Different folks in school

Published: May 10, 2012
The writer is a stage director, filmmaker and journalist in Bangalore. He is a co-founder of the Suchitra Centre for Film and Drama

The writer is a stage director, filmmaker and journalist in Bangalore. He is a co-founder of the Suchitra Centre for Film and Drama

As we head into an uncertain monsoon, schools will reopen all over India in the next few weeks, bringing into play what is arguably the most dramatic social intervention ever attempted in the history of the subcontinent. Poor and socially disadvantaged children aged six will seek and get free admission to schools that have always been meant for the rich and upwardly-mobile classes.

When the Right to Education (RTE) Act was passed in 2009 after many years of debate, Kapil Sibal, then Union minister for human resources development, had said: “This is a historic opportunity as there was never such a law in the last 62 years since independence”. Mr Sibal is guilty of understating this. Nothing in the last 2,500 years of the subcontinent’s history provides us any evidence that the children of the poor had access to the same education and exposure as those of the privileged — by caste, class or religion. 40 million children in India are yet to find access to schools.

On April 12, the Supreme Court of India confirmed the validity of the RTE Act. The judgment has stirred the middle class of India to anger and disquiet. The really rich will not be affected, because the judgment excludes boarding schools, but what are the middle classes to do when the grubby children from the neighbourhood slums get to sit on the same bench as their own well-groomed kids?

Consider the provisions of the Act. It says that all children between the ages of six and 14 are entitled to free and compulsory education. It declares that one in four seats in all private schools be provided free of cost to children from underprivileged homes in neighbouring areas. The Act will apply to only Class I students this year, adding on the incremental class every year until Class VIII.

The private schools are griping that the provisions of the Act and the judgment itself are impracticable. They complain about the lack of time to accommodate the (additional?) 25 per cent and the lack of additional infrastructure. Middle class parents are worried that the government is playing Robin Hood, putting their money where its mouth is, to make them eventually pay for all the big talk when private schools are forced to hike admission fees for the regular 75 per cent.

But the schools and the middle class are more likely worried about other ‘fundamental problems’. They are apt to believe that the children of the poor are sick and smelly; they can’t speak English and probably come to school, not in uniforms, but in last season’s unwashed hand-me-downs they had passed on to their own maids. And will the maid sit alongside them at PTA meetings?

There are some serious practical issues too. The state governments, which are to implement the Act, are quite lost with words such as “underprivileged” and “neighbourhood”. The states are frantically working out sub-quotas in the 25 per cent for economic backwardness in terms of family income and social backwardness in the categories of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward castes. If neighbourhood means a municipal ward in the city, what about a village? Private schools adopt different programmes and syllabi: What happens when the labour-class parents migrate to other neighbourhoods for work?

No fee is to be charged from the poor student, the state will decide a value, even if it is a fraction of what the regular fee is, and pay the private school. No uniform, if the parents cannot afford it. No denying the poor children the school excursion or extracurricular activity even if they cannot pay the additional fee. The children can’t be beaten or abused.

The RTE Act is severe and the states are allowed to draft their own punitive rules. Some states have decided that the private schools can’t pick and choose which underprivileged children to give admission to, as the list of these children in the neighbourhood will be supplied to them by the state administration. And the Supreme Court will be watching.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (26)

  • Ashvinn
    May 10, 2012 - 10:24PM

    Wonderfully, but I am skeptical about its effective implementation, it is a good start never the less,implementing this law in true spirit will take more time especially with the society slowly evolvingRecommend

  • logic wins
    May 10, 2012 - 10:37PM

    The words Eklavya and Lord Macaulay come to mind after reading this.The intentions are quite noble but implementation would prove to be a challenge.Indian middle class should realize that India would never be considered a developed country till the last person escapes poverty and ignorance.


  • unbeliever
    May 10, 2012 - 10:38PM

    THIS act is too far-fetched, and it remains to be seen how will it be implemented.
    what makes you think that the lower middle cllass will not resort to secretive ways to get their wards enrolled in these schools, on bogus papers.
    all these left-leaning laws do is to sap the money which could be sincerely used in public schools to upgrade their standards.


  • Sinclair
    May 10, 2012 - 10:45PM

    @Prakash Belawadi

    The middle class seems to get the rough edge of the stick from journalists all over. We are not that bad. I dont trust the government. Let me rephrase that. I mistrust the government. But there is absolutely no problem about dirty clothes, or poor kids and all that. Cut us some slack.


  • pankaj
    May 10, 2012 - 11:08PM

    kids don’t have problem to share desk with other kids….this is quite feasible,,,


  • Ali
    May 11, 2012 - 4:07AM

    When I read about such great things happening in India, it is so sad to see the state of Pakistan. We started of at the same time, but Pakistan has lagged way behind.


