Yesterday Ankit, Praveen and Geeta, 3 secondary school students went to an activist lawyer to voice their concern about the state of education in their school. It was truly an ah ha moment for us. The children complained about the overcrowded classes (140 to 160 kids in some cases), the ensuing lack of seating space and the inability to study. Some of the classes not having desks at all, children have to cart gunny backs from home in their already weighty school bags! No fans, no bulbs and more of the same make these schools look like one out of a Dickens novel! India @ 65 is not a great place for kids.
The irony is that on the previous day our PM had in his Iday speech lauded our achievements and called for celebration. In my humble away I would like to rebut some of the statements made in that speech. However before doing so I must agree to one statement our PM made: We would achieve independence in the true sense only when we are able to banish poverty, illiteracy, hunger and backwardness from our country. This is true in every sense of the word but what is also true is that we are miles away from that day. All we need is to scratch the veneer to see the cracks.
The PM goes on to state: It is good that we have a big stock of food grains because of the hard work of our farmer brothers and sisters, and availability of food grains is not a problem for us. Yes Mr Prime Minister, but what about the 5000 children that die every day in your India and the millions of tons of grains that rot in different parts of the country? Is it not time you did something about it!
You state that our children are the biggest strength of our country. If our children are provided with good education and are healthy, then our future would be bright. I cannot but agree with you. But please take off the blinkers other force on you and look with you heart and the state of children in your country. In your capital city nursery children are made to study on desks made for class XII children and many children brave the bitter cold, lashing rain and scorching heat under tents as their ‘schools’ have no buildings! And what quality of teaching can kids get when 160 are stuffed in a class! It is a matter of extreme sadness that your speech on the occasion of our 65th I Day should still need to mention state that now we will focus on improving the quality of education. Does it take four generations of Indians to reach the hallowed moment when one would start talking of quality education.
That the Right to Education took six decades to be enshrined in our Constitution is a sad reflection of the place we give our children. At the time when they need us the most they are sadly not vote banks. My I make a humble suggestion? Maybe the first step to take to improve the quality of education would be to increase the pass percentage from the ridiculous 33% to 50%? I know it is important to have good looking statistics to meet international approval but tell me what the future is for a young Indian who has secured his XIIth with a mere 33% when even the jobs your government advertises require a minimum of 50%? And I am not even beginning to go into the 90+% needed to enter the hallowed portals of higher education in institutions that the poor can afford. The rich have many options but what about the poor?
You mention the spectre of malnutrition. You also state that the process of making the ICDS more effective is in its last stages and will be completed in the next 1 or 2 months. May I remind you that the ICDS was initiated in October 1975. Had it been implemented honestly no Indian under the age of 37 should have been malnourished. Does it take almost 4 decades in our country to get a sound programme functioning properly. You must be aware of the fact that very recently food meant for ICDS creches was hijacked and sold as cattle folder lining greedy pockets. How many generations will it take to ensure that no child sleeps hungry in the country you lead!
You talk of a National Rural Health Mission will be converted into a National Health Mission which would cover all villages and towns in the country. But may I draw attention to an news item that appeared in the national press a day after you spoke stating that India has 76% shortfall in Government doctors! India @ 65 is unhealthy and the scheme for distribution of free medicines through Government hospitals and health centres you propose will be yet again a great source of enrichment for wily predators.
Recently a ward boy and a OT staffer tended to accident patients and courtesy a rabid press were punished and lost their employment. But Sir if we are short of 70% of trained doctors then someone has to fill the gap till the government gets its act together. I too was outraged at the number of quacks operating in the slums when I began my work a decade ago. It did not take me long to understand that something was better than nothing and that these half baked doctors where playing a crucial role!
You state that you . This is indeed laudable but why is it that I like many older citizens feel weary that this too will go the way many laudable schemes have gone, the ICDS being one of them.
You say that people belonging to the economically weaker sections would be given relief on interest for housing loans of less than Rs. 5 lakh under a new scheme for housing the urban poor. Many schemes have come and gone without much ado and the poor in urban India still live in unacceptable conditions. I so wish you could just take time and do what old rulers did: walk the streets incognito. Then maybe you would see for yourself how people in your city live. It is to their credit that they have not lost their grit and spirit, like little Radha who manages to steer her fractured body and brittle bones in the dark pit she lives in without having forgotten to smile.
You also state that recently the Cabinet has approved the Mars Orbiter Mission. Under this Mission, our spaceship will go near Mars and collect important scientific information. This spaceship to Mars will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology. I love my country and am proud of its achievements but please tell me whether the scientific information you collect around Mars will be change the deadly statistics of 5000 children dying every day of malnutrition.
You say that your Government has paid special attention to the welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, minorities, women and other weaker sections. If you say so but from what I know the plight of these section of society is to say the least shocking. Every day some new aberrations comes to light but nothing changes.
You state that your commitment to make the work of the Government and administration transparent and accountable stands. Sadly the past years has seen the word corruption declined in every imaginable way. From scams where the numbers are mind boggling to the likes of me when anything beyond 6 zeros is chimera, to the tiny amounts taken by low ranked officials corruption has become a way of life. I will need a herculean effort to tackle the Hydra called Corruption.
You end with saying: It will be our endeavour that in the coming time, still more people help us in tasks like removal of poverty, illiteracy and inequality. It is a sad statement after 65 years of freedom. My mother chose to get married late because she did not want to give life to a slave child. She kept her promise and I was born a free Indian. Then why do I feel a slave in many ways and why do I feel that I have let my freedom loving mother down.