Among the complaints are claims that teachers spend more time playing cricket than teaching, and that children are beaten with canes.
Indian pupils launch letters campaign to complain about schools
NEW DELHI // Frustrated by teacher apathy, broken toilets and a lack of drinking water at his school, Manish Kumar sent a postcard to the chief justice of the Delhi High Court.
"Can you help?" pleaded the 11-year-old.
Manish, in grade 5, was not alone in his grievances.
His postcard was one of 181 that pupils from several government-run schools in Madanpur Khadar sent to justice officials in the capital.
Complaints from pupils and Project Why, a non-government organisation that was the driving force behind the letter-writing campaign, be range from the absurd to the shocking. Among them are claims that teachers spend more time playing cricket than teaching, and that children are beaten with canes.
Manish's letter added: "The younger kids play with mud and no one stops them. The teachers do not care. The toilets are not clean and we sit on the floor because there are no school benches."
In response to the postcard campaign, the acting chief justice AK Sikri and justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw of the Delhi High Court, last week asked the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and the directorate of education about the state of two government schools - Rama Krishna Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya and Sarvodya Kanya Vidyalaya - and two primary schools run by the Delhi municipality.
Their replies are expected by November 7.
The issues raised by the children range from corporal punishment to overcrowding of classes, said Ashok Agarwal, a lawyer representing the pupils who range in age between 11 and 15.
"The problem is that these children belong to economically weaker sections of society," said Mr Agarwal. "Anyone can abuse them ... They are children of a lesser god."
"Some children knew their rights but they did not know where to go, who to complain to," he added. "They just didn't know how to ask for it so they decided to write letters."
Rohan Singh, 12, a grade six pupil, was beaten by a teacher when he tried to use the staff toilets, because the "pupils' toilets were dirty like they had never been cleaned".
"The teacher pulled my hair, then my ears. I got a beating," said Rohan. "I don't care so much about the beating. They can beat us as long as they don't expel us from school."
In his letter, Rohan wrote about the stifling heat in the classrooms, which have no ceiling fans.
That, along with absenteeism of teachers and the overcrowding of classrooms, are other persistent problems with these schools, said Mr Agarwal.
Down a tiny alleyway in Madanpur Khadar is Project Why's premises. The NGO helps pupils supplement their education with tutoring and focuses on improving reading and writing skills.
"The lack of proper school infrastructure, the fact that teachers play cricket when they should be teaching and all these things mean these children do not get the kind of education they should," said Dharmendra Beniwal, the project coordinator of Project Why. "Some of the students we help are in middle school and don't even know how to properly write their names."
More than 300 students are tutored at the centre on a daily basis, with classes in the morning for boys and afternoon classes for girls.
The pupils' parents are mostly maids and daily wage labourers and, until 10 years ago, lived in slums. These families were among 100,000 families who were relocated from slums in the centre of the city to its outskirts as part of a beautification scheme.
Surinder Singh Bidhuri, 32, a long-time resident of the neighbourhood, was present for the mass relocation. Mr Bidhuri graduated from grade 10 in 1997 from one of the schools that the children now go to. He has watched the quality of the education decline as class sizes have at least doubled since he graduated, he said.
"Anyone can come and go. The older boys do just that. There is no discipline. No one cares about them," said Mr Bidhuri.
"In the afternoon, all you can see is girls walking with their heads down and boys harassing them."
Mr Bidhuri said he spoke to school authorities on behalf of the families of the children who go to the problem schools, raising issues of hygiene and safety.
"They said they will fix it but nothing was ever done. That is just an example of how badly run these schools are."
An education officer with Delhi municipality said yesterday that authorities are taking the accusations seriously.
"Our inspectors have been doing the rounds ever since these postcards were received by court," she said. "Our buildings are not that bad. We did not make any mistake. Everything is satisfactory with these schools."