Rightful resistance in India

By Lisa Day

Rightful resistance is a form of peaceful protest against the state, by popular contention, in which citizens make use of their own state’s law and judicial system to legitimately challenge rights violations by the government itself. Although rightful resistance tends to be seen as a Chinese social and legal phenomenon, these forms of protest can also be seen in other parts of the world where governments have failed to deliver their own promises. A particular case in India, which involved rightful resisters fighting for basic infrastructure to be provided in all government-run schools, was legitimized and eventually implemented by the success of resisters framing their protest around India’s Right to Education Act.

India’s Right to Education Act involves the governmental obligation to ensure that all children have access to free and compulsory education. The Environment and Consumer Protection Foundation (ECPF) had been fighting for a legislation which would ensure that governments must provide basic infrastructure in schools. These included properly functioning and separate toilet facilities for boys and girls and appropriate drinking water facilities. Around 800,000 schools were concerned to have improper infrastructure. The ECPF argued that because of this parents would not allow their children to attend these schools if they were without basic toilet and water facilities. Therefore they contended, “The right to education cannot be enjoyed unless basic infrastructure is provided by the state”. Eventually the court issued an interim order stating: "it is imperative that all schools must provide toilet facilities. Empirical researches have indicated that wherever toilet facilities are not provided in schools, parents do not send their children (particularly girls) to schools. It clearly violates the right to free and compulsory education of children guaranteed under Article 21A of the Constitution”. By 2012 it was issued that all state governments must provide “toilet facilities for boys and girls, drinking water facilities, sufficient classrooms, appointment of teaching and non-teaching staff etcetera”.

The judgement passed shows a successful use of rightful resistance. This movement was employed to actively seek the attention of the Indian authorities in order to legitimize a set of specific infrastructural requirements in schools. Therefore ensuring that all children would now rightfully have access to education.