Ravindra is a 32 years youth belonging to Dalit community with so little land in his village Purwa in Kachuna Block of Hardoi District of Uttar Pradesh that his family would be classified as landless. He left his parents, a brother and a sister, at home about 8-10 years back to migrate to the nearest biggest city Lucknow, about 90 kilometres from his village, like most of the youth of his age in search of job would do. Unable to clear his high school examination, his formal educational qualification is only class VIII. Most youth of his background would do one of four things – work as daily wage labourer, pull a rickshaw, become some sort of vendor or take up an odd job in small business or domestic establishments. He chose to become a vendor as it offered him more freedom. He would buy clothes from shops and go around on his bicycle selling them during the day keeping a part of the sale as his commission.
He is married with three children today – two daughters and a son. He lives in a rented place for Rs. 1,500 a month and his monthly expenses are Rs. 5,000. In the academic year 2016-17 he got his 8 years old son Ayush Gautam admitted to R.D. Memorial Public School in Alamnagar and 7 years old daughter to Siddharth Public School, both in class I, for free education under section 12(1)(c) of the Right to Education Act of 2009 which has a provision for admission of children from disadvantaged groups, including caste criteria, and weaker section, based on economic criterion, upto 25% of the strength of class. Such children would receive free education from classes I to VIII.
Ravindra is a socially aware person. He was not content with the admission of his two children. He helped 17 more children to receive admission under the abovementioned provision. Because of his active role he was chosen as the President of Parents’ Forum which was formed for facilitating admissions of such children and also to address any other problems which parents were facing in general.
In the academic year 2017-18 Ravindra has helped 92 children secure admissions under the RTE Act for free education in various private schools.
But the going was not so smooth for him. Because of his frequent visits to the Basic Shiksha Adhikari office, employees there started having doubts about his motive. He was thought to be a middleman making money off people by getting their children admitted for free education. He got so engrossed in his work that he was unable to devote full time to his livelihood earning and has now incurred a loan of Rs. 50-60,000 from the shops from where he picks up the clothes for selling.
Praveen Srivastava, 46 years of age, teaches Physics at Queen’s College, Quaiserbagh in Lucknow. In 2013 he got involved with India Against Corruption movement and then with the Aam Admi Party. But as the party decided to go slow in U.P., Praveen decided to devote more time to social activities. In 2015-16 Praveen got about 50 and in 2016-17 about 30-40 out of school children admitted to government schools and in the current years he helped parents of about 250 children complete their online admission forms for seeking admission under section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act. When he is free from his college at 1 pm everyday he can be seen accompanying parents to BSA office or going to the school where children have been admitted to speak to their management on whatever issues parents’ are facing. His telephone number 9415269790 has become a mobile helpline which parents can call to seek advice, help or merely any information. He never disappoints anybody. His soft demeanour makes even the most deprived comfortable in talking to him. He raises local donations of upto Rs. 15,000 annually to provide small help to students in the form of buying books, dresses, etc.
Meenu Sur is a 58 years old trade union worker who runs a domestic workers’ union in Govindnagar, Kanpur, came from East Pakistan 1964 and settled in Kanpur about 45 years back. She got about 300 forms filled with the help of Mahesh, another local activist, for admissions under RTE Act. Among these about 275 children are now attending school, mostly children of members of her domestic workers’ organisation.
Chintamani Seth, also of 58 years age, is the President of vendors’ association in Lanka, outside the Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi. He helped about 250-300 children admitted to schools in 2016-17 whose parents were facing some problem or the other when dealing with school managements where their children had obtained admissions under the RTE Act. This year he helped 140 children fill their online forms.
Volunteers like Ravindra, Praveen, Meenu and Chintamani have become the torch bearers of the Right to Education Act when the government education departments have completely failed in their duty to implement the Act in its spirit and the private schools are resisting admissions under section 12(1)(c) of the Act as they perceive it as government’s interference in their set up. Had it not been for many grassroots activists like them the Act would have died a premature death.
However, in their fight for rights of children for free education they do not receive much support from the government, administration or media. The courts are also not very favourable and take a long time to deliver judgements. For example, Praveen had encouraged 14 parents in 2016-17 whose children had orders in their favour for admission to City Montessori School in Lucknow but the school was not willing to admit these children. There were 105 such children, 55 in CMS alone, in Lucknow. However, the court took more than a year and even though new academic session has begun admission for last session are still pending in the court. Question is if these children belonged to the elite of society would the court still have taken so much time?
By Sandeep Pandey
A-893, Indira Nagar, Lucknow-226016
Ph: 0522 2347365, Mobile: 9415022772