A Free Zone for Education - An Imperative for Right to Education in the Hill Areas, Manipur
- Part 1 -

Kimnei Salviana Leivon *

Morning Dew School situated at Kapaar Kachoung Village under Kakching,
Morning Dew School situated at Kapaar Kachoung Village under Kakching :: Pix - SACSAS

Reading through the "Human Development Report 2011; Towards Social Inclusion", I was drawn upon my recent experience of the reality of village people in the State during my field work engagement trip. What came uppermost in the mind as a researcher and a fellow villager during my field work and holiday is the persisting reality of poverty as lived by people in the villages especially in the hill districts of Manipur.

The common phrase 'awabada awaba piyu, nungaibada nungaiba piyu' (translate as 'rich will grow richer and the poor will grow poorer') is still sung loud and clear among the villages. It is evident that such areas are still far away from the reach of the State devepment processes. For instance, the focus of the Government in the 11th five year plan was inclusive growth and development.

In fact, the human development report 2011 has rightly indicated improvement along such a planned development objectives. For instance, it is reported that there is convergence of literacy rate across the ST, SC, Minorites and the national literacy rate. In fact most of the States in the northeast region show literacy rate above the national average and much higher when compared to other tribal areas in the region. This statistical status is also vividly endorsed by the latest "Economic Survey of Manipur" (2009-10).

However, on a deeper analysis, it is noted that there is a critical data which reveals the persisting problem of poverty among STs, SCs and minorities confronting inclusive planned development process in the country. As seen in the report, malnutrition is still a matter of grave concern for the country when it comes to the context of poor people; SCs, STs and even minority. This situation is further endorsed in the data on infant mortality rate, low body mass (BMI less than 18.5), total fertility rate and unemployment (p. 6-15).

It is a serious development and governance issue still persisting even after six decades of planned development activities in the country. Such a state of condition directly affects the most vulnerable and important sections of society; children and mothers among across SCs and STs. The data also directly highlights the outcome of the national schemes such as Integrated Child and Development (ICDS) and midday meal which are supposedly launched to support health and education for children and women (mothers).

Setting my foot upon the village habitations of the hill areas, I encountered a total absence of the planned development system; or rather a prominent presence of a non-State system of power and corruption. The people are held hostaged to such system and poverty is thus an inherent outcome, and it would only widen year by year. I was inclined to ask whether the emerging leaders from both State and non-State really understand priorities of development.

However, it seems everything in the region goes in the name of politics; nation-State, nationalism and ethnonationalism. They provide a theoretical explanation for the situation together with a strategy for a solution. In fact the State leaders boldly declare that ethnicity is a hindrance to development while taking advantage of such situation for party and individual power and prestige. It is observed that the situation has gone to such a level that today civility and citizenship are not known to the people.

The rich, powerful and dominant have taken over State system. In fact, it seems that no State activity takes place without the CDOs (Manipur State Commandos). Besides, there are numerous non-State organisations/individuals who claimed to be civil societies or national workers in perfect union with the system of rich and dominant. Such a system survives on the development funds for the people. It is a commonly known fact among people that 'Government contract work' (mainly for the insfra-structure development including schemes for school buildings) is the main source of income for the non-State systems and individuals. This system is the emerging overarching State structure that defines people and development.

In short, local system is at the mercy of the larger system indicating a total absence of State system, democracy and governance. Thus inclusive growth and development as professed in the planned economy of the country suffers from lack of governance system in such a context. In a sense, welfare State system is absent in lived experience of the villagers that I visited in the hill districts.

Such a situation confronts the theory that hill districts have tribal councils and village authorities as strong local bodies that would bring in good governance in the hill areas. In fact the Hill districts councils have just dawn their mantle upon the hill region since 2010; a system revived after a gap of twenty years and more but still very much conditioned by the larger structures above.

The absence of democracy and governance sytem in the State is expressed in persisting poverty, illiteracy, illhealth, backwardness rampant in the villages. As a researcher with a grounding on social theory and strategy for empowerment and development for people, the neglected situation of the villages is a matter that has confronted me beyond my understanding.

Every year I go home or go for field work, I see the same old huts of the village, thatched roof and mud floor. No electricity, no water, no road connectivity, no school building, no PHCs, the list is endless. Some of the worse situations are expressed in people going to fetch water from the far away ponds and streams which often gets dried once the moonson rains had made their exit from the land. Road connection is the same as ever.

In fact it has become worse as few tarred sprinkled stones have been dropped occassionally in the name of State insfra-structure development especially in the villages within the range of 20-30 kms from the main city. However, such roads in fact have become health hazards of the people due to the huge amount of dust generated along the roads. It is a common sight that people travelling along the roads are covered with dust all over. Health system is still absent and the Government schools are still non functioing.

Reaching upon the village premises one comes to observe the golden rice fields in the foothills and also on the slopes of the mountains. These fields constitute the main occupation of the people. If one goes deeper in the processes of the occupation, it is seen that the manner of occupation has changed. Today, there is a trace of technology coming especially in the paddy fields of the plain area.

One can observe the Kokoda, tractor and even few tractors with harvesting accessories. Such situation reveals that people with alteast two to four acres of cultivable land are moving towards modern methods of rice cultivation. This has generated fair amount of labour for landless. However, I observed that such emerging changes has become heavy financial burden to the people.

In fact for cultivation of one pare (2 and 1/2 acres), one has to spend approximately about forty to fifty thousand rupees. This would be spent in buying manure and hiring tractor or labour for ploughing and harvesting. This implies that land owners are caught in increasing financial burden which is expressed in the number of children and students dropping from schools and colleges.

Those who are able to afford had to earn for education from other sources of income. Such earning comes mainly from selling vegetables, fruits and jungle products. Some individuals of the families who are employed are quite comfortable. They are in fact able to the have house amenities such as two wheelers, TVs and even mobile phone (new thing in the village). However, in general, poverty is slowly but firmly taking a grip of the villages.

In all of these, what becomes most worrying is children's growth and development and education. It is observed that education, primary education (elementary education) is the most important activity of every family, village, State and country. There is a realisation that education is the only means to become rich and raise the family income status even among remote villages.

But it is observed that in general the primary education system has been the domain of private schools implying financial burden. Such a situation also indicates a faulty strategy of the State plan. In fact, it can be inferred that the minimal focus of the Government plan on the primary elementary education especially before the 1990s has deeply affected the mentality of the people.

It is observed that today in spite of the new policy focus given on the elementary education since the 2001, common people still don't have faith on the State system, the Government schools. Such condition befits a critical analysis against the present economic survey data (p.157-165). As matter of fact, lately Manipur was conferred "Best Improved State in Governance Among Small States of India" during Chief Minister Conclave held on November 4th in New Delhi, 2011 .

This is rightly so as seen in the well established information system of the State particularly managed by the State national information centre. As for instance, the web portals of Rastriya Madhyamik Siksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) Manipur indicate good governance structure with accountability and transperancy of the implementation of the schemes.

To be continued...

* (Ms) Kimnei Salviana Leivon wrote this article for The Sangai Express. This article was posted on December 07, 2011.

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