Is the Right to Education quota really for the poor ?
Say a vast, diverse, secular country was suddenly subject to a law that profoundly impacted the entire population, made a groundbreaking entry into the domain of the private, cleaved the entire population along religious lines by granting special benefits and exemptions, reinforced caste and communal identities – among toddlers, placed a tight inspector raj on private life endeavors. All in a single amorphously worded bill called the RTE (Right To Education).
Q1 ) Would’nt you expect the media to atleast read such a bill before reporting ? It isnt a leaked exclusive document, it has been available on the internet for months now.
Q2) Would’nt you expect a wide spectrum of opinion in the media given the width and depth of this bill ? Can all media report in total unison on such a wide ranging bill ?
Q3) Would’nt you expect them to atleast report the truth about this bill ? Sure the media can report the truth in unison, but can all of them trumpet the counterfactual in unison?
I believe this nation has just been subjected to a propaganda exercise with little parallel in world history.
I am just going to lay the facts on the table. You may conclude that I exaggerate, that’s okay – I just ask you to read the post first.
- We are this boy’s true friends, please read on
Exhibit A : Synchronized reporting of a falsehood
You may skip to the next section, if you already get the point. I simply had to document evidence of this lock-step media synchrony even though it made the blog post longer.
The falsehood is that the 25% quota envisaged in the RTE bill is for the poor. By drowning the public in a deluge of misinformation, they have softened up the country for the initial shock. How can anyone oppose steps to help the poor. The truth will be delivered in careful doses.
In this section, I have collected reports from most major print and TV Channels. Note that none of them bothered to even broach the obvious question of “So exactly who are the poor beneficiaries”.
Here is a sampling. Sorry for the jarring colours, the idea is to show how deeply and uniformly the media portrayed the story.
Supreme Court stamp on Right to Education: Poor students to study free in many private schools (Economic Times)
A landmark judgement on Thursday opened the doors for hundreds of thousands of poor students to study free in many private schools across the country. The judgement upheld the constitutional validity of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, which provides for 25% quota for poor students in all schools except unaided minority schools.
SC upholds law to reserve 25% seats in private schools for poor (Times Of India)
Even if 25% seats in these schools are opened up to the poor, it will only be a drop in the ocean compared to enormous numbers of underprivileged children in the country.
Reserve 25% seats for poor, SC tells pvt schools (Hindustan Times)
The court said its order would take effect immediately but with most schools having completed admissions for the current academic year, poor students will be able to benefit from the judgment from 2013.
SC: Even pvt schools have to admit poor (Indian Express)
The judgment, authored by Chief Justice Kapadia, dismissed complaints from unaided private schools that it was unconstitutional to compel them to reserve at least 25 per cent seats for poor children from their neighbourhood,
The schools are now open (The Hindu Editorial)
The unsuccessful challenge to the Act, which went into effect on April 1, 2010, came from unaided private school managements who are required to set apart 25 per cent seats for poor children.
SC Strikes a blow for inclusive RTE (Firstpost)
Friday’s Supreme Court judgment upholding the applicability of the Right to Education Act (RTE) even to unaided schools is a strong statement on inclusiveness and desegregation. Over time, this will do much to remove caste and other forms of bigotry and discrimination while strengthening the foundations for a strong modern democracy where no
Supreme Court upholds every child’s right to education (DNA)
The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act, 2009, which mandates 25% free seats to poor children up to the age of 14 in government and private aided and unaided schools (but not in unaided minority institutions) uniformly across the country.
SC upholds validity (Business Standard)
The Supreme Court today upheld the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act that reserves 25 per cent free seats to poor students in government and private unaided schools, except minority institutions.
Writes of passage (Hindustan Times / Barkha Dutt)
But as we watched the quota policy get horrendously trapped in competitive politics, didn’t we say we would rather have an economic criterion for reservations than it being caste-driven? Well here, for the first time there is such a basis.
