Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Power of the Vote

Yesterday evening, a few kids mentioned a lack of good education and food at the village elementary school.

"We should get two rotis for lunch but we only get one."
"The cook takes a stack of rotis home with her."
"When the checker comes once a month, Sir tells us to say we're fed heaps of food."
"Sir doesn't really teach us, he sits around."

We paid a visit to this school in the morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of reality. The teacher was chatting with the cook as an older student served lunch to the other pupils. A sticky ball of rice plopped onto their steel plates. The daal came after many students had already eaten their meals. What did the cook do with the extra food? "I take it home...I mean, if the kids have had their fill I take it home." The cook was a woman from the Kheda itself. I felt uncomfortable with her statement, but didn't know enough to tell her otherwise.

Three hours into school Sir dismissed the 1st and 2nd standard students. The ten or so kids that remained were in grades 3-5. He gave them assignments and sat at his desk. "Usually he doesn't tell us what to do but today you're here so he's giving us assignments." Puja blurted out the declaration loud enough for everyone to hear. The teacher gave no response.

The hour and a half we spent at the school exposed a certain negligence in the students' education and great potential for corruption. The teacher recorded each day's attendance in a register and received reimbursement for food accordingly. If 15 kids show up, no one's checking to see if he put 15 or 50. Such lack of accountability seemed like a serious system flaw.

To better our understanding of education we drove to Baneda. There, we met with the Block Literacy Coordinator at the Panchayat Samiti. He provided us with a detailed document listing the provisions of the mid-day meal scheme. He also promised a few teaching aids for the literacy classes.

A man sitting behind us inquired as to who we were. Nikhil gave the usual shpiel (sp?), but that wasn't enough for him. It turns out this man was a representatiave of a large political party in India. Shreeji ka Kheda has been voting for this party regularly. The man claimed anything and everything the villagers had (or didn't have) was because of politics. "Shreeji ka Kheda is our village," he boasted.

So what does this mean? Who gets BPL status? Who gets widow and old-age pension? According to him, those that voted for his party received such benefits. Of course, every party rewarded certain communities with high loyalty. I didn't take this man's testimony to be the holy grail of village operation. Nevertheless, his disclosure shed light on the power of the vote. "These people just need to demand better education and we will provide it...if that's what it takes to get their vote." Unfortunately, proper nutrition and a secure future (from education) did not seem to be on the parents' priority list.


  1. So can you give us an idea of what would be on the parent's priority list ?

    Btw, the Right to Education bill specifies that the Gram Panchayat will now have the power to oversee the operations of the village schools, http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_gram-panchayat-will-have-power-to-set-up-school-management-committee_1358471

  2. the parents are primarily concerned with:
    1. NREGA work, earning money
    2. getting their pension on time
    3. milking their cows and collecting firewood for cooking - this is a woman's task

    anything with a long-term benefit (education, e.g.) is not seen as an immediate priority