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Updated: July 31, 2012 08:58 IST

Sadly, there are cuts that are less visible

Bageshree S.
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Private schools are ghettos for the middle and upper
middle classes, and an aspirational space for those in the lower rung
of society. File photo
The Hindu Private schools are ghettos for the middle and upper middle classes, and an aspirational space for those in the lower rung of society. File photo

Given their background, quota students require sensitive attention of a teacher

A fortnight has passed since the infamous episode where the tufts of hair of four children admitted in a private school under the Right to Education (RTE) Act’s reservation quota were allegedly snipped off to demarcate them. The sound and fury has settled, with everybody quick to conclude that there was no hint of discrimination in the entire incident, which was a mere prank played by a child on four of his classmates.

However, beneath the surface lie many uncomfortable questions about the applecart of class and caste equations within a classroom, which the RTE Act’s provision for 25 per cent quota for underprivileged children threatens to upset. Interestingly, even before the final report on the episode was ready, Primary and Secondary Education Minister Vishweshwara Hegde Kageri declared the school not guilty in a statement to the Legislature.

The report

The report submitted by the Education Department fails to establish it was a deliberate act, as there is no proof that the children’s hair was snipped by a representative of the school to mark them out.

However, it points to other forms of discrimination. For instance, the children under the RTE quota were not given uniforms and books (due to late admission, the school says) and all four children were backbenchers in the classroom. The parents said that they were always made to feel unwelcome by everyone, starting with the watchmen who would not allow them in to make any inquiries. One of the children had told her mother that a teacher had said she was studying “for free”.

Troubling questions

The report does not raise the question as to how a completely random prank in the classroom ended up hurting only those admitted under the quota. Was there an atmosphere in the classroom that made these children easy prey for targeted pranks? The management which initially said that two out of four were non-quota students, later amended the figure to one non-quota student. The report, curiously, makes no mention of non-quota students. The testimonies of the teacher in whose class the incident took place, and the child who wielded the scissors were never recorded.

Long history

Opposition to the quota provision in the Act has a long history. In July 2010, a school had sent out circulars to parents warning of the implications of the 25 per cent reservation.

“Once this Act is enforced, a child could beat up your child, smoke on the campus, misbehave with a girl or a teacher and the school will have to watch helplessly,” it had said, putting the entire set of prejudices against the socially and economically backward sections in a nutshell.

Earlier this month, the former president of Karnataka Unaided School Managements’ Association (KUSMA) kicked up a row by comparing children from government school to “gutter water” that cannot mingle with pure water. The school in question in Nandini Layout is a member of KUSMA, which has cited several legal grounds to oppose the RTE quota and had closed schools for a few days in protest.

Though private school managements have been more circumspect in their articulation after the Supreme Court upheld the RTE Act, hostility to the idea has never died down.

Business enterprises

This particular episode and the Act must be placed in the post-1990s context which has seen a rapid increase in private schools as business enterprises.

The number of unaided primary schools in Bangalore today stands at 2,314.

Given their fee structures, these are ghettos for the middle and upper middle classes, and an aspirational space for those in the lower rung of society.

In this scenario, the Act has compelled a mixing of classes within a classroom in a small measure and made room for the underprivileged to claim a “right” in that hallowed space as an act of social justice. This has resulted in animosities and intolerance.

Given the social and economic background of the students admitted under quota, they would require additional and sensitive attention of a teacher. The question is whether this would indeed happen in a situation where they are seen as a liability.

Keeping vigil

Interestingly, following the hair-snipping episode, one of the associations of private school managements suggested that close circuit cameras be installed in classrooms to avoid recurrence of such incidents. No, the idea is not to ensure that children admitted under quota are not discriminated against. It is to “protect” themselves from those who may “misuse the RTE as a blackmailing tool”.

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