As a part of MSW studies I was working in Delhi based Action Aid India and its partner Pardarshita. I was involved there almost one month in different activities. From 18th October, the first 15 days I did the field work at Action Aid in J. J. Colony, Bawana, in the North-West district of Delhi. Then for the next 12 days, I came to Pardarshita, a partner organization of Action Aid, in the North-East district. Pardarshita was founded as a non-profit organisation by social activists associated with another organization Parivartan in 2005. The organisation fights against corruption, works towards ensuring accountability and transparency in public governance system. Working along with social activists, I had a thrilling experience throughout the placement.
2nd November, on the very first day I was going with the staff to inspect the private/public school of Rohini, Ashok Bihar, Shalimar Bagh etc. The team was led by Ritu Mehra, a lawyer as well as an activist. After the enforcement of Right to free and compulsory education act 2009 in India, the private and the public schools are bound to give reservation upto 25% for students from the economically weaker sections (EWS). But the schools did not follow the provisions of the act. In this process an RTI application was filed under section 6(1) to the Department of Education by Pardarshita. Despite the order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) to the Department of Education and to those private/public schools, the schools have not followed the orders. The notification was sent by CIC to each government recognized school of Delhi that schools must put up a notice about the reservations of 25% students of Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) along with the students’ profile. It was a big challenge for us to find out those schools and also to take photograph of them. But with the help of different people we were able to find out the listed schools. But taking photos of those schools in front of the school authorities and the security personnel were a bit risky job for us. Moreover we were doing this without any permission of the schools. In some schools the authorities used to ask questions while we were taking photos of their school. Then we used to tell them frankly that their school did not follow the order of the Central Information Commission as well as of the government as the school is not putting up any notice board outside about the reservation of students from the EWS. We also told them that we were monitoring if the schools are following the instructions. Sometimes it was difficult for us to make them understand since they did not have enough idea about CIC and the EWS scheme.
The most challenging part came when we were taking the photo of a particular school. An official of the school saw us taking photo of the school and he came to us. The man asked my colleague why she was taking photo of the school, who was giving the order, and asked to see our identity-card etc. But she did not take out her identity card. Though she explained everything to him, the man insisted. Suddenly conflict arose there between the school authorities and us. The principal and other staff also came to fight with us. Public also came to see the matter since the arguments were getting louder. The school authorities also took my colleague’s photo and they said that they would go to police for this. It was shocking for us when she dialed 100 and called Delhi police to interfere in the matter. At that moment I was in dilemma as an eye witness. After half an hour two police men arrived at the spot and he took both the parties into the school campus. The police wanted proper evidence from us on why were doing this. Then my colleague showed the order letter by CIC to those schools a copy of which which was also in her name. She also stated that the schools were violating the educational act and therefore as social workers it was our duty to fight to get the rights. It was enough for the police to judge who was actually right. The police charged the school authorities and allowed us to leave.
This incident was really a great experience for me. Working with social activists who do not hesitate cross stipulated boundaries when needed, gave a different idea about social work. Since I was a part of the incident practically, I achieved a lot of courage. It was a good lesson for me as a social work trainee. Working against the system is a big challenge for us. We need courage, knowledge as well as intelligence at every step. (Tirtha)