak to the school-me (or high school-me, as the Americans would call it). For those uninitiated, 13 Reasons Why traces the suicide of a young girl Hannah Baker at Liberty High and all the 13 reasons why she chose to end her life, including instances of bullying, harassment and rape, amongst others. While watching the show, I could recall a lot of my own experiences at my fancy Delhi school and yet there was one aspect, rather the lack of it, that disturbed me to no ends, that is the counsellor. In the show, the protagonist Hannah Baker seeks help from the school counsellor who though fails her in providing adequate support. For the adult-me thinking from the perspective of a high school-me, the mere existence of a counsellor and the very idea that if you were being bullied or harassed, you could go and speak to someone about it who is trained in handling such issues was simply alien and striking.

The adult-me kept on pondering over how when I came from a place of immense privilege, when it comes to the kind of school I attended as a kid, even that did not translate into having a basic mental healthcare system available for my perusal. The existing mental health discourse that we have going on on social media or otherwise, tends to be highly exclusionary and focused solely on seeing mental health as an apolitical, urban issue. However, this couldn’t be more wrong. Mental health is a political category. When I recall all the acts of bullying and harassment that I and some others faced at my school, one can gauge how those acts of harassment that affected our mental health were driven by the factors of identity and exclusion. A lot of the girls were slutshamed and abused by their respective boyfriends and sometimes even by teachers. A lot of the boys were bullied for not being manly enough. Students coming from minority backgrounds were called names and profiled due to their religious identity in a way that seemed harmless to most of the students then, but when you grow up and have the available resources at your perusal to identify microaggressions as such, you do see how the harmless was not really so. To add to it, there were teachers who proudly boasted of their Brahminical identity (in a Jesuit school nonetheless) inside the classroom and associated their fair skin tone with it, with no context to legitimise having such an unnecessary and casteist conversation in a classroom full of young, impressionable kids coming from various caste backgrounds. There were a lot more incidents of bullying and harassment that were driven specifically by the factors of gender, sexuality, religion, caste and class, among others. Yet, the thousands of kids studying in a school just minutes away from the Delhi LG office, were left to grapple with the immense feelings of fear, overwhelm and anger on their own. Approaching teachers and principals was hardly ever an option and even if you did, you would be met with scorn and chided again for not being able to handle your stuff on your own, with the school taking zero accountability.

Now, I am not sure if the presence of a counsellor would have solved every incident and made every student feel safe and secure in the school space, but it could have been a start, at least. When you think that if even such privileged spaces stay insulated from the mental health discourse around teenagers and young children, you cannot even begin to imagine the situation in spaces with less privilege and resources. With student suicides becoming a thing of everyday life, it is imperative that all the stakeholders involved in mentoring young children take up the issue of mental health seriously. Be it the school authorities, teachers, counsellors, parents, government bodies and the civil society, we all need to give up the very Indian mentality of living in denial when it comes to tackling difficult issues or having difficult conversations. Young children, like any other human being of any other age group, have a mental health and the way most of the schools function in India as a reflection of the biased and divided society lying outside the gated community of the school, their mental health is bound to get affected by all these factors and more.

The students need to be looked at as a diverse set of people rather than a homogenous mass just because they are all studying in the same school. Students come from different socio-cultural backgrounds and have varied amounts of privilege and capital. This acknowledgement of diversity cannot stop at the school admitting students from economically weaker sections as part of its administrative policy. We need to have counsellors in school and those who look at counselling not as something that exists in a social vacuum. Of course, the presence of counsellors raises pertinent questions around treating students as agential and consenting beings, a topic that merits a much more nuanced discussion that goes beyond the scope of this piece. Our schools are hierarchical and we can’t look away from that fact. The hierarchy is traumatising for a lot of the students and we need to consider this as an immediate cause for concern, lest we keep on stealing children of their dignity and selfhood.


We need to bring in the counsellor inside the classroom and make mental health a topic sans any taboo. When we can have students write their board exams for a subject called ‘Physical Education’, there should be no reason why we cannot have a curriculum on mental health. Training teachers in mental health first-aid and bringing in a fundamental upheaval as far as understanding the construction of identities and their effect on students is concerned could be a step in the right direction. Above all, we need to critically look at the institution of schools and not treat them as obscure egalitarian spaces existing in social isolation.

Image Source: http://www.schcounselor.com/

Author Bio

Ayushi Khemka created Mental Health Talks India in April 2018. She believes in channelising one’s vulnerabilities into an honest conversation that can potentially bring about a change in how we live and exist in the world. Living with depression and anxiety herself, she wishes to end the stigma around mental health in India. She is also a PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University working on the intersections of gendered violence and social media.
 

MHTI links

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Twitter: https://twitter.com/mhtalksindia

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