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Even With Its Many Flaws, RTE Bill Is A Step In The Positive Direction. Here”s Why!

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By Uzair Belgami: 

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” — Nelson Mandela

The fact that you are reading this suggests that you have had a good education in a school, even perhaps attended/will attend a university and are literate enough to read and use the internet. It may come as a shock to some of you, but this reality makes you a minority in India — a ‘privileged minority’. In a country with such a large population and a still larger gulf between the rich and poor, it is sometimes hard for us to see just ‘where’ that pesky majority is whom I seem to refer to. However, the stark reality is that India, the largest democracy and for some, the future super-power of the world, has some pretty startling truths regarding the situation of its children. 21 million children of primary school age in India were out of school in 2006, more than in any other country. Of these, more than 80% are from rural areas, and more than half belong to the poorest households. This shows the close relation between poverty, living in a rural area and lack of education. Though the primary school attendance rate has increased to 83%, only 59% of children reach even until grade 5, and only 54% of children in India attend secondary school. In India, only 53% of habitation has a primary school and only 20% of habitation has a secondary school. In nearly 60% of schools, there are less than two teachers to teach Classes I to V. The problems of infrastructure are still one of the core issues relating to schools. Of India’s 7,00,000 rural schools, only one in six have toilets deterring children, especially girls, from going to school, and if enrolled, in remaining there. To top it all off, the public expenditure on education has never risen above 4% of GDP.


These are only a miniscule selection of some statistics (you can follow the links for more).

So what shall we reckon of a country when this is the state of millions of children? When this reality and real life experience is reduced to just some numbers and statistics to us, do we even register what this means? And in contrast, shall we regard as blind or retarded, those full of self-proclaimed national fervour and spirit, who proudly proclaim India as soon to-be ‘developed’, if not already so? Perhaps before demanding for more luxuries for ourselves in cities, a better currency rate for us to go abroad or more ‘prestige’ and ‘power’ in the international image of India — it would be more prudent for us to prioritize urgently the demands and needs of those without even a basic right like education.

In this regard, the Right to Education Act was a landmark bill passed by the Parliament in 2009, and which came into force in April 2010, making India one of the 135 countries which deemed primary education a fundamental right of children between 6 and 14 years of age. A brief summary of some of the main provisions of the Bill are as follows:

– All children of the age of six to fourteen years have a right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood government school till completion of elementary education (Classes 1-8).
– All recognized schools must provide good quality education which includes a set of basic facilities, minimum instructional hours and an adequate number of teachers, as specified in the Act. These provisions are to be implemented by 2013. All teachers in recognized schools must be qualified by 2015.
– Under the 25% reservation requirement of the Act, some economically and socially disadvantaged children, as well as those with disabilities will receive free education in private unaided and minority aided schools, as well as specified schools such as Kendriya Vidyalayas, Navodaya Vidyalayas and Sainik Schools.
– No school can charge donations or capitation fees, and neither can student admissions be based on the testing of children or any screening procedure, including the interviews of either children or their parents.
– No child can be subject to physical punishment or mental harassment, be held back in a class, or be expelled from school till completion of elementary education.

The goal of Universal Primary Education by 2015 was one of the Millennium Development Goals and it is quite obvious by now that India shall not be able to attain it. However, the RTE is an important step in this direction, and needs to be supported and worked on. Though the bill is not ideal and there are many flaws which must be discussed and rectified (the scope of the article does not allow me to discuss them here), the intention behind the bill is still a step in a positive direction, in my opinion.

On the 13th of March, 2014 the 4th National Stocktaking Convention was organized by the RTE Forum at the Constitution Club, New Delhi to take stock of the status of implementation of RTE Act. Various activists and policy-makers engaged with education in this country were present and shared their views on the issue of the implementation of RTE and education in our country.

Among others, the RTE Forum’s Convenor, Mr Ambarish Rai said, “Irrespective of the party in power, no state has fully implemented RTE. This is the case from Gujarat, (with a 14.4% compliance rate even in Ahmedabad), to Mizoram (with the lowest- 0% compliance in Serchhip District). It is the same from Uttar Pradesh (with 1% schools in Amethi complying), to Tamil Nadu. People have, however, become more aware and angry with the prevailing reality. It is essential that political parties listen to the voice of the people and respond by placing education high on their agendas”. Ms. Kushal Singh, Chairperson, NCPCR, stated that “policies have consistently neglected the need to address children’s education in a realistic timeline. She reiterated the need for the State to take on its responsibility for delivering education and not look to the private sector for action.” Ms. Anjela Taneja, Oxfam India, while presenting the report said, “The Right to Education Act’s implementation remained grossly underfunded.”

It is disheartening to see that education still appears not to be high on the agenda of our political parties or our ‘collective conscience’. The provisions of the Right to Education Act, albeit being problematic in various aspects, still seem like a distant hope.

I for one personally feel, a boy having a well-trained, permanent teacher in his rural school is more important than India getting a permanent seat in the UN Security Council; or a girl having a decent toilet at school is more important than I having a metro in my city; or children being able to make their lives better through a proper education is more important than India making its ‘defence’ better through more missiles. What about you?

Photo Credit: Shreyans Bhansali via Compfight cc

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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