The law requires schools, both public and private, to give one quarter of their places to low-income children.Wall Street Journal (Indian)
Principals nervous over reservation for poor (Hindustan Times)
A game changer ..25 per cent seats for poor and neighbourhood children in private unaided schools (Deccan Herald)
Residential Schools, Convents not bound to reserve seats for the poor (Indian Express)
RTE widely acclaimed by academicians..which mandates 25 percent free seats to the poor in private (Newstrack)
NDTV RTE FAQ .. mandates 25 per cent free seats to the poor in ..Poor students from neighbourhood areas have to be admitted, based on a lottery system. (NDTV)
Unaided schools must give 25% free seats..providing for reservation of 25 percent seats for poor children in all..(IBNLIVE / CNNIBN)
Integrating poor, privileged is a challenge .. the RTE clause to admit 25% students from impoverished background will transform the Indian (Indian Express)
Schools taught to leave no poor behind (Indian Express) This is the winner.
Exhibit B : The facts about Right to Education
We have seen what the media told you, now lets see what the facts are.
Who are the 25% in the as described by the RTE Bill ?
The Central RTE Bill 2009 categorically states that there are two categories. Roughly they are income based and identity based. I dont want to rehash this blog post where I have analyzed the central rules. Did the media not read this bill ? (Update : See clarification on prev blog post )
How does Kendriya Vidyalaya apply RTE to the poor ?
The Kendriya Vidyalaya Sanghatan has put out their Admissions Guidelines including RTE modalities here (DOC file)
From Sec 5-A Step 2: Out of 41 Seats in Std 1, 10 seats are reserved as per the following rules.
6 Seats to SC + 3 Seats to ST + 1 Seat to economically disadvantaged (poor) + disabled from all categories including SC/ST + all other social classes.
Now Kendriya Vidyalaya is not a private institution but the fact of the matter is their distribution is accepted as a total compliance with RTE requirements. ONE, repeat only ONE seat is determined by your being poor. Now what did the media tell you again ? It is not as if the media didnt notice this – The Hindu even lauded KV as taking the “lead in RTE Compliance“. Yet totally projects RTE as being for the poor it in its editorial page.
What are guidelines for Andhra Pradesh to help the poor ?
Andhra Pradesh was one of the early states to notify RTE rules (Notification PDF). Lets see how they plan to break up the 25% quota.
From Section 9, Clause 4 (page 9)
(4) The following order of preference shall be followed by the schools covered by sub. Clauses II, III, IV of Clause (n) of Section 2 of the Act in admitting the children referred to in clauses (b) and (c) of sub ection (1) of section 12 of the said Act.
Disadvantaged Groups : Orphans, HIV+, Disabled = 5%
SC = 10%
ST = 4%
Weaker Sections (others viz., BC, Minorities, OCs (whose annual income does not exceed Rs. 60,000/- per annum) = 6%
Not only that, Andhra Pradesh has a overflow model. For example : you cant find sufficient numbers in Orphans/HIV+ that number would be added to the next group SC. Only as a last resort would it overflow into the economic based group. To be honest, even that isnt purely economic based as it only includes poor from upper castes (not the stone breaker, garbage heap poor). Here is another clause for minority aided institutions.
Note 3, under Clause 9.4
3) In Minority institutions, all candidates belonging to minority concerned should be considered for filling first. After exhausting applications of Minorities the left over seats may be filled in the order of ST, SC and BC.
Also note that residence proof requirements are Ration Card, Electricity Bill, House Tax, Land Patta – hardly the kind of documents traffic light children possess (which a senior editor cites in her essay).
Media eats and roots in Delhi, so maybe they werent aware ?
Here is a special notification (PDF) in the Delhi Govt Gazette specifically addressing the free seats for the Economically Weaker Section and Disadvantage (sic) group.
Section 2 (c)
Childen belonging to Weaker Section : Parents whose total income is less than one lakh and have been staying in Delhi for the past three years.
Children belonging to Disadvantaged Group : SC/ST/ Non Creamy Layer OBC/ Disabled / Special Needs
The operative clause is “Weaker” and “Disadvantaged” – which clearly means you cant just select Weaker (Poor) and ignore the Disadvantaged. Lets dig a bit further, maybe there are income certificates required even for the disadvantaged, we surely would’nt want to miss that.
Section 6 (Page 5, sub clause a and b)
Documents for Weaker Section : Income Certificate issued by revenue office not below rank of Tahsildar, or BPL ration card (Yellow) or EEY ration card (Pink)
Documents for Disadvantage : Certificate issued by revenue officer not below Tahsildar or any other competent authority. Presumably this is nothing but a caste certificate for the little toddler.
So in effect the Delhi rules are no different from the other states. Even if not expressly specified, lawsuits from NGOs await any attempt to deviate from it. (Update : see clarification on prev blog post)
State after state follow the same template. Identity considerations separate from economic group. Kerala for example carves the 25% into 15% identity 10% economic. Tamilnadu basically extends it to BC/MBC/ST/ST communities.
So here we are. The facts clearly establish even for a layman like me that the RTE is mostly just the quota system extended to the private sector education (majority institutes only). Sure it has a dash of helping the poor – but that is incidental. The rules simply do not bear out any structure driven by a desire to pluck the child from the garbage heap.
Whats the big deal ? Identity based deprivation exists
I expect this rebuttal. The idea is to alter the very definition of “poor” used by media or not to take the bollywoodized media too literally. But that is not the point of this post, the point is “Why did the media lie about the nature of the RTE ?” Why not just tell the truth and let the chips fall.
Readers of blog will know that I support identity (ie communal) benefits if and only if they are backed by data based scrutiny. Let me put that in lib speak, while I sit in the plush seats of my big bike at the traffic light – I want to know if the beggar child’s community is getting space on the platform. If I cant find that data – then I cant support that system. If there is data and scrutiny, the entire country must jump in and support quotas because we then can iterate it and measure his improvement. But that would destroy the adhocism of the system, which is the fuel for our political masters.
Could solitary blogger be right and the entire media establishment be lying ?
This bothered me a lot before writing this post. I may only have a 100 readers but I value them so much that the thought I could have missed something terrifies me. Was there an overarching income ceiling that covered all groups ? What if state notifications were income based and had no mention of caste and religion based criteria ? Conversely what if the central notification had income based criteria or cutoffs and it was the states who ignored them ? What if I raised a false alarm among my readers by only looking at a couple of state level aberrations while the majority was income based ?
Update: I didnt do a perfect job after all. See clarification in previous blog post.
This meant that I had to read about all states, specifically Delhi because the media originates there, the impugned central notification, all available commentary online. Had to check offline too with the limited contacts I have in this sector.
I did all of that which I have summarized in “Exhibit B – The facts” and they all checked out. But still what if there was something not in public domain that made RTE for the economically poor. While I was pondering over this – one thing clinched it for me.
It struck me that Kapil Sibal has never said that RTE is for the economically poor. He and most NGO activists are very careful to use the words disadvantaged and weaker.
What is next ?
We must protect free speech and drive for public access to data. Not the RTI variety, but put-it-online variety.
Folks must realize that this level of propaganda can be challenged only due to a miraculous window in Indian history:
- Free Speech – this post (at least as long as it is allowed to stay online)
- Access to Data – the various gazette notifications and state laws online.
Now think about it, if either of these were taken away – we have no tools at all. I would have to march to HRD Ministry in Delhi to request xerox copies of the act, then to each state to get their notifications. In that scenario, the easier option is just to let the media to interpret for us. Because we had all the same material the media had – we were able to defeat this propaganda. We could do this by completely sidestepping the media and looking at the facts on the table. This is what I say when we need data in public domain over 400 posts.
I am guess there will be online petitions to take action against this blog, even shut this down. Even if there is no derogatory or defamatory content of any kind in it, they will find some. They will call this casteist and elitist even though I actually fight for reservations only on falsifiable criteria so it benefits society. Even though I have never failed to point out the plight of the really backward. I dare them. The beauty is once the clamour for truth is out – it wont go back in the bottle. Even the might of the state and the wealth, cleverness, and influence of the media empires are helpless.
After all :
Truth can stand on its own legs, falsehood needs state support.
Satyameva Jayate & Thanks for Reading