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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 30 New Delhi July 16, 2016

Enlightenment In Education

Sunday 17 July 2016, by Sandeep Pandey

Rita Kanaujia, a widowed domestic help who lives in a slum in Chembur, Mumbai, desires to have her son admitted to the Junior Kindergarten class at Lokmanya Tilak High School in Tilak Nagar. Two of her daughters are already studying in Classes III and IV here. The school wanted her to make a payment of Rs 19,500, which she was incapable of after the death of her husband due to cancer in 2014. She moved the court. Due to the court’s intervention the school gave a concession but still insisted on a payment of Rs 10,500. Rita agreed to make the payment in instalments to which the school didn’t agree. Justices V.M. Kanade and M.S. Sonak asked the school not to deny the child education just because of the inability of the mother to pay the entire sum in one go. Justice Kanade even offered to pay the child’s fees.

In 2011 the District Collector of Erode in Tamilnadu, A. Anandhakumar, got his daughter, A. Gopika, admitted to a Tamil medium panchayat union school in Kumuilankuttai giving instructions to the headmistress that his daughter would eat the midday meal served at school along with other students and should not be given any preferential treatment. The school toilet started getting cleaned twice and extra care was taken to keep the premises clean. Most importantly, the teachers became punctual. This shows what transformation can take place if children of senior government officials start attending government schools.

While I was on a fast from June 6 to 15, 2016 at Gandhi Statue, Hazratganj, Lucknow deman-ding implementation of the Allahabad High Court order that children of everybody receiving a government salary must attend government schools, Ramesh, who pulls a rickshaw in Lucknow and hails from Village Nakki Madhia in Mishrikh area of adjacent Sitapur District, used to come regularly to express his solidarity. He also sat at the fast site on some days for several hours. He recently wrote a note saying that people should consider who is more important for them—a Chief Minister who merely eats with the poor but doesn’t agree to send his children to the same school where the children of poor study or a person who goes hungry so that children of poor and rich could study together? This is the best compliment I’ve got related to my recent movement. Ramesh has become a campaigner for the cause. He has now hung a placard from his rickshaw and distributes pamphlets demanding common school system.

Ramesh is also informing his fellow villagers about the provision of Right to Education Act, 2009 which offers admission to children belonging to disadvantaged groups and weaker sections in any nearby school of their choice up to 25 per cent strength at the entry level and subsequently free education from Classes I to VIII. Two of my neighbours, one on either side, have also used this Act to submit applications on behalf of their domestic help.

Sixtyone-year-old Rajni Saxena is a resident of A-895 Indira Nagar in Lucknow. Her domestic help, Nagma, has been with her for the last 20 years. Nagma was so interested in education that with Rajni Saxena’s help she slowly picked up even reading English. After getting married to Raju and the birth of her first child she was worried about getting Mohammed Imran some decent education. The husband was least interested. Imran was admitted to Dabble Academy where his monthly fee is Rs 1250. Considering that Nagma’s monthly income is mere Rs 4000, one can imagine how she must have been struggling to make both ends meet. Rajni Saxena decided to use the RTE Act so that Imran could get education in the same school free of cost upto Class VIII. She guided Nagma to submit her applications for getting her income and caste certificates made from the District Magistrate’s office. With the receipt issued, after Nagma was made to run four times, Rajni Saxena went and personally submitted Imran’s application to Basic Shiksha Adhikari (BSA) of Lucknow, Praveen Mani Tripathi, on June 23, 2016. Gurukul Academy, St. Dominic, City Montessori School and Dabble Academy have been given as possible preferences where Imran would like to study.

Yasmin Mahmud lives in A-885, Indira Nagar. Her 27-year-old domestic help for the last few years, Jamrul Nisha, from Baddupur in adjoining Barabanki District is separated from husband after her first child, Zulekha Bano, was born. Zulekha is now seven years old and Jamrul is worried about her education. Sixtysix-year-old Yasmin Mahmud, who recently lost her husband, a retired Indian Railways officer, decided to take the initiative and get Zulekha admitted to some school in the neighbourhood under the RTE Act. She asked her daughter-in-law, Tasneem Mahmud, an Image and Transformation consultant and trainer of soft skills, to go with Jamrul and get her forms submitted for getting the income and residence certificates made. Zulekha’s form was also submitted with the BSA on the same day, June 23. The preferences of schools mentioned on Zulekha’s form include Springdale, City Montessori School, City International and Gurukul Academy.

When the BSA takes a decision, hopefully in favour of children, they will study in the best of schools in their neighbourhood.

These are inspiring examples of several happenings from different parts of the country. It is a narration of the change the country is going through in its thinking towards education. While on one hand the poor have become conscious of the importance of education for their children, the elite have, at last, accepted the fact that children of the poor deserve the same education that their children avail of. It is heartening to note how some ordinary housewives have started taking a proactive stand in getting children of their domestic help admitted into good schools so that the children of these labourers could break the vicious cycle of poverty and do something more worthwhile with their lives. It also appears that the Judiciary has an important role if the Legislature or the Executive will drag its feet on the issue of implementation of the Common School System.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey was recently sacked this year from the IIT-BHU where he was a Visiting Professor on the charge of being a “Naxalite” engaging in “anti-national” activities. He was elected along with Prof Keshav Jadhav the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India) at its founding conference at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.