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Minority Rights

Minority Rights

Maybe because I belong to a minority community, I grew up hearing a lot about Article 30 of the Indian Constitution which  inter alia says that “all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice”.

In Kerala, I belonged to a religious minority community but when I shifted to Delhi, I became a member of a linguistic minority also. That is how my children studied in a Christian school and a school run by the Kerala Education Society, known as Kerala School.

In Delhi, there are four Kerala Schools at Canning Road, Mayur Vihar Phase III, RK Puram and Vikaspuri. I do not have a count of other linguistic minority schools in Delhi but I know there are schools run by the Tamils, the Telugus, the Kannadigas and the Kashmiris. One of my relatives was the first principal of the first Punjabi school in Madras, now called Chennai.

Among the religious minorities, the Christians have a larger number of schools than other groups like the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Jains, the Buddhists and the Parsis. There are  many historical reasons for this.

Until the arrival of Christianity in India, education was the monopoly of certain sections of society. In fact, there were restrictions on the lower castes acquiring education, except at terrible cost, as underscored by the story of Ekalavya who had to part with his thumb.

For most Christians, a church without a school attached to it was unthinkable. That is how a school in Kerala was known as a  Pallikoodam until a few years. Now there are clever interpretations to deny any Christian connection even to the word  Pallikoodam.

Even so the fact remains that wherever the missionaries went, they set up schools first. In the US, the first schools were started by the Puritans who could not practice their religion in Britain. When the baptist missionary William Carey reached Serampore, then under Danish control, as he was not allowed to get down in Calcutta, which was under British rule, the first thing he did was to set up a school. 

It is history that this small village on the banks of the Hoogly in West Bengal became the centre of India’s higher education when Carey and his colleagues set up the Serampore College in 1818, long before the British established the universities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, which paved the way for the emergence of India’s middle class, nationalism and, eventually, the freedom struggle.

Again, there is a tendency to deny Christians the little satisfaction they have of claiming that they popularized what is known as modern education. Travel all over India and you will find Christian educational institutions doing yeoman service even in small towns and villages. 

Small wonder that many leaders, including LK Advani and Union minister Smriti Irani, are products of Christian schools. Of course, I do not deny the fact that some churches and Christian organizations have resorted to profiteering by charging exorbitant fees from their students.

Under such circumstances, the government was well within its rights to introduce reasonable restrictions. The constitutional validity of such restrictions were examined by the Supreme Court in various judgments, including in the celebrated TMA Pai and others versus the State of Karnataka and others case in 2002.

There are a whole lot of questions related to how the governments at the Centre and in the states have been discriminating against Christians and Muslims. For instance, take the case of three Dalit brothers living under one roof. If two of them convert to Islam and Christianity, they will instantly lose their right to reservation.

I do not want to go into the subject at this juncture as I prefer to confine myself to the increasing interference of the government in the affairs of the schools run by the minorities. I know a higher secondary school in the national Capital which was recognized as a minority school by the Minorities Commission concerned.

It was set up by a society that consisted of some Christians whose only motive was to provide quality education to the children from the slums in Delhi. Initially, the school prepared its students to appear for examinations under the open school system. There is nothing wrong with the open school system, as I myself did my MA as a private student.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also did his graduation from Delhi University in this manner, though there are several unanswered questions about his degree. However, the point was that the children and their parents from the underprivileged sections did not consider the school equivalent to a board school affiliated to, say, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).

They would often ask why the rich sent their children to recognized schools, not to schools under the open school system. It was indeed a valid question!

In fact, they put pressure on the society to go in for recognition of the school by the government. The school was until then charging only a nominal fee from the students. The management knew that the teachers will have to be paid government-prescribed salaries and it would not be able to charge such low fees as Rs 100 or Rs 200.

The school fulfilled all the criteria for recognition and affiliation. After strenuous efforts, provisional recognition was obtained from the government. One of the conditions the school had to fulfill was that the manager should be a graduate.

The manager happened to be a retired government official. He was not a paid employee. Rather, he was the one who conceived the idea of starting the school. He was part of the body which got the school built with money collected from a large number of people. His competence to run the school, which he built up with the support of his colleagues in the society, was not in doubt.

He was like K Kamaraj, who was the chief minister of Madras, renamed Tamil Nadu. He did not have much of a formal education but that did not prevent him from being considered as one of the most successful chief ministers of India. It was during his regime that Tamil Nadu became a major industrial hub.

Politically he was so powerful that even Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had to listen to him. The Kamaraj Plan that Nehru had to implement is too well known to merit a recant. He also presided over the Congress Party at a time when it had no rival worth the name. Nobody mentioned that he couldn’t speak English and he was a non-graduate.

