Updated: August 9, 2015 6:00:48 am
A year ago, seven-year-old Shahnoor went missing from her home in Love Kush Nagar in Indira Nagar, Lucknow. Her parents, Mohammad Furqan Ansari and Shahidun Ansari, weavers who migrated 19 years ago from Barabanki to Lucknow, searched frantically for her in the neighbourhood. They found her an hour later, sitting outside the City Montessori School.
Love Kush Nagar is situated deep inside posh Indira Nagar, the first planned colony of Lucknow. The two neighbourhoods couldn’t be more different from each other. The latter is made up of palatial houses, under whose shadow stands a line of one-room houses on the edge of a drain. Their inhabitants share a community toilet and the one impressive building they can lay claim to is a mosque under construction. That day, little Shahnoor crossed over the invisible line that separates Love Kush Nagar from the more affluent parts of Indira Nagar and stood outside the gates of the City Montessori School.
“We were crying when we found her, but she just kept asking me to send her to the Montessori School,” said Furqan. Ever since, they keep a watch over Shahnoor and their other two children, who longingly observe other children going to school every morning. “Our house doesn’t have even a door, so we have to keep an eye on them,” says Shahidun. Their house has a few tin sheets for a roof, a small room that also doubles as a store for old newspapers, and outside, a gulmohar tree provides some shade. Furqan, who started out as a rag-picker, is now a kabadiwallah, who sells old newspapers and magazines. “They are all raddi for me but my children sort out and keep the glossy books with pictures for themselves,” he said.
When he found English-medium schools beyond his reach, with the help of Samina Bano of the Bharat Abhyudyay Foundation, Furqan approached the district basic education officer early this year to get his three children — Shahnoor, Imran, 6, and Umme Qainat, 4 — admitted under the quota for the economically weaker sections (EWS) under the Right To Education (RTE) Act. His application was sent to the Indira Nagar branch of the City Montessori School, Lucknow’s largest school chain. But the school denied them and 28 other children admission and the case is now with the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court. The case created ripples, with activists holding protests demanding the school admit children under the EWS quota. “We are keeping track of the admissions under RTE. The education department has issued several tough measures like cancelling no-objection certificates to schools that don’t adhere to this directive,” says Raj Shekhar, district magistrate, Lucknow.
Like Shahnoor, there are several others in the state awaiting quality education under the RTE in Uttar Pradesh. The state has a dismal record in admitting children from the EWS sections in private schools. In 2014-15, only 54 EWS admissions took place in the whole state.
The number of admissions this year has gone up to 3,500, but that’s still miniscule considering the size of the state. Figures at the state’s education department show that Ferozabad tops the list with 1,435 admissions, followed by Lucknow with 467, Moradabad 377 and Kanpur with 354 admissions while 17 other districts could not even touch the three-figure mark.
Shahnoor and her siblings, meanwhile, now go to the anganwadi centre in their neighbourhood. “I want to study and build a house, bigger than this one,” says Shahnoor, pointing to one on the other side of the road. She hasn’t abandoned her dream of going to the big school. Her father hasn’t either. “I am illiterate but I want my children to get a good education,” he says.
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