The insect societies are a continuing source of fascination to naturalists and lay people alike. Their complex organisation of enormous numbers of individuals into one tight super-organism often sheds a frightening light on behaviour patterns in general. There are, for instance, ant colonies that are ultra-aggressive, attacking, destroying and enslaving their rivals in a chilling parallel to human tribalism. And that brings us to the implementation of the Right to Education Act.
The law came into force on April 1, 2010 and, as its name suggests, is to be considered on par with any other fundamental right under the Constitution. Under this statute, every child in the 6-14 age group gets eight years of elementary education in an age-appropriate classroom in his/her neighbourhood. This last is the key provision, that no child, whatever the economic status, can be denied admission in the nearest school, whether it’s a posh, fee-extracting body or run by the government. No child shall be denied admission for want of documents; no child shall be turned away if the admission cycle in the school is over and no child need take an admission test. The state will bear the cost of tuitions.
In one elegant stroke the Act cut away all the arguments that were advanced against this elementary levelling of the field. Viewed dispassionately, it is an honest attempt to provide all children at the primary level with the opportunity to learn, excel and climb up the social ladder. Sadly, it seems also to have rekindled all the latent tribal bonds among one category of parents and teachers, the same basic feeling of exclusionary solidarity that led to apartheid, condoned and encouraged slavery, and distorted the original functional divisions of caste into a monstrous parody of itself.
So they challenged the Act in the Supreme Court, which upheld its constitutional validity on April 12. That should be the last word, though the grumbling and sense of ill use continues in private. But the recent report of what a private school in Bangalore did to four children admitted under the RTE quota passes comprehension. In a particularly cruel act of segregational savagery these four children got a “special” haircut allegedly to distinguish them from “normal” children.
It did not end there either. The parents of these children say they have to stand separately during assembly and their lunch boxes are checked before they enter class, where they have to sit at the back. They are not given any homework either. In short, the school appears to be brazenly implementing precisely those practices that the Act was set up to prevent. What makes it even more painful is that the culprits are not a bunch of uneducated bigots from an isolated village but educationists who teach in a cosmopolis, a city that prides itself on being at the forefront of the project to create a new Indian narrative.
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