Saturday, September 17, 2016

We need some Plain Speaking

Disclaimer : This is a long and rambling post about a few topics - but mainly intended to think aloud about having an honest and open debate about RTE. 

2015 onward, we have seen an outbreak of various kinds of incidents in Europe - both terrorist attacks as well as some non terror ones - like the attack on women in Germany on New Year's eve, which has led all sorts of questions being asked about mass immigration, multiculturalism, integration, the state of of liberal democracy and so on. The Leave vote winning the Brexit referendum only further fueled the ongoing rhetoric. Clearly there is a problem for all to see. The integration of Muslims, especially from the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan is not going very well - I do not need to post five different links here to make that point.

Roll back a few years. Mark Steyn, in an interview on Uncommon Knowledge, had this sequence, which goes into the heart of a tough question. There have been facts as well let's say fear mongering, about the changing nature of European society with lowering birth rates of white Europeans and rising immigration from the Muslim world. The term Eurabia had been mentioned by Steyn and a few others, with some particular date given by which Europe would be a white minority continent. That was vehemently countered by the multicultural left saying - no way that date is right, it would take many more years. But within that is an implied admission that Europe could be on it's way to becoming a Muslim continent. Alright, then the next question is So what ? So what would be wrong if Europe or the West turned Muslim ?



Steyn answers that in the above clip. Why did I bring this rather provocative clip up ? Simply because I thought this was an example of honest, plain speaking.  Another good example of some plain speaking, albeit provocative, about demographics, this time about the US for example is this article.

Demographics

Asking about consequences of demographic changes is a fair question in my opinion and deserves  thoughtful answers, whether it is the West or India. Every time the Census data is published in India, the very same data is analysed completely differently by the Left and the Right. For example this time around, the narrative from the Left was that Muslim population growth rates are at their lowest levels ever, while the narrative from the Right was about how the Muslim population growth was higher than that of Hindus again.  Both statements were correct factually - but they displayed differing concerns, as well as social/ political agendas.

Same data different analysis


Take this very detailed analysis by Shanmukh, Dikgaj and Saswati Sarkar. It discusses the possibility of Western UP and Southern Uttarakhand turning Muslim majority by 2061. So what ? You might ask. So what if that and indeed, other parts of the country turn Muslim majority - what is the problem, what is the issue ? I think - these are tough questions that deserve a lot of thought and analysis, Maybe there is no problem and any concerns raised are bogus. Or maybe there are questions to be raised about the life and liberty of non Muslims in such areas. Either way, it would be better as a society to answer these questions with clarity, rather than fear mongering or whisper campaigns.

Education

The Education sector is subject to quite vociferous debates across the world. The new Prime Minister of post-Brexit Britain Theresa May, has immediately gone for the restoration of "Grammar Schools" - something not touched by her predecessor David Cameron, who belonged to the same party. Note how she is not ashamed of using the term "truly meritocratic Britain". Of course, the move will not go uncontested, it will face virulent criticism from the Left, but at least there is a debate happening in the public space transparently.

In the United States, Charter Schools are a  cause for lot of debates. In this article, the great Thomas Sowell points out how Charter Schools have been delivering better results for the black community but are opposed by the Left and their success stories are ignored by the media because it does not suit their politics.

Whatever the debate, in my opinion there is far more plain speaking on both sides than what we see here in India.

Coming to RTE

We have been seeing a lot of hand wringing over the disastrous consequences of RTE, including it's sectarian nature. Within the last month, the cancellation of affiliation of six prestigious schools of the NPS group in Bengaluru, on account of an attempt to get minority status through fake certificates in order to avoid falling under the RTE regime, has brought some additional media attention.

There have been some criticisms of RTE of a secular nature in the Indian and International media, right up to this column by Geeta Kingdon in The New York Times. Someone the other day described RTE as a legislation which confuses "building schools" with "school buildings". See this video (sadly very under-shared & under-seen) of how a small, private school teaching kids from non-privileged backgrounds had to shut down as it did not comply with some bureaucratic wisdom.



Let's come to the most divisive aspect of RTE which is the sectarian nature of the law. A surprising number of people do not know about this. A more disturbing number of India's public intellectuals, media mavens and journalists PRETEND to not know about this.  But basically this is what it means: A combined reading of the Constitutional Amendment (93rd Amendment), the RTE legislation and cases decided by the Supreme Court means that only Hindu owned schools (whether Aided by the govt or Unaided ) have to comply with the regulations of the RTE. Minority owned schools (both Unaided and Aided) are exempt from complying with the RTE regime.

Apart from the plethora of regulations, the big issue here is schools under RTE, that is "HINDU schools", have to reserve 25% of seats for the poor and other categories of children to be reimbursed the state. In other words, the Indian state, which promises free (& compulsory) education to children between the age of 6 to 14, SHIFTS the burden of it's own promise (in part) to private, Hindu schools only. Experience of the last few years tells us that many schools are shutting down as state governments are often not fully footing the bill or delaying the payment etc etc. The disadvantages that a Hindu school faces vis-a-vis say a non Hindu school are an enormous additional burden when it comes to be a competitive player of school market.

