Thursday, June 30, 2016

Demand for new states in the North East

Of late, there has been a persistent demand for a separate Garo homeland that is being voiced with much intensity across the Garo dominated areas of Meghalaya. As the movement grows in pace, it is perhaps pertinent to look into the history of state reorganisation in India and place North East in that paradigm. The history of states reorganisation goes back to the freedom movement of India. The earliest comment on states organisation or reorganisation came from Mahatma Gandhi who opined that states should be divided on the basis of linguistic differences. This was based on his own experience of Congress witnessing a massive fillip when it starting releasing periodicals in their own languages. It was a belief on these experiences which saw Gandhi as one of the first supporters of linguistic separation. However immediately after independence, the Dhar commission was formed which negated the need for division along linguistic lines. This was followed by the JVP Jawaharlal Nehru,Vallabhai Patel and Pattabhi Sitarammya committee which too rejected division of states along linguistic lines.

A major shift in stand towards state organisation came in 1952 when Potti Sriramlu succumbed to a 56 day hunger strike demanding creation of a separate Telugu speaking state. Once Andhra Pradesh was created out of the Telugu speaking provinces of erstwhile Madras state, the floodlights opened towards new demands for creation of newer states.Finally, the States Reorganisation Act, 1956 signalled the creation of 14 states and 5 Union Territories (UTs). Yet this did not end the clamour of new states and the hopes and aspirations of people for separate statehood continued. In 2000, three new states of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh were formed;  in 2014 the newest state of India,Telengana was born.

The history of statehood formation in NorthEast has not been any different from the rest of the country. At the time of independence, North East was composed of the Province of Assam in existence since 1912, the princely states of Manipur and Tripura and the North Eastern Frontier Province (NEFA). In 1949, Manipur and Tripura became Union Territories eventually becoming states in due course of time. Nagaland was created in 1963 while Meghalaya came into being in 1969. The Mizo hills of Assam were converted into a Union Territory in 1972, which eventually became a full fledged state in 1987. NEFA, too, became a full fledged state in 1987.As the rest of the country, North East continues to shimmer with demands for a separate homeland ranging from ideas of a separate state to sovereignty. Bodoland, Kamatapur(Assam),Garoland in Meghalaya are fermentations of those ideas that continue to dominate the  troubled political landscape of  the North East.

Yet, it would not be sufficient to see the present demand for a separate homeland on the basis of history alone. The debate has to be seen on the twin paradigms of how the new states have fared since its inception and also the ethnographic landscape of the NorthEast.The three states that were created in 2000, were carved on the basis of backwardness rather than linguistic considerations. Yet the results have not been too encouraging. Despite having huge mineral and natural resources, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have not been able to focus on development. Today, Chattisgarh has become a hotbed of Maoist activities. The government has taken many steps to improve the lives of the people. Educational hub in Dantewada, for example, seeks to redefine how Maoist areas in India are perceived, yet a large ground remains to be covered. While states like Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan have marched ahead either on growth or human development index, the newly carved states continue to find the right path towards growth. At the same time historically smaller states like Kerela, Nagaland and Mizoram continue to post impressive numbers in terms of human development. These states have phenomenal literacy rates for example. But one glance will make it amply clear that most of these come from the traditional structures that these states have had. For example, among the tribes in North East, impressive literacy numbers can be attributed to the fact that missionaries have had a positive influence in these regions.

At the same time, however, it must be understood that debate centred on small states cannot be seen from the point of development alone. There are advantages towards a small state that cannot be denied. A smaller state brings administration closer to the people. The administration has a greater understanding of issues on ground. A smaller state ensures lesser diversity, not only in terms of ethnicity or language alone, but also economic systems. For example, a separate Bodoland would have different areas of focus compared to the government of Assam where the economics revolves around tea and oil. Thus, smaller states ensure better economic policies.

However, while looking at small states and the North East, one has to account for the ethnic diversity that North East has. Every tribe of NorthEast has a collective imagination of a homeland which is rooted in territorial identity. However this “collective imagination of a homeland” often clashes with the “collective imagination of a homeland” of another. For example the area, claimed by the Bodos as “homeland” is also claimed by the Koch Rajbonshis, for example. The Greater Nagalim dream of a homeland spans across a number of states and spills over to the neighbouring country of Myanmar as well. A new Kuki identity being spun across Manipur seeks to weave those across the international borders. Or at other times their “collective imagination of a homeland” stands opposing to the modern territorial boundaries. For instance, the Garos are spread across Meghalaya and Assam .If a new Garo state is introduced out of Meghalaya, then the dreams of the Garos of Assam stand unfulfilled.

