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Not everyone can afford an education at ‘elite’ schools, but it’s wrong to say that they discriminate on the basis of caste or religion, writes Preeti Singh.

india Updated: Apr 14, 2009 21:30 IST
Preeti Singh

While Mulayam Singh Yadav is trying to push English out the front door, his party colleagues in Uttarakhand want back door entry into the state’s ‘elite public schools’. They want 10 per cent seats reserved for locals to counter discrimination based on what they call “caste, religion and financial status.”

Yes, it’s true that not everyone can afford to send their children to these schools — well, not everyone can enjoy Kobe beef while cruising over the Atlantic either — but to say that caste and religion play a role in the selection process is hogwash. Admission is brutally competitive and, like Indian politics, having your parents or siblings precede you sure helps! But to ask for reservation is like telling Harvard to mark a quota for Bostonians.

Having studied at one of these ‘privileged’ schools, I cannot remember a more delightfully equitable or ‘secular’ existence, testified by the motley crew of my friends from Welham. Sure, there was a hazy awareness of daddy dearest not owning a blue-chip company, but this was despite, and not because of, school policies, which did everything to scotch identities based on the circumstances of birth: parents’ net worth, regional or religious affiliations.

It didn’t matter if we believed in Voodoo or Scientology, like healthy teenagers, we all dreaded the boring and compulsory weekly religious tolerance discussions, which included everything from the Buddha’s Parinirvana to the Jews’ journey around the world and back. And Gandhi Jayanti always meant going down on your knees to scrub toilets as shram daan.

Perhaps the only time I was made aware of my religion was when friends asked me whether Sikhism frowned upon sneaking a second helping of the ghee-dripping prasad on Gurpurab.

So, I must admit that any odd prejudices that I might have sadly acquired — from one of those ‘discriminatory’ schools — are all my own.