The students in sundry school uniforms make slow, complex motions—as if performing an avant-garde ballet—as they wade north on a road that often resembles a canal. Ratiya Road, a messy business in the best of times, has been done in by the rains. This is Delhi’s Sangam Vihar, an unauthorised colony and yet a full-fledged Vidhan Sabha constituency. There’s a sole government school catering to its million inhabitants—almost all children go to the many privately-owned ‘public’ schools that have mushroomed all over the place. That’s where they’re returning from in this afternoon drizzle, just off the traffic snarls on Mehrauli-Badarpur road, torsos bent forward with the weight of schoolbags, two fingers pinching the nose to thwart the putrid smell of the gutter overflowing into the roads, the free hand clutching leather shoes as they navigate past invisible potholes, eager to disappear into bylanes and doorways along the two-km-long road. A few men stand around leering at the rain-drenched uniforms of the girls; police constables sit comfortably inside the chowki.
‘Budget schools’ is what they call them. There are scores of them all over the landscape—both recognised and unrecognised—catering to a city with a boundless appetite for education avenues. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) recently numbered them at around 1,600 in Delhi, with half of them boasting “provisional recognition”. Delhi’s population boom, typical of all metros, rides on the millions coming in from the nearby (education-starved) states, and they’re all filled with a desire to improve their life-chances. Many of them land in catchment areas like Sangam Vihar, so the inevitable happens: an ‘education boom’.