Heartening Stories in the Struggle towards a Common School System

Some among the elite may finally be accepting the fact that children of the poor deserve the same education as their own children do.

A schoolgirl reads from a textbook at an open-air school in New Delhi. Credit: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee

A schoolgirl reads from a textbook at an open-air school in New Delhi. Credit: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee

Rita Kanaujia, a widowed woman working as a domestic helper and living in a slum in Chembur, Mumbai, wants to get her son admission into junior kindergarten at Lokmanya Tilak High School in Tilak Nagar.

Two of her daughters are already studying there, in classes three and four. The school wanted her to pay Rs 19,500, which she could not afford after her husband died of cancer in 2014. She went to court. Because of the court’s intervention, the school gave her a concession but still insisted on Rs 10,500. Kanaujia agreed to make the payment in instalments, but 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 his mother to pay the entire sum in one go. Kanade even offered to pay the child’s fees.

The district collector of Erode, Tamil Nadu, A. Anandhakumar sent his daughter, A. Gopika, to a Tamil-medium panchayat union school in Kumuilankuttai, giving instructions to the headmistress that his daughter would eat the mid-day meal served at the school along with the other students and should not be given any preferential treatment. Ever since she enrolled, the school toilet is cleaned twice and extra care is taken to keep the premises sanitary. More importantly, the teachers are now punctual. This example highlights the possible transformation that can occur if children of senior government officials start attending government schools.

While I was on a fast from 6 to 15 June, 2016 at the Gandhi statue in Hazratganj, Lucknow demanding the implementation of the Allahabad high court order that children of all those receiving a government salary must attend government schools, Ramesh, who pulls a rickshaw in Lucknow and hails from Nakki Madhia village, Sitapur district, used to come regularly to express his solidarity. He also sat at the fast site for several hours on certain days. 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 as the children of the poor, or a person who goes hungry so that the children of the poor and the rich can study together.

This is the best compliment I’ve got on my recent movement. Ramesh has become a campaigner for the cause. He has now hung a placard from his rickshaw and distributes pamphlets demanding a common school system.

Ramesh is also informing his fellow villagers about provisions of the Right to Education Act, 2009, which offers admission to children belonging to disadvantaged groups and weaker sections in any nearby school of their choice, for up to 25% of the total strength at the entry level. Subsequently, the students are entitled to receive free education from classes one to eight. Two of my neighbours have used this provision in the Act to submit applications on behalf of their domestic helpers.

Responsibility to assist

Rajni Saxena is a 61-year-old resident of 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 Saxena’s help she slowly learnt how to read, also in English. She was worried about getting her son, Mohammed Imran, a decent education. Her husband was not interested. Imran was admitted to Dabble Academy with monthly fees of Rs 1,250. Considering that Nagma’s monthly income is just Rs 4,000, one can imagine how she must have struggled to make ends meet. Saxena decided to use the RTE Act so that Imran could get an education in the same school free of cost up to class eight. She guided Nagma on how to submit her applications and get her income and caste certificates made from the district magistrate’s office. With the receipt issued  –  after Nagma was made to run back and fourth four times – Saxena personally submitted Imran’s application to Lucknow’s basic shiksha adhikari (BSA) – the nodal government officer for implementing the RTE – Praveen Mani Tripathi, on June 23. Gurukul Academy, St. Dominic, City Montessori School and Dabble Academy have been listed as her preferences for Imran’s education.

Yasmin Mahmud also lives in Indira Nagar. Her 27-year-old domestic help, Jamrul Nisha from Baddupur, Barabanki district, separated from her husband after their first child Zulekha was born. Zulekha is now seven-years-old and Jamrul is worried about her education. Sixty-six-year-old Yasmin Mahmud, who recently lost her husband, a retired railways officer, decided to take the initiative and get Zulekha admitted to a school in the neighbourhood under the RTE Act. She asked her daughter-in-law to go with Jamrul and submit the forms for getting her income and residence certificates made. Zulekha’s form was also submitted to the BSA on the same day as Imran’s. The school preferences mentioned on Zulekha’s form included Springdale, City Montessori School, City International and Gurukul Academy.

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

Inspiring examples of this kind have been seen several times from different parts of country. This highlights the change the country is going through in terms of its idea of education. While the poor are becoming increasingly conscious of the importance of education for their children, a section of the elite may finally be accepting the fact that children of the poor deserve the same education as their own children do.

It is heartening to note how some people have started taking a proactive stand in getting the children of their domestic helpers admitted to good schools, so that these children can break the vicious cycle of poverty and move towards having a choice about what to do with their lives. The judiciary also has an important role to play in a situation where the legislative or executive branches drag their feet on implementing the goal of a common school system for all.

Sandeep Pandey is vice president of the Socialist Party (India) and visiting faculty at IIT-BHU, Varanasi. He can be reached on [email protected]

  • Rohini

    Nice stories…but they are a drop in the ocean. What is the author’s viable solution to provide quality education for ALL poor children, not just the ones some rich person decided to help by happenstance?
    There are millions of children and by asking for ludicrous demands like ‘children of govt servants must go to a govt school’…the author serves no one. The main ‘muddha’ is…..everyone is entitled to a quality education – that’s a very basic norm. Nowhere in this article do I see any constructive ideas..only a hackenyed rich vs. poor headline. That’s NOT the solution. The rich are NOT the villains here – they too struggle with the system. Look at the DU – cut off of 98%??? ridiculous. There are kids in tears today, after having slogged for yes RICH kids, by the auhtor’s definition..who are seeign their dreams vanish before their eyes..why? Because they scored a mere ..tata bye seats for such ‘failures’ in the top colleges of DU!
    So, it’s not a simplistic rich vs poor, govt vs. private issue….please lets talk about the REAL issues here instead of leftie eyewash

  • Rama Krishna

    The Right to Education Act of 2010, a well-meaning but perfunctory law, might be redeemed if it was amended to include Shri. Pandey’s advice that “children of all those receiving a government salary must attend government schools,” beginning with kids of officials of departments of education and district collectors. By requiring private schools to mandatorily include socially disadvantaged children (6-14 years) as 25% of enrollment, the Act at present creates more bureaucracy but fails to fix government schools.