The academic future of a seven-year-old rape survivor is at risk because of bureaucratic red tape. The Class 2 student in an Andheri school might be forced to drop out because she cannot afford to pay her school fees, and the education department is unwilling to admit her under the Right to Education (RTE) quota, which offers free education to students from weaker sections until Class 8.
Last year, two entrepreneur sisters, Simi Srivastava and Sanjita Prasad, enrolled the girl in a private school in Andheri after she was brutally and repeatedly assaulted sexually by a family member. Following the incident in 2015, she had dropped out of another school. The sisters had noticed her playing near their office complex where her father was employed as a security guard. On learning of her trauma, they volunteered to admit her to school, but missed the deadline for quota admissions by a few days.
An Andheri school took her in the regular category, charging annual fees of Rs40,000 and later sought to transfer her to the quota under which they had vacant seats. But the education department refused to accept the transfer, said school authorities.
“All the documents required to admit her to the RTE quota were in place. The only problem was she did not apply through the online admission process,” said a school spokesperson. The school requested the education department to make an exception given what the child had suffered.
Coming to her rescue, the sisters sponsored her education for one year in the hopes that she will seek admission under the RTE quota this year. But once again, the department turned down her application stating RTE admissions can only take place in kindergarten or Class 1.
“We cannot help it. The rules state RTE admissions have to be done online. As the girl did not apply on time, she cannot claim the seat,” said Prakash Charrate, deputy education officer, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which conducts the admissions.
Her family, however, cannot afford to continue in the same school without the quota – her father earns Rs4,000 a month and her mother was recently employed part-time by the sisters. Most of their annual income of Rs90,000 is spent on rent and utility bills.
The school is helping the girl cope with her past; hence the parents don’t want to move her to a new one. “She likes it there, the teachers are good to her, and she has made new friends,” said her mother. She said schooling has helped the child regain confidence, which was shattered after the incident. “She had turned violent and hysterical after the rape. She couldn’t sit still or talk properly. But school has brought a tremendous change in her disposition,” she said.
The sisters, who are currently paying her tuition fees, said they are shocked by the department’s callous attitude towards the child. “It’s unfair that the child is deprived of her right on a technicality when the Indian government has made a constitutional provision to provide free education to students from poor families, and there are seats available under the quota then,” said Prasad.