Like most children his age, Satyam Prajapati doesn’t particularly like his uniform, but wears it because “madam kehti hain (teacher tells me to)”. Like most children his age, Satyam comes home from school and lingers in his uniform until his mother yells at him. Like most children his age, Satyam’s “chocolate-brown” shorts are almost always caked in dust because “kabhi gir jata hoon (sometimes I fall down),” and his mother then spanks him on his dusty bottom and peels it off him. But would all those other children know that Satyam, a Class IV student of Nagar Nigam Prathmik Vidyalaya in Rohini, has just one set of uniform for the summer months — a short-sleeved shirt with brown-and-white checks and a pair of shorts?
Which is what makes Satyam’s mother Anita, 28, almost obsessive about the uniforms of her children — Satyam and younger brother Rohan. She washes them every evening, and hangs them out to dry under the fan in their one-room quarters — the size of a hopscotch grid — in J J Camp Suraj Park, a slum opposite the Metro station in Samaypur Badli, north Delhi.
“I make sure Satyam and Rohan take off their uniforms as soon as they come back from school. I see other children roaming around in their uniforms the whole day and then going to school the next morning in the same set of clothes. Mujhe achha nahin lagta (I don’t like it),” says Anita.
Last week, the Delhi High Court, while hearing a writ petition filed in the name of Satyam Prajapati, told the North Delhi Municipal Corporation that the uniforms and notebooks it provided its four lakh primary school students were not adequate and did not satisfy the provisions of the Right to Education Act. The court also asked the corporation to file an affidavit on its uniform policy.
All municipal corporations in Delhi provide two sets of uniforms every year. The summer uniform includes a pair of shorts and a shirt for boys; and a tunic for girls. The winter uniform for boys is a full-sleeve shirt, a pair of trousers and a full-sleeve sweater; for girls, it’s a full-sleeve shirt, a skirt and a full-sleeve sweater.
Sitting on his haunches, groggy from his 12-hour night-shift at an aluminium recycling unit nearby, Satyam’s father Rajit Ram, 31, says the case happened “by chance”. “Both Rohan and Anandi (their two-year-old daughter) would fall ill frequently, and doctors at the sarkari hospital (Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital in Rohini) said they have holes in their hearts and will need a bada (big) operation. That’s when someone in the slum told me about Ashokji.”
Ashok Agarwal, lawyer and social activist, has used the PIL route to get private hospitals to reserve beds for patients from Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). His Social Jurist, a lawyers’ collective, has also taken up the cause of EWS admissions in private schools and alerted the courts to lack of amenities in schools. “When I met Ashokji, he casually asked me if my children had got their notebooks and uniforms. They hadn’t and Ashokji suggested that I file this case,” says Ram.
“The case was filed in July-August last year and the corporation filed an affidavit saying that in 2016, they would ensure children got their notebooks, writing material and uniforms by April 1. This year, we waited for four months and realised children still hadn’t got them. We approached the court again and that’s when the court pulled up the corporation,” says Agarwal. Satyam and Rohan got their notebooks for the year days after the court’s observations.
The uniform case though is the least of Ram’s concerns. The Rs 8,000 he earns from his job stretches him thin. “It’s impossible, especially with two children who are always sick, Rs 1,000 to pay for rent… bahut dukhi kar diya hai (it’s very tough),” he says.
Five months ago, both Rohan and Anandi were operated upon at Fortis Hospital in Okhla. “We didn’t have to pay a single rupee for the operation and hospital stay. The children are better now. Anandi has begun eating her food. Rohan goes to school with Satyam,” says Ram.
One of the few times Ram smiles is when Satyam speaks — he is complaining about Rohan. “The teacher asks him to write bindu-bindu par (cursive writing on dots), par isko aata hi nahin hai (he doesn’t even know),” says Satyam. “Haven’t I told you to hold his hand and help him write?” chides Ram.
The 31-year-old, who came with Anita to Delhi over 10 years ago from their village in eastern UP’s Ambedkar Nagar district, has studied up to Class IX, but hopes his children will do better.
Satyam too has his share of troubles —Rohan has got his new uniform shirt, while he is still wearing the old one because his mother thinks it’s good to go for a few more months. She keeps their new uniforms, the ones they got a few days ago, in a cloth bag hung from a wall peg.
“Mummy nahin de rahin hai (isn’t giving me my new one),” he complains. And lists more worries: “I don’t like this half-sleeved shirt. I like the full-sleeve shirt (that’s part of the winter uniform).”
Again, he hasn’t got it from school yet, while Rohan has already got his. Worries, like most children his age.