Thursday, April 25, 2024

Education for Democracy: We have many light years to travel that route


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By Patricia Mukhim

Those of us who grew up and were schooled in the 60’s and 70’s know just how constricting the education system was. It was top down; it left no space for raising any questions on any issue outside of the school books. The system was quick to punish (write 100 times why you were late to school; why you were talking in class) and we felt like guilty little sinners for God knows what. Naturally we grew up timid. Upbringing in the family was itself claustrophobic. There were too many ‘don’ts’ prescribed and no ‘do’s’. These don’ts were delivered with a straight and unrelenting face by our elders and we just gulped down these with a lot of emotional turmoil raging inside us.
Sometimes I wonder how we survived this strict upbringing without rebelling. Or maybe we did by falling in and out of love sometimes with complete strangers who we thought would love us and give us that which we starved for as adolescents. Its not as if our parents didn’t love us. They did and I am sure they only wanted the best for us but they didn’t know how to express their love visibly or in a more positive spirit. Many of us realised too late in the day that our parents made huge sacrifices to put us through school by the “beg, borrow or steal,” dictum. If they were daily labourers or held lowly paid jobs they wanted us to get out of that rut and have a better life. That’s the reason perhaps they were extra strict with us lest we falter as fragile adolescents whose hormones raged like crazy and destroyed our futures.
As parents and grandparents ourselves we now know better that family conversations that are not stilted but easy-going and where the younger ones felt safe to speak their minds is a much better way to bring up the current batch of youngsters because doing anything else would result in their telling us straight to our faces what they thought of us and our outdated parenting ideas.
If family was a constricting space the school too was equally oppressive. We couldn’t laugh and nor could we consult our friends for anything. Talking in class was like a major transgression. That continued even to the time of our children. I hope that children talking to each other in class (not while the teacher is explaining stuff) to just consult one another and clarify things is not considered taboo today. It should not be.
Our education system imbibed largely from the British who ruled over two centuries was predetermined to mould us into unquestioning humans because rulers are afraid of citizens who ask pertinent questions. We never learnt resistance in these hills and that is why we don’t have robust civil society movements on and for the right causes. Of course we are all experts at finding fault with governments (State and Central) over their many glaring lapses but when it comes to calling out those lapses we shy away because we don’t realise our own worth as voters.
Young people graduate into voters at age 18 without often understanding what they are voting for and why. We are not a society that seriously discusses issues. Our environment is crumbling because one person who has somehow managed to buy off an entire forest has cut down all the trees and then has either started mining limestone or coal or is extracting boulders and sand and defaced the entire landscape. We look at all this devastation and say nothing. When we ask villagers why they don’t protest when someone is potentially destroying their future and that of their children and grandchildren they meekly say, “What can we small people do when the person owns that whole stretch of forest and when the Rangbah Shnong has given permission for him/her to do mining/quarrying?” Are we really living in a democracy where we are supposed to be empowered with the right to protest against such assaults on our environment by one or two people? In Meghalaya the tribals never tire of speaking about culture and tradition ad nauseum. All that is expressed in song and dance and now in paintings, arts and crafts. But did anyone draw the attention of the visitors to the Monolith Festival about the ravage caused by blatant quarrying anywhere and everywhere? Anyone who has visited Pynursla in recent times would have seen the frightening pace at which stone quarrying is happening. But people have taken that in their stride. One day when all the aquifers and catchments have been destroyed people would realise that their silence has cost them heavily.
The question that arises here is how has one person been able to own so much community land? It’s because the wealthy in Meghalaya have the license to do whatever they want. The wealthy happen to be in government ruling over us. The wealthy have bought the silence of quite a number of Rangbah Shnong who have just given them the license to mine anything they want and cut down as many trees as they want. Our system is such that the government with all its rules and laws such as the Forest Protection Acts amended from time to time, genuflects before these wealthy barons. The District Councils which are supposedly the custodians of all tribal land and resources have either become complicit in this rape of the environment or are indifferent. Most times they pass the buck at the syiems or the sordars/wahadadars etc. This is abuse of the Sixth Schedule provisions which is to protect the weak from the licentiousness of the wealthy.
Let me cite one example. The Wahrew Bridge at Sohbar which is India’s longest steel arch which is 6.125 kms long and spans over 163.35 metres over the river Tharia was inaugurated by the MDA Government in 2021 at a cost of Rs 49.39 crores. Constructed by P&R Infra Project Ltd Chandigarh the bridge connects the border villages with the Land Customs Station at Bholaganj. The funds for this project came from the Non-Lapsable Pool of Central Resources. The Wahrew bridge attracts many tourists but of late massive quarrying has started along Nongjri just overlooking Sohbar and quite near the Tharia River. Over time the quarrying will result in land-slips and the debris collecting at the river thereby reducing its depth and size. The people of Sohbar especially the few engaged in promoting tourism through boatings, treks and camps along the river and its banks rue that the relentless quarrying is a disaster in the making but have no method of reaching their protests to the Government or the District Council. Now that the KHADC has conducted a successful Festival perhaps it’s time for those running the Council and the MDC/s of the area in which Sohbar and Nongjri fall to go and inspect these quarries that are using the JCB 24×7 to bring down the hills. If they don’t do this they will be complicit in all the environmental disasters that await Meghalaya.
Naturally the boulders are all going to Bangladesh which is a rapacious country as far as boulders sand and gravel are concerned. These are crucial lessons to be taught to students. Schools in Sohbar area should take their students on an excursion trip to get the feedback from students as to what they think of this gouging out of the earth – our mother which we call “Ka Mei Ram-ew” and perhaps even teach students to mobilise public opinion against such glaring destruction of the environment for the wealth gathering project of a few. Sometimes I wonder why the National Green Tribunal does not see these destructive projects and do something about stopping them in their tracks.
To conclude, let me quote from Daniel Goleman’s book – ‘Focus the hidden driver of excellence.’ Goleman says, We must ask ourselves: in the service of what exactly are we using whatever talents we may have. If our focus serves only our personal ends – self interest, immediate reward and our own small group – then in the long run all of us as a species are doomed.” Goleman continues, “ The largest lens for our focus encompasses global systems ; considers the needs of everyone, including the powerless and poor; and peers far ahead in time. No matter what we are doing or what decisions we are making, the Dalai Lama suggests these self queries for checking our motivation:

Is it just for me
or for others?
For the benefit of the few
or the many?
For now, or
for the future?


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