  • Sid
    May 11, 2012 - 7:32AM

    Considering that besides a bevy of taxes ,which includes the education tax, for a service that should be free the middle class has to now pay for the other 25 per cent. Then what are they paying taxes for…? For Sonia and her kids and in laws to romp around abroad ? That’s he question.Sonif the middle class resents more sacrifice is not wrong. The parents of these poor kids incidentally are the votes that make or break goats. They exchange this vote for cast religion or even a quarter of booze , why should the middle class pay again and again for their stupidity.first by being burdened by useless politicians , then taxes and now cross subsidy


  • Arindom
    May 11, 2012 - 8:14AM

    More than anything – hopefully such measures will cut into ultimately destroy the Indian middle class’ caste and hierarchy consciousness and become ‘Liberal’ in the true sense.
    The Indian Middle class will gradually learn that there is nothing wrong in sharing kitchen utensils with the house mail or mali; or letting them use the dining table and not eat sitting on the floor like animals.
    This is a small step in the great journey of building a truly classless casteless India!!! I fully support it!! All those parents who complain should be heavily fined and warned.


  • Indrani Rehman Rihanna
    May 11, 2012 - 9:39AM

    @Ali: What you say is very true.
    I think the sad state of pak is because islamic ideology blocks the progress and blssoming of the full human being.


  • May 11, 2012 - 12:22PM

    There is no doubt in my mind that RTE is good for India.

    What it will do for the middle class is break the pretense of universal social well-being. The future middle class kids of India will be more sensitive, more down to earth, more aware of the social ills. They will not hesitate to help the downtrodden of the society. They will be better men and women.

    Some say fees will be hiked and this burden will be passed onto the middle class, but compared to the gains- education of the poor in some excellent institutions- the cons are negligible.

    I am glad that India did what it did. I hope the implementation goes off smooth. The intention is very noble, indeed. Great going guys! Yes, I mean the Congress. Lets give credit where its due..


  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    May 11, 2012 - 1:50PM


    1)…grubby children from the
    neighbourhood slums…
    of the poor are sick and smelly….

    These are your own words and you are accusing someone else of uttering them!


  • napalmTheHerd
    May 11, 2012 - 3:09PM

    This article is a joke. A government so inept that it couldn’t organize its way out of a paper bag decides to foist its responsibilities onto the private sector and you have the usual left-luvvies talking about how great it will be for social cohesion and not a word on whether or not it will actually do anything for the state of education in the country? All the RTE will achieve is to close down the many low cost private schools that are actually are serving the poor the left purport to help and drive up the cost for the hated middle class, of course for our class warriors, kicking the middle class is the whole point even if it means keeping India a poverty stricken hellhole, so nothing new there.
    The left: destroying India since 1947.


  • Sinclair
    May 11, 2012 - 6:04PM


    “This is a small step in the great journey of building a truly classless casteless India!!!”

    A small correction. Casteless India is welcome. But classless would be a disaster, for the simple reason that there needs to be some economic incentive for people to perform. Upward mobility between classes within a single lifetime is what I desire. Downward mobility for people who fail to perform consistently would also be a part of this. India should aim to become a society which is fair in distributing resources, not equal.


  • Sanjay, Mumbai
    May 11, 2012 - 7:07PM

    Its a long way before pvt schools admit children from lower class and castes ..and treat them equally. Its big eye wash ..but for some middle class who have some values..most are chasing materialistic goals , availing all subsidized education in IIts, IIMs, IAS , AIIMS,AFMC , Govt Medical colleges.. Govt will have to intervene with positive actions against schools who have availed subsidized land in prime locations and availing all tax benefits for trust run schools by rich individuals and corporate. These educational institutes are too clever to extract all benefits , but cringe to give back to Society, which is their duty.Classless society should be dream…wherein every one person gets equal opportunity to compete and excel. People with resources are always at advantage compared to other deprived children..hence let there be fair competition, which will bring out true talent from mofussil areas and slums…


  • Khan
    May 11, 2012 - 7:38PM

    @Indrani Who said Islam prevents progress? Well,for those who give such a statement, they haven’t studied Islam. Please dont make any judgement on the basis of International media reports.Media distorts facts.As Islam and development is concerned, you may find examples of developed Islamic states from all ages and all areas of the world. For Instance, the Arab Empire in Spain and The Mughal Rule here in the sub continent.Presently, UAE,Malaysia and Singapore are among developed states.


