Tuesday, 15 May 2012



All good things of this earth flow into the city (Pericles of Athens)

BS was in Tokyo in the 1970s. His bosses in Delhi called him up and asked him to look after a visiting up-and-coming political couple. Those were the days when the yen was soaring, the dollar was plunging, the rupee wasn't worth the fine print etched on it, and only the old guard had Swiss bank accounts. BS re-wrote the book on looking after, and the visitors swore eternal gratitude when they said goodbye.
Cut to the 1970s. BS is living happily ever after in Chandigarh, with his son. His daughter-in-law, a government school teacher, is transferred to a village school, 25 km away. She has to leave the house an hour early and gets back an hour late. BS has to take out cold parathas from a tiffin box for breakfast, instead of the piping hot, ghi-dripping parathas he is used to. The couple BS looked after is now one of the Top Couples of Punjab. BS recalls the vows of eternal gratitude they had sworn and decides it is time to call in a favour.
At the Top Couple's Niwas, BS talks his way through tiers of grim-faced cops. Finally he is in the presence of the the Top Lady. She hears him out graciously for all of 58.8 seconds before passing him on to an aide. The latter walks BS to a large room where clerks with ledgers sit in serried ranks. One of them looks up expectantly as BS nears: then drops his gaze as BS ignores him. At this point, BS finds the aide has disappeared, and he walks alone to the EXIT.
That evening BS is bemoaning ingratitude sharper than a serpent's tooth, in his back garden, over a stiff whiskey-soda. His neighbour, an Under-Secretary shouts over the back wall: Hey, Old Man. What's your problem? And before BS can answer, Give me 50,000/- tomorrow morning. The next evening, the Under-Secretary tosses a G.O. over the wall, into BS's lap. It reads, reassuringly: Mrs. ,,, transferred back along with post ....

In the 1980s, in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star and Mrs. Gandhi's assassination, VP Singh gave Punjab a Special Economic Package with numerous schemes to bring disaffected youth back into the mainstream. The schemes failed because rural youth could not qualify. If interview and test were held in Chandigarh, there was no shortage of robustly rural candidates. But if interview and test were held away from the capital - admittedly risky because the interviewer might end up with a gun to his head - supposedly 8th pass candidates could not add 2+2 on paper. Transfer along with post was still an under-the-counter business. So government did some soul-searching and found that while 80% of government schools were in rural areas, 80% of government teachers were in towns.


Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus (The mountain laboured and brought forth a ridiculous mouse) Horace

To provide Eklavya with a school, the Central Government has brought into force The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (35 of 2009) better known as the RTE Act w.e.f. 1.4.2010. Prior to that, 3 Articles Art. 21A Right to Education, Art. 45 Provision of early childhood care and education to children below the age of 6 years, and Art. 51A Fundamental duties - were inserted in the Constitution. Compare this massive legislative effort with the simple procedure for providing better telecom access in the rural and remote areas: a Fund was created, and a Rule framed for selecting the operator who will provide  better facilities (on his terms, of course).
The RTE Act makes it mandatory for governments and local authorities to set up neighbourhood schools for all children in the 6-14 age group by 1.4.2013. Less than 11 months to go, and not a single school has been set up.
The RTE Act also makes it mandatory for private schools:
In receipt of aid - To provide free and compulsory education to not less than 25% children admitted
Not in receipt of aid - To admit in Class I not less than 25% children from weaker and disadvantaged sections in the neighbourhood, and provide them free and compulsory education till Class VIII.
Curiously, there is no compulsion on the first category to cater to weaker and disadvantaged sections. That deficit has been bridged by the Supreme Court of India vide judgment dated April 12, 2012 in WP (C) 95 of 2010 Society for Un-aided Private Schools of Rajasthan, Petitioner vs. Union of India & Anr., Respondents). 
Assume that all private schools fall in line. The RTE Act requires the teacher-student ratio to be 1:35 or better. Since presently the number of students in a class is substantially greater than 35,  overall there has to be a sharp drop in enrollment. Coupled with the fact that government is not in the mood to set up schools, there has to be a surge of new private schools.  


It is impossible for us, with out limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must, at present, do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern - a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect..... Thomas Babington Macaulay (Minute on Education 1835)

177 years later, the success of Macaulay's policy is revealed in this excerpt from the RTE judgement:
  • There are boarding schools and orphanages in several parts of India. In those institutions, there are day scholars and boarders. The 2009 Act could only apply to day scholars.  It cannot be extended to boarders. To put the matter beyond doubt, we recommend that appropriate guidelines be issued under Section 35 of the 2009 Act clarifying the above position....per SH Kapadia CJ and Swatanter Kumar J
Have you ever come across an orphanage with day scholars? 


