Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Need for a Right to Education Act and a Strong Child Rights Commission in J&K

The importance of child rights commissions in the context of education can be gauged from an example from J&K, where the RTE Act doesn’t apply owing to Article 370 (the desirability of which is another debate altogether), and the local politicians there have only dilly-dallied over making a law giving effect to the idea that education in the age group of six to fourteen years is a fundamental right (fortunately, in 2014, however, we learnt of a bill to this effect being drafted in J&K), though Article 10 of the constitution of J&K gives J&Kites the same fundamental rights as other Indians. The incident relates to a school in the Poonch region denying admission to certain students, in which the students had to stage protests and finally, the school relented on pressure from the district authorities. However, had J&K had an institutionalized right to education in neighbourhood schools for a certain age group, their state child rights commission (which does exist), if given the requisite powers, could have taken charge. Those with access to education in Kashmir, have, in some cases, become technology entrepreneurs, scientists and public policy analysts, more of whom we need, as against more militants and stone-pelters who have played a major role in crippling the Kashmiri economy and earlier drove out most of the Hindu minority of the Kashmir valley. As Neelesh Misra and Rahul Pandita point out in their much acclaimed book The Absent State, the handling of successive central and state governments in the Maoist belts, Kashmir and the northeast demonstrates considerable public policy failure, and while even several educated people do get radicalized and identity-based and ideological fault-lines do need to be logically eradicated, access to public goods and services, like roads, education and health care (which even free market economists like Milton Friedman have held to be a responsibility of the government, at least to a certain extent), obviously remains an important part of the equation, though given the militancy in these particular regions, even this does become more challenging than elsewhere. Institutionalizing the access to these public goods and services as rights can go a long way in preventing neglect of some regions compared to others owing to low electoral representation, as is the case with the people of the northeast in the national context, and Jammuites and Ladakhis (cutting across religious lines) in the context of J&K or even the Darjeeling region inhabited by Gorkhas, Lepchas etc. in the context of West Bengal, for example. Given that the BJP is in power in coalition in J&K, it would do well to push for an RTE Act there for the children of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, but one which ought to be free from the original drawbacks of the central statute.

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