Walking into the chandelier-lit lobby of a plush hotel, one often comes across a sign proclaiming “Right of admission reserved”. This means only the well-dressed and affluent will be allowed entry.
There might not be such ostentatious signs on their doors, but city schools too try to exclude children whose families do not match the income levels of other students.
The recent case of Jia Dhulgaj, 8, whose parents work as janitors, turned away by English-medium schools in Mumbai highlighted this reality. Jia’s parents complained that 13 schools turned them away because of their profession, dress and inability to speak English. “The security guards do not even allow us to enter the school premises. They judge us by our appearance and shoo us away,” said Karamjit, the child’s father who is employed with a house-keeping firm.
Parents said that discrimination is widespread. A sought-after school in Bandra admits students only from areas with certain pin codes, rejecting children from Kurla and certain areas of Bandra east though the localities are within one to three kilometres of the school. “Only pin codes belonging to elite neighbourhoods are included in the ‘school zone’. Areas having a Muslim population are excluded even though they are near to the school,” said a parent.
Educators said some schools have such policies because students from economically weaker sections often suffer inferiority complexes if their peers are from richer families.
“We used to encourage our Class 4 employees to enroll their children in our schools. But, we noticed that the pupils develop a complex as their parents are working in the same school. They are also unable to cope with the ethos and culture of the majority,” said Father Francis Swamy, principal, St Mary’s (ICSE), Mazgaon, and assistant secretary, Archdiocesan Board of Education, which runs 150-odd schools in the city.
Parents, who admitted their children in prestigious schools through the 25% quota reserved for those earning less than Rs1 lakh annually, admitted that the children have trouble adjusting to these schools. “My children cannot afford to pay for stationery and books. My son did not get the school calendar for the last three years as we couldn’t pay for it. When he looks at his classmates, he feels left out,” said Nalini Dedhe, a Sion resident, whose son is studying in a Dadar school.
Child development specialists said schools should take steps to bridge the divide. “If a classroom consists of diverse students, it helps them become more sensitive and empathetic to each other’s needs,” said Dr Harish Shetty, senior psychiatrist, Dr LH Hirandanani Foundation Hospital.
Some said schools can take extra efforts to ensure that children don’t feel left out. “Children of our housekeeping staff study in our school. They face academic problems as they are usually the first generation learners but we have teacher-assisted remedial programmes to help them,” said Pramila Kudwa, principal of Pawar Public School, Kandivli.