Reality Check India (RCI), has been pretty much leading the fight on Social Media to spread awareness on this issue. His blogs are an absolute education on this subject (and on many else). I would recommend anyone interested in knowing more about the disastrous RTE to read his posts on the topic.

 Consider the below explanation from this blog post by RCI which explains the nitty gritty of this discrimination faced by Hindu schools.

RTE Discrimination Explained

At the very least, if you explain this much to any reasonable individual, he or she will probably agree that something is not right here, at least in terms of a fair competition between say Hindu schools and Catholic schools - the Hindu schools are at a substantial disadvantage, whether it is in terms of autonomy or finance. The financial disadvantage is probably getting passed on to balance 75% students.

How do you know it is actually a competitive game ? A Jesuit organization, which DOES NOT have to comply with RTE, giving suggestions to the government to ENFORCE RTE. There is something unspeakably grotesque and sinister in this, which is hard to articulate, but quite deeply felt by me. Imagine an office, where one department - say Operations was exempt from following the dress code but went around snitching to the HR - hey look - those guy in Sales/ Finance are not dressed properly.

So, where is there so much silence about this in the mainstream media ? Why are India's public intellectuals who are up in arms against Gau-Rakshaks largely silent about this gross unfairness and inequality before law ? Why is no one doing plain speaking like Shreyas Bharadwaj did in this article where he mentions the following:
The RTE is nothing less than a targeted tax on Hindus already running schools and a preventive tax on Hindus from entering into the education sector. A 21st century version of Jizya.
          (SO WHAT, you may ask, later ....)

How does such an incredibly unfair law stay on the books with very little awareness or debate out there in the real world ? Is there a remotely similar situation in the education sector of any country which dis-advantages the majority community so severely ? I haven't come across any such examples. I am not totally surprised -after all the Indian state is unique in shifting the burden of responsibility to the private sector with great innovation. The 2% of profit for compulsory CSR for corporates was also a World's first when it was brought in a few years back.

 But amending, let alone repealing RTE, if ever any government - gets into that mode, will be an extremely onerous journey. The path will be filled with massive obstacles led by the activist classes who make up our so called "civil society" and then dealing with an increasingly difficult judiciary. There are moral hazards to be encountered in every step of the way, every clause to overturn. Take some examples.

  • Repeal RTE for Hindu schools: All hell would break lose if someone tried to do it one shot and it is here that we will get into some really deep ethical quagmires ? Do you not want good education for the underprivileged kids of the society ? These are Hindu kids also - you want to block their growth? You will hear plenty of goading from Catholic educationists for eg - who will go - We are fine if you Hindus don't want to educate your kids.This is the diabolical genius of the RTE legislation for it has now pit Hindus on two opposing sides and you can never make everyone happy at the same time ever again. 
  • No Detention: If you cite falling standards of educational outcome and learning and link it to removing no detention - then you will get some activists saying that schools are actually safe spaces for children from under-privileged backgrounds first and foremost and by bringing this in - you are actually attempting to thrown them out of school in a few years. In case the BJP tries this - they will be accused of doing an about turn on their own policy in Maharashtra. In any case today, meritocracy in India has been already sold as a Brahmanical conspiracy and this will be just another part of that agenda.
  • Requirements of physical infrastructure:  If you try to make them less stringent - you will be encountered by jibes of how you are inhuman to think schools should not have toilets for girl students.
The challenges I narrate are just as I scratch the surface. Experts and Intellectuals will no doubt weigh in with many more difficulties. There will be more moral hazards unearthed. There will be more Zero Sum Games to lose sleep over.

Asking for equality before law should be a simple exercise, it is generally considered to be a foundation of rule of law. But in India's current legal and political system, pitting one group against the other, pitting one special interest group against another is the norm and so there are no guarantees based on common sense and basic principles.

And so to end, something about plain speaking about the consequences of doing nothing and the status quo.

It appears to me that in the current state of discourse, the activist among the parents would rather be protest against high fees of a private school and get it under govt control, than have an education market of choice. 

What is the average Indian middle class parent most concerned about ? Is it RTE or rising school fees ? It is the latter. When you explain it him - what does he say ? He says hmm, we will still have the good missionary schools left unaffected - we will send our kids there. So what he will ask you - let the poor Hindus be educated through RTE and the elite go to the excellent Missionary schools. Hasn't the elite always gone to these excellent Missionary schools. What is the problem now ?

This is the question that needs to be answered. Well this is the elite that gives you today's self appointing judiciary and today's media. It is the same elite class that has nationalized the Hindu religion. Do we want more of the same or do we want a change for the better and equality before law ? 

I do concede that better policy alternatives need to be formulated in detail, but plain, honest, truthful speaking is needed from all sides. I guess what I am also saying is just stating the obvious like Equality before law is needed, may not be enough anymore. We need to engage in Sustained Persuasion. Doing nothing  about this is not an option we can afford.

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