The Peoples of the World Foundation

Education for and about Indigenous Peoples

Op-Ed March, 2019: A Passage from India
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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

I could write many passages based on my time spent in India last month. The experience that struck me the most was the number of people I met who aspire to take a passage from India to live and work in a different country.

It probably seems counter intuitive that over a seventh of everyone currently alive wishes to leave the world's largest democracy. But therein lies one of the keys to comprehending it. Unlike China, India has done little to contain its population growth, which has doubled in the past forty years. Coupled with the rate of urbanization, India has a society that is not sustainable.

The key to the aspiration of potential migrants is education. India has made a lot of progress in the past forty years bringing public education to rural areas — including remote, indigenous villages. The quality of that education is a different matter. In village after village I met parents whose main desire was to send their children to private school. Barely able to survive at all, they know that will never happen.

I knew from prior research that there were indigenous Bhil villages around the Indian town of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Locating them was difficult. Even highly educated, English-speaking people in Jaisalmer were unsure what I meant by 'Bhil tribal village.' Eventually, someone asked me whether I was making an English mistake and if I didn't instead wish to visit the 'Bhil caste.' Answering yes to that question would have been a form of discrimination (albeit a positive one) based on caste — which is illegal in India.

When I entered their village of a few hundred people, these Bhil boys immediately assumed the role of tour guide. I asked to see their school, which is where I took this month's photo. It was a Sunday so school was out. Nonetheless, as they insisted on being photographed fooling around, I couldn't help but wonder whether they spend their school days doing likewise.

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