More than 500 underprivileged children from various parts of the city gathered at D Block, New Seemapuri today to articulate their grievances against MCD schools and schools run by the Delhi government in a first-of-its-kind ‘bal sunwai’ (public hearing conducted by children). The theme of the sunwai was improper implementation of the Right to Education Act 2009 (RTE) that promises compulsory quality education to children between the age-group of 6-14 years that too free of cost, without any need of documents at the time admission along with provision of school uniform and books from the side of the government.
In a thickly attended three-hour session, children brought out the difficulties faced by them at school and how helpless their situation gets when it comes to asking for their rights from authority figures, both in and outside school. Children came from places as far as Bawana, Kalkaji, Govindpuri, Kalyanpuri, Badli, Old Seemapuri, New Seemapuri, Rangpur Pahadi, Zafarabad and Sunder Nagari for the sunwai, many of them escorted by their parents.
Shahrukh, a resident of New Seemapuri, complained about how he became unconscious for a few hours and got temporary hearing loss when his teacher, who is a habituated to beating children with a stick, hit him for no reason. He is from the Government Boys Senior Secondary School, J & K Block, Dilshad Garden. Another student complained about how his teachers constantly spoke on mobile phones or just chit-chatted in the staff room instead of taking classes. “When we approach them and demand them to teach us, they shoe us away by saying that netagiri mat karo, chup chap class main baitho,” said Sohail. Teachers showering children with the choicest abuses at the slightest of pretext is another very common experience as shared by many students.
Another boy Sajid complained about his teacher, who prefers to get drunk and sit in the staff room instead of teaching. He is from Government Boys Senior Secondary School, New Seemapuri. Arun from Government Boys Senior Secondary School Nand Nagari protested, “When we speak up and complain about poor infrastructure in writing, teachers discourage us by threatening us and our parents with cancelling our admission or reducing our grades, so what option do we have other than quietly embracing all the ill-treatment and deprivation of our rights?”
Kanchan from Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, New Seemapuri, was angry about safety of girl students. “When we are travelling back from school, boys, who should be inside classrooms in the second shift, stand outside and tease us daily. When we complained to the principal about it, she brushed it aside as if it was a non-issue,” she said.
Chandni, another student from the same school, complained how the teacher made them run around for locating darris to sit on, many times for two periods out of eight! “We try to make arrangements for our own seating instead of studying at school. We have to sit on floor whether in cold winters, hot summers or wet monsoons. How many children can tolerate these hardships continuously?” she questioned. Shehzadi from Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, E Block, Nand Nagari exposed the level of difficulty faced by children at school when she shared how her teacher asked her to pick a broom and clean the toilets if she felt they were smelly and unusable.
Regarding admission-related issues, Samina, a parent, shared how she ran around for about two years to get her child admitted to school. “We are illiterate and don’t know our rights so the school takes advantage of that and makes unnecessary demands from us to find excuses to refuse our children education,” she said. Shahana, another parent, recollected how only one of her five children got admission to the government school after she ran from pillar to post, that too in class one when her daughter should have been in class five. Her admission was based on a relative’s residence proof despite RTE stipulating that no such documents were required for admission to any child before the age of 14 years.
Another boy Sohail from Bawana complained about how he was forced to dirty water from the school water cooler by his teacher that gave him typhoid. Another student shared how girls in her class have a harrowing time dealing with their teachers, who pull their hair routinely and call them ‘characterless’ based on their own mood swings. “It depresses us no end,” she said.
The sunwai was attended by Chairperson of National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Wajahat Habibullah, member of Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) Mamta Sahai, former advisor of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and founder of Artha-Astha Radhika Alkazi, Convener of National Right to Education Forum Amrish Rai and many other NGO representatives working on the issue of child rights.
In the opinion of Sahai, since DCPCR is a quasi-judicial body with restricted powers, probably a PIL would make authorities more responsible and accountable while discharging their duties towards children. “If children give us their complaints in writing, we would do everything we can to resolve them,” she promised. Rajiv, founder Pardarshita, however exclaimed that till the time a mechanism for time-bound case disposal at DCPCR is evolved, children’s right to education can never be ensured as precious time gets wasted in paper-work stretching for months, sometimes years.
Shri Habibullah, however sounded more positive. He said that Commissions do have powers of a civil court so cases regarding discrimination of specific communities including violation of their RTE should be brought to their notice and they would certainly take cognizance of the same.