One must also remember that declaring new state in NorthEast is difficult because the ethnographic compositions seek to indulge itself in a vociferous us versus them debate. If one looks back into the history of the NorthEast, the first statehood demand from Meghalaya came precisely because the Assam cabinet chose to impose itself on the rest of the hill people. The “us versus them” debate is real because the ties of ethnicity are not encompassed to territory alone but the rights within the territory and the economic resources. The Kokrajhar riots of 2012 were less of one community against another and more of the fight of two economic systems –one sedentary; the other which followed a non sedentary cultivation. At the root lies the fundamental issue of land rights, forest rights, the depletion of community grazing centres and a burgeoning population that stands unemployed. Thus ethnographic tensions stemming from territorial aspirations, have found a place in the socio-political landscape primarily because of the economic rationale.

Hence, any move towards creating a new state or a demand for a new state has to be seen on these parameters. A new state is not a question of administrative ease alone. Nor is it a question of fulfilling the idea of a collective homeland. It would need imaginative policies like formation of a Garo Cultural Council for addressing the Garo identity issue, which would encompass Garos from all regions without disturbing the present territorial compositions. In the long run, if a new state has to be formed,  it has to be judged from multiple angles. There is no verdict whether a new small state would completely succeed or fail but the greater goal of any democracy is giving wings to the aspirations of the people. And it is with this premise that we must keep looking at the constantly changing narrative of the NorthEast.

-          Ibu Sanjeeb Garg ( Views expressed by the author are personal.)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Skilling with a broader vision

Demographic dividend of any nation is defined as the economic growth potential that can occur in any nation due to rapid increase in its percentage of working population (15-64 years) to the total population. In 2011 a working paper by the International Monetary Fund predicted that in the next two decades due to this demographic shift, India may witness almost a two percent growth rate in its GDP.

The country is witnessing radical steps in the skill development spectrum with ‘Skill India’ as the new buzzword and rightly so, since India will have the world’s youngest work force. Recognizing this potential, the government has identified skill development as an important target. The primary role of skill development is to empower people to finding better livelihood opportunities while at the same time endeavoring to bridge the social, regional, economic and gender divide. The government has set up an ambitious target of skilling 40.2 crore people by 2022. During the target year 2015-16 the government envisaged to train 1, 22 Lakh people between 21 ministries. At the end of the first quarter the results have been fairly positive with the government achieving 23.64% of the target in the same time period.

To coordinate the skilling process the government has set up a well-structured framework. With  a full fledged Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship at the apex level, this framework comprises of the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA), National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and Directorate General of Training (DGT) at the central level, as well as the State Skill Development Missions (SSDMs) at the state level. The country is witnessing radical steps in the skill development spectrum with the Union Cabinet approving the National Skill Development Mission to usher in convergence of activities from various stakeholders.

The National Skill Development Agency acts as the coordinating body for all skill development programmes in the country. It also acts as the nodal body while interacting with the State Skill Development Missions. The NSDA is responsible for operationalization of the National Skills Qualifications Framework.(NSQF) which acts as an outcome measure of skill development. Unlike most other outcome outliers NSQF, is a broader framework where competency levels have been clearly defined between Level 1 and Level 10. The whole process is monitored by the National Skills Qualifications Committee which comprises of representatives from Ministries, regulatory bodies, States and Industry bodies.

On the other hand the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) works on the lines of a Non Banking Finance Corporation which grants loans to training providers as well incubates the Sector Skill Councils (SSC).Established in a PPP mode, NSDC is expected to reflect the viewpoint and stakes of industry and the private sector. Industry driven, Sector Skill Councils for different sectors, act as the industry input providers for the government in order to drive the mechanism forward.
This is the standard skilling ecosystem where the end result is the placement of an individual who acquires the desired skill level. However in truth the target of skill development is twofold-  to enable an individual to find a job as well as to ensure lifetime learning of an individual. This would ensure that every individual has a clear career path progression irrespective of the sector he/she works in. This is in turn countered by a twofold challenge - the availability of jobs as well as the employability of an individual.

