About a month and half ago…our office sweeper had gone on a long leave for his son’s wedding. As a substitute, a couple in their mid 30s had been requited as sweepers for time being. One day as I entered the office I was shocked seeing their child, a boy of 11 year old engaged in sweeping the floor. I asked his parents: “what is he doing here? He should have been in the school!”
His mother replied: “He (Hitesh) was going to a private school in the locality they live. But the principal of the school has stopped his re-admission and that has prevented him going to school. He is just sitting ideal. The principal had asked for a hefty amount, which was not in their budget.”
I was quite concerned about the boy and my intellectual brain started debating. I had read about Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the UN declaration of Human Rights. The Article 26 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights 1948 deals with education and has three clauses. The first demands free and compulsory education, the second sets the goal of education to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups and the third states that parents have prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
With this information base, I decided to meet the principal who had denied admission to the boy. But before that I wanted to know about the couple’s background in more detail. The couple are migrants from Dahod, one of Gujarat’s most backward districts and are harijan by caste. According to social norms of Hinduism, they are untouchable. But they were happy because the government has provided them an apartment at subsidised rate as they belong to the BPL category. But as they are not educated they do not know about the law that deals with children’s right to education. They want their child to go to a proper school, but they are helpless as they are asked to pay a hefty tuition fee.
I went to the school taking the mother and the boy with me to meet the principal. The school as I noticed was better off than most of government schools in terms of hygienic, facilities and teaching practices. Initially we were discouraged to meet the principal but after I gave my identity I was instantly allowed. When I met the principal, a woman in her 40s, immediately we were told that the boy could not be given admission. I asked why, as per the govt’s rule schools are bound to reserve a few seats for BPL children. And this boy deserves free education. Then the argument shifted. The principal said that that this is not applicable in Gujarat as it is a BJP ruled state. Secondly, it is not getting any government grant. So how would they sustain by waving fees? I replied. I agree with you, but by not taking fees from a few children it will not create problem. It can be adjusted from others. Our overall aim should be to lift this group into the mainstream. But all my arguments could not convince her.
Then I asked the reason behind the denying admission for the boy. The principal said that the fees were not paid for years. We waited with patience, but after the management pressure we had to finally remove his name. He is dropped out child. Unless the payment is made we can’t give him the school leaving certificate. Without the certificate he cannot be given admission in any school. When this argument was being made the child’s mother interfered saying that she had come several times to pay the fees, but every time she was denied to meet the principal. It had turned into a conflicting situation. As a follow up, both the mother and the child were asked to leave the premises. After they went out of the premises, the principal revealed the other aspects which are fundamentals to the social psyche in India. The boy’s parents are harijans. Though the govt has given them the liberty still they are untouchables. There are complains by other parents which we have to address as through them we are able to run the school. Because of the caste and occupation, the boy is dirty, which is affecting the learning environment. We want our school to grow and shine as other top schools of the city. It is not a refugee ground.
Through these arguments I could sense that paying fees was not a major issue. It was more of social prejudice that had prevented admission to the boy. As a result, he is just sitting ideal, and is steadily forgetting the facts and skills that once he had acquired from the school. I don’t know about what lies in his future, but it is the situation of millions of kids in this country who have fallen trapped in the archaic system of social prejudice. And the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has not able solve this issue either.