Low Muslim representation appears to be a striking feature of this year's admissions to nursery classes in Delhi's private schools. Of 92 schools which provided some sort of information on their websites, as many as 20 (or their branches) admitted no Muslim child while 17 admitted only one Muslim child each.
While the sketchy nature of available data — with only a few schools willing to reveal the numbers of Muslim applicants — makes it difficult conclusively to establish the prevalence of bias — information from individual schools suggests Muslims applied in fairly significant numbers this year and were, on average, less likely to be selected for admission than non-Muslims. For example, against 170 available seats, the Pusa Road branch of Springdales School received 2,443 applications of which 155 were from Muslim children. The school admitted two Muslim children in the Economically Weaker Section category. Delhi Public School, East of Kailash, received 2997 applications — of which 269 were from Muslims — against 180 vacancies. This school, which is close to many Muslim neighbourhoods, admitted five Muslim children in all.
On Sunday, social activist Abdul Khaliq wrote to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit alleging that these skewed figures amounted to “denial of quality education” to Muslim children. In a letter to Ms. Dikshit, copies of which were sent to Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and principals of all major private schools in the Capital, he said: “Data collected by us on the number of Muslim children admitted to nursery class this academic year in the city's popular private schools indicate dismally low numbers. Although Muslims comprise about 15 per cent of the population, less than 0.5 per cent of Muslim children have been admitted [to these schools].”
Mr. Khaliq, who said distressed Muslim parents had approached him for help, looked at a total of 179 schools. Of these, 87 failed to upload admission details on their websites as mandated by the Directorate of Education.
The Kirti Nagar branch of Springdales School admitted no Muslim child while the school's Dhaula Kuan branch admitted one Muslim child.
Of 150 children admitted by Blue Bells, Lajpat Nagar, two were Muslims. The ratio for Indian School, Sadiq Nagar, was three of 120. The best figures were posted by Delhi Public School, Mathura Road, which admitted 65 Muslim children against 240 available seats — 23 and 42 in general and Economically Weaker Section category. All three schools are located in neighbourhoods with large populations of Muslims.
What explains such a large variation in the numbers of Muslim children admitted? Why are so many schools entirely unable to admit Muslim children when a school like DPS seems to have had no difficulty on this count? As Mr. Khaliq pointed out in his letter, the problem appears to be an offshoot of the widely-varying points system followed by school managements: “Indian School has earmarked 30 points for those living in the neighbourhood and Blue Bells 40 points, whereas Cambridge Primary School has only 10 neighbourhood points.”
Mr. Khaliq argued that the system was weighted against Muslim children. For example, Cambridge School awarded seven neighbourhood points to Muslim-dominated Zakir Nagar as against 10 to the more upscale New Friends Colony. The two colonies are a mere 1.18 km apart.
Said Mr. Khaliq: “Muslims in the city are concentrated in a few segregated areas and slums, of which Zakir Nagar is one and although it is less than 2 km from Cambridge School, children of Zakir Nagar are awarded only seven neighbourhood points, whereas Friends Colony gets 10 points and much more distant Lajpat Nagar applicants are also given seven points. It may be a coincidence but the sad fact is that [most] private schools near Muslim-dominated colonies have kept the neighbourhood points very low.”
He said this “exclusion” had forced Muslim parents from across the city to send their wards to the only quality school under Muslim management in Delhi — Hamdard Public School in Sangam Vihar. “The point system with marks for parents' qualification, alumni, and sibling, etc., only adds to the exclusion of the Muslim population.”
School managements uniformly refute the charge of bias. The principal of one school, which admitted no Muslim child, said, “The problem arises because almost all the parents in the Capital want their children to go to a few select popular private schools which offer only limited seats. Neither the school management nor the existing point system can be blamed for this.”
The former Central Board of Secondary Education chairman Ashok Ganguly, who introduced the points system in 2006, disagrees that the points system is flawed. He told The Hindu: “The point system was introduced to bring in a heterogeneous classroom and promote a transparent system for admitting students to school. To a very large extent the schools have succeeded in doing that. This system does not allow schools to discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or religion.”