Since the turn of the new decade though the economy though has grown steadily, it is yet to mark a rapid progress. The economic growth of a nation is closely linked to the placement of skilled individuals. Conventional logic tells us that only a steadily expanding economy can produce a large number of jobs. A number of studies point that 2016 would be a good year for Indian economy with almost 10lakh new hirings in the organized sector. While this is a welcome development, this pace of job creation must be continued.

Underemployment of an individual however has deeper connotations. Many reports in India, time and again have pointed out the under employability of Indian students across various sectors.For example a survey conducted by “Aspiring Minds” in 2013 pointed out that close to 50% graduates of India were unfit to be employed.This should drive us to a deeper introspection as itcould be closely linked to the first step of a person’s learning, which is elementary education in itself. Sustained efforts in developing programs like the SarvaSikshaAbhiyan and the Mid Day Meal Programs and far reaching legislations like the Right To Education have produced tremendous results in terms of enrollment and access to primary education. 

Yet as the PRATHAM(ASER) surveys have pointed out each year that while the enrollments have increased their has been little change in terms of learning outcomes. In the report of 2014 it states that while India has achieved almost 96% enrollment in primary school levels yet the learning level outcomes are quite shocking. For example 25% of Class 8 students couldn’t read Class 2 text, while this has been a improvement compared to the past few years, yet such details do remain point of concern. Andherein lies in the root of underemployment which can act as a serious hindrance to skill development. It is important to reflect on this to have a more sustainable view of skilling initiatives. Thus the solution lies in understanding skill development not as an employment tool alone but a larger framework that builds within education of an individual and which starts from the elementary level. Skilling efforts cannot be complete with government funding alone and the private sector has to be partner equally, if not more. Significant efforts are underway to encourage a strong industry-academia linkage. While academia assimilates quality in the workforce, industry absorbs the skilled workforce and empowers them with social and economic welfare. Such steps would have to be jointly initiated by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in congruence with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MoHRD). Vocational educational framework in schools must be strengthened with inputs from industry experts so that students understand the requirements of present day industry framework.

With respect to emplybility skills the government has made it mandatory to include soft and employability skills mandatory for all skill development programs, by notifying “Common Norms”. This is indeed a welcome step. Soft skills are an often discussed but frequently forgotten component of employability of an individual. New ways must be figured out to ensure that soft skills are imparted to a child right at the elementary education level itselfThe National Skills Qualifications Framework is another component that plays a major role in this regard. Industry must give recognition to the skill development framework which would then be linked up to the employability of an individual. This in turn has to be acknowledgedwith agreed pathways for higher learning as well. There are tall statistics that tell us that the labour force in India comprises of a high number school dropouts who could not continue with general education due to various socio-economic compulsions. The skilling efforts in the country target these youth to offer them gainful employment. However, a competency based framework does not end there. It carves out a pathway for life long earning. For example, if a class 8 dropout working as a plumber gains requisite experience and skills to acquire competencies equivalent to class 10can eventually go back to higher learning with minimum additional training. This would increase the seamless lateral entry movement between conventional education as well as skill development courses in different sectors. The relevance of this is enhanced in a country like India, where it is feared that vocationaltraining is destined towards blue collared fate for all times to come.

In the end, skilling in itself, is not just skilling in itself but  part of a holistic development of an individual. A skilled individual would achieve job recognition only when he is seen as an individual who is capable of learning and contributing and not merely a cog in a factory wheel, churning out products in regular intervals.

-          Meghna Sharma
Ibu Sanjeeb Garg

( Meghna Sharma works with the World Bank as a Consultant .Ibu Sanjeeb Garg is an Indian Revenue Service probationer)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Assam –its place in a competitive environment

The socio cultural milieu of Assam have always emphasised a prime on education. Since the advent of modern education in India, Assam has seen a steady flow of students to cities like Calcutta , Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and so on. The earliest socio cultural doyens of Assamese literature like Laksminath Bezbaruah were among the first who understood the value of better education and moved out to cities like Calcutta seeking higher education for themselves. That the Assamese society places a premium on education can also be gauged from the fact that annual civil services results, Matriculation results and Higher Secondary results are like festivals . Of course the “toppers” are forgotten within a week because public memory is indeed short.

Yet when one seeks to compare students of Assam with the national paradigm, there is a wide gap compared to the counterparts of the rest of the country. For a number of years now there has been a larger debate with regard to the contribution of students who have topped in Matriculation and has apparently failed to give back to the society. This indeed reeks of misdirection towards what the debate should have been and also an unnecessary judgment of the toppers.

