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Every day, at 7:15 am, Prachi’s mother walks the six-year-old to her school in Pune, walking cautiously past the corner of the road, to avoid the giant SUVs and sedans zipping past after dropping the wards at the fortress-like school complex. Prachi enters the school with a few other children from her neighbourhood, a colony of waste-pickers. Prachi’s mother is one of them, her father a rickshaw-puller. The lady’s back again in the afternoon, along with her neighbours. The broad road leading to the school is nearly empty, no cars in sight yet. Soon, she can be seen leading her daughter out. The kid is crying, protesting—refusing to go home. Most of her classmates are still in school, playing games and participating in extra-curricular activities. Her teachers, however, have told Prachi that she is not allowed to take part in them.
Brazenly violating principles of the RTE Act, this elite school in Pune, like several others in the country, has devised its own way to exclude children admitted under ews quota. Since the state government reimburses only the tuition fee, the school keeps such children out of any activity that takes place outside the four walls of a classroom. A working day is divided into two batches of four hours each. While classes are conducted in the first half of the day from 7.30 am to 12.30 pm, games and other interactive activities take place post-lunch, until 4.30 pm. ews children are forcefully sent out of the school after classes after the first half ends.
While most states have conditionally implemented RTE in the last two or three years, children who have joined schools under the 25 per cent quota are still too young to understand the nature of the discrimination, say activists. “Soon they’ll know the difference between neglect and discrimination and it can get deeply damaging for them. When older, they’ll look for outlets to express this anger,” says Bangalore activist Nagasimha Rao.
Several schools call EWS parents only to intimidate them, complaining about their children’s ‘dirty habits’ or asking for additional fee for extra-curricular activities. Often, parents eventually withdraw their children from private schools. In the initial years, several private schools in Delhi actually issued ID cards with a W marked against the names of EWS children. Some schools had different uniforms for the children, while some others conducted classes for poor children separately, at an altogether different hour.
The problem lies, primarily, with the view several schools take towards EWS admissions. “Private schools see reservations as being forced upon them by the government. Children then become the only outlet for them to vent their frustration against the state,” says Nagasimha Rao. “The government has to ensure schools are encouraged to implement RTE. Funds have to be released on time so that schools are not driven to deny admission or discriminate against these students.”
At the same time, parents too have to be made aware of their rights. “There is 25 per cent reservation for EWS category because the number amounts to a critical lot,” says lawyer-activist Ashok Agarwal. “With that strength, parents and children can come together to fight discrimination and in support of one another.”
As they did in Delhi. Not only does the national capital have a high EWS enrolment ratio because of the strong front parents and children in the state have put up in the years since RTE was implemented, the city has also come to a point where instances of blatant discrimination and denial of admission are relatively low, though not entirely absent.