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Minority + RTE = Chaos

Minority Education, Right to Education

BANGALORE: The obstacles in enforcing the Right to Education Act (RTE) seem unending. Just when things were beginning to fall into place a new row has broken out over the state government’s decision to give the minority tag under RTE only to educational institutions which admit 75 per cent of their students from the community concerned. With their hopes of escaping the RTE’s diktat on reserving 25 per cent of seats in elite schools for underpriveleged children dashed, several schools have voiced strong opposition to such a definition of minority institutes claiming it is a threat to their constitutional rights.

Chairman of the Minority Institutes Association, Gulshed Ahmed, says that till now all schools which made 50 per cent admissions from a religious or linguistic minority community were given minority status and there is no reason why this should not continue. But education officers contend that in reality schools and colleges which enjoy the minority tag today do not fulfill any of the criteria laid down. “Generally all schools and colleges started and run by people from minority communities are treated as minority institutes. Many institutes in the city claim this status without government approval and raise the issue only when it tries to take any decision on reserving seats for poor students or on their fee structure,” says a senior officer.

Experts feel that government should, in fact, extend the 75 per cent admission formula to higher education institutes as well to stop them from playing the minority card. Academic Dr.K V Shenoy says the government should provide all facilities and concessions due to minority institutes only if they give enough seats to students from their own communities. “Presently, most minority institutes unfairly get the tag in the name of poor students from their communities without really making any provision for them,” he says.

The misuse is sometimes blatant, according to education officers. “This year one medical college in Shimoga surrendered only 27 per cent of its seats to the government saying it was a minority institute, when it had just applied for minority status,” he recalls.

Unequal treatment for unequals

To bring groups of people who are ‘linguistically, scripturally and culturally different from the rest and are identifiable” into mainstream society the Constitution encourages minorities to set up educational institutes and promote their language and culture. These rights guaranteed under Articles 29 and 30 have been deemed absolute by the Supreme Court and minority institutes also enjoy a degree of autonomy in managing their own affairs.

So when the state government defined minority schools as those with a 75 per cent student body from the said community, it caused an uproar. The 75 per cent mark would be impossible to achieve, said those managing these institutes.

“Till now the percentage of a particular minority in an area was taken into account. If that was 10 per cent, a school with 50 per cent that number was deemed a minority institution,” says Mr Gulshed Ahmed, chairman of the Minority Institutes’Association. “We have discussed this with the education minister already and have been asked to present an appeal, which we will do next week. If nothing comes of it, we will go to court,” he warns.

Ms Nooraine of Inventure Academy, says the state government’s new definition appears to means that a Muslim starting a school should run it only for other Muslims. When there is already enough unrest among communities, this will only stoke the fire, in her opinion. “I want a unified India. I studied in Christian institutions all my life, went for Bible study every day and for scripture. People perceive Christianity positively because so many of us have studied in these institutions,” she points out, making a strong case for more plurality in schools “The only thing we can do is protest. May be we will get somewhere because the pressure is so high on the government. Right now, there is nothing we can do but wait” says Dr Joshua Samuel, principal, Baldwins Methodist College.

Deccan Chronicle, 24 July 2012

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