The insistence that a manager should be a graduate was an interference in the rights of the management to run an institution. In a school, the manager holds an important job as the principal reports to him or her.

However, the point is that no management would appoint a person as manager without adequate deliberations and thought. They would select only someone who has its trust and is able to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to him.

It is like Modi appointing Maneka Gandhi, Anant Geete, Uma Bharti, Ashok Gajapati Raju and Harsimrat Kaur as Cabinet ministers, though they are not graduates. Most of the captains of industry were at one time non-graduates, though Jamsetji Tata who built up the Tata empire was a “green scholar”, equivalent to a degree-holder.

GD Birla, who built up the Birla empire, is said to have admitted that he was not an MBA but he appointed many MBAs. A manager has to manage the school and see to it that all the government rules are followed and the interests of the students, the teachers, the parents and the management are protected at all times.

Since the manager of the school was not a graduate, another board member who was a postgraduate was given the responsibility of managing the school as chairman. It was pointed out that the chairman could not also function as manager. Fine, he quit the post of chairman to become manager.

Then came the bombshell that the school could not be given permanent recognition as the manager did not have the necessary qualification. 

The letter from the Directorate of Education clearly said, “A manager is required to have at least 10 years’ total experience in teaching and educational administration. Out of 10 years at least three years shall be as in-charge of MCD/NDMC/Recognised/Middle/Secondary/Senior Secondary School. This certificate must be duly countersigned by ED/DEO of the concerned zone”.

This undermines the Constitutional guarantee that a religious or linguistic minority has “the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice”. How can they administer when the government enforces such unreasonable restrictions on the management?

How did this rule that undermines a Constitutional provision come into being? Did Parliament or the Delhi Assembly pass a legislation to introduce this clause in the 1973 rules and regulations that govern schools in Delhi?

Obviously, the stipulated qualification is the brainchild of a government official to harass private school managements. Why should a school manager have teaching experience? The rules specifically say that the head of an institution is the principal or the headmaster. In fact, there is a specific rule that the manager should not interfere in the academic affairs of the school which is the prerogative of the head of the institution.

Given this backdrop, there is no need at all for a manager to have teaching experience. The government does not look for a person with teaching experience when it appoints a Director of Education. He is invariably an young IAS officer.

If the government can rely on the capabilities of an administrative officer to manage the education department, why should it insist that the manager of a school should have teaching experience, and that too of 10 years with three years as head of an institution.

Why should someone who served as in-charge of a school for three years join as a manager? There are tens of thousands of hospitals in the country which are either in the public sector or in the private sector. They are all managed by administrators, an overwhelming majority of whom have no medical qualifications. 

True, there are now courses in medical administration but those who do such courses cannot administer medicine. They can only administer hospitals. The point is that a school manager should not have any teaching experience when his job does not involve teaching.

It is curious that this obnoxious rule has not been challenged by any of the schools. Another issue the schools in Delhi are facing is that the government does not allow them to increase fees. There may be schools which used to charge exorbitant fees but there are also schools which ran on a shoestring budget.

When they are not allowed to increase fees, which is their only source of income, the management will find it difficult to improve the infrastructural standards of the schools or pay teachers enhanced salaries. The policy that one-shoe-fits-all-feet does not work.

On top of it, the government wants even schools like the one I mentioned to implement the seventh pay commission recommendations. Restrictions are imposed on the managements on the specious plea that the land on which their schools are located was obtained from the DDA on concessional rates.

The rates were all fixed by the DDA. In the case of the school I mentioned, the price of the land multiplied several times from the day the application for allotment of land was made to the day when the school was asked to pay the land price. To call the price concessional is to fill the hole with darkness.

Interestingly, the DDA comes under the Centre, while the Directorate of Education comes under the Delhi state. How can the state impose its will when it did not allot any land?

To return to the school manager’s qualifications, the person concerned who is not acceptable as manager to the Directorate of Education has served as counsellor for Indira Gandhi National Open University for three years, taught in many institutes of prominence, served as secretary for four years of a society that ran a school in Delhi, was president of a society that set up at least two recognized schools, was chairman of a recognized CBSE-affiliated school, is on the academic advisory council of a prestigious management institution and has given lectures in several universities.

As someone jokingly said, the manager could even become a Vice-Chancellor of a university but the Directorate of Education says he cannot even be a manager of a minority school. If this is not an infringement of the Constitutional right, what else is it?

The writer can be reached at  ajphilip@gmail.com

(Published on 27th November 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 48)