While the efficacy of the Right to Education Act is being debated, the legislation has had an impact on marginalised sections of society.
Says Ashok Agarwal, advocate and advisor to a civil rights group, "When the Act came into force around four months ago, we were expecting a slow response from society since it takes time to spread awareness about any new legislation. But from April we have received 200 applications where children and their parents are demanding admission under the Right to Education Act; 70% are from the Muslim community and out of that, 90% of the applicants are women."
There are several reasons for this, but the main one seems to be the girls' desire to be educated and, hence, empowered. "The Muslim community especially in backward areas has finally risen to the fact that education empowers and more and more Muslim girls are coming forward to take education in the formal school system," adds Agarwal.
Samreen and Uzma Bano were denied admission by many government schools when they migrated to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh with their families four years ago. The desire to be economically independent prompted them to get enrolled in knitting and beauty courses. But they continued to dream about a formal education.
The RTE provided them with the right platform. "Muslim women feel that it is important to be economically independent and it can only happen through education. Many women have been fighting for their right to get educated. When we heard it is our right to get free and compulsory education under the new legislation, we approached a lawyer for help," says Mona, maternal aunt of the Bano sisters.
Mona has been running from pillar-topost to get her nieces admitted in a school in New Ashok Nagar.
"When we approached a school, the authorities denied admission saying the girls are over the age limit," she says. "Running between school, lawyer and deputy director of education's office has left us exhausted and we have also spent a lot of money. But we know that it is an investment to get the girls educated. We will not give up till the girls are admitted in a school," she asserts. Agarwal says that the act empowers children in the age group between 6 and 14 years to get free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school and the school cannot deny admission on any basis. "If it does, it is a contempt of court," he adds.
Another obstacle to the girls' education is the distance that they have to travel. "The MCD schools have started online screening for admission. If the seat is allotted in a school which is far from their house, the parents opt out of sending their daughters to school. We have received many applications where Muslim girls dropped out from school due to the distance and now are demanding admission in a nearby school under the RTE Act," says Agarwal.
Rizwana, after completing schooling at Holy Home Public School, which is up to class VIII, is seeking admission in a school at Khajuri Khas near her house. "The school has been denying admission on several grounds. We have obtained a school-leaving certificate and got it countersigned from the deputy education officer, but it is of no use. I want to study further but the authorities' attitude is discouraging," says Rizwana. However, Rizwana's mother is determined to get her daughter admitted in a school. "No matter how much money we have to spend, I want my daughters to study," she says.
"Farah, aged 6, is a special child. She was denied admission at Jehangirpuri MCD school on the grounds of non-availability of a special educator in the school. This is a violation of the RTE Act. Since section 3 of the Act provides for free and compulsory education and section 4 provides that a child aged above 6 years has the right to be admitted to an age-appropriate class," Agarwal informs. He says the determination among Muslim women is gathering momentum, but they need the support of the concerned authorities to make their dream come true.
Read more: Quality in education: It's my legal right - The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/Quality-in-education-Its-my-legal-right/articleshow/6217082.cms#ixzz11fnYbDA6