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Hungarian gypsies, known as the Roma community, have a deep connection with the Dalits of India. Both communities are segregated, unable to get access to education or employment, and are treated like lesser humans. Just like the Indian Dharma Revolution gave a voice to the Dalits and inspired a mass human rights movement, the Hungarian branch of the Triratna Community has developed the ‘Jai Bhim Network’. The Dr Ambedkar High School in Miskolc, Northern Hungary, is run by the Jai Bhim Network, which is the most important and effective Gypsy-led organisation in Hungary.
The school has been established specifically to help young Gypsies complete High School education so that some will go on to study at university. The great majority of Gypsies drop out of school as soon as they can because the schools generally are not welcoming to them and their background does not support education – for instance, many village Gypsy children have very little idea of where they are geographically or of their place in immediate history. The Dr Ambedkar High School, inspired by the upliftment of Dalits in India through education, offers a unique opportunity to 150 students who would otherwise join the ranks of the unemployed: many girls getting pregnant in their teens and many boys going to jail. The school is a beacon of hope for the 600,000 Gypsies in Hungary, and indeed all over Central Europe. It is especially inspiring because it is the most important and effective organisation working for Gypsy development that is led and controlled by Gypsies.
All that is now under threat. The Hungarian Government has instituted a policy of offering all unemployed over 16 years of age the opportunity to receive €200 per month for very low level, so called, ‘Community Work’, which is merely nominal and without prospects: road sweeping, municipal gardening and so on. If they go to ‘Vocational School’, learning essentially low skill, low pay trades such as being a shop assistant or waiter/waitress they can also receive €200 per month. Since the alternative is nothing, many poor people, most of them Gypsies, do take up either Community Work or Vocational School.
Since no such salary is available for those who continue their education, when poor students reach the school leaving age of 16 they have a very strong inducement to become Community Workers and receive this payment, especially because their families are already impoverished.
Two years ago, the Dr Ambedkar High School had 150 students: now it has less than fifty. Two thirds or more of Gypsy youth all over Hungary have abandoned secondary education, more or less before it has begun. They will have no way out of the poverty trap, since education is more or less the only possible escape route. Knowingly or not, the Government is creating a permanent uneducated, welfare–dependent underclass, which is easily controlled by the power to remove the €200 payment for ‘Community Work’.
The Dr Ambedkar High School receives government funding if it has a minimum of 150 students, a figure it is now well below. Unless more students can be induced to continue, the school will have to close before the new school year in September.
Keeping this school alive is of the greatest importance for the future of Gypsies in Hungary – and indeed for those in neighbouring countries, where similar social policies are being pursued by governments that see Hungary as showing the way forward. Unless there are educated and active Gypsy leaders there will simply be a continuance and deepening of a Gypsy underclass, whose birth rates are far higher than the general population. There is a massive problem developing in the heart of Europe.
Though the Hungarian government has been made aware of the consequences of its policies, there has been no change made. In order to keep the school running the Jai Bhim Network proposes to offer students an initial monthly scholarship of €100. If students show by their attendance and conduct that they are making some genuine effort, this will be increased to €200 or more. The hope is that this will cause the government to review its policies and provide funding for poor students to remain in education. About €250,000 will be required if there are to be enough students to keep the school open.
Subhuti, who has been making regular visits to encourage the community over the years, now writes an appeal for assistance on behalf of the Jai Bhim Network:-
“We are seeking to bring political influence to bear by various means and would value any help in doing so, whether within Hungary or from the European Union, etc.
We believe that Buddhists all over the world will wish to help this remarkable work, carried out by fellow Buddhists. We need money and we need help in gaining access to the sums that are required from government and non–government institutions.
We are looking, therefore, for someone to take the lead in raising the money to offer the scholarships; given the sums involved, ideally it would be someone with experience of fundraising. The position would, initially, be on a voluntary basis.
However, the situation in Hungary highlights that the Triratna community does not have a charity helping the destitute outside of India. We believe fundraising for the Dr Ambedkar High School could be the genesis of a new Triratna charity that works with disadvantaged Buddhists throughout the world, such as the Chakmas of Bangladesh, or indeed those oppressed by Buddhists, as in the recent Rohingya crisis. We would like to see such a charity established as soon as possible and invite anyone interested in helping to establish it to contact us.
If you are interested in this work, or feel you can help in any way, please contact me at subhuti [at] gmail.com”.
Future Dharma has also been working to help improve the situation in Hungary. Buddhist Romas are few and far between, isolated, and lacking a Sangha which makes it incredibly difficult to cultivate friendships. This year, gifts from FutureDharma donors allowed four Hungarians to fly to Holland, encouraging international bonds of Kalyana Mitrata to deepen. Tibor, headmaster at Dr. Ambedkar High School, Janos, President of the Jai Bhim Network, Laci and Beno joined Maitriveer-Nagarjuna (India) and Arthakusalin (Belgium) who led the retreat.
Watch a short video about the impact of this retreat
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Read more about Gypsies in Hungary