Jaya’s Diktats Hit Students Hard
As soon as Jayalalitha came to power, she has immediately discontinued policies and projects associated with the previous government. She discontinued the new assembly complex – that cost Rs.1200 crore of public money - inaugurated by the Karunanidhi government. The previous government had introduced a ‘uniform syllabus’ for all schools in the state and spent Rs 200 crore on printing 9 crore books for the same. Jayalalitha announced that this uniform syllabus (and the associated textbooks) would be discarded, causing confusion and consternation among students, who were left without textbooks at the beginning of the school term.
The Governor’s address in the first assembly session indicated that there is more in store for the people of TN, with the welfare schemes of the earlier government such as housing, medical insurance etc., being thrown to the winds and a proposal to formulate Vision 2025 for TN with the help of CII.
Jayalalitha had been very vocal against spending government money on freebies instead of development measures. But now she has no scruples about textbooks and public building on which hundreds of crores of public money have already been spent.
The decision to defer the implementation of uniform syllabus invited criticism from foes to allies alike, but Jayalalitha remained adamant. This is not just a case of sectarian prejudice because the textbooks carry poems or praise of Karunanidhi. Actually she is accommodating the views of the private merchants of education in TN.
Even before the announcement of election results, the managements of private schools, reflecting elitism, had declared that they would not implement the uniform syllabus as it is of a ‘low standard.’ As soon as results were out, they came out with a full page advertisement congratulating the new CM. And the next day came the announcement of deferring uniform syllabus! Jayalalitha echoed the argument of the private school managements that the standard of the uniform syllabus is low.
The TN High Court intervened to say that the government cannot scrap a decision which arises out of legislation (TN Uniform System of School Education Act, 2010). Then, the new Assembly has amended the Act so as to defer the uniform syllabus. The HC stayed this amendment, and despite demands from students and parents associations not to appeal against the HC order, the government approached SC. The SC however, directed the state government to implement uniform syllabus for Class 1 and 6, that was implemented in the last academic year itself, and to form a committee to review the syllabus for other classes in two weeks and to submit its report to the HC. The HC was directed to give further directions to the state government based on the report of the committee. So the Jaya government’s stand was rebuffed by the SC, and the SC verdict has largely been welcomed in TN.
Schools opened 15 days behind original schedule and now the students have to wait for another 3 weeks to begin their academic exercise. This delay and uncertainty about syllabus have created confusion and anxiety among the students particularly among those who have to take public exams this year.
Jayalalitha attempted to mitigate the resentment caused by her deferment of uniform syllabus by announcing that registration for employment exchanges would take place in the respective schools as soon as the 10+2 results are declared. This would spare students the long queues in the employment exchange offices. But she has no answer for all those lakhs and lakhs of youths and students who have waited in vain for years together for government jobs after registering in the employment exchange! Nor for those who are state government employees drawing a meagre ‘honorarium’ or those who are on contract for years together in government offices of TN. The new CM has no plans to ensure dignified employment for all, but poor women who chopped off their tongue or fingers in a show of ‘loyalty’ to Jayalalitha have been given government jobs.
Contradicting her poll promise of free, quality education for all, Jayalalitha announced that her government would not intervene on the question of exorbitant school fees levied by private school managements. Such declared indifference on part of the government on the issue of fee structure would only embolden private school managements to collect the fees they had previously announced, but which had been put on hold in the wake of the fee structure announced by the Govindarajan Committee last year. Many schools have already collected the fees they fixed, and some schools are compelling students to clear the fees which they would have paid had it not been for the Govindarajan recommendations.
6400 school managements had appealed against the fees fixed by Govindarajan committee. A new fee structure for these schools was released on 13 June and sent this to all districts. These fees are 5-15% more than the fees fixed by the Govindarajan committee. The government decided to make the new fee structure available in the public domain after getting the views of the school managements. The school managements, however, find this increase inadequate since they had expected a hike to the tune of 30% to 40%. Moreover, nothing but struggles by students and parents can stop them from collecting fee which they themselves had announced.
The official Left in the TN Assembly, an ally of Jayalalitha’s in the erstwhile polls, did not vote against the amendment enabling the government to postpone the uniform syllabus. They confined themselves to pleading with the government not to defer uniform syllabus on the grounds that it had been prepared by a group of experts. More importantly they failed to raise the issue of commercialization of education inside the Assembly.
Karunanidhi had mooted ‘uniform syllabus’ as a move to ensure equitable education at the beginning of last academic year, when parents and students all over the state were on the streets protesting excess school fee over and above fixed by the Govindarajan committee. Some school authorities managed to get the agitating parents and students arrested and the school education situation was chaotic. Karunanidhi attempted to silence these protests in the name of equitable education with uniform syllabus and formed an expert committee to develop uniform syllabus and also a legislation to enable this came into force.
The Parents’ Association associated with CPI(M) has for quite some time been recommending cosmetic changes in implementing the uniform syllabus: such as forming a single board of education in place of 4 different boards, inclusion of parents associations’ representatives in the board etc. But what they have failed to raise is that ‘uniform syllabus’ does not amount to ‘common school system.’ It does not guarantee equal access to education of a uniformly good quality to all children. As long as private schools are free to levy high fees; as long as quality education is available only to those who can pay high fees; discrimination and inequality in schooling cannot be corrected.
