Tuesday, 12 January 2010
Site Visit Report
Date of visit: 10.1.09
Visit done by: M.R. Ravi, IIT Delhi Professor and volunteer for Asha-Delhi
The project is in operation under Asha Delhi. The project steward keeps changing, but the Asha Volunteer who has constantly beein in touch with the project, monitoring the project and making sure that payments reach the Pardarshita volunteers is Uday Gosain. The work of the field volunteers, from the voluntary group Pardarshita (erstwhile members of the voluntary group Parivartan, started by Magsaysay Awardee Arvind Kejriwal along with some friends), involves interacting with communities, primarily lodged in slums or unauthorized colonies, for:
• Making them aware of their rights, principally towards the reservation available for the economically weaker sections (EWS) in all the private schools of Delhi, especially those which were given land at concessional rates by the Delhi Development Authority.
• Helping them with preparing the documents they might need to secure admission for their children in such schools: proof of residence, birth certificate / affidavit, etc.
• In case the schools refuse to give them application forms, refuses admission or poses other bureaucratic hassles, supporting them to lodge a complaint with the Education Directorate, and following up the complaint
with a Right to Information petition that ensures that the Education Directorate takes action on the complaint promptly.
• Monitoring the children admitted to schools in the past to ensure that the schools do not start eventually charging them fees of any kind, ensuring that the Governmental aid available for books and uniforms for
EWS children are made available to the parents through the school, and meeting the school authorities from time to time in case of need.
The project has now completed three years, and a record of direct beneficiaries in the form of children admitted to the schools through the efforts of this project have been documented and have been kept in the
project website. There is no direct and simple means to verify this data.
But the visit to a couple of communities and talking to Ritu and Rajiv, the Pardarshita volunteers, gave a lot of confidence. Here is a brief account of the site visit.
Originally, I had planned to include a visit to one of the schools to see for myself the EWS children in the school and interact with the teachers to know how they were doing, but somehow the date which suited me happened to be a second Saturday, holiday for schools. So, I had to be content with the visit to the office of Pardarshita in New Seemapuri and to the communities in New Seemapuri and Rajiv Camp. The visit was announced to Ritu in advance. I found no point in doing a surprise check, since in a project of this kind, nothing can be fabricated for the visit.
I reached the office of Pardarshita at F-221 New Seemapuri at 11.45 a.m., after a metro ride upto the last station: Dilshad Garden and then a cycle rickshaw ride for about 10 minutes. After a bit of looking around and asking people, I reached the innocuous first floor office of Pardarshita, in the narrow streets of New Seemapuri area. About 8-10 women from a nearby community were sitting around Ritu on the floor in the verandah, and I went into the office room which had a computer, a couple of almirahs full of files neatly arranged, and no furniture, accompanied by Rajiv. He was talking to me about the work they were doing and the areas they were working. The work started in the East District of Delhi and covered North-East as well. In each District they were covering several colonies or communities, which comprise of small or large residential areas of EWS people: the New Seemapuri colony seemed to house more than 50 families, while the Rajiv camp looked relatively smaller to me, though I did not ask about the size of these colonies. East District includes five or six such colonies, and accounts for the largest area covered by the team. There are similarly some communities in the north east district and Shriniwas Puri District. In the past couple of years the activity has spread to South West A district (RK Puram) and North West District (Vikas Puri) with other volunteers, Prakash et al.
During the last school admission year, Pardarshita carried out active campaigns in Metro stations, local administrative offices such as RTO office, Ration card office, etc, by placing posters and distributing notices about the availability of reservation for EWS children in public schools and the possibility of availing of the admission, along with contact telephone numbers. This resulted in a really widespread response, and a large number of children applied. Pardarshita had its hands full with complaints, RTI petitions, etc., and a large fraction of these children got admitted. This also resulted in spreading of the message by word of mouth, and the project got to the status of a movement in some colonies. Now they have no idea how many children have actually benefitted, but the data presented in the project website is only those who took the help of Pardarshita directly.
Rajiv remarked, however, that all the effect that the work is able to have is local and individual. Although last year’s increase in number of complaints made the Delhi Govt assure centralization of EWS admissions to
public schools, no such action has taken place yet. Court cases send directives to schools, RTI petitions are on complaints against schools in specific cases. The effect would be more generic and permanent if the directive is to the Government, and the Government is held legally accountable.
Pardarshita has helped people get admissions to MCD and Delhi Govt schools as well: although on paper these schools are supposed to admit anyone who wants to be admitted, they pose unnecessary hassles to parents to minimize their own work. Pardarshita intervened and got about 250-300 children in the New Seemapuri area admitted in the 2 Govt schools and 1 MCD school in the area. The intervention in one Government school was quite fruitful, thanks to the cooperation of the new principal of the school.
I interacted with the women who were sitting with Ritu in the office, and understood that they were very happy with the fact that their children are now going to good schools. One of them remarked, that now they can rest assured that their children would be educated. The public schools in the vicinity are not enormously elite schools, and they cater to middle class population. So, expenses such as occasional picnics or class tours do not pinch the parents’ pockets too much, and the parents on their part are willing to part with that kind of money once in a while to make their children not feel inferior to their peers.
I then went to New Seemapuri colony. Ritu and Rajiv took us to a gali (street) where most children had been admitted to public schools. A majority of children from this street were going to the Hans Raj Smarak School. I spoke to a couple of class III and IV children, and found that their basic English vocabulary and arithmetic was good. All of them told me about their favourite teachers at school and why they liked them. The most common reasons were: “she teaches very well” and “she speaks to us with love and care”. Often, it happened to be the Arithmetic teacher. In one or two cases, it was the Hindi or English teachers. I could get a feeling that the children were in good and caring hands at school. The kind of love and respect Ritu and Rajiv commanded in the community said it all: here is a group of genuine people, caring for the EWS communities.
Ritu is an MA, BEd, former teacher, now dedicated her life to service, full-time. Rajiv is also a graduate, working full-time: at the time when I met him, his support had gotten over and he did not know for sure when
the next funding would be available. Subsequently, I accompanied Ritu to the Rajiv Camp. Unlike New Seemapuri, which had a predominantly Muslim population, this place had a majority of Hindus. The problems were similar, and what a support they found in these volunteers. This colony had two new schools into which children’s admission had begun, so there were more teething troubles. All these people have such great faith in Ritu and her colleagues. Only, these people were farther away from Pardarshita office to frequent them for help. I talked to Rohini, a class VIII student, who has been going to this school since class VI. I asked her if she could compare her previous school and the present one, she said dismissively that the present one was far superior. When I persisted asking why she thought so, she gave me a look as if asking me why I did not understand the obvious, and said in a matter of fact way, “ Here the teachers are caring, and they teach well”.
When I walked back to the Metro station, Ritu said in a thoughtful tone: I have been brought up in New Seemapuri, and went to college from here: but never knew that there were so many people living in here! And I thought, “thanks to you and Asha, I also got to meet them. Hats off to you people!” I believe that for the output they are producing, the investment Asha is doing is really nothing at all. This is a genuine set of people, and they have made so much difference in the past few years to the lives of so many people. This project should continue. While spreading it to other regions, care should be taken that we get people of the same level of commitment. If this is done, then this can soon become a mass movement that would sustain itself: I am sure that it would produce one Ritu and one Rajiv in each of these colonies: that would be the culmination of this project in the real sense.