A school comes alive for children of migrant workers in rural Rajasthan | Milaap

A school comes alive for children of migrant workers in rural Rajasthan

Thirteen-year-old Sajjad, dressed in blue color uniform, stood up to come in front and read out a story in Hindi after the teachers called out his name. "Sher or Siyar," he read the title aloud and began with the story,  printed on a piece of paper he held in his hand. On his left sat students studying in third to fifth grade. To the right, were those reading in first to second grade. He was called out of the former set of students. They all had come out to study in the shadow of a tree to avoid the dingy classroom and sat on the orange and blue color mats.

The Bricks School at the oldest and biggest brickfield in Renwal village of Jaipur district, Rajasthan.

This, however, is not a scene from a regular school. But from a 'Brick School' with just two batches — first to second grade and third to fifth grade, running from an allotted space in the premises of an oldest and the biggest brickfield in Renwal village of Jaipur district, Rajasthan.  "The school has been running from here since last two years now. We rarely get to see old faces. They (the children) move with their parents, and only return if the parents do," said Sandeep Kumar Tailor, a teacher at the school.

Children of migrant workers studying at a school in brickfield in Renwal village of Jaipur district, Rajasthan.

Children of migrant workers studying at a school in brickfield in Renwal village of Jaipur district, Rajasthan.

Every year in December, labour migrates to the village due to the presence of several brickfields. Most of the labour migrates from Uttar Pradesh -- the most populous state of India which borders with Rajasthan. It is considered here that the labour from UP is better skilled in the brickmaking work than the others. However, they come only for a limited period -- not more than seven months.

"The labour starts coming after the festive season of Diwali and begins to settle in. They only start working in December and move to their respective natives just before the monsoon in June," said the owner of a brickfield who did not wish to be identified. "The work demands to be wrapped before monsoon sets in. Otherwise, all the bricks will go destroyed. Each worker gets Rs. 500 for 1000 bricks they made in a day," he added.

According to Aajeevika Bureau, a non-profit organization working with the migrant communities in India, brick kiln work is among the biggest employers of migrants with ten million workers in it. In terms of their movement, a blog on their website reads, "Managed in many cases by private labour contractors and fuelled by social networks there are well-formed patterns in the movement of labour across hundreds of kilometres within the country." The 2001 census also throws a light on a similar pattern, as according to it, the North Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have the highest percentages of rural populations, with 18.6 percent and 11.1 percent of people living in villages, respectively. These states are also the largest migrant-sending states. A substantial flow of migrant labour relocates from UP to Delhi, Haryana, and other states across northern and central India.

"These migrant corridors are an outcome of social networks. In the past contractors/employers from Jaipur would have gone out in search of workers and with time a steady flow of workers would have developed from particular parts of UP to Jaipur. At present, it might just be that the older migrants from UP serving as contractors are recruiting workers from their villages," said Amrita Sharma, director of Aajeevika Bureau.

Most of the migrant workers prefer to relocate, even if it is seasonal, with the entire family. Among those affected by the movement are their children who are in need of proper education. In the brickfield we visited, over 85 families settled during December. In the school set up there, 68 students -- 36 in the batch of first- to second-grade and 32 in third- to fifth-grade batch, are studying. There are four other brickfields nearby, with a  total of 176 children studying in similar 'Brick School'. In each school, two teachers are deployed to teach the separate batches. "We saw the need to set up such schools in the area," said Amit Kumar, director of Kumarappa Gram Swaraj Sanstha, a Jaipur-based NGO  working towards empowering villagers, especially women and children. The organization first started with setting up these schools in brickfields in Chaksu town of Jaipur in 2014. They later set up similar schools in Renwal in late 2017, and termed them 'The Bricks School'.

A teacher conducting a class at a Brick School in Renwal villages of Jaipur district, Rajasthan.

The closest government school near the oldest brickfield in Renwal is over 2kms away. However, it is "practically not possible" to enrol these children in the school.  There are two reasons behind it. Firstly, a new session starts in April in government schools. The time these children arrive in December, schools already had completed half of their session. Thus, they resist to admit them. Secondly, even if government schools agree to admit them in between session the parents hesitate. They cannot afford to allow them to walk alone to the school from the fields, nor can they take children themselves, leaving the work behind.

Mehmood with his three daughters -- Alsifa (sitting on the left), Gulabsa (on right) and Noorbi (standing), and wife Kalsuban.

Sajjad father at his makeshift house in the premises of the brickfield in Renwal village of Jaipur district, Rajasthan.

Three of Mehmood's daughters are studying in the Bricks School in Renwal, and he is happy with the initiative. "No. No. We cannot teach them in a government school here. It is too far.  And it is fine here (at the Brick School). We don't have to worry as they can study here. Once we return to our village in UP, they can continue with their studies in a government school there," he said. Mehmood, however, has no clue in which standard does his daughters would be studying in once he returns. He calls himself angutha chaap.  Likewise, Sajjad father Azaad wants him to study as much as he wants. "I don't want him to start working at an early age. I am an illiterate and do not want him to become one. Education is important to move forward in life," Azaad said.

Two of Mehmood's daughters, Noorbi and Gulabsa, are students of Class 6  in a school in UP. His third daughter, Alsifa, is a Class 2 student. While Sajjad is a student of Class 7 in UP. However, here he is a student of Class 5.  Sanjay claimed that when Sajjad joined he could hardly read properly. The teachers at the Brick School said they not only consider the age of a child but also how well he or she can study, before enrolling them in a Class. "We concentrate on Hindi and Math here. Our aim is to polish their basics first, and then further take it up," said Kavita Sharma, another teacher at the Brick School, who teaches first- to second-grade students.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018 released earlier this year also highlighted that one out every four Class 8 students in rural India is unable to read even a Class 2 text. It also showed over one in two Class 8 students cannot solve a problem that involves basic division.

Here at the Bricks School, teachers find it difficult to follow up on their students afterward. "It is very difficult to keep a track on each student. The contractors, on who these migrant workers and their families are dependent, can take them anywhere for work," Amit added.  "Options around employment are highly limited in the rural areas and seasonal migration has emerged as a predominant source of livelihood for large numbers of villagers. Often, it's not a matter of choice but what is available," Amrita said.