By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Children too have basic human rights, but their violation in the name of educating them for their bright future is commonplace. Sufferings of the children are worse if they happen to be from minority community, and worst if they are subjected to the Oso called ‘nationalist education’ in the name of ‘national interest’, that is nothing but the interest of the dominant community in which minorities are subjected to lose even their identities.
The ruling establishments, especially when they stand to represent the dominant culture, violate three basic human rights by doing so – rights of the minority, right to education, and right to culture, both of the children and the families they come from. Numerous other rights are also violated in due course.
The thinking that minority children need to be assimilated into the dominant culture through compulsory nationalist education is fundamentally wrong and therefore it ultimately proves to be harbinger of great hardship to the children and their families. The worst kind of such an approach is slowly unfolding in our neighbourhood Tibet, which should serve lessons to all countries having pluralistic societies with a dominant community and several minority ones including India.
Roughly one million Tibetan minority children have been separated by China from their families and placed into Government-run boarding schools, forcing their assimilation into the dominant culture, according three independent UN human rights experts.
“We are very disturbed that in recent years the residential school system for Tibetan children appears to act asa mandatory large-scale programme intended to assimilate Tibetans into majority Han culture, contrary to international human rights standards,” they said in a joint statement.
The three independent experts – Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; and Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights –have said that the residential schools provide educational content and an environment centred around Han culture.
They have said that children from the Tibetan minority are forced to complete a “compulsory education” curriculum in the Mandarin Chinese language, or Putonghua, with no access to the language that is traditional or culturally-relevant to them. Government schools also do not provide for substantive study of Tibetan language, history, and culture.
“As a result, Tibetan children are losing their facility with their native language and the ability to communicate easily with their parents and grandparents in the Tibetan language, which contributes to their assimilation and erosion of their identity,” they added.
In China, there are large number of boarding schools where 20 per cent of the student reside. The independent rapporteurs have said that the information reaching them indicate that the vast majority of these boarding students are Tibetan children, which are nearly one million. Residential schools exist also in other parts of China, but their share in areas with Tibetan minority populations is much higher, and this percentage has been increasing in recent years in and outside the Tibet Autonomous Region.
To increase the number of Tibetan children in the residential schools, the rapporteurs said, China closes rural schools in the areas that tend to be populated by Tibetans, replacing them with township or country level schools where teaching and communications are almost exclusively in Putonghua (standard Mandarin), and students are usually required to board. Moreover, many residential schools are situated far from the family homes of students boarding in them.
“We are alarmed by what appears to be a policy of forced assimilation of the Tibetan identity into the dominant Han-Chinese majority, through a series of oppressive actions against Tibetan educational, religious and linguistic institutions,” they added.
These policies run contrary to the prohibition of discrimination and the rights of the Tibetan people to education, linguistic and cultural rights, freedom of religion or belief, and they represent a reversal of measures that were more inclusive or accommodating.
The rapporteurs have recalled China’s Central Conference on Ethnic Affairs in August 2021 that called on ethnic groups to be guided to always place the interest of the nation, above anything else, with their consciousness of different ethnic groups serving the sense of community for the Chinese nation as a whole. “This call re-affirmed the idea of building a modern and strong socialist State based on a single Chinese national identity,” they said. “In this context, initiatives to promote Tibetan language and culture are reportedly being suppressed, and individuals advocating for Tibetan language and education are persecuted.”
In a letter to the Chinese Government in November 2022, the rapporteurs have said, that they had information that the Chinese authorities were pursuing the state’s dominant concept of ‘nation’, which is the core of China’s current ‘second-generation ethnic policy’ in which all national, ethnic, linguistic and religious groups are secondary and subordinate to the state.
It was alleged that the ‘Second Generation Ethnic Policy’ was designed to reverse seven decades of granting autonomous self-governance powers to minority-populated regions with the view to assimilate ethnic and linguistic minorities of China. Non-governmental initiatives to promote Tibetan language and culture were reported to be suppressed, and several individuals advocating for Tibetan language and education were reported to have been detained and tortured.
The state education system allegedly forces all children between the ages of 6 and 16 to be enrolled in Putonghua-language governmental schools that do not provide for substantive study of Tibetan history and culture, and voluntary initiatives to teach Tibetan language and culture outside schools are reportedly suppressed and their supporters are being detained. The adoption and enforcement of the ‘national common language’ law since2000 has produced policies and laws that marginalize Tibetan language and culture.
The 12-point guide on ‘Strengthening and Improving Ethnic Work’ presented in August 2021 called for unification of all ethnic groups in ideals, beliefs, emotions, and cultures, and for all minority groups to modernize their ideas, spiritual tastes and lifestyles. (IPA Service)