“Education levels among children from marginalised populations in Panipat are very low. Children belonging to Dalit and minority communities are often deprived of accessing schools and Anganwadi Centres. And those from De-notified Tribes (DNTs) stand doubly marginalised due to the occupations of their parents and the stigma of criminality they continue to carry,” says Rajkumar Bohot, a community-based Human Rights Defender associated with ActionAid Association in Panipat, Haryana. Born into a family of manual scavengers, Rajkumar faced caste-based discrimination and oppression from a very young age. The socio-economic marginalisation that excluded communities in his village experience on a routine basis strengthened his resolve to protect their rights and dignity.
Over the last two decades, Rajkumar has been tirelessly working with DNTs, Dalit and minority communities in the district to empower their agency. Recognising how vital education is for advancing individual and community well-being and sustainable development, he started sensitising community members on enabling children’s right to education. “I began working with DNTs in the district to ensure access to education for children from these groups. As part of my efforts, I also set up a learning centre in Lodha basti in Mana village for DNT children. This is a space for these first-generation learners to learn through joyful activities and become school-ready,” shares Rajkumar. Joining this centre helped build children’s interest in education and motivated their parents to enrol them in schools. Over the last ten years, Rajkumar has facilitated over 500 children from DNT communities in Panipat to get linked to the formal education system.
“Children who earlier were out of school and used to roam with their parents are now where they should be – in school, all set to realise their potential,” says a proud Rajkumar. That’s not all. Rajkumar has replicated this model in 12 other villages of the district by capacitating community-based volunteers to support disadvantaged children to access school education and services from Anganwadi Centres. Besides, he is striving towards strengthening youth leadership in the district by engaging them in meaningful discussions, sports and other constructive activities. He has created youth clubs in five villages with which nearly 300 youths are associated. More power to Rajkumar!