It was unheard of until it happened. In a bizarre development, the managing director of Ryan International School, a private chain of educational institutions, recently issued a diktat asking its teachers and students to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“We had heard certain rumours about it but chose to ignore it. Now that it is out in the open, it is disturbing that a school should ask its students and teachers to take part in a political party’s enrolment drive,” says a father who came to pick up his children from Ryan International School in Mayur Vihar in New Delhi.
Another parent, waiting outside the school to pick up his daughter, confirmed the incident. “My daughter informed me about the membership drive being carried out in the school,” he told Tehelka on the condition of anonymity.
The controversy has brought disrepute to the educational institution and raised questions about its credibility. Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia has expressed his dissatisfaction over the incident on Twitter; he instructed the Department of Education (DoE) to conduct a thorough probe into the matter. Sisodia also raised concerns about schools being used for political activities.
For its part, the Ryan Group’s General Manager Francis Thomas denies that any such incident happened in its schools. “The media reports are entirely false. There is no documentary evidence to prove it. The controversy erupted on the basis of a WhatsApp message,” says Thomas.
The Ryan International Group of Institutions has since replied to a show-cause notice issued to it by the doe but Thomas would not reveal the contents of the notice or their reply.
“It is a confidential letter. We have sent our reply and if the government finds anything wrong in it, they can take necessary action,” says Francis.
Some teachers of the Ryan International Schools, who wish to remain anonymous, acknowledge that they were given membership targets. In fact, the incident came to light when some of the teachers protested against being told to participate in the membership drive.
It is alleged that the management of the Ryan International School’s campus at Rohini in New Delhi delayed paying salaries to some of the teachers who did not meet their respective targets for the BJP membership drive.
However, Priya Arora, the principal of Ryan International School at Rohini, denies that any such membership drive was organised on her watch. In her defense, she says that the school was only promoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious “Swachch Bharat Abhiyan”.
According to the Delhi School Education Act and Rules, 1973, schools are banned from participating in any kind of political activity. The sub-rule (ix) of the Act and Rules reads: “The school building or other structures or the grounds are not used during the day or night for commercial or residential purpose (except for the purpose of residence of any employee of the school) or for communal, political or non-educational activity of any kind whatsoever.”
A Tehelka investigation revealed that the membership drive was being carried out on the orders of Grace Pinto. However, Ms Pinto says that the membership drive was voluntary. It was reliably learnt that Ms Pinto was angling for a Padma Shri from the erstwhile UPA Government for her contribution in the field of education. That was not all. Ms Pinto is understood to have lobbied for her husband’s appointment as a member of the National Commission for Minorities.
Today, Ms Pinto is an office-bearer of the BJP Mahila Morcha and is reportedly eyeing a Rajya Sabha seat from a Christian minority quota. Sources familiar with Ms Pinto’s association with some BJP leaders claim that she has promised one lakh new members for the BJP in lieu of a Rajya Sabha berth.
At the same time, the sources do not rule out the possibility of her aligning with the BJP to protect the interests of the Ryan International Group of Institutions, which she administers.
On its official website, the Ryan Group says it plans to venture into the field of higher education.
Ginu Zacharia Oomen, an educationist and a fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, says that the rising number of attacks on the Christian minority institutions could be a reason behind her proximity to the ruling party.
“The membership drive may have been launched to protect their (Ryan’s) properties from any such attacks. However, it is their choice and by no means should this step be viewed as a collective decision of the entire Christian community,” says Oomen.
The Ryan Group is one of India’s largest groups of educational institutions. It opened its first branch at Mumbai in 1976. Since then, on an average, it has opened about four branches every year, with over 120 schools currently across the country and abroad. The estimated value of the assets owned by the family-run group is pegged at over 5,000 crore.
The Ryan International Schools are run by a group of Christian minority Trusts, which makes them eligible for the Scheme for Infrastructure Development in Minority Institutes (IDMI) under the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development.
Under the scheme, grants of 50 lakh or 75 per cent of the cost of infrastructure, whichever is less, is given to the respective Trusts for building schools.
With a student base of over 2.5 lakh, the annual turnover of the Ryan Group is estimated to be hundreds of crores of Rupees. Even after pocketing crores every month, the school’s three branches in Delhi have no provision to admit students from the EWS (economically weaker section) category as stipulated in the Right to Education Act, 2010.
According to sources, there are some discrepancies in the CBSE affiliation for the Chandigarh branch of the Ryan International School. The school’s website says that the Chandigarh branch is registered under the St Xaviers Education Trust but the CBSE’s official website reveals otherwise.
The CBSE’s online facility to check the schools’ affiliation reveals that Ryan International School, Chandigarh (affiliation number: 2630060) is registered under the Bharatiya Vidyabhavan Kendra Trust. Further, the school’s website says it was established in 2003 while the cbse says it was opened on 6 May 2000.
The Delhi Education Department has told the DDA (Delhi Development Authority) to cancel the lease of four Trusts which have sub-let the land in Rohini to the Ryan International School.
Originally, the land on which the Rohini branch stands, was allotted to the Trusts for running their respective schools. However, they let it out to the St Lawrence Education Society, which is running the Ryan International School at in Rohini. There is a clause in the land allotment letter that the land shall not be transferred or subleased to any other organization or department by the society without prior permission of the DDA obtained in writing.
“We have not received any notice from the DDA as of now. Let it come first and then we will reply to it. We have not violated any rules,” insists Francis. Repeated calls and text messages to the secretary of Ms Pinto went unanswered.