I am Bandana, a 16-year-old Dalit girl from Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh. When I was 14 years old, I had a hard choice to make: keep going to school or help provide for my family by working during school hours. To meet family obligations, I had no choice but to drop out of school.
In my village, there is no government school or free education beyond Class 8, so most girls end up as child laborers or child brides and face a life of endless exploitation.
Poor families like mine can’t afford private schools — and it’s even worse for girls. Most families believe it is too dangerous to send their daughters to a school outside the village when there is no safe transportation. Many girls have been molested and harassed by boys while walking and cycling to a school far from my home.
Currently, the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009 only guarantees free and compulsory schooling for children up to age 14. Once we turn 14 and complete Class 8, our access to education ends. I’m not the only girl this impacts — almost 40% of girls ages 15 to 18 are not in school.
Education is critical to every girl’s future. The only way to make sure all girls have access to education is by ensuring the extension of the RTE Act up to higher secondary level and also ensuring that more money is spent by the government to build secondary schools in every village. Sign my petition.
Thankfully, after two years out of school, I got a second chance. Social workers helped me enroll in a private school and persuaded my family to let me attend. But I still struggle to cover my school expenses. I still need to work after school and on weekends to support my family of six. This doesn’t leave me any time to complete my homework.
I have started this petition asking our Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal and the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to increase contribution to education from public resources and give a clear financial roadmap to reach 6% of GDP (long- standing national commitment, reaffirmed in the NEP) — so that all children can receive free education up to the higher secondary level.
A recent study conducted in my village and also other places to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, found that most children were unsure about whether they will return to school, 37% children did not answer the question or said they didn’t know, pointing to high uncertainties of education. Hence in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the right time to operationalise National Education Policy’s Gender Inclusion Fund (as also the Inclusion Fund for other marginalised groups) to support school reopening and re-enrolment in the immediate term and ensure that secondary education is made free for all children by extension of the RTE Act up to 18 years.
If the government fulfils its promise of allocating 6% of GDP on education, there would be a secondary school in villages like mine. Thousands of girls like me, who have suffered a loss in learning days because of the COVID-19 pandemic would be able to return to schools and would grow up with skills that can contribute to the development of our nation.
Join me in sending a message so that I don’t have to watch any more of my sisters lose their right to education.
This petition is being led by RTE Forum.