While we lie comfortably in our cushioned beds of our bourgeois households, there’s a continuous struggle in the larger world. By this struggle, I’m not referring to the popular and remarkable, larger struggles of society of ‘fast unto death’ to get a Parliament bill passed in a democracy or a ‘Pride Parade’ against the discrimination faced in the country on the basis of one’s sexual identity. It is a much smaller and an everyday struggle within the realm of another household to secure the most fundamental prerequisites for what can be called an ordinary life.
It is a universal assumption that democracy is the best form of governance. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during the Second World War era, shared his opinion on democracy to the world – “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” As the latter school of thought believes, with our options otherwise running out, democracy is the last form of governance in the contemporary world.
In India, we are privileged to have the right to choose our representative in Parliament.But is that all democracy means, the availability of this right? Most of us don’t end up exercising all the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution in our lifetime. For instance, when awareness on the Right to Information Act, (2005) was mapped in the country in the year 2008 by the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), the result supported my statement – only 2% young urban people were aware of the act.
However, on the other end of the tunnel, there are people in our urban locality who feel the need to exercise their rights but go through open harassment for desiring the same. Democracy at this level begins to sound synonymous to hypocrisy.
The Right to Information Branch of The YP Foundation aims to increase young people’s sensitivity towards the issue of information and awareness of laws and policies in India, provide them with the resources to review and work on ensuring the implementation of laws and policies, thereby increasing their participation in processes of governance, ensuring a transparent and accountable government.
During 2010-2011, we attempted to give the central Right to Information Act, 2005 relevance by means of applying the act to laws and policies associated with the areas of gender, sexuality, arts, education and health. One of the focus areas was enabling our children and the families we work with at the Nizamuddin Basti, through our street children project, ‘Blending Spectrum’, access Free and Compulsory Education, in accordance with the 2009 act. Our main agenda was to get our children enrolled into schools, and while working toward this we faced numerous challenges for supporting the “economically weaker sections” of society, to use the official terminology-Using the expression “Economically weak” to give these families an identity is enough to gauge societal perceptions toward the same.
For a child to be able to access Free and Compulsory Education there are a list of documents that need to be submitted to schools, ranging from Birth Certificates, Family Income Proof, Family Ration Cards( including the child’s name). We decided to assist our community with registration of ration cards- to serve the dual purpose of identity proof as well as income proof. We took the families to the concerned Ration Card office, where the officials were impolite and rude in their responses to the families. The community has never received any information on schemes they are eligible to apply for, and when there is a level of questioning, it is met with impatience and frustration.
Ration card registrations are running in the country for every economic bracket, except Jhuggis (slums). While admission dates in schools are drawing to a close the community we work with has to wait for the government to announce their new policy for the Jhuggis (slums) and the time period within which these have to be registered. An officer at the Ration Card Office blankly stated to a community member “there’s definitely a change in the system if you are allowed to step inside the big schools now, it’s a privilege for you.” Did the officer have any right to conclude, for these families, what their privilege is?
Most ration cards in the community we work with, got cancelled without any prior notice or any stated reason only to find out the new policy requires bi-metric (thumb impression) printing. If these families were given prior notice by the government, the cancellation of ration cards could have been avoided. But at the moment, till the new policy is announced, their cards are invalid, leaving the BPL card holders in the lurch, yet again.
The social stereotyping and prejudices against EWS families don’t just victimize the adults, but shockingly enough, also the children. Under Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, private schools are instructed to reserve 25% seats for EWS families, but these schools only need excuses to deny admission to these families. Even when we managed to help a family get their child enrolled into a private school for regular morning classes, the mother is being called to school almost every day with warnings of suspension of the child from the school. Is it wrong for a child, unknowing at the age of six towards societal and economic differences, to desire to feel included and to play with his classmates?
The mother is threatened, and is being made to feel obliged toward the school for enrolling her child, from a EWS family. Must we feel indebted for the fulfillment of our own due rights? An official from the school administration office opened up to her “If we have people ready to pay heavy donations to let their child sit in the class, why should they favor somebody who’s enjoying free admission and education?”
Is the Right to Equality in India really achieved in its absolute sense?
There is a dire need to step out of our convenient middle class lives, to realize the tribulations one has to face on the other side of the world. Indian democracy is not that a rewarding place to be in. Perceive the world through their eyes to see how inconvenient living in urban spaces is. The natural tendency of the middle class thinking is to be indifferent about governance issues, until it directly affects them. Think again – Is there really no need to understand, disseminate awareness on and influence policies? Or should we continue living within our comfort zones pretending the world outside is invisible?
Picture Used – Artwork by Ishita Sharma