The uniform syllabus without change in the fee structure is thus a cosmetic, temporary measure and Jayalalitha does not want the private schools to undergo even this temporary phase of minimum loss and attempted to defer this temporary measure. While neibourhood schools find a place in RTE documents, in many parts of the states, those parents who want to put their children in government schools and fail to find one in their localities are compelled to pay high fees to get the children admission in private schools. In Thanjavur district of Taminadu, in a government primary school in Thelungankudi village there are only 8 students from class 1 to 5. In the primary school in Chithiraikudi village the total number of students is 11. In Kalimedu panchayat primary school there are only 31 students (Dinamani, September 31, 2010). While Jayalalitha does not share the concern of the students or parents of these villages to improve the quality of these schools and education therein, the government led by her has recently announced that the TASMAC outlets (government-run liquor outlets) will be improved so as to attract the elite sections also, by introducing better brands etc.
Tamilnadu is of course the forerunner in commercializing education which has begun in MGR’s period with the liquor barons entering the field of higher education. Towards the end of Karunanidhi’s rule, TN was overflowing with colleges owned by ministers and thousands of private schools enjoying patronage of the ruling parties, charging even as high as Rs.30,000 for kindergarten.
Parents and students all over the state have come to the streets against increased fees and with a demand to withdraw the new fee structure. On the other side, the private school managements which have enormous faith in Jayalalitha have also started organizing meetings demanding increase in the fee structure. Many struggles will be waged in the days to come on this question.
BJP Attacks CPI(ML) Activists in Gujarat
The BJP, backed by the state machinery, are attacking and intimidating dalits and adivasis in Valsad district of Gujarat who joined the CPI(ML). On 13 June, BJP MLA Raman Patkar from Umargaam constituency in Valsad district, led an assault on the villagers of Ghoriparha and Gadikparha villages. Around 150-200 goons and BJP members, wielding various arms, led by the MLA attacked these villagers. This resulted in serious injuries to several people.
A day before this incident, on 12 June 2011, MLA Raman Patkar and his four sons along with his accomplices conducted another attack on CPI(ML) Liberation leader Kapila Ben, who was the CPI(ML) candidate in last elections.
The attacks are particularly targeted against the CPI(ML) activists who contested elections at various levels including Parliament, Assembly, Zila Panchayat and Village Panchayats.
During the last elections, BJP MLA Raman Patkar and his men regularly harassed and attacked CPI(ML) members and destroyed party posters, banners, and other election materials. These incidents provide the background for current spree of attacks and intimidation. The ruling party there is trying to muzzle the voices of political dissent by violence and intimidation.
When CPI(ML)’s Valsad district committee Secretary Laxman Vadia approached the Valsad DSP, Collector and Umargaam police station to seek intervention against such attacks, he found that the police refused to heed him. A false counter case was filed by the attackers against CPI(ML) activists. The police inspector at Umargaam police station even told the CPI(ML) leaders that “There is BJP rule in Umargaam, and if you people will persist with the red-flag party here, I myself will have to shoot you!”
The Valsad Party District Secretary Shri Laxmanbhai Vadia is also receiving threats to his life by the local MLA and his men, while the attackers are still roaming free, wielding arms. In order to save his life, Comrade Laxmanbhai Vadia had to flee from his house and remain in hiding. q
Workers’ Rally in Jharkhand
On June 10 at Ramgarh, Jharkhand, a massive ‘majdoor ekta rally’ was organized by the district units of AICCTU of Ramgarh and Hazaribag. Nearly three thousand organized and unorganized workers, nearly half of them women, from coal mines and rural areas participated in the rally. The workers marched with banners and flags to the local district administrative office, braving the heavy rains and storm.
The gathering at the District Collector’s office was addressed by CPI(ML) General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya, AICCTU General Secretary Comrade Swapan Mukherji, CPI(ML) MLA Comrade Vinod, AICCTU State Secretary Comrade Subhendu, Steel workers’ leader of Bokaro Comrade Deodeep Singh Diwakar, coal mine workers’ leader from Bokaro, Comrade Upender Singh and others.
The speakers highlighted the plight of working class of the mineral-rich area, especially those engaged in unorganized sector through contractors, who are not paid bare minimum wages to maintain a dignified living.
Comrade Dipankar said that the governments at the state and centre were openly aiding corporate houses to loot the mineral wealth, spectrum and land of our country. He said that our country has reached a historical juncture when peasants, workers and student-youth are uniting against this rampant loot. This can take a mass political dimension in the days to come, and the revolutionary trade union movement should consciously step forward to lead the working class into this struggle. He called upon people to mark June 25-26 as protest days against the undeclared Emergency imposed by the UPA Government.
Comrade Swapan Mukherjee called upon the workers to campaign intensely for the 8th National Conference of AICCTU to be held in Bhilai in November this year.