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Surat-fire 1

 

Raju Solanki

25 May 2019

It had been only a few hours since Emperor Narendra Modi had been re-elected for a second term in office, like an Avatar of Sri Krishna, by the electorate. The BJP offices all over the country, grand as 5-star hotels, were in a mood of celebration. TV anchors everywhere were groaning out the same sentences “They were confronted on demonetisation, but they did not lose courage. They were confronted on the issue of 10% reservation to the upper castes, but they did not lose courage. They were confronted on the issue of GST, yet did not lose courage.”

Surat-fire 1

 

The channels were strewing flowers of praise on the great leaders. The fact that GST destroyed people’s livelihoods, dragged them into the streets and caused many deaths, was the weakness of the people themselves. Why would the great leaders bother about that? And in any case, Modi has succeeded in converting the great tragedy of his life into a victory – a failed householdher has emerged as an altruistic saint.

But, in the midst of the victory cries of Modi and his followers, a ghastly tragedy was unfolding in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. What was about to happen would have broken the hearts of many. The most horrendous tragedy of the century was about to happen in the city of Surat, whose population has grown at the phenomenal rate of 25% in the last 30 years. There was a raging fire in the 3rd and 4th floor of a coaching centre at Takshashila Complex in Sarthana area of Surat. 19 students were burnt to cinders. The ‘education shop’ functioning on a makeshift shed on the top floor of the building consumed the innocent children. The deputy Minister of State Nitin Patel, who reached the spot, said that an enquiry would be conducted in whether the structure was illegal.

Mr. Patel, when will you conduct an enquiry into your entire educational policy which is illegal? Mr. Rupani, when will you investigate how you let these private educational vendors open shop in front of your eyes? You sold off the Municipal school that serviced poor children in Mithakhali and turned it into Mahatma Gandhi International School, which has a fee of Rs. 2.5 lakhs, when will you investigate that?

When your Anandiben was Education Minister, she made the excuse that the government has no money, and let 300 schools open shop overnight as non-granted schools; and then the very next year converted them into granted schools, when will you investigate that? When will you investigate the fact that you allocated millions of rupees for government education but billions for private educational institutions, forcing the lower middle class and poor classes to tighten their belts to send their children to private school? When will you investigate how you conspired to sell of the corporation schools of poor children to builders so that they could construct palatial monuments there? Mr. Modi, Mr. Shah, you have become great heroes, but will you establish a Special Investigation

Tribunal (SIT) to investigate how you caused the poor and middle classes of Gujarat to be deprived of basic education?

The questions are terrible. The answers are even more terrifying. In the last 35 years, Modi has dug the grave of education in Gujarat. The result of this is the Takshashila tragedy. It is true that the Fire Brigade did not have a ladder. It is also true that the administrators of the institute are worthless and greedy for money. But who created a situation where poor parents struggled desperately for their child’s education? Who stopped allocating funds on infrastructure for government schools? Who turned government schools into barns? Who established the system whereby it was decided that you can give quality education to your child only if you have money? Isn’t the Gujarat government even slightly responsible in these matters?

Even today, RTE is not implemented in Gujarat. As an activist who has been working with the RTE since the last 5 years, it is my experience that the government does not care about education as much as it cares about builders, traders, and industrialists. The Congress is equally as responsible for this as is the BJP. Most administrators of private schools are leaders of either the BJP or the Congress. The field of education is a field jointly owned by the BJP and the Congress. The two parties till it together.

The people of Gujarat need not be very happy that the Sensex has risen by 40,000 points. Our children’s future is not protected by the fact that the state leaders are holding court in Delhi. There is still time, to support people who are active in quality education, and establish new policies. Throw off the business-minded politicians, business-minded educationists, and business-minded administrators. Otherwise our children’s future can never be safe.

(Translation from Gujarati by Anita Dixit)

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Raju Solanki is a writer, poet and activist.

Picture credit: Odisha  TV.

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