If the governments in the decades that have gone by, had ensured that at least the education sector in Manipur was untouched by corruption, the state today would have been shining much brighter. In all probability, there would have been no need for a section of the Meiteis to want to be included in the Schedule Tribes list either, for the competition readiness of young job seekers overall would have been raised much higher than they are today, ensuring the community is able to garner a good share of the general seats in all-India competitions for the top jobs on offer by the Union government. Those already in the Schedule Tribes list, probably would also be ready by now to confidently and voluntarily enter the general category. Ultimately the playing fields would have to be levelled out, but it is better for this levelling to be at higher plateaus so that skills and awareness remain competitive even at the national level, than to seek the bars of competitions to be lowered and competitors from the state be patronisingly treated as handicapped by the rest of the country. This will ultimately tell on the psychology of the place, and the worst damage will not be so much when others begin to condescendingly doubt the worth of their achievements, but when they begin to doubt the worths of their own achievements.
The presumption we are making here is that those among the Meiteis who want to be listed as Schedule Tribes, want it so as to avail the benefits of being in this category in the Indian dispensation and not because they actually think they are sociologically worthy of the tribal status. We are also making a distinction between a `Schedule Tribe` and a `tribe`. Take the case of Nepal where there are as many different ethnic communities as in the Northeast, as an illustration. None of the ethnic communities, big or small, in the country call themselves `tribes`, because there is absolutely no benefit to be had in the country by being called thus. They all however call themselves `indigenous peoples`, among others complicating the definition of `indigenous` as in most other Asian regions, as a respected scholar in the field, Christian Erni also notes. As to who is a Schedule Tribe there can be no dispute. These are the communities listed in the 5th Schedule of Indian Constitution, but as to who is actually a `tribe`, if strict sociological and anthropological definitions were adhered to, will be as contentious as deciding who exactly is `indigenous`. Can someone who shops on the internet, is used to internet banking, for whom credit cards and cell phones are indispensable everyday accessories as vital as oxygen, travels by air, lives in cities, holds a modern job, rather than live off a hunting-gathering economy, subsists on primitive agriculture, believes in animistic religions, goes on clan wars etc, be sociologically or anthropologically a `tribe`?
Nobody can dispute the fact that most of the problems Manipur faces today are because of official corruption which has hastened a corroding of public faith in the government. The one institution which catalysed this corrosion the most would have to be education. It is true as government schools and colleges began to rot sometime in the 1970s, there was a revolution initiated by a few missionary schools which in the decades that followed resulted in the birth of many sterling private schools, offering quality school education to students. It is not a co-incidence that the best of these later private schools were founded by the first, second and third generation students educated in the early missionary schools. However, private schools run on the money they earn so have to have a cost, and this cost is not affordable to all. Therefore, only a parallel improvement in the standard of education in government schools could have been able to reach this revolution in school education to all sections of the population. This was never allowed to happen because of corruption and nepotism which ensured government schools are filled to the brim with unqualified teachers. The resultant deficit in the competitive levels of most of our students is loudly visible today. It must be however said in all fairness that things are improving now, and hopefully by the next generation, this vital sector would be on track again setting off a chain reaction for the better.
If in the school sector, the private schools have been the saving grace to some extent, of the college sector where there have been no such revolutions, the less said the better so far. If an inquiry were to be done today, it will not be a surprise at all if a good number of teachers are found to hold fake Ph.D certificates. We are not saying this out of the familiar intuitive judgment based on the small trickle of quality papers coming out of the faculties of these institutions of higher education, or the flight of students to colleges in other states, but from a knowledge that fake certificates from fake universities, including one in Meghalaya which had been only a few years ago shut down after its fraudulence was discovered, have made their way into our colleges.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam