Renu Kumari Marik is a third grader at a primary school in Malet near Rajbiraj. Unlike most of her classmates, she sits alone in the last bench. "No one wants to sit with me and even the teachers are reluctant to come near me because I belong to the Dom community," she says.
Doms are part of the Dalit community in Tarai who work as sweepers and cleaners. 11,000 Dom people live in Saptari alone. However, Dom children throughout the district have very low attendance rates, and are unable to continue their education because of the discrimination they face at school. 60 per cent of Dom children do not attend schools, and only 10 have passed their SLC exams.
While teachers cite the lack of awareness among the Dom community for low attendance, and say they are only in schools for the scholarship money, Dom families say they are discouraged from sending children to school because peers and teachers behave rudely towards them and make them feel unwelcome. "There is a huge ruckus every time our children touch their classmates who belong to a different community," says local resident Rajendra Marik.
Many private schools in the region simply don't admit Dom children fearing backlash from non-Dom parents who might take their children to other schools. Dom families often have to hide their identity, and travel faraway areas to get their children educated.