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An Unauthorised West Delhi Colony And Its 100 Private Schools

It’s not hard to spot private school these days, whether you are passing through metros, small towns or even rural areas. However, how do you explain the presence of more than 100 such schools in Hastsal -- an area of less than 7 square kilometers?

An Unauthorised West Delhi Colony And Its 100 Private Schools
An Unauthorised West Delhi Colony And Its 100 Private Schools

Hastsal, a small census town in western Delhi, lies comfortably hidden between the massive Najafgarh drain on one side and the crowded Uttam Nagar bus terminal on the other. With its narrow and uneven roads and a curious mix of establishments, Hastsal is quite unlike the other- more visible parts of the city.  Once inside the place, you will be overwhelmed by the number of shops, schools, clinics, coaching centres, marriage gardens and of course houses, all of which seem to exist together, with no clear boundaries to separate one type from the other. The addresses of the buildings are in reference to the gali (lane) number they are located in, and you are likely to come across cases of three adjacent buildings sharing the same house number.

Once a small village surrounded by vast agricultural lands, today Hastsal is an agglomeration of several regularized- unauthorized colonies along with the laal dora region of the older Hastsal Village, linked together by intersecting lanes and by-lanes. Among many other things, one thing that makes this place different from other parts of the city is the presence of a large number of diverse, but mostly low-cost private schools. Schools with names like ‘Ideal Radiant’, ‘Star Shine’, ‘Kirti Public’ and ‘Pioneer Kamal’ mark the landscape of the place, not just with their many coloured buildings; but also in forms of faraway walls painted with their names, the high flying banners that hang overhead, and flex boards tied to electric poles. Even if you miss seeing these schools, you will not miss their presence which seems to be displayed on every corner, on every wall.

While nobody knows the exact number of such schools, when asked Mr. Naresh Tyagi, a long time social worker who also founded ‘The New Age Public School’, 27 years ago in the area, believes that there are more than 100 such private schools in Hastsal today. Another school founder Mr. Satish Tyagi quotes a presence of at least 200 private schools in Hastsal ranging from pre primary ones to schools running up till standard 12. These schools are spread out in an area of less than 7 square kilometers and cater to a population of 1,76,877 (as per the 2011 census). However, locals guess that at least 5 lakh people live in Hastsal today. The corresponding figure for government schools in the area is 13 as per the District Information System for Education (DISE) data for 2015-16.

The town today provides shelter, and often a means of livelihood largely to migrant population from neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana. And the majority of this population falls in the strata of lower or lower middle class. The question then arises- how did so many schools- firstly, emerge and then, flourish? And what does it really mean- Is it simply a reflection of the aspirations of the working class, to equip its children to survive and thrive in the competition that characterizes the society today? Or is there something more to this story?

From a Village to an Unauthorized Colony

The emergence of these schools is in fact, deeply linked to the emergence of the colony itself. 61-year-old Umesh Tyagi, who has lived in Hastsal since his birth, and now manages the Rajdhani Public School in the area, says that he was born in a village surrounded by vast agricultural lands, and has seen the neighbouring posh-er areas of Vikaspuri, Janakpuri and Uttam Nagar grow from wilderness to what they are today. “We lived in kuchcha houses then, fenced by small rocks and thorns”, Mr. Rati Ram Yadav, a retired Delhi police officer, and a native of the area, adds.

However, the landowners sold off their agricultural land illegally to individuals. It was illegal because under the Delhi Land Reforms Act of 1954, agricultural land cannot be sold off for non agricultural uses. The rest of the story about transformation of agriculture land into unauthorized colonies is told by Gautumn Bhan in his research paper Planned Illegalities: Housing and the Failure of Planning in Delhi 1947-2010 - “Rural land belonged either to individual farmers or was common land in the village and belonged to the gram sabha or village council. Most unauthorised colonies get created when land is bought by an individual– let us call him an “aggregator” – from either individual farmers or the gram sabha and aggregated into the size of a colony that could be large enough to hold as many 200 units or as few as 10. This aggregated land is then divided into plots and sold with written contractual agreements that detail monthly installments and payment schedules undertaken and completed by individual house owners.”

Umeshji claims that this was done mostly to make a profit before the Delhi Land Reforms Act 1954 forced landowners to give up their possession for almost nothing. Another version comes from Mr. Satish Tyagi, the owner of one of the earliest schools to come up in the area- the ‘Vrindawan Public School’, who says that this land was sold off during the time Delhi Development Authority (DDA) was acquiring land for the planned development of Delhi. The government was paying prices much lower than prevailing market prices, and the fear of acquisition at such low prices made the landowners sell off their land to these aggregators or ‘colonisers’ (as he ironically calls them). As a result, the settlement that followed was scattered and haphazard, explaining the maze of lanes and crossroads that define Hastsal today.

“This was the time when property dealers emerged in almost every house”, Mr. Satish Tyagi recalls. You will see the remnants of this even today in the busy streets of Hastsal. As large number of people shifted to Delhi seeking employment, and as the housing facilities in the city remained inadequate, the population in Hastsal, which provided relatively cheaper housing facilities, rose exponentially from 1980.

