In 1959 Martin Luther King Jr. visited India, the land of Mahatma Gandhi. Both men had become a symbol for a new era. Both fought against oppression and had a vision of a more just society – a society striving towards equality and solidarity. Another similarity which connects both of these remarkable individuals is that they were murdered. By people who stood for what they fought against: inhumanity and hatred.
India today is independent. Not only that: It has proclaimed the target of being a super-power by 2020, has traveled to the Mars and achieved economic growth and thus taught the world a new definition of the “Hindu rate of growth”. India also experiences a time where nationalism is admired and where critics and people who speak truth to power are often condemned as anti-nationals. Yet, a real patriot believing in Dr. Ambedkar’s masterpiece, the Constitution of India, has no choice but to take the risk.
India today is a segregated country.
It is common knowledge that the base for a just, equal and social society as envisioned by the Preamble of the Constitution of India is a system of education that strives towards these ideals. For that very reason, when the draft of the Constitution was discussed in parliament, Dr. Ambedkar with all his wisdom pointed out that a right to education shall not be limited to the age of eleven years. Instead, the founding fathers decided that children up to 14 years shall have the right to free and compulsory education. The Article 45 was put into the directive principles and thus was not enforceable in court. Yet, it was the only directive principle which got a concrete time-frame until when it had to be fulfilled: Within a period of ten years. This time-frame ended in 1960.
The affront against the Constitution of India by the consecutive governments lead the honorable Supreme Court of India to step in. In its landmark judgment of 1993 (the Unnikrishnan judgment), the Supreme Court transformed the status of the Article 45. From now onwards, it was considered a fundamental right. It is remarkable that it required a Supreme Court judgment over 30 years after the deadline set by the founding fathers of the nation to make education a fundamental right in independent India. Obviously, the Indian elite, despite being patriotic on the surface, did not carry the spirit of the Constitution of India in its heart.
We now have 2017. A lot has changed. After repeated failure to pass a Right to Education Bill, finally, in 2009, it passed parliament – a bill that hardly earns the name. Various amendments of the Constitution also got into place, yet leading to a dilution of the original Article 45 which just put an upper age-limit of 14 years, but not a lower one. Today, the right is only granted (de-jure) to children from 6 years onwards (see Article 21a). This fact alone yields a massive scandal considering the fact that especially children from the lower strata of society are first generation learners and thus could profit immensely if they were provided pre-primary support to which they would be entitled.
But let us consider the education system of India, and for this article limit it to primary education. Here, we come back to Martin Luther King Jr. whose Civil Rights Movement in the US also required a Supreme Court judgment to force the political establishment to consider the reason for their existence: The Constitution. In the landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States of America in the Brown vs. Kansas Board of Education judgment ended (de-jure) segregation on the line of race in schools. This was the beginning of the end to “White-only” and “Coloured” schools in the US. Today in the US, for primary education, children from an area, no matter which ethnicity, are assigned the same primary school.
Contrast this with today’s India. More than half of India’s children are out-of-school. The numbers provided by the Government of India and the UN-institutions are misleading on purpose. The proclamation of half of the children being out-of-school is derived by adding to the “non-enrolled” children those who drop-out before class VIII (based on numbers provided by the government). Thus, this is the amount of children to whom the fundamental right to education is denied which constitutes a gross violation of the Constitution of India. Let us be not misled here: Drop-outs are almost non-existent. It is an euphemism created on purpose to justify and blame parents and the proclaimed “backward mindsets” for out-of-school children despite the fact that both, parents and children are eager to get educated. In every village. Whether STs or SCs. Children do not simply drop out. They are pushed-out of school. There are more than 10,000 schools without any teacher (governmental numbers). It is time to point out what this means once and forever: In independent India, the regime of
Apartheid reigns over the spirit of the Constitution of India.
But not only that, the educational system of India is as segregated as in hardly any other country. The founding fathers envisaged a common school system based on neighborhood schools. Instead, the respective governments have been creative (with assistance of foreign aid agencies and the World Bank and its allied UN-agencies) to create inferior, parallel tracks for millions of poor children: The idea of non-formal education, the Education Guarantee Scheme, DPEP and ad-hoc schemes of SSA was born. The idea of a common school system where children from different backgrounds – rich and poor, upper caste and lower caste – visit one school and become one nation has been put to grave. Instead, segregation was chosen and children from the lower strata are put to parallel, cheap and inferior streams. How shall these children have equal chances? Are they second-class citizens?
In the 1960s, the Kothari Commission was formed and clearly stated that India should strive towards a common school system based on neighbourhood schools. This was also the spirit of the Constitution of India. And this is still the spirit of the Constitution of India today.
Let us not be mistaken. India is on the track to becoming a super-power, it has remarkable economic growth and launched various prestitious projects to impress the world. Yet, it has let its children down. These words are harsh, but so is reality. Enough is enough.
I say this with anger in my heart. I have visited governmental schools in Delhi, Rajasthan and Bihar. I have been to non-formal education centers in these states and Andhra Pradesh which were run by NGOs. It is time for the civil society organizations which have become providers of these inferior streams to stand up against this segregation. Children do not need charity and non-formal education. They need their rights fulfilled. I am from a working-class background and grew up in Germany. Today I go to university. And still, I pay no fees. It was this system that allowed me to become what I am today. And it creates anger in my heart to see my young Indian brothers and sisters being denied this very same chance I had. To see governmental schools in Bihar where hardly any non-para-teacher is employed, having hardly something you can call a classroom for hundreds of children. Where no books are provided when the school year is already about to end! Where toilets are either not present or not usable. Where there is no electricity. Where the number of teachers is a joke, but a bad one. Where one can not proclaim that education is provided. This is an insult to independent India. To the great people who struggled for freedom. Ambedkar’s struggle has not yet been won.
The founding fathers of this great nation must not have struggled to see that in 2017, there is still a segregated system of education in the Republic of India. It shall be a matter of pride and patriotism for men and women from every strata of society to say: Enough is enough. ALL our children are citizens of this country. Thus, they have to be provided their fundamental rights. The time for excuses is over. There is no fiscal necessity to deny a fundamental right – there can be none. This country was founded for the very purpose to guarantee the rights of the Constitution. The political elite and its allies cannot be allowed to betray the children of India from their right anymore.
The time for common neighborhood schools has come. The people of independent India will not rest until this right will be fulfilled. And it will be my pleasure to stand on your side. To end with Amebkarji: “With justice on our side I do not see how we can lose our battle.”
We are on the right side of history.
The following pictures were taken in a Govt. Primary School in Bihar in 2016.