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“School jaane ka mann nahi karta.”
(I do not feel like going to school)Rinky, 13 years, girl
This statement, while made in a fleeting way during a conversation by Rinky, a migrant child residing in an urban informal settlement in the south of Delhi, is very telling. It captures the sentiments shared by many other young adolescent girls who experience everyday life through the prism of gender, (im)mobility, and precarity. In India, there is a high rate of internal rural to urban displacement accompanied by migration to cities, with approximately 139 million people migrating from rural to urban centers, as per the latest Census (2011). With statist development agendas deeply linked to plans for urbanization, families migrate to cities in search of better jobs and schooling for their children. Many of these families travel back to their hometowns seasonally, for festivals, important family occasions like weddings and deaths, and as per the agricultural cycles of harvest. But while living in Delhi most families feel displaced, and the lives of their children remain as bleak as the myth of modern schooling.1
Despite the inclusion of migrant children and their issues around education in the NEP 2022, the plan for school retention of migrant children is not sufficient for the kinds of “slow violence” young migrant girl children, in particular, face inside and outside of schools in Delhi.
When I was working with migrant families who have arrived from Assam and West Bengal and living in an urban informal settlement in the south of Delhi, I found that girls’ exclusion from educational spaces was not only a problem of the schooling system, but intrinsically enmeshed with the larger patterns of reception of migrants in the city, their living conditions, (im)mobility and freedom from authority, spatio-structural inequality and poverty. Social and physical inclusion is as much, if not more important to ensure that educational and social aspirations of girls and their parents are fulfilled.
Despite enrolment in schools, many of the migrant girls, as they enter adolescence, are sent back to their villages to get married as young as thirteen years old. If girls stay back in cities, they continue to face various forms of exclusion and violence. Young girls face threat to physical harm in public spaces, and their parents fear their safety, as a result of which girls are barred from spending time in large open spaces within their settlements, not allowed to access city streets independently, and are mostly resigned to household chores and care work for younger siblings.
When Rinky articulates that she does not feel like going to school, as shared in the opening account, it is not only because of the challenges that continue to permeate the schooling system, including language barriers to her learning, but also due to the unsafe urban landscape that girls like her traverse on a daily basis.
However, young migrant girls like Rinky are resilient and very articulate about their needs and aspirations, despite the setbacks to their mobility and education. In discussions with adolescent girls in the settlement, we were able to learn about their challenges and their needs. Through drawings, girls shared that there is no accessible play space for them in their neighborhoods, and oftentimes their most basic desire to play games with friends in the settlement is deterred due to an absence of a designated safe play area. One girl shared that they cannot play in the settlement as groups of men and young boys occupy the open areas and they feel unsafe in those areas and do not get a chance to play with friends. Neighbouring public parks are gated and despite many of their mothers working in the neighboring gated communities, they are not allowed to use the public parks. Girls shared that if there was a designated play area, which included trees, access to drinking water, and a shop where they could purchase play materials, they would feel safe in playing outdoors in their settlement.
We learned from this process that it is important to listen to girls, as they are not just “becomings”, but agentic beings, with capabilities (Prout & James, 1997), rooted in their socio-cultural and embedded everyday contexts. They are able offer innovative ideas for interventions to improve their own wellbeing. Only through more transformative and inclusive spaces along with practices of co-designing with girls that there is a possibility to fully listen to girls ideas and innovative strategies that can help counter the “slow violence” they experience in their everyday landscapes within the city.
Balagopalan, S. (2022). Introduction: Modernity, Schooling, and Childhood in India: Trajectories of Exclusion. Children’s Geographies, DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2022.2073196
Prout, A. & James, A. (1997). A new paradigm for the sociology of childhood? Provinance, promise and problems. In James, A. & Prout A. (Eds.), Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood (Second Edition). London: Falmer Press.
This reflection has emerged from the research project “Displacement, Placemaking and Wellbeing in the City.” The support of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and the two research frameworks of the Global Challenges Research Fund and the EU-India Platform for the Social Sciences and Humanities (EqUIP) is gratefully acknowledged. The project is also grateful to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (Grant Ref ES/R011125/1).
Dr. Anandini Dar is Faculty of Sociology and Education, at Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD), India. She is the founder and co-convener of the Critical Childhoods and Youth Studies Collective (CCYSC), and serves as the advisory board member of The Childism Institute, at the Rutgers University, USA. Dr Dar completed her PhD from the Department of Childhood Studies at Rutgers. She recently co-edited a Special Issue for the journal Childhood, titled, “Southern Theories and Decolonial Childhood Studies” (2022). She is currently co-editing the International Handbook of Childhood and Global Development, Routledge, UK, and has published articles in encyclopedias and journals such as, the International Journal of Children’s Rights, Childhood, and the Journal of Childhood Studies.