In a controversial ruling opposed by some sections of society, the Supreme Court of India has made education free and compulsory for all children aged between 6 and 14.
On April 12, 2012, the Indian Supreme Court upheld the constitutional Right to Education (RTE) for all Indian citizens and made education free and compulsory for children.
But some sections of Indian society, especially elite groups, have opposed this ruling, saying they do not want their children to study with poor kids. They, in particular, are against a particular provision of the ruling which makes it mandatory for private schools to allocate 25 percent of seats to the underprivileged kids.
Indian society is bitterly divided into classes and castes. The "social snobs" of India have not welcomed the apex court ruling.
But the Indian civil society has hailed the ruling.
Tripti Lahiri and Diksha Sahni write in the Wall Street Journal: "The particular provision about private school admissions has a broader social goal: to minimize the class and caste divisions that persist in Indian society despite years of economic gains."
The Indian Express in one of its editorials states: "A classroom where children from diverse backgrounds learn together is likely to produce a progressive idea of the world."
Social cohesion among classes
Swetlana Saswati, a social activist, is of the opinion that there should not be any criteria for admissions for children as young as six. "They are too young and too innocent to understand the class barrier unless being taught or told," Saswati told DW. "An all-inclusive and heterogeneous classroom will help remove prejudices from their minds," she added, saying attitudinal change was required to change the behavior of parents and teachers.
But some experts believe this could lead to psychological problems among poor kids. Some believe that there might be an increase in school dropouts.
Indian journalist Barkha Dutt said in one of her talk shows that despite the shortcomings of the provision, underprivileged kids should be given a fair chance, and the new opportunity might "change their outlook."
On the whole, Indian civil society thinks the apex court ruling will increase social cohesion in India.
Outsourcing of responsibilities
But many in India are questioning: Why is the government not doing anything to raise the standard of government schools and train teachers? Critics of the new scheme say the government is outsourcing its responsibility instead of investing in education.
According to various statistics, one out of 10 government schools in India lacks drinking water; 40 percent are without toilets; 40 percent do not have a separate toilet for girls; and 60 percent are without electricity.
Tripti Lahiri and Diksha Sahni say in their Wall Street Journal article: "India's public education system is in a shambles, plagued by teacher absenteeism and meagre resources, and the law was designed to try to ensure that all children have access to learning."
Blogger Ajay Shah says private schools will end up charging the rich kids more to compensate for the poor ones. "This will drive up tuition fees for private schools," he wrote in his blog, whereas government schools will continue to be free.
At the same time, there is no guarantee that even this Supreme Court regulation will be successfully implemented.
Author: Tanushree Sharma Sandhu
Editor: Shamil Shams