In these times of ever-increasing global pursuits of glamour and glitz as against the shrinking space of the spiritual quest, it would be too naïve to expect the level of sacrifice and concern for others, witnessed during the freedom struggle, from those who are supposed to be icons for the masses. The resourceful and the powerful, even if they have not studied Marx, know very well how to preserve their personal interests and also that of their brethren. As education extends its outreach on a universal scale, the complexities grow in every society depending on its own conditions and situations of stratification and socio-economic diversities. In India, education has caused a tussle between those accustomed to elite exclusivity and those demanding their rights. The intensity of the increasing tension was reflected rather clearly in a judgment of the Allahabad High Court just a couple of months ago. The court desired that children of all those who draw their salary from government funds must study in government-run schools. It resulted in an overwhelming expression of appreciation but was invariably coupled with a sense of resignation: it won’t be allowed to reach the implementation stage. Simple: How could one expect decision-makers to take a decision against their own children? They know it very well that most of the government schools are non-functional and deficient in quality and standards. Everyone accepts that if the court order is implemented, these schools would witness an upsurge of public acceptability and regain their credibility. It could create a level-playing field, a prerequisite to move towards a common school system. The screeching gap emerging out of educational ‘discrimination’ is increasing by the day. Skill India and the Digital India have the potential to assist in what can be achieved only through an attitudinal and work-culture transformation. Talk to anyone, and grave apprehensions would invariably be the only outcome.
There are sufficient reasons to assert how the privileged class has safeguarded its own interests without caring for others, often at the cost of others. An example of how social discrimination through education could be achieved has recently been highlighted by the Delhi High Court in its judgment delivered on November 6, quashing the 60 per cent seat reservation for the wards of Class One officers of the civil services at the Sanskriti School in Chankyapuri, New Delhi. This separate treatment in admissions was in violation of the spirit of equal protection under Article 14 and that of equality of education enshrined under Article 21 (A) of the Constitution. This school was allotted 7.78 acres in Chankyapuri at a premium of Rs 1 and an annual rent of Rs 1. Government agencies and ministries donated Rs 15.94 crore to the society for setting up the school. The court ruled: “The state cannot provide funds to any private individual to establish a school for an elite segment of the society.” The ‘society’ that manages this school got a seven-acre plot for free, and the list of privileges granted to it could be indeed pretty long. At one stage, the Union cabinet approved a special grant of a couple of crores of rupees for an auditorium at the school. In a very well-studied judgment, the court recalled the Kothari Commission report (1964-66) and wondered why its recommendation to create a common school system remains ignored even today. It would have led the nation towards equality, social cohesion and religious harmony. Instead, systemic encouragement for the creation of high-fee charging schools led to a corresponding deterioration in the credibility of government schools. How the top echelons of bureaucracy, in conjunction with the political bosses, have permitted this segregation to flourish is known to one and all.
The Sanskriti School judgment comes at a right time to indicate the factors that lead to mutual distrust in a diverse society. It gives enough indication to the opinion-makers and policy formulators to have a rethink on how to proceed ahead to create an egalitarian society in which no child would be deprived of education due to economic or social circumstances of the family.
Rajput is a former director of the NCERT