I was working with The Times of India when I first met Rajiv Kumar of Pardarshita in connection with a story on the utility of Right to Information (RTI) Act. Travelling to Seemapuri (East Delhi) was a difficult proposition that time so I ended up using all modes of public transport to reach Parivartan- former version of Pardarshita. There was one computer tucked away in a corner of a big room with four-five people working around it. I distinctly remember one of them as a young girl, who later told me someone had put a blade in her neck because she wouldn't stop venturing out while working for the community. That day ended with interviewing beneficiaries of the RTI Act leading to my first byline (http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Repository/ml.asp?Ref=Q0FQLzIwMDUvMDgvMTcjQXIwMDIwMA==&Mode=Gif&Locale=english-skin-custom).
Since then, whenever possible, we have collaborated on many occasions, even though Rajivji and few others now call themselves members of Pardarshita. No matter what they call themselves, these people and their relentless fight against a corrupt government system remains unwavered.
Sometime last year, we went for a survey of schools run by the Delhi government in the South Delhi Zone and East Delhi, more specifically, to inspect whether the school notice boards displayed information about money due to students belonging to Economically Weaker Section quota, whether they were getting free books and uniforms as per the Central Information Commission (CIC) order etc. In East Delhi, I was told, there may not even be a concrete school building, even through papers would indicate a properly running school! 'Many times, a panic attack would grip school administration a day before inspection by some higher-ups. School staff would ensure that flower pots appeared outside the main gate, descrepit roofs got a fan or two, maybe a light bulb if lucky, to pass off as a 'fully' functional government school!' says Ritu of Pardarshita. In South Delhi, the state of government schools was much better than in East Delhi, at least at a cursory glance. Of the five schools we inspected that day, most children said they were getting free uniforms and books or at least partly, while the rest 'was due' in future. As far as display of information was concerned, at least three schools displayed some information, though not all of it and that too, scribbled on a blackboard with chalk instead of being displayed on hard boards as per the CIC order.
Anyway, what also struck me most, other than the scope for corruption worth crores of rupees by school administration, was that in one government school, the principal authoritatively called out to few senior girls, probably the class monitors, to serve us biscuits and tea, almost like it was part of their learning assignment as students. I was left wondering what they were teaching their girls anyway- housework for future use? Hypothetically, even if all schools, everywhere, get every piece of physical infrastructure in place, what if every poor student got his/her due towards attaining a school degree, what if teachers start attending school and teaching deligently, does it mean they’ll churn out ‘thinkers’ of tomorrow? Agreed, it’s important to have a room to teach in, benches to sit on and blackboards to write on, water, electricity etc, besides children who can afford to sit in those classes, with books to read, but all this for what? In the Indian education system, Indians are being ‘trained’, not ‘educated,’ a big lesson from 3-Idiots, if you have seen the film.