At what cost

It has been a long time side I spent a sleepless night. Yesterday was one such night. Even at the nadir of R's illness, I still slept, albeit restlessly but slept nevertheless. Last night I was haunted by the image of a lovely young child, though she is now a teenager standing outside her class for the whole day: her crime - her parents had not paid her fees. The reason: they were going through a financial crunch. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that for the last seven hers they had not failed to do so. This child, as child she will always be to me, is still under the ambit of the ill conceived, ridiculous and absurd right to education as she is not yet 14. Let us not forget that in India, come your 14th birthday, you no longer have the constitutional right to free education.

Now in the case of this child I agree that there had been an inordinate delay in clearing dues and that the school too has the 'right' to claim them.The question that arises is: at what cost? Let us also grant the school the fact that they did wait for 'some' time before taking out their big guns. But again the question arises: what are those darned big guns. One would accept reminders but humiliating the child is nothing short of abhorrent, unprofessional and unacceptable. Collecting school fees should not and cannot be akin to resorting to tactics employed by wily debt collectors and over and above all should be matter that remains within adults; in this case between the school authorities and the parents or guardian. At best the child could be called to the office of the counsellor or principal, no one else, and gently and humanely asked about her home situation. I know of a school where the same problem arose and the child shared the family situation. A deal was struck between the Principal and the student: should he get 80% in his next results, his fees would be waived for the rest of his school years. Needless to say the child kept his side of the deal.

In the case of this young girl the big guns were brought out and the arsenal was a slew of actions aiming at humiliating the child in the school amidst her peers and friends. She would be asked loudly when she would pay her dues, notes were handed to her in front of the class, and the ultimate weapon was to make her stand outside her class for the duration of the school hours. Imagine a sensitive, mature young girl standing alone for no fault of hers. This seems to me like something out of the Middle Ages. I cannot begin to imagine what went through her head. All I know is that it kept me awake and seething the whole night.

I also felt responsible as this beautiful child was born in front of me and till she went to big school, she was part of my daily life in all ways possible. It is also because of the importance I gave to good education that her brave and proud family tightened their belts till it hurt to send her to a good school.  For seven long years they did so. It was only because of a death in the family and health expenses of the elders that the boat rocked.

I have questions and the first one is whether any kind soul in the school, someone who understands children and their psychology ever ask her gently how things were at home? Whether they thought of a solution that would not hurt the chip? Whether they understand how humiliating a teenager can scar her forever in ways that can never be healed? That they can change the family equation and the equation between the child and her parents? No Sir! They simply what their pound of flesh as education is no more about teaching but about making money.

When I heard that this baby girl had to spend a day in the corridor of her school, watched and riled by one and all, I brought out my bug guns. A few phone calls, emails and SMSs later the deal was done. We would take over the remaining costs of her education. Was she not one of Pwhy's first students!

I have asked her family to keep her at home till we sort things out. Apparently a late fee of FIFTY RUPEES a day is charged. Imagine how it translates if you are months late! Some Shylock! We will also have a chat with the authorities and tell them gently how we feel and more than that remind them of how deeply hurt a child can be in such circumstances. She will return to school when all is settled.

When I gave her the news late last night, I could feel in her simple Thank You, a range of emotions I cannot describe. They brought tears to my eyes and made me hate myself for not having acted earlier.

I am deeply thankful to all those who accepted to sponsor her education. God bless them all.