Schools for the moneyed minority | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Schools for the moneyed minority

chandigarh Updated: Nov 24, 2013 21:17 IST
Aarish Chhabra

The term minority appeasement has acquired new meaning in Chandigarh. No, I am not some nationalist BJP card-holder bashing the pseudo-secular Congress with this old stick. This is about some schools waking up to their ‘minority status’ — granted to institutions set up for religious minorities’ educational progress — to circumvent the law. For, the Right to Education (RTE) Act’s 25% quota for economically weaker sections (EWS) does not apply to minority institutions. Clearly, this sudden religious zeal is a ploy to keep the poor out, and guard the perfumed and pompous air of elite schools.

One of the schools has gone ahead and claimed on its website to be a ‘minority school’ even before the National Commission of Minority Educational Institutions has confirmed the status. The school head claims no nod is needed for them to declare the school ‘minority’. The education department says if the status is granted, which it has opposed, there’s not much it can do about it.

But this is not about law. As it is, these schools have found another way of shirking social responsibility even when they get benefits like subsidised land and exemption from taxes. They want to keep the same people, generations to generations, keeping aside most of their seats for alumni’s kids and other such management-mandated categories.

Having turned ‘minority’ formally and suddenly, they had never shown any inclination for a religious cause until the RTE became a reality and education turned inclusive, at least on paper. About the subsidised land, they argue that they have to keep 85% of the plot as open space which, they believe, negates the price sop. But if concrete structures define schools, why do they advertise ‘large playgrounds’ as a great feature?

The administration is enmeshed itself. It recently conducted a survey that says no kid in the UT is out of school. That lie — nailed by HT the day after that mapping report came out — is perpetuated to the benefit of schools that ask for the survey in the name of identifying RTE beneficiaries.

There being no dearth of bogeys provided on a platter, the schools have already been crying hoarse over not getting reimbursement for money spent on free education of poor kids. The RTE does mandate 25% quota, for which the government/administration is to reimburse the schools. But many schools have committed to 15% EWS quota at ‘nominal’ fee at the time of getting subsidised land, with no provision for reimbursement.

This means the government would only pay for the additional 10% quota that came after the RTE. That’s a bone of contention too, as ‘nominal’ remains open to interpretation. Schools argue that ‘nominal’ means 80% of actual fee to be charged from the 15% poor, while they are also unhappy with the amount the government pays for the additional 10% quota under RTE.

With many schools turning ‘minority’, seats for EWS quota in the city’s private schools has reportedly come down from 1,200 in 2011-12 to 750. It will get worse, and the poor will then systemically be squeezed out, reduced to the margins. One school head says that with minority status, it’s now up to his “will and conscience” whether to admit poor students or not. Legally sound the schools may be, their heads certainly need lessons in moral science.

Worse, it also sounds hollow when the education department says that schools wrongly claiming minority status would lose affiliation. Action can be expected only from those who have their own slate clean.

A department that holds humbug surveys to benefit the elite would probably not have the temerity to act against school owners who wield political power. From owning schools to sitting on the board of UT’s corporations to seats in the House of the People, the same elite few are everywhere, leaving little room for the poor even in kindergarten. This web is strengthened by parents, who want their kids to get lessons in equality but see no wrong in the travesty of social justice by their schools.

Law be damned, morals forgotten, these schools are certainly for the minority, but not of the religious kind.