The real question that needs to be asked is what is the status of education in Assam, especially at the school level . The first point that comes to the mind is the large number of students that fail every year. This was the news that needs to be dealt equally importantly alongwith the toppers and their stories. However the media and society has failed to do so. If such large number of students fail at the first level of schooling itself, what opportunities remain for them. Can they aim to attain a decent livelihood eventually? Why has the endemic cause of failures happened in the first step itself ? These are the questions that need to be addressed in the first place.

Very often the narrative of the past few years have been one of the consistency of vernacular medium schools in matriculation exams. While acclaiming indeed the noteworthy achievements of the vernacular medium schools, one needs to analyse why frontline English medium schools who previously were accommodated within the SEBA system have now moved to the CBSE curriculum. Will SEBA cease to function as a bilingual board eventually or will it reinvent itself to attract the best minds within the state of Assam. The endemic erosion of SEBA’s credibility is another issue that needs to be addressed with concern.

The third question is narrative built around the results itself. Toppers of public level  exams like felicitated and then forgotten. Students too are drawn by these felicitation, but once they realise the system is actually fiercely competitive, most of them give up . In the case of UPSC, for example, while civil services have given consistent results for the past few years , yet students from Assam fail to make it to the top ranks with the regularity that students of other states exhibit. In the civil service itself, the last top rank that was acquired by a student from Assam was Varnali Deka who secured the 16th rank. Since then, while students have cleared the civil services with regularity, a single digit rank still seems elusive. Compare this with the state of Jammu and Kashmir which has produced a Rank 1 and a Rank 2 in a space of five years alone. While the media has played a positive advocacy role in inspiring students to clear these exams, there should be a heightened zeal and motivation among students to also ace these exams by learning from their fellow competitors in other states. And this is not limited to UPSC civil services alone , students from Assam have failed to get top ranks either in IITJEE,AIPMT , law entrance examinations like CLAT, or premier research institutes like IISc, IIAS etc . With the honourable exception of social sciences in  premier institutions like Delhi University and JNU, where the number of candidates clearing these exams have increased in the past few years, yet the percentage of top ranks still remain low .

The root cause of this is in the narrative that students in Assam build for themselves . They are hampered by twin faults of lack of awareness as well as lack of self belief. Students from Assam are never aware that every year thousands of students appear for SSC, Railways, Banks PO examinations around the country. Most of the students in Assam are not aware of these institutions or the process to apply for these institutions. 

The second problem relates to the question of self belief. Students from Assam are often seen deterring from national level examinations whether for jobs or for entry into premier institutions for as these are long drawn process with tough levels. They fail to realise that the only perquisite to success is hard work alone . Every year one institute in Bihar select 30 students in Bihar and train them for the IITJEE examinations. And every eyar invariably all 30 of these students make it into the IIT’s and this is despite all of them belonging to poor families. 

To stand at par at a pan India level, students from Assam whether from academia or other professional field must have a belief in themselves. They must believe that the results are not about one night of media felicitations alone , but far deep and harder realm of hardwork .And it is with this mindsight of “We can” that the Assamese society must direct the next generation .Assam has a history of proactive social organisations like Assam Sahitya Sabha , Bodo Sahitya Sabha among others .Such organisations must act with the twin objective of creating awareness and kickstarting mindset change at the same time . The discourse of education in Assam has to move beyond the traditional realms and acquire newer dimensions ,one that would seek to truly empower the students.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Inner Line Permit and its politics of Manipur

ILP or Inner Line Permit is a document that is issued by the government of India for inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period. This owes its origin to the British administration, in the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873 which controlled movement of British subjects into certain areas of their dominions. In independent India it has been seen both as a security measure as well as an effort to conserve the ethno-social demographics of certain societies.  Presently ILP system is in place for entering Nagaland, Mizoram and parts of Arunachal Pradesh.

