The sun has assumed a particularly vibrant marigold-orange as it gives the last few minutes of light to farmers immersed in planting rice saplings in the field. With feet sunk in water, hands soiled, hair tied in a cloth, they have a target to chase. “Just give us 20 minutes. We have to finish our work on this plot of land before the sun sets,” Jyoti tells me as I ask her if we could talk. In front of me is a group of 10 women moving their hands incessantly, keeping their heads down. The sun is about to set in the village of Babarpur, located some 58 miles away from the Indian capital New Delhi.
What surprises me about this place is that farmers in this belt have been generally branded as “content and happy” by several residents even though the debate on loan waver and suicide doesn’t seem to be pacifying across the country. “What content! We continue to get rates as low as Rupees 15 per kilogram of rice while the retailers and shopkeepers just two miles away sell it for Rupees 100 per kilogram,” the man supervising these women at the field tells me. “The government may bring in any kind of bill but it is certainly not reaching us. It never really has,” he asserts as he looks on at the setting sun.
The women, however, have another story to tell. Of course, it is the low wages but you ask them what bothers them the most, almost unanimously, they say that it is the bleak future their children seem to be sowing. “There is just one government school around and as you can see, with a wage as low as Rupees 170 a day and with many months gone without a rupee earned, we cannot think of sending them to private schools in and around the area,” Jyoti says. “But the teachers at the government school sit in staff rooms munching on snacks, chatting with each other all day. How are we ever going to come our of poverty, if our kids don’t receive education,” she wonders.
Two other women, Kamlesh and Indravati, join her as they say that the teachers insist on hiring a private tutor for children if parents complain of poor education quality. “The teachers don’t listen, the Sarpanch doesn’t listen, the government doesn’t listen,” an exasperated Kamlesh says.
A 2016 report on the state of school education in rural areas published by education non-profit Pratham says that while a large number of children in rural areas attend schools, a lot of them in Class 1 to 8 cannot read or do simple math expected of a Class 2 student. A 2007 survey by Millennium India Education Foundation came up with strikingly similar results. Additionally, there are several other reports on the poor infrastructure of schools, talking about the lack of toilets and qualified teachers.
“You may not raise our wages or send any politician to our homes or provide us any other luxury. Just let the kids study. Let them take us out of poverty,” Jyoti concludes succinctly.
(A version of this piece appeared on Alibaba Group’s UC News.)