Lack of Public Provision of Facilities and Emergence of Private Schools

However, facilities available to serve the needs of this population were largely lacking. Till 1985 there was only one government school up-to the eighth standard, and another managed by an NGO. A few early private schools began emerging around 1987 as a natural response to the rise in demand for schools by an ever increasing population. “Plus, there was no land to work on anymore, they had to either find employment or generate employment for themselves, and opening schools seemed like a viable option”, Mr. Naresh Tyagi, the manager of ‘The New Age Public School’ says. He takes out an old file with a pile of yellowed sheets of letters and newspaper clippings- these are the applications he submitted to government over the years, due to which the government school was upgraded from upper primary to secondary level in 1994. Another application was submitted to DDA to allot land to open more schools. “However, the officials responded by saying that they had neither the land nor the budget to open these schools, given that it was an unauthorized colony. Instead they suggested that we should open our own schools- we had the land and the need for it”, Mr. Umesh Tyagi recollects. He also vaguely mentions an education secretary who visited the area under the Education for All campaign and motivated them to open their own schools.

Most of these schools were then established between the 90s and 2010. Mr. Satish Tyagi, when asked about his motivation to start a school, says: “I started teaching tuitions when I completely ran out of money. That helped me gain confidence that I could teach. Moreover, each time I would pass one of the schools and see people less educated than myself teaching these kids, I would think why not me. I had the land, I was educated, and I could teach.”

In case of Naresh Tyagi, his uncle who was already running his own school in the neighbouring area instigated him to open one on his vacant land. “I was in social work, and there was a clear scarcity of schools”, says Naresh Tyagi, in a matter-of-fact tone. This, however, does not mean he was running his school for charitable purposes. A monthly fee of Rs.1000 has to be paid each month to study in his school “but other than EWS, we do provide relaxation to children who may need it”- he gives an example of a girl whose father died and whose fee was waived off for the entire session.

At ‘St. Sai Public School’- a primary school in the area, they talk about starting with a small tuition and daycare centre- where children were charged only Rs 35 per month.

These schools which then came up served two important social functions- firstly, providing education to the children of Hastsal- who otherwise didn’t have enough schools to study in; and providing a means of employment to the adults of the area who at least had some degree of education.

Parents’ Speak

Parents, when asked, show a clear inclination towards sending their children to private schools over government schools. Lallan, who drives a cab, and has lived in Hastsal since 1995, sends his elder sons to government schools, while his daughter who is in 3rd standard, goes to ‘Greenland Public School’ in the neighbourhood. However, his two sons too completed early years of their schooling from private institutes, before they shifted to government schools. He may do the same for his daughter later, he says. “It is not easy to afford private education, especially in later years. But if they study a few years in a private school, they learn better, at least they are much better off than children who have always gone to government schools,” he says.

In a single storey building in adjacent Mohan Garden, four families live in separate rooms, sharing a large courtyard and bathing space. All of them have migrated from Bihar at different times. Sunita, whose husband is a Rajmistri (expert mason), has four children, all of who study in government schools. “I did send my eldest daughter to a private school for two years, but then the fee was so high, we couldn’t afford it anymore” she says. If they could afford the fee? “Fir to private mein hi bhejte na (then of course we would have sent them to private schools)”, she says. “My daughter who is in 4th standard still struggles to read her textbooks”, she explains, when asked the reason.

Inside the expansive South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) School in Shiv Vihar, a group of helping staff sits in an otherwise empty building. Except for the woman whose sons are in their senior secondary year and go to a government school, and two men who are unmarried, all of the other four parents send their children to different private schools. “We work here, and we know how things are run here. Moreover, whoever has some money, tries to send their children to a private school. It’s like a trend, now.” The man who works as the peon in the school and whose daughter studies in a bigger private school under EWS quota of Right To Education Act, says. It is true- while sending children to private schools is about quality of education delivery; it is also as much about status now. Clearly, there is a sense of pride that people feel in paying for the services they avail.

A Boost to Female Education

“There is another thing that happened with the emergence of these schools, Mr Umesh Tyagi tells, as he puts his pen down on the table, “more and more girls began going to school”. Parents, who were earlier apprehensive of sending their daughters to long ‘unsafe’ distances to study, began sending them to the nearby private schools. Om Prakash Rathore, who migrated from Uttar Pradesh in 1979 and now owns a flour mill in Hastsal, sent his daughter to the ‘Rashtra Shakti Vidyalaya’- the earliest non government school to emerge in the area, while his son went to the government school. When asked the reason for this surprising difference, he says “I could afford private education for only one of them, and while my son could go to a faraway government school, we preferred our daughter to go somewhere nearer”, he says, nodding.

Filling a lacuna

The schools in the area are many and diverse- some bigger, others smaller, some with their own football grounds and yellow buses, and others which run out of residential buildings; a school operating from two buildings separated by a road; schools where children run home every time their bottles run out of water, and schools with classrooms which are technology enabled; schools where children interact openly and freely in their classrooms, and schools where children sit in complete silence in the presence of teacher- schools which are recognized and schools which are unrecognized and; schools, all of which are ‘English Medium’.

However, these schools cater to different economic classes and are filling a glaring lacuna. As Naresh Tyagi puts it- “it’s these private schools that are currently carrying the responsibility of educating the children of Hastsal, because government schools are simply not sufficient.”

Ritika Chawla works as a research writer with Centre for Civil Society. She is also currently a part of the organisation's research project Sandhi- involving private schools in Hastsal, New Delhi.

Ritika Chawla works as a research writer with Centre for Civil Society. She is also currently a part of the organisation's research project Sandhi- involving private schools in Hastsal, New Delhi.

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