How long would we go on debating this obvious issue of early childhood care and pre-primary education for children below six years of age? Did we not start this debate in 1997 when 83rd Constitutional Amendment Bill was placed by the United Front government in the Rajya Sabha and carried the debate through the 86th Constitutional Amendment in 2001-02 when the NDA government willfully snatched away the Fundamental Right already given to 17 crore of India�s children below six years of age by Supreme Court�s Unnikrishnan Judgment (1993)? And now there is this anti-child and anti-education discriminatory Bill in the Rajya Sabha of the UPA government under the new Article 21A which refuses to read the amended Article 45 in �harmonious construction� with either Article 21 or Article 21A, as per the principle enunciated by the Unnikrishnan Judgment. Once this Bill is passed, as is likely to be the case soon, all the battle you are engaged with will be weakened several-fold since there will be no Fundamental Right of the children below six years of age � neither to balanced nutrition and health nor to pre-primary education.
Of course you would have the �khairat� of anganwadis as per the sweet will of the government and who would know what they offer (or don't offer) better than you and your colleagues in this ECCE network? Read Section 11 of the Bill and you would realize how cleverly ambiguous and escapist a law can be. And then search the over-glorified Schedule which does not even care to mention pre-primary education as part of Norms & Standards for a school. Ironically, the previous Draft Bill (Feb. 2008) at least had mentioned �Facility for pre-primary education�, though conditionally as a �Desirable� element in the Schedule of Norms & Standards. This has been quietly deleted in finalizing the Bill.
Yet, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) goes around the country exhorting the people to endorse the Bill - a process in which it is supported by the corporate media and leading members of the internationally funded NGOs and intellectuals who are even more articulate in support of the Bill than the government! WHY? Possibly, because none of them send their kids to the government schools lacking pre-primary sections which would continue to be the case even after the Bill is passed. The kids of most of the media personnel, NGOs and the intellectuals (and also NCPCR people) advocating the Bill go to high fee-charging elite nurseries and KGs singing english rhymes. They would not even want to read the Bill�s Section 11 and the Schedule. It is this phenomenon that we have to decipher and resist.
You rightly seek to make �a statement about the under threes and the link of this foundational stage of development with the realization of education as a fundamental right.� But did we not together consult the ECCE experts in March-April 2002 just before the matter reached Rajya Sabha and write precisely such a statement, backed up with research, which must be available in your records? And did we together not present this statement to political leaders, MPs and the Chairperson (Mrs. Margaret Alva, if I can recall rightly) of the Parliamentary Standing Committee related to the Ministry of Women and Child Development? Did a delegation led my Com. Ms. Amarjit Kaur not meet the then HRD Minister pleading that the Fundamental Right available to 17 crore children below six years of age not be deleted by 86th Constitutional Amendment? Despite registering weak verbal protests in Rajya Sabha, where Congress Party was in majority and Dr. Manmohan Singh was the Leader of Opposition, all political parties voted unanimously for deletion of this Fundamantal Right! Today, a leading advocate of the Bill calls this assault on the basic spirit of the Constitution in the original Article 45 as merely �unfortunate� and then attempts to justify the deletion by claiming that the �problems were with the Constitution itself.� It is this phenomenon that we have deal with.
We are being told by these advocates of the Bill that �something is better than nothing� and �take [the crumbs] what the government is giving�. But no one is telling us as to what the Bill will give us which the children already don�t have. The case of children below six years of age is an outstanding example of this farce. Where do we all stand and what stand do we take? This question needs to be posed to the upward mobile middle class and the ruling elite content with its conviction that they belong to the India that will become Superpower by 2020! Who cares about what happens to Bharat? Debate this please, rather than thinking about either the old Article 45 or the new Article 45!!
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