100-0026_IMGSchool authorities in India persistently discriminate against children from marginalized communities, denying them their right to education, Human Rights Watch said in a report released in April 2014. Four years after an ambitious education law went into effect in India guaranteeing free schooling to every child ages 6 to 14, almost every child is enrolled, yet nearly half are likely to drop out before completing their elementary education.

The 77-page report, “‘They Say We’re Dirty’: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized,” documents discrimination by school authorities in four Indian states against Dalit, tribal, and Muslim children. The discrimination creates an unwelcome atmosphere that can lead to truancy and eventually may lead the child to stop going to school. Weak monitoring mechanisms fail to identify and track children who attend school irregularly, are at risk of dropping out, or have dropped out.

“India’s immense project to educate all its children risks falling victim to deeply rooted discrimination by teachers and other school staff against the poor and marginalized,” said Jayshree Bajoria, India researcher and author of the report. “Instead of encouraging children from at-risk communities who are often the first in their families to ever step inside a classroom, teachers often neglect or even mistreat them.”

Detailed case studies examine how the lack of accountability and grievance redress mechanisms are continuing obstacles to proper implementation of the Right to Education Act. Human Rights Watch conducted research for this report in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Delhi, interviewing more than 160 people, including children, parents, teachers, and a wide range of education experts, rights activists, local authorities, and education officials.

The Indian government should adopt more effective measures to monitor the treatment of vulnerable children and provide accessible redress mechanisms to ensure they remain in the classroom, Human Rights Watch said. According to the government, nearly half – over 80 million children – drop out before completing their elementary education.

In drafting the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, the central government recognized exclusion of children as the “single most important challenge in universalizing elementary education.” But many education department officials at state, district, and local levels have been unwilling to acknowledge or accept that discrimination occurs in government schools, let alone attempt to resolve these problems, Human Rights Watch said.

“The teacher tells us to sit on the other side,” said “Pankaj,” an eight-year-old tribal boy from Uttar Pradesh. “If we sit with others, she scolds us and asks us to sit separately. The teacher doesn’t sit with us because she says we ‘are dirty.’”