It is with this background that the recent controversy regarding imposition of the ILP in Manipur must be understood. Manipur, with the city of Imphal as its capital, has a total population of 2,166,788 persons according to the 2011 census. There are a number of ethnic groups in Manipur. The major ethnic groups of Manipur are the Meiteis, the Meitei Pangals (Muslims), Nagas, Zomis and Kuki. It is bounded by the Indian states of Nagaland to the north, Mizoram to the south and Assam to the west; it also borders Burma to the east. The Meiteis (Meiteis), who live primarily in the state's valley region, form the primary ethnic group (60% of the total population) but occupy only 10% of the total land area. Their language, Meiteilon (Meeteilon), (also known as Manipuri), is also the lingua franca in the state, and was recognized as one of the national languages of India in 1992. The Muslims (Meitei-Pangal) also live in the valley; the Kukis, Nagas, Zomis and other smaller groups form about 40% of the population but occupy the remaining 90% of the total land area of Manipur. Out of the total population of Manipur 46.01% follow Hinduism, 34.04% follow Christainity, 8.81% follow Islam and the rest follow others.

The debate centred on ILP hinges on the edifice of ethno centricity driven by the narrative of  territorial homelands with historical roots and identity . Today Manipur and indeed large parts of NorthEast are actively engaged in the “us versus them” debate. While self assertion movements ideologically seem all encompassing in parts, eventually most of them fall prey to the low hanging fruit of exclusion politics. Manipur seems no different. The present struggle for the ILP is centred around the Imphal valley which is dominated by the Meites. The Meites are a resilient race which has a rich cultural heritage as well as long association with history. The Imphal valley is surrounded by hills which are inhabited by the Naga tribes mostly of Rongmei and  Tanghkul stock . Historically, while the Meiteis and the surrounding hill tribes enjoyed a cordial relationship, the question of Greater Nagalim or unification of all Naga inhabiting areas in recent times has become a perpetual thorn in this cordial relationship. Because of this burgeoning conlict, the hill tribes have mostly been immune to the issue of ILP. The other major ethnic group in Manipur, the Kukis, too refuse to be drawn into this struggle with their sights on their own battle for an independent Kuki homeland.

In such an environment Meities of the Imphal valley have a fear of being eventually outnumbered in their own lands. The overwhelming voice of the movement has been that ILP will ensure that outsiders will not be able to buy land in Manipur. A large part of the social narrative of Imphal valley today is that of “foreigners” of Bangladesh, Burma and Nepal taking over their traditional land and livelihood. Thus, ILP seems to be a last resort against this “onslaught” of the outsiders. Incidentally at this point it would be worthwhile to note that Manipur already has its law that forbids non-tribal people from within as well as outside the state from buying and owning land in the tribal/hill areas in Manipur.

Yet the question of ILP itself would not limit itself to the question of entry rights alone. The demands also are supplemented by calls for granting Scheduled Tribes (ST) status to the Meiteis which would in effect turn Manipur into a complete tribal state. Such demands are rising more frequently in North East now, even sections in Assam demand tribal state status. This is seen as a guarantee against invaders from outside. However in the case of Manipur, granting of ST status to Meities, would have far reaching consequences. An equality of status among the hill tribes and the plains people will have its own ramifications in the socio political narrative of Manipur .Today there is a trans border unification of imagined communities which are not limited to the Nagas alone . A unified community cutting across territorial boundaries also seem to take shape among the Kukis as well . At this juncture, if the Meiteis are given ST status, these identity assertions would indeed take new dimensions which are very hard to predict. And given the trust deficit between the Kukis and the Meities, any move to grant ST status to the Kukis would have its own faultlines.

At the root of these demands however, is the question of identity of a homeland which is squarely dependent on territory. North East is composed of hundreds of tribes of varying stock and often their idea of “historical homeland” overlaps with the idea of historical homelands of someone else. Hence the question of ILP in Manipur is merely not a question of administration alone but a deeper engagement with all stakeholders . And it is the Meitei society that has to play the larger part. Today a large part of ethnic problems including insurgency stem from the question of ethnicity .And questions that are juxtaposed in ethnicity cannot be solved by administrative measures and laws alone. Manipur once called the “crown jewel “ is today vexed by insurgency and low economic growth . But most of all Manipur has become a victim of its own history bogged by its geography. Despite the Meities consistenly punching above their weight in academics and sports , the twin goals of peace and development seems a distant dream . ILP cannot hope to take care of any of these issues, neither development nor the question of homelands. While it may or may not be a successful tool for “protecting” Meitei interest, the distant goal has to be creative engagement with all stakeholders within its society for a developed successful Manipur of the future.

-          Ibu Sanjeeb Garg ( Views expressed by the author are personal)

( (This article first appeared in   )