  • sardar
    May 11, 2012 - 8:28PM

    @Indrani i think some body has really miss guided of the islamic fact r teaching.Its the only religion in the world whose basic teaching says that explore the knowledge of the world.As our beloved Holy Prophet (PBUH) said and i quote “seek knowlegde even if you have to travell to china”and her musilman mard aur aurat par alim hasal karna farz hai”.The religion who basic teaching are so strong can not lack behind.Pak is lacking behind becoz of our leaders.and India lacking becoz of their cost system,which can’t sit together in private for 5 minutes what to talk of entire day in class.


  • Rehman
    May 11, 2012 - 8:29PM

    A very positive development and I hope that Pakistan will also have this kind of legislation one day.


  • Ashvinn
    May 11, 2012 - 8:55PM

    Lol who told you Singapore is a islamic country get an update dude


  • Ashvinn
    May 11, 2012 - 9:00PM

    It will not be so much the caste as much as the cost of bearing the educational expenses of the underprivileged children,also who knows the schools might start more school development capitation fees etc, hope we get a strong regulator oversee malpractices.Laws can only be implemented if the society is favourable to such a law


  • Ashvinn
    May 11, 2012 - 9:03PM

    @Indrani Rehman Rihanna: Religion does not block anybodys progress , it is our lack of effort which keeps us primitive.


  • AnIndian
    May 11, 2012 - 9:45PM


    I severely disagree…

    In fact, one way to see Islam is that it is the most socialist of all major religions because it stipulates every person to dutifully part with 1/4th of their income for the underprivileged…

    No religion tolerates exploitation and extremism – to say it does, is a Blasphemous interpretation


  • Sanjay, Mumbai
    May 11, 2012 - 9:50PM

    @napalmTheHerd: Dont forget, its Socialist Nehru and leaders like him,who had vision to build IITs / IIMs /IISc/ DSE..its because of subsidised education given by left leaning Congress Govts. we see the structure being built by people who benefited from it. Fruits which are seen today from IT business are mainly because of the vision of leaders having Socialist leaning Issue here is about all privileged members of Society to bear responsibilty towards other fellow beings who are deprived of the basic oppurtunities. If there is fair competition, one will be surprised to see the academic results from Villages and Slums..!! privileged will have to sacrifice and give extra back to society. Selfish attitude of Middle class in India will take country down the drain.


  • napalmTheHerd
    May 11, 2012 - 11:26PM

    @Sanjay: So, Nehru set up a few institutions of higher learning, where a small number students graduate, many of whom then proceed to take their taxpayer funded educations and head off to the west and you term that a success! Sixty years of our visionary socialists have given us an India where our major cities are nothing more than slums, our infrastructure crumbles, and the vast majority of our population remains poor and uneducated, but hey ho, at least some people get to go to an IIT so that’s okay then. Stop looking to the few successes to justify Nehru and his progeny’s incompetence, India can do a hundred times better! Set Indians free and they will surprise you!. Recommend

  • Sanjay, Mumbai
    May 11, 2012 - 11:45PM

    @napalmTheHerd: What India has achieved is no mean achievement in short time of 60s years.. USA took 100s of years to give equality to blacks and women..USA free economy deed wonders but also gave biggest frauds and millions losing their pension funds. India has given all freedom …from 1947..unlike many western countries who gave equality after lot of struggle. Criticizing India for all inaction and misdeeds & failures of one individual shows ignorance and petty mind.


  • Ashvinn
    May 12, 2012 - 9:55AM

    Agree with most of your comment except that institutes highest education produced great talent but this talent did not have many avenues to exhibit their talent, after all we did have industrial environment to support these institutes, which is why feel iit’s were a elitist in nature at that point in time, to some extent even today, but in present day India this has improved a lot their is some kinda of a enabling environment, still a long way to go, let us just say it is Indian way of doing things we screw up things we get things backwards but eventual we start muddling along


  • napalmTheHerd
    May 12, 2012 - 2:53PM

    I don’t wish to derail this thread, so coming back to the RTE. My main objection comes from the fact that the 70%t of Indians pupils are educated in the state sector and 80% of schools are state run. How then does foisting the governments failures onto private institutions help the vast majority of pupils or improve state run education?
    The IITs are in a way symptomatic of what ails education in India. Yes, it provides a few with opportunities, but what about the rest?
    In the end the RTE is simply the UPA playing politics, an easy way to be seen doing something without doing anything at all. In my opinion, a far better way is to issue vouchers to every school age Indian by using the Aadaar system to track payments and to pay for this by the government getting out of education altogether. This will allow choices for parents, and let the private system expand to fill the gap left by unproductive state schools, thereby improving educational opportunities for all and not just the select few or lucky. Finally please follow this interesting link on low cost private schools in India:



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