Friday, 4 May 2012


Interview - March 2, 2012

I retired from a public sector enterprise.
I knew George from 1970-72. I finished my BSc in 1967 and did M.Sc. in Statistics from 1969-72.
I first saw George in the Arts College canteen. I didn't know who he was, but saw a short man throwing a steel Godrej chair at a tall fellow, some Reddy. Later, I came to know that this was George Reddy. He was a regular in the library. I would follow him there and watch appreciatively as he made notes, filling up papers in his fine handwriting. He spoke mostly in Hindi, sometimes in English. He used to tell me of Socialism, Marxism. At that time, Vijay Kulkarni, Rajaram Atre, Bhatnagar, were with him, as were Ashwin, VK Sharma and Aniruddha. We usually gathered at the Science College canteen behind the Astronomy block. Other students also gathered there, not all of whom accepted what George said, some openly opposing his views.
Once while going to his house, he told me suddenly: I am likely to be attacked here. Two days later, he was indeed attacked with rods and knives. Though badly injured and bandaged, he was in the library the next day.
Once, he gave his scholarship amount of Rs. 2,000 to Iqbal to set up a pan shop. Iqbal told me this.
In those days, the ladies' seats were at the rear of RTC buses. George, Kulkarni and I were in a bus one day when some Arts College goons teased a girl. One of those chaps threw a book at her. When the teasing became more severe, George got up and scolded them, though we held him back. There was a mild altercation, and when they got off later, it was with a threat to 'see him' the next day. The next day, George came prepared with a knuckle duster and we expected a full fledged fight. No one came. They would have known later in the evening that their opponent was the fabled George Reddy and prudently stayed away.
He was a huge figure. He evoked awe. Students knew that here was a man who was not scared, a hero with a cause, committed and totally sincere. He was a legend and, naturally, girls were after him. He was very disciplined. He would be in the library at 8.30 in the morning, and attend classes thereafter. Outside class, he spoke of nothing else but his passion for change and socialism. He was so convinced that he would not speak of anything else. He used to travel alone despite being the target of the RSS guys, he was so brave. How can we term him a goonda? He was a fighter. He was fighting for a cause. He had a bright face – what we call `kala' in it, and he spoke convincingly. He was the talk of the campus.
At that time, we did not view the BJP as communal, we saw them as right wing. You see, there were no communal riots at that time. Hindus were slowly occupying the space vacated, again slowly, by Muslims. The BJP was vying for supremacy on campus. They had no commitment to even their politics. They saw George as a challenge to their supremacy.
In M.Sc. Previous, there was a tough paper, and students complained that it was out of syllabus. George scored 84, the next mark being 41. He was not at all one to learn by rote, he understood the concepts; and his concentration levels were so high that he would not know who sat next to him when he was reading.
Who made George Left? No one, I think. There was no one, I think, who could influence George. He would have read and come to a conclusion himself.
I remember George was there when I took my first cigarette. He remonstrated with me, told me not to pick up the bad habit.
George was a fighter before rustication, but became political after that. 

A R Datta, Hyderabad

Thursday, 3 May 2012

GEORGE REDDY - Prof. R. Raghava Rao

May 1, telephonic interview of Gita Ramaswamy with 82 year old Prof. R. Raghava Rao, retired scientist, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad. 

I worked at the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad for a major part of my life. PRL was where ISRO originated. It had a small Ph D programme where the best scholars, mainly from the IITs and leading universities, were selected. Either in late 1971 or early 1972, George Reddy came to PRL, Ahmedabad to attend the interview selections for PhD scholars. As far as I remember, he was the first student from OU to do so. I was a member of the 6-member interview committee. Prof. Pisharoty, father of remote sensing in India, was the chairman of the committee. Normally, we give gradings to each candidate separately, and after the interviews are over, discuss and finalise our gradings.
George Reddy impressed all of us with his knowledge, quickness of response. He got an A+ from all of us. At the end of his interview, Prof. Pisharoty asked him: If you get a scholarship at OU and here too, which would you prefer? The boy instantly replied: Osmania University. Pisharoty asked me to take the boy to my room as he belonged to my state, and talk to him, explaining the advantages here.
I did so, and spoke to him for over an hour. I explained the facilities here, the attention we pay to students, the freedom we give them in choosing their subjects, the excellent lab facilities here, the higher scholarship available here, the opportunities students get to go abroad, etc. He listened patiently. When I asked him what he had decided, he said that he would think it over. He left without giving us an answer.
Maybe two months later, I read the news of his murder in the newspapers and was horrified. I had not thought that in my state of Andhra Pradesh, such a brilliant student could be so brutally murdered. Those of us in the faculty, particularly those who had interviewed him, also discussed this and we were disturbed. He had created such an impression on us.
None of us should take the step of killing another human being, whatever be the differences. Society should not condone this. This is the lesson I draw from the killing of George Reddy, a boy who could have become a great scientist and of great use to our country.