“Now We Know How These Schools are Being Run”: Children, Education and the Legal Form, 1997-2007

Conference Paper to be presented by Sarada Balagopalan

Sarada Balagopalan is an Associate Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, and at the Department of Childhood Studies, Rutgers University, Camden. She is the author of Inhabiting “Childhood”: Children, Labour and Schooling in Postcolonial India (2014).

In the decade preceding India’s Right to Education Act (2009), which guarantees each child the right to quality elementary schooling, the Delhi High Court adjudicated several cases involving the city’s elementary schools. Not only was the volume of cases unprecedented, but each drew attention to a particular aspect of the highly iniquitous landscape of elementary education with several of the judgements shaping key provisions of this new law.

In my presentation, I will focus on a few of these cases, not analyzing their judgements, but rather to explore the heterogeneous elements that compose a “case” and foreground the ways the “child” was deployed, both empirically and figuratively, to signal a certain urgency. My attempt is to both anchor as well as open up the discussion around “inequality” and “social justice” in elementary education in India by asking how judgements, which are perceived as a strong challenge to those who govern, get turned into a technology of power through the Right to Education Act. In what ways does invoking the “child” as an agential figure capable of exercising “rights” appear to ironically regulate the project of “social justice” at the same time that it underscores the inequality that underlies schooling?

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