Bangalore's Oxford School, which is facing serious allegations of discrimination against children admitted under the Right to Education act, saw huge protests by political and other groups outside its premises on Thursday.
Some parents have alleged that some of the children have had locks cut out of their hair. A Dalit organisation alleges this was done by the school to mark out children who were admitted under the RTE quota.
But was the hair of these young children actually cut by the school to differentiate them from other students, or was it a schoolyard prank? The children say their hair was cut by a schoolmate, but many are certain that it is just part of a wider discrimination against children from poorer families who enter private schools that were earlier out of reach. The issue is now snowballing.
"This is highly discriminatory. So our protest is that we want the Government to act immediately. Take very strict action against these kinds of institutions. And also there should be a warning that any other school that indulges in such acts where they treat our poor children badly or where they threaten and blackmail by closing the schools. We will go in front of all those schools, we will agitate and we will ensure they implement this act," said Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao.
The issue may be taking political overtones, but the allegations of discrimination were serious enough for the state government to set an inquiry into motion.
"It is not permitted in any way to make any discrimination, therefore, I request all the managements to follow the Government rule and the social responsibility is also there to give the proper education to economically, socially backward students. If they have not bound to our requests then definitely I am here to take severe action on these managements," said Vishweshwar Kageri, Karnataka Primary and Secondary Education Minister.
The school in question had, in fact, been closed since Monday as part of a protest by the Karnataka Unaided Schools Management Association over what they said was lack of clarity in the RTE act. The schools opened again on Thursday - under pressure from the government.
The Right to Education or RTE Act aims to give all children a fair chance of a good education. Private schools, except minority schools, are required to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for children from economically disadvantaged families. The Act, expectedly, has been resisted by several schools which possibly see a reduction in fee collection.
The truth behind the incident in Oxford School is still being investigated. But what is happening in Bangalore once again raises questions - is our education system really inclusive and is the Right to Education Act being implemented in a way that makes sure that children from all backgrounds really get an equal chance?