Struggle to get common school system implemented intensifies

Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and CNS Columnist
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My fast at Gandhi Statue, Hazratganj, Lucknow to get the Allahabad High Court order making it compulsory for anybody in the government system to send their children to government schools implemented ended on the 10th day (15th June 2016) not because of any assurance of the government but because of pressure of my colleagues, well wishers and social activists like Justice Rajinder Sachar, Medha Patkar, Kuldeep Nayar, Dr GG Parikh, Yogendra Yadav, Anand Kumar, Rajendra Singh, PV Rajagopal, Sunilam, Ravi Kiran Jain, Vijay Pratap and my Socialist Party (India) colleagues, both local as well as nationally.

[Watch video interview with Dr Sandeep Pandey

Justice Rajinder Sachar got me an appointment with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, out of which nothing came out, and now because of Aneel Hegde of Janata Dal (U) who got Kuldeep Nayar to talk to Mulayam Singh Yadav, I've had a phone conversation with the national president of ruling party in U.P. and an appointment is pending. Aam Admi Party MLA Pankaj Pushkar came to break my fast from Delhi. But the chances that the 18 August, 2015 order would be implemented looks bleak.

There is huge resistance from the bureaucrats. They want special 'Sanskriti' schools for their children. They want to take the education system in a direction opposite to what the HC order intends. After the order came the Basic Education Minister in U.P. Ram Govind Chaudhary got his granddaughter admitted to a government school and wrote a letter to IAS officers to consider sending their children to government schools. He was removed as Basic Education Minister and replaced by a retired IPS officer turned politician Ahmed Hasan. One can imagine the power of IAS lobby. But there are good IAS officers too. S. Ministhy, originally from Kerala now in the U.P. cadre, sends her children to Kendriya Vidayala inspite of having the option of sending her children to any of the elite schools in Lucknow as her colleagues do.

There are two kinds of education systems in this country. People who can afford send their children to private schools who after completing their higher education are able to get a job or are self-employed. People who cannot afford private schools are condemned to send their children to government schools which play with the child's future. Children attending these schools have to clear their examinations using unfair means. Half of them drop out before completing their school or even if they complete their education have to live as unemployed or underemployed.

When children of ruling elites will start going to government schools, their quality will improve and children of poor will also get good quality education.

Justice Sudhir Agarwal says in his historic order that, 'there are three categories of primary schools. One which caters to 90% of population run by state Board which are in shabby condition. There are semi-elite schools run by private entities which are better than the government schools. Then there are the schools which cater to limited class of elite society.'

Justice Agarwal concludes that the, 'condition of Board schools are pathetic because there is no real involvement of administration with these schools. Children of all government employees attend the second and third category of schools and have no indulgence to see functioning and requirements of these schools. Schools run by Board are victims of highest level of misappropriation, maladministration and widespread corruption. Standard of teaching is biggest casualty. Teachers are being appointed who the administrators would not like to see teach their own children. Appointment of teachers has become a political exercise with the objective of creating committed voters without bothering about their qualification. Since bureaucrats, politicians, rich people send their children to elite or semi-elite schools nobody cares about the standard to be maintained in primary schools of the Board.'

Coming down heavily on the ruling class he says that, 'a competition is going on to bring down the standard of government schools.' He says, 'time has come when state must make it compulsory to all those who receive benefit from state exchequer to have their wards sent to Board schools.'

Commenting on another benefit of this decision he says, 'it will boost social equation when children of rich will study together with children of poor. This will bring revolution in society.'

The HC order was to be implemented within 6 months of its pronouncement and the government was ordered to file a compliance report on 17th February, 2016. The order was to be implemented beginning academic year 2016-17. U.P. government has done nothing. In my meeting with the CM on 8 June 2016 he has now ordered the Secretary, Basic Education to study the HC order. This shows the lackadaisical attitude of the government. The immediate reason of my sitting on fast was that the admission period for academic session 2016-17 is coming to an end in July. Once it is over the government will have an excuse that it will implement the HC order only next year. I did not want the government to escape from fulfilling its responsibility in such an important matter.

The indefinite fast has had a nationwide affect which I did not expect. People have started discussing it now in many states. This gives me a hope that some day some government will implement it.

The support from the most unexpected quarter that I got was from fellow developing countries in the neighbourhood. Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation, Sri Lanka's Community Development Services, feminist group from Bangladesh Jago Nari, Vietnam's Centre for Sustainable Community Development, Bangladesh's Coastal Association for Social Transformation Trust, Bangladesh's Equity and Justice Working Group, UBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternative) also from Bangladesh extended their support to fast. Even Justice Sudhir Agarwal may not have realised that his judgement has important far reaching consequences not just for poor of India but for the entire world where struggles for an egalitarian society are going on.

I would like to thank all who supported my fast through this article. Your support will still be needed to take this battle to its conclusion.

Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee
18 June 2016
(Dr Sandeep Pandey is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and national vice president of Socialist Party (India). He is a noted social activist and has led National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and Asha Parivar. He has also been a former faculty of Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) in Varanasi, Kanpur and Gandhinagar. Follow him on Twitter: @Sandeep4Justice and email him: