The Merasi School: A School in the Midst of Inequality

A school is a place where character is shaped, and a school is a place where one can learn and grow without any prejudice. A school is a place that teaches us values, morals and ethics.  In India, schools are considered temples of learning. But what happens when these temples become a source of discrimination and inequality?

Dr. Sarwar Khan, Founder of Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan, and Karen Lukas, Director of Folk Arts Rajasthan, were looking for answers to this question, and what they came up with was the Merasi School. They started the Merasi School in the year 2007, to provide quality education for students of the Merasi community. Despite their long history and legacy, the Merasi community of Rajasthan still faces caste-based discrimination in the society.

They were abused and mistreated by the people of the upper-caste. Even after facing such challenges, the Merasi community was determined to build a better future for their children by sending them to schools. But what if the determination of the Merasi community faces resistance from the upper-caste communities? The result was inequality in the schools.  Article 15 of the Indian Constitution states that “The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”. Even after having many such acts and provisions, the people from marginalized communities still face the wrath from upper-caste communities.

Students from the Merasi community were subjected to continuous discrimination in the schools from upper-caste students and teachers. Groupism plays a major role in exclusion in schools and educational institutions which resists a positive change in the society. Merasi students were not allowed to sit with students from upper-caste and they were forced to sit on the last benches in the class. They were mocked for their clothes and poverty as they cannot afford costly clothes.  They were not allowed to sit with other students during lunch and were forced to sit separately. This exclusion created psychological damage for Merasi students and forced them to leave schools without completing their education. To counter this inequality, the Merasi School was started in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India.

Merasi School with Merasi students and staff
Merasi School with Merasi students | Picture credit – Folk Arts Rajasthan

The Merasi School is the very first school established for the marginalized “lower-caste” Merasi community in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India.  The Merasi School exists to provide an exceptional arts and literacy based education that gives students the opportunity to honor their cultural past and expand the possibility of their social future. The Merasi School is comprised of three classes, called: Very Little Class, Little Class and Big Class. The Merasi School has excellent teachers who were once students of the Merasi School themselves. Students are taught different subjects like Hindi, English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and Computer Science. The teaching is focused on activity-based learning apart from rote learning. The curriculum was designed and developed by Folk Arts Rajasthan, a New York-based organization and by the volunteers from Folk Arts Rajasthan. It was designed in such a way that it integrates the history and music legacy of the Merasi community. This integration is helping the current generation of Merasi students to understand their vast history and legacy that was being ignored and neglected for generations by the society. The Merasi School has brought a positive impact on the Merasi students by providing them quality education, particularly by introducing English language to their subjects. Now almost everyone in the Merasi School can speak, write and understand English. They can communicate with outsiders in English without any hesitation. This gives confidence to the Merasi students, and this confidence is helping them become more determined towards their education and growth.

Merasi Teachers: Sitara, Saina and Seema
Merasi Teachers: Sitara, Saina and Seema Picture credit – Folk Arts Rajasthan

People from upper-caste communities are not happy with the Merasi School and the school is facing wrath from them. The growth and confidence of the Merasi students is hitting the ego of some upper-caste groups and they are trying to pressurize the community members and school staff to shut down the school. Even after facing backlash, the Merasi School stands strong and is serving the students of the Merasi community with pride.

With the collaboration of Folk Arts Rajasthan, the Merasi community and the Merasi School have become more visible to people outside India. People are getting introduced to the history and legacy of the Merasi community through the Merasi School. Apart from providing quality education and knowledge to the Merasi students, the Merasi School represents the music legacy and history of the Merasi community. The Merasi School is a place of diversity and its doors are open for everyone.

Inequality is an insect that destroys the harmony of the society.  It is the mindset of people that must be changed towards marginalized people. It is the responsibility of each and every individual to provide a safe space for others to grow. The words of Gandhi come to mind, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change”.

References:

https://www.folkartsrajasthan.org/programs

Sai Sireesha born and brought up in Andhra Pradesh,received her Bachelor of science in computer science from krishna University, Andhrapradesh and Master's in conflict management and development from Banaras Hindu University,Varanasi.she has been a Gandhifellow in Piramal foundation for education leadership and worked in a close conjunction with NITI AAYOG's Aspirational district transformation program in Narmada district of Gujarat.As a Gandhi fellow she worked for capacity building of cluster resource coordinator and Block resource coordinator, Communities and teachers in Narmada District. After her successful completion of Gandhi Fellowship, she joined URMUL Trust as a Consultant for the International Institute of Impact Evaluation(3IE) project in Bikaner, Rajasthan. As a consultant she worked on Monitoring & Evaluation and communication for the 3IE project. She has also worked with artisans and conducted training sessions on pressing social issues like child marriages, Gender discrimination and Domestic violence in the Thar Desert Region of Rajasthan. Her experience helped her to gain skills like Facilitation, communication, data analysis and community engagement activities. As a student of peace and conflict studies she is good at analysing international affairs and understanding different cultures. Her motivation and dedication to work for the wellbeing of communities made her an American Indian fellow.

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