By Grace Jajo
‘Subletting teaching’ is a unique phenomenon prevalent within the educational system in Manipur, particularly in the hill districts. It is difficult to conceptually define it. It is not teachers’ absenteeism per se. ‘Sublet’, according to the English Oxford Dictionary, is defined as ‘to rent to somebody else all or part of a house or flat which oneself is renting from the owner’. Based on the above meaning ‘subletting teaching’ here refers to the unique practice whereby the government appointed school teachers, especially those posted in the hill tribal districts of Manipur, sublet the jobs to others, generally villagers of the place of postings, for a meager sum while the actual appointed teacher remain absent throughout.
It is illegal and amounts to total absenteeism which is a serious breach of the terms of appointment. Nevertheless, the practice has become so endemic, yet the authorities have remained completely indifferent that it has come to be accepted as a legitimate practice. Everybody does it! According to a baseline survey conducted in 2009 by all the four zonal units of the Tangkhul Katamnao Long (TKS,) which is the apex students’ union for the Tangkhul tribe of Ukhrul district in Manipur, subletting of teaching is reported in more than 81% of the villages surveyed. Moreover, apex tribal students’ unions of Manipur like the All Tribal Students Union, Manipur (ATSUM) and All Naga Students Association, Manipur (ANSAM) have been regularly highlighting the issue in almost all the public meetings besides organizing agitations and other pressure tactics to draw the attention of the state. Non-governmental organization (NGO) like the Fraternal Green Cross – Volunteers for Village Development (FGC-VVD) has also conducted a survey of all the government schools to assess the educational status in Ukhrul district and reported widespread subletting of teaching as one of the biggest problems crippling the educational advancement of the district .
When asked about the reasons for the prevalence of such phenomenon, one such teacher responded, “How am I supposed to stay when there are no quarters and daily provisions stores are miles away?” Another responded saying “There’s no electricity, no road….” Here it is imperative to ask whether such lack of amenities justifies chronic absenteeism? Still some locals are of the opinion that subletting is justified because many of the appointed teachers are ill-qualified and not ‘fit’ to teach. One villager pointed out “the present teacher is young and very committed. The real teacher will not be able to do the same…he was appointed because he could grease the palms of the officials”. Thus the remoteness, absence of basic amenities etc. apparently are the major causes of subletting in the hill tribal districts of Manipur. Subletting, some argued, is the main cause of the dismal performance of students in the villages in subjects like mathematics and sciences. This is so because many of the teachers of these subjects are ‘outsiders’. “Their intention is not to teach…once their appointment comes through after paying huge bribes, they stay away and never even care to visit even once. If we complain they are transferred with the post without replacement” answered a concerned villager. Another complaint leveled against subletting is hiring of less qualified candidates. It needs to be noted that subletting is not confined to the ‘outsiders’ anymore. Generally, when teaching is sublet it is preferably to someone from the village of posting itself. And it is not always so, that qualified candidates will be available in all the villages. Most of the times, it is the less qualified who often end up doing the actual teaching. In one of the village surveyed it was found that a person who had appeared class X exam and waiting for the results had been sublet teaching. Surprisingly the concerned authority tasked with inspection and monitoring the schools replied unapologetically when demanded for the inspection record through right to information: “Untraceable on account of office property caused by burnt down student’s agitation” (sic). In one of the zones of the district (Ukhrul) there is completely no record of school inspection till date.
What needs particular mention here is the fact that the phenomenon of subletting teaching is largely confined to the hill tribal districts of the state and marked by a complete indifference of the authorities towards it. Perhaps subletting teaching is deliberate and needs to be seen against the backdrop of the larger politics between the hills and the valley. This becomes more obvious if we view it as a political instrument which sustains the hegemony of the Manipuri mainstream and reflects the indifference and neglect towards development, including education, in the hill tribal districts of the state. Such an approach seems to have become the means to rein in the inhabitants of the hills and making them subservient to the ‘mainstream’. Education, as an ideological apparatus of the state, like the police and the army, has provided the easiest means to achieve the goal.
What is the response of the state to such illegal practice? Or has the state and its machinery ever responded at all? For instance, when villagers raise their concern regarding irregularities and teachers’ absenteeism to the concerned authorities of the state either defaulting teachers are transferred without replacement or transferred with the post. Despite the recently enacted RTE Act, which has mentioned serious restrictions, such practices seem to be still rampant. Consequently, many of these government schools in the district have less numbers of sanctioned qualified teachers. Villagers have no option but to accept the pathetic performance of the government schools fearing that any complain will lead to closure of school in their villages.
If subletting is being practiced unchecked in the hill districts of Manipur; if the rate of drop-out, stagnation are higher and the level of achievement of the learners are lower in the hill districts of Manipur, who is to be blamed? Does it mean that the inhabitants of the hill districts are inherently uninterested, low achievers and therefore losers? Sadly all these seem to add up to reproduce the stereotype markers of a ‘tribe’- ignorant, primitive, poor achievers and so on. Thus, in conclusion, it needs to be noted that the existence of subletting teaching in the hill districts of Manipur not only denigrate the quality of education, and by the latest understanding of education, one’s life, but also perpetuates the reproduction of stereotype markers of identity and justify the ‘mainstreaming’ of the minority groups, which ultimately may lead to potential flare up in the already tense situation. There is an urgent need to re-think and re-evaluate the whole system beginning from the appointment to the implementation. It needs to be more community based through delegation of functions and responsibilities and also training of sufficient local human resources for overseeing the successful achievement of quality elementary education in the hill districts of Manipur.
1 Anomalies of Education in the Hills, 2006