There is no angry sloganeering, no outburst in unparliamentary language, no police, not even a barricade. Instead, there are modern tents, chairs, food and water supplies and even a mosquito repellent spray for the protesters. While it is a far cry from the street demonstration one seen so often, it is still a dharna against a “stubborn” management.
Some 30 parents of students of Mirambika Free Progress School have been camping 24×7 outside its premises in the heart of south Delhi for a week, questioning the management’s decision of shifting their wards to an “under-construction” building after the summer break. The school was vacated for the construction of an engineering college in the area.
“This is not why we put our kids here. This is not in line with the ecosystem for progressive education that was promised to us,” says Ajay Jugran, a lawyer.
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The protesters, mostly writers, artists, journalists, lawyers and professors, are accusing the school management of uprooting their children from a “place they loved and cherished” and causing them massive “emotional trauma”.
Mirambika, which has 151 students and 49 teachers today, was started by the Sri Aurobindo Education Society in 1981. It has no structured syllabus, no uniforms, teachers who are referred to as diya (a blended form of didi and bhaiya) who work on a voluntary basis with no salary, and classes that are not numbered 1 to 10 but have names such as ‘Courage’ and ‘Endurance’.
“It was this vision of integrated and spiritual learning that prompted us to put our children here, not what is being offered now,” says Jugran.
On April 13-14, the students had been shifted to Aurobindo Ashram from the original school building. The parents say this was done “overnight” but parent representative Vikrant Abrol, a former student of the school, argues that “parents were told by the management about the need to shift because the land was allotted by Delhi Development Authority for a college”.
On May 2, some parents moved Delhi High Court, which stayed the construction of the college on May 6. On May 26, 58 parents and 39 teachers filed an intervening application supporting Aurobindo Society’s plans. But on May 31, eight of these parents asked for their names to be removed, accusing the management of “misleading” them, “They come from educated backgrounds, didn’t they read the document?” says one of the parents backing the management.
The second shift came on July 1, to a new building on the same compound after the school reopened. “This is an unsafe, unauthorised venue located above a commercial kitchen and a shopping arcade,” says Bhumi Gajjar, a design researcher whose child studies in the Blue group. “The DDA chief legal adviser’s opinion received via RTI confirms the legality of the school and illegality of the engineering college,” she adds.
The issue of approvals from DDA, the department of education and AICTE for the college has added to the confusion. “On March 20, the entire school was sent on an all-paid-for picnic, the same day AICTE conducted an inspection for the proposed college,” said Deepak Gopinath, a writer and economic analyst, whose child goes to the school.
The parents allege the school has been talking about an “invented threat” from DDA to justify shifting the students. “There has been a showcause notice by DDA served to the school and this document has been shown to the parents,” counters Kunal Sinha, whose child has been studying at Mirambika for seven years.
An anonymous blog (savemirambika. wordpress.com) with updates in the case has come up, which members close to the management claim has been put up by the protesting parents to “malign” them. None of the protesting parents has taken responsibility for this blog. “It is not a ‘save Mirambika’ but a ‘finish Mirambika’ blog, it is sowing seeds of distrust,” says one parent not among the protesters.
Pranjal Jauhar, a grandson of the founder of the Delhi branch of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and now the vice-chairman of the ashram, has so far refused to comment on the controversy. “Even in the meeting that the management had with parents on April 21, Pranjal stayed for just 10 minutes,” says Deepak Gopinath.
The principal of the school, Jayanthi didi, said says had “no comments” till the trial continues. “Students are getting disturbed because of the hyperactivity of some of the parents. It’s an attention-seeking activity, more about the entitlement of the parents than the students,” says Bhatia.
The protesters are showing no signs of budging yet. Some of them have begun a fast to press their demands. A hearing in the case is scheduled for July 17, “but whatever the outcome we will continue our fight”, vows one of the parents.