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What happened to the little Republics of India of yesteryears?

Author: Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao

Can we claim now the old saying that “India lives in villages”? They were even described before independence as little Republics for their being self-contained. The rest of the country was depending on them. Villages were having local self-government much before Panchayat Raj and before locally elected Panchayat. But earlier the elections were not on a party basis. Individual credentials were the basis for their getting elected. Villages were not dependent on outside support. But the majority of Indians still live in villages even today. Going by the concern of legislatures, the priority of their discourse and even by the representative character of policymakers, villages are no longer taken seriously as before. For mass media, even of recent social media, villages matter more for political rhetoric or deviant instances like rape, suicides, elections etc. Farmers otherwise would not be in agitation mode for years. Aping urban lifestyles, including the type of residence, continue unabated depriving villages of liveable habitats. The economy of villages has become unsustainable and is in shambles signaling a debt trap for the majority of families. All this despite legislation empowering villages to take responsibility for over 30 services and expecting a finance commission to devolve a certain percent of state revenue. However, in reality, villages don’t have control of even village tanks and revenue generated. If payments for MNRGS and DWACRA women, for example, are delayed or deferred, the news channels will be lining up a village for news! Quality of life and ease of living in villages continue to be on the decline. Pride of the village is no longer evident even among old residents. No wonder out-migration from villages sees no decline, unemployment is on increase. For elected representatives (MLAs, MPs, etc.), it is no longer population that matters, as the number of voters in a village. Elections have destabilised the peace and harmony of villages mercilessly. Tranquillity is a forgotten notion. Villages have become satellites of cities and pocket barrows of party leaders. Villagers have become or made dependents of governments. Many are on doles and mercies in the name of welfare and development. Institutions, even cooperative ones, which nurtured villages not long ago, are languishing. All this despite a Panchayati Raj Act (1992, the famous 73rd amendment) which came into effect in 1999. In the name of decentralisation, centralisation is blatant. In the name of less government, government agencies are being proliferated in villages. I am making these summative observations as a village boy with years of field research and analysis. This is to point out the urgency for a serious view of the village scenario. Continued Political rhetorics will further plunge village India. None of this will change without excluding village panchayats from party symbol-based elections.

Education is bewildering!

It is only recently that primary education received some attention in policies despite that it is known for a long that foundational and formidable years are three to six or seven. Decades ago school enrolment has been made compulsory and the right to education was made fundamental (2001) and legislated. Successive governments have taken multiple initiatives to bolster school education, even hiking teacher salaries. All that has hardly increased enrolment nor the dropout rate has declined. Even more devastating is what ASER reports have been pointing to as a class-wise outcome last decade. All this despite that the Constitution (1950) has indicated ten 17 years to make everyone literate. Even in 2022, 25-30 percent remain illiterate. (China did that around the same time and within that time frame). There were three National policies on Education in thirty years with specific claims, promises, and initiatives like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Also, between 2004 and 2007 two percent for primary education and one percent for secondary education is being collected as “education cess” from taxpayers. What has been the difference all that has made in terms of outcomes? In a 2022 field survey in the wake of Covid significant percent of those in schools were not sure of their completing or continuing schooling, whatever the reasons. In AP, for example, the pass-out percent of the 10th class in 2022 was the lowest ever in the decade at around 65% (resulting in over a dozen suicides).

What should also surprise is despite the dilemma, the difference in the quality of schooling between public and private schools and competitive outlook, continues between them without an independent regulation. The politicisation of education at the policy level has become more overt now in many states.

And, yet, 30 to 60 percent of teacher posts remain vacant in some states for years. Even Supreme Court had pointed to the state governments twice to fill the vacancies. Instead, many states went into having temporary ones so that they do not have to pay full salary. Some states took fresh graduates with no training whatsoever and were unconcerned about the implications on the quality of schooling. No wonder why a Delhi High Court, Judge Khanna, has observed in 2021 that he does not want open a Pandora’s Box by ordering regularisation of temporarily appointed ones. On the other, what for the education cess is being used (for the mid-day meal, quality betterment, etc.) and with what outcomes is not known.

What should surprise us now is despite all such disgusting situations of primary and secondary schooling, we continue to presume that “education is for jobs”. And pursue a rat race in an all-out way for pass percentages, individual ranks, and admission into foreign institutes as an ultimate goal. What should also surprise is despite the dilemma, the difference in the quality of schooling between public and private schools and competitive outlook, continues between them without an independent regulation. The politicisation of education at the policy level has become more overt now in many states. Politics, religion, caste, and community are increasingly engaged in the push and pull with school committees from the partycentric electoral route.

Even the language of teaching has become contentious and political. Politics are even fiddling now with course contents and syllabus priorities. At this rate neither we will ever see education liberated from party politics, able to implement much-needed reforms, and better relevance of schooling. When will we see an end to all that so that the young are not deprived of molding their future? Education should not be the cause and effect of such a trend.

The recent initiative of the Andhra government although some of them have destabilising potential, the timely ones include an emphasis on “conceptual learning” instead of “rote learning”, emphasis on classroom participation, community projects, communication skills, leadership skills, and extra-curricular activities – instead of assessing performance based on same old two or three-hour exam. If these ideas are also seriously implemented, they could change the present chase for ranks and the dilemma on the education front.

Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao