Journalists and academics have for some time now, devoted numerous articles towards explaining the harm that the Right to Education Act causes students. Baladevan Rangaraju writing for TNM has pointed out how almost 3000 schools (as per the numbers kept by the India Institute) have been closed down due to the extremely costly input requirements. The 25 % requirement of reservation to students from economically weaker sections of society under RTE is no less expensive.
Rohan Parikh writing for the Indian Express points out how the RTE was vintage Congress politics - ’find a popular problem, hatch a grandiose but poorly thought through scheme, and dump the burden onto the private sector’. Geeta Kingdon writing for the TOI describes the various ways through which private school’s autonomy is being invaded - ‘insistence on compliance with infeasible norms and standards, with menaces of fines; harassment/extortion on the pretext that government recognition has not been obtained; …... unrealistic and rigid prescriptions regarding school fees to be charged from students; and inordinate delays of two to three years in reimbursement without compensation’.
I agree with all of the above criticisms of the RTE Act. The RTE also abolishes school autonomy over the selection of the rest (75%) of the students.
However, I must point out something most of these public intellectuals tend to ignore - willfully or otherwise - The Right to Education Act does NOT apply to minorities courtesy the 93rd amendment to the Indian Constitution brought in by the UPA with the support of the BJP.
The minority educational institutions exempt under the 93rd amendment are not only those imparting religious education like Madrassas or Sunday Bible schools for students of their religion, but also institutions imparting secular education through CBSE/ICSE/ State boards catering to students of all religion. While an exemption for institutions imparting religious education would make sense, the exemption to institutions imparting secular education run by minority entrepreneurs is preposterous and poisons the entire education sector.
The exemption is also for those minority education institutions which are aided i.e. funded with taxpayer money.
In effect, the RTE act is only applicable to Hindu education entrepreneurs.
Therefore, the RTE doesn't ‘dump the burden onto the private sector’, it dumps the burden onto the Hindu entrepreneurs in the private sector. If the educational trust running a school was established by a person belonging to the minority community, like a Muslim, Christian or a Jain, the school is almost completely exempt from RTE (except the parts requiring policies of no-detention up to Class VIII and no corporal punishment, and that too if the Supreme Court upholds a recent Kerala High Court ruling).
One can easily conclude that almost all of the near 3000 schools closed due to the Right To Education Act are those run by Hindu education entrepreneurs. The RTE is nothing less than a targeted tax on Hindus already running schools and a preventive tax on Hindus from entering into the education sector. A 21st century version of Jizya.
The ensuing fee increases in Hindu run schools slowly encourages parents to admit their children into cheaper Christian and Muslim run institutions and the schools. If this doesn't amount to legal discrimination, I don't know what would!
Take the recent case of the NPS group of institutions. The institutions have been de-affiliated by the CBSE for ‘alleged forgery’ by the founder in the minority certificate. The fate of 1000s of students have been put on the line due to an ‘allegation’ of forgery. Even if the founder KP Gopalkrishna had forged the document, one needs to understand that it would be nothing less than a desperate last act of a man who realizes that the future of the institution which was his life’s work was in grave danger due to the RTE act.
Ramanathan writing about the issue in TNM asks- ‘Whatever the flaws in RTE may be, we cannot have schools flouting rules in such an open, disrespectful manner.’... ‘’What is also hypocritical in the defense of NPS by a certain section is their double standards for the minority tag. On the one hand, they lament that Muslims and Christians get minority status and call it ‘vote-bank politics’, but on the other, they want the minority tag for NPS because it’s run by Malayalis.’
I have to ask- what are we to do when faced with losing our institutions? Should we wait until the government repeals the RTE Act by which time not many Hindu institutions will be left? Should Christian and Muslim parents be the only ones who have the option to send their kids to a school where they learn about their traditions?
In my city, Mysuru, ever since RTE begun to be implemented, there has been a flowering of schools run by Christian trusts while those run by Hindus are slowly raising fees to cope with the requirements of RTE. In the city, the NPS situation provides us a very relevant example to understand the impact of the RTE. While the Malayalee Hindu-run NPS International School in Mysuru was one of the 6 schools whose affiliation was cancelled by CBSE on a complaint by the National Commission for Minority Education Institutions (NCMEI), Depaul School run by the Mary Matha Province of the Vincentian Congregation and DPS Mysore which is run by Congress politician Rehman Khan’s KK Educational Trust were certified as minority by the very same NCMEI. All three institutions as CBSE institutions catering to the same kind of students - upper middle class, but the only institution subject to harassment under RTE is the one run by a Hindu.
Here it is important to note that by law, there cannot be a single Hindu member of the quasi-judicial body – NCMEI, and yet it gets to decide on whether institutions run by Hindus are from a linguistic minority or not, and thus seal the fate of these institutions. While the wordings of the 93rd amendment does not discriminate between religious and linguistic minority, the institution created to certify whether a certain institution is a minority institution or not cannot have a Hindu member by law!
When the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MoHRD) asked for inputs from all stakeholders on the draft New Educational Policy (NEP), many minority organizations gave their inputs to the MoHRD. One of them was the Jesuit Educational Association South Asia . Go through those suggestions and you will notice repeated calls for upholding ‘constitutional’ values as well as suggestions to change the only part of RTE which may soon be applicable to Jesuit and other minority run institution i.e the no-detention policy.
The above serves to show that minority institutions realise that if the RTE were to be applied to them, they too will go out of business like their Hindu counterparts. Hence, most minority organizations in their suggestions to the MoHRD have stressed the need to uphold the constitution and especially the 93rd amendment which gives their institutions an exemption for the RTE. They want to make sure that their institutions do not meet the fate of their Hindu counterparts under RTE.
MoHRD needs to realize that institutions which take generations to build can be destroyed by its actions in a matter of years. The Government of India needs to recognize the RTE for what it is - a very sectarian legislation which urgently needs to be repealed.
With inputs from @mnshzz and @TheLordWalrus
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.