SoBo's dark secret

South Mumbai's tony A Ward might be the most posh locality in the city, where the rich and famous live, but as many as 2,699 children between three and 16 years do not have access to schools. Many of these kids also work to support their families
South Mumbai's tony A Ward is probably the most posh neighbourhood in the city, but scratch a little and its dark underbelly will come spilling out.

Shazada who lives at the transit camp doesn't attend school, so he can take care of his uncle and grandmother

An ongoing survey has revealed that nearly 2,699 children in the age group of 3 and 16 years in the locality do not attend schools, and an approximate number of 215 within the group suffer from some form of disability. Many of these children also work to support their families.

This when the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2010 aims to ensure that all children in the age group of 6 to14 years exercise their fundamental right to education.

According to the findings of Shiksha Sankalp, an action based research, a project under the aegis of ADAPT (Able Disabled All People Together), co-funded by BMZ (federal ministry of economic corporation), Germany and CBM (Christian Blind Mission) reveal that there exists structural gaps in the implementation of the Act.

According to Sathi Alur, Honorary Advisor and Member of Governing body, ADAPT, "To make the Right to Education a reality many components at the ground level need to be looked into to make the entire Act a success.

Sameena Hussain with her kids Abid and Shirin; Dhruv Mali with his mother Chandrika; Ayush Warekar with his mother Divya

India is the best country in the world for making social policy on paper. What we do not do is translate that intention into action. Our sample findings have revealed this." A door-to-door census was undertaken by the group to find out the number of disabled children who do not have access to education.

"With no reliable statistics on the number of disabled children who do not go to school, we undertook an extensive census of all kids in the age group of 6 to14 years, which has brought an unbelievable figure of both disabled and able children who are still deprived of basic education," said Dr Mithu Alur, founder of ADAPT.

According to the findings, out of the 2,699 students (between 3 to 16 years of age) who do not go to school, 1,270 are male.  "Under the Right to Education Act every child, able or disabled, has the right to study in the school next door for free. The state government is bound to make funding available for the same.

The Act makes it mandatory for every school to have 25 per cent reservation for disabled children and even girl students, but this is not adhered to by many schools," Alur added.

So far, eight screening camps in 'A' ward area have been conducted and 335 children in Colaba have also been screened. According to Alur, the research is still ongoing. "Once the children are identified, screened and evaluated, medical and educational intervention begins," he added.

Speaking about the need to help disabled children, Daniel Mont, a former senior economist at the World Bank, who now works on the mapping exercise for Shiksha Sankalp, said, "In a developed world we can advertise services for the disabled and people have resources to come and access those services.

But it won't work in poorer places in India where we have to go and find them out and also study the specific barriers that are preventing the disabled from accessing the services. Our study has revealed that between the age group of 6-14 years, children without disability have a school attendance of 84 per cent, while those with disability shown attendance of only 53 per cent.
This is even more alarming when you take into account the gender of the disabled. More female disabled children are forced to remain at home to males." When contacted, Fauzia Khan, Minister of State for school education, admitted that a lot still needs to be done for the Right to Education Act to be successful.

According to her, the state government has already prepared a master plan for the implementation of Right to Education Act. The rough master plan was also put on the official government website asking for comments and objections. They have reportedly received a number of suggestions and recommendations, which is currently under consideration.

To understand how such a large number of children in South Mumbai are being denied education, Sunday MiD Day travelled across the locality. Here are the stories of some of the children whose days are spent in their homes, instead of schools.
'They will beat him in school'
Spastic by birth, nine year-old Dhruv Girish Mali lives with his parents Girish (34) and Chandrika (30) in Ambedkar Nagar, Cuffe Parade. Originally from Rajasthan, Dhruv's parents claim they feared that other students would bully their son and thus they did not get him admitted to any school.

According to Chandrika, Dhruv's  mother, "I was told by villagers (in Rajasthan) that there is no school for such children and even if my son went to a regular school, the fear of his classmates beating him scared me."
Far from receiving any education, Dhruv does not even have a birth certificate. According to the parents they were so concerned about this health that they never realised how necessary a birth certificate is.

Removed from three schools
In the case of Ayush Warekar, a nine year-old resident of Transit Camp, near Cuffe Parade police station, he was removed from two schools, after they felt that the young child suffered from autism.

According to Ayush's mother Divya, 'When Ayush was 3 years old, he was admitted in junior kindergarten in an English-medium school in June 2006. But within three months, the school administration decided to remove him and handed us his relieving certificate."

He was later admitted to another school, but the class teacher complained that Ayush was inattentive and did not maintain eye-to-eye contact with him. He was then referred to a psychiatrist practicing at Masina hospital, Byculla. While the doctor felt Ayush would improve over time, he was removed from his second school too.

Child who takes care of the house

On the other hand, 10 year-old Shazada who lives at the transit camp in Cuffe Parade, dreams of becoming an engineer. He, however, instead of attending school, has to stay back at home assisting his disabled uncle Imran Ansari (30) and grandmother Saleemabi (60).

Unlike other children from his neighbourhood, Shazada's day starts with him filling water, buying vegetables and assisting his uncle in cooking.

According to Ansari, Shazada's parents who live in Mumbra handed the 10 year-old to him, when he was only four months old. "I am a polio-affected person and my mother can't see or walk because of diabetes. Our only support is Shazada who takes care of us."

'Wait till next year'
Shirin Hussain (9) and her brother Abid (8), studied in the third and second standards respectively in Varanasi. However after the demise of their father Rashid (34) last year, they along with their mother Sameena (32) moved to Mumbai to live in their grandmother's house.

Sameena has reportedly been trying to get her two children admitted in a local school but to no avail.. Sameena said, "The schools we approached asked me to get their final examination results and apply in 2012 after the summer vacation.

For last six months both my children who are otherwise very bright in studies, have been sitting at home, doing nothing." Sameena approached five schools, including a local BMC-run school.

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