'Uniformity' in diversity

Maharashtra government halves school subsidies for uniforms, allows two designs; parent-teacher associations flag poor thought and execution

Representative image of school students (stock photo)
Representative image of school students (stock photo)

Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra

After a so-far unsuccessful campaign for 'one nation, one language' or even 'one religion' — the Maharashtra government is taking forward the RSS-BJP agenda by decreeing that there will be only one uniform in all state-run schools across the board.

The Eknath Shinde-led state government has just announced that all school students will be provided a single colour uniform. However, which colour would that be? They have not yet decided, even as schools are about to re-open on June 10 and students as well as parents are running frantic about the lack of clarity.

Moreover, the government has cut down the subsidy for the school uniforms from ₹600 to ₹300. As howls of protest erupted, from organisations such as the Maha Vikas Aghadi, they hastily clarified that ₹300 was for one uniform while ₹600 had been earlier provided to school management committees for two uniforms per student every academic year.

There is once again no clarity on whether students are expected to wear just one set of the uniform through the year or will have to pay for the second set.

Additionally, the distribution of the single uniform in pursuance of its 'one state one uniform' policy has been delayed, placing nearly 48 lakh students this year in a quandary.

Anubha Sahai, president, India-Wide Parents Association, told National Herald, "The government has taken a one-sided decision regarding uniforms. If they are deciding only now, this should have been postponed to the next academic year. Students at schools run by municipal corpoations or councils, zila parishads and residential Ashram schools are mostly from economically weaker sections of society who cannot afford to pay for their uniforms."

"This cavalier way of doing things indicates that the government has a poor execution policy. The schools are likely to open in the next week and even the 50:50 formula (one uniform to be paid for by the government, the other to be paid for by individual schools)  is yet to shape up. During the monsoons, how will students manage with just one uniform? If they cannot execute this efficiently in this academic year — why are they even announcing the 'one state one uniform' proposal?" she asked.

There will, of course, be a single-colour uniform throughout the schools across Maharashtra. But the second uniform will be designed individually and the colours will be decided by the various school management committees, without any funds from the government.

According to cabinet minister for school education and Marathi languange Deepak Kesarkar, however, the government has taken this decision to provide relief to textile entrepreneurs who said they would incur huge financial losses due to the government’s decision to standardise uniforms in schools across the state.

So far every school has prescribed a different uniform; textile as well as retail outlets do brisk business in this at the start of every academic year. A single colour uniform reduces all but one company to losses in this department.

The single uniform idea had failed to take off two decades ago when it was first contemplated — for the same reason. Textile entrepreneurs approached Kesarkar and highlighted the perils of the resurrection of a policy that had clearly been junked for valid reasons. However, Kesarkar then came up with the 50:50 formula instead of dropping the idea entirely. 

Now, in view of the government's indecision on the exact contours (tunics or skirts, trousers or shorts) and colour of the uniform, the Maharashtra Primary Education Council (MPEC) has ordered all municipal corporations and chief executive officers of zila parishads to make sure that the school management committees provide all students with at least (and only) one uniform before reopening, the design of which would be decided by them.

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