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Bengaluru: Tale of two poor fathers’ fight against powerful private school lobby

By Maitreyee Boruah

Bengaluru, July 2: The large-scale commercialization of school education is an open secret in India's IT hub Bengaluru. In recent times, the city has witnessed several protests staged by various parents' groups against the steep rise in fees announced by private schools for the academic session of 2016-2017.

In one such instance two parents-Suresh Kumar (50) and Kempe Gowda (38)-were arrested by the police after they staged a protest in front of a private school in the city on June 15. The duo were arrested after the management of St. Antony's High School, Kurubarahalli lodged a police complaint stating that they harassed women staff.

Kempe Gowda (left) and Suresh Kumar (right) at the office of Child Rights Trust (CRT) in Bengaluru

Refuting the allegation, Nagasimha G Rao, convenor, RTE Task Force, told OneIndia, "The school has levelled false charges against Kumar and Gowda. They staged the protest as children studying in the school under RTE Act quota are facing discrimination. These poor kids are yet to get their textbooks and uniforms."

According to the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which came into force on April 1, 2010, all schools should set aside 25% of the seats for the children from the neighbourhood -- a euphemism for kids from underprivileged sections of society.

Currently on bail, Kumar and Gowda spent two days at the Central Parappana Agrahara Central Jail in the city. They have been booked under IPC (Indian Penal Code) Sections 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace).

Kumar, who is an auto driver, said, "My daughter is a student in the school. She is studying in Class III (Three). She has been admitted in the school under the RTE Act quota. Even last year she did not get her books and uniforms. This year also she has no textbooks till now. Thus a group of 40-odd parents, whose kids were denied their basic rights, protested in front of the school gate on June 15."

Denying the charges levelled against him and his friend Gowda, Kumar said that the protest was led by poor mothers. "Several poor mothers and few fathers staged a protest. We never misbehaved with the women staff members of the school. All these charges were false. While we were protesting, the school management informed the police. Few police personnel reached the spot immediately. We spoke with the police and they asked us to leave the spot. In fact, later in the evening I was asked to come to the Rajarajeshwari Nagar Police Station. There I was arrested. Moreover, Gowda was not even part of the protest. He came to the police station after he learnt about my arrest. He was also arrested with me," added Kumar.

Gowda said that his child studying in a different private school under the RTE Act quota was also facing discrimination.

The activists and parents say that as per the RTE Act, schools should distribute textbooks, uniforms, shoes etc free of cost. Even the Karnataka RTE Act, Rule 7.2, clearly mentions that schools shall not discriminate "quota" children in any manner with respect to entitlements and facilities such as textbooks, uniforms, library and ICT facilities, co-curricular programmes and sports.

Both Kumar and Gowda rued that their arrest had shocked their families a lot. "I am a poor man. I drive an auto rickshaw. I was earning Rs 300 a day earlier. My income has come done drastically now," said Kumar.

Gowda too has a similar agony to narrate. "I work in a garage as a mechanic. I am yet to rejoin my work."

The lawyers from Manthan Law are helping the duo to fight their case.

In spite of repeated attempts, the school authorities of St. Anthony's School, Kurubarahalli refused to speak to this reporter.

OneIndia News

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