Saharanpur: Laxmi, 13, was such a bright student that one of the few photos of her shows her receiving a trophy for topping her exams. Laxmi's academic success seemed a clear example of what encouragement and support can do - her mother is a daily wage labourer in UP's Saharanpur district, so district officials asked a private school to waive its fee for Laxmi.
Perhaps that rankled the owner of the school, Rajesh Pawar, who is also its Principal. She had asked Laxmi's mother to clean the toilets at her school for a thousand rupees a month. When she refused, she allegedly threatened that not only would she insist upon the school fee if Laxmi wanted to continue there, but that she'd have to pay twice as much.
A desperate Laxmi got to work scrubbing the toilets, and on one occasion, removing dog excrement from the school campus at the insistence of Pawar. "My daughter told me that she will work in the school. I told her that she won't be able to. She said she could do it when the school was shut," says her mother, Reena, breaking down.
But her classmates soon found out. "Other children used to mock her. They would ask her to wipe their shoes," says Laxmi's younger brother, Karan.
Pawar's response is bereft of regret. "We never asked her to do it (clean toilets). Her mother could have asked anybody to do the work. How would we know?" she asks.
It is for children like Laxmi that the Right to Education could be a life-changer. The Act says all children who live near a school have to be granted admission, irrespective of their financial background. It also guarantees that no child can be expelled.