Perfect social and economic equality is a myth, which is perhaps why a perfect Communist state too has always been a dream too far. It is not uncommon for this dream to turn into a nightmare too. Nobody has done a better parody of such dream chasers than George Orwell, first in “Animal Farm” and then in another novel “1984 – A Novel”. The latter was first published in 1949 and is more of a prophecy of what things would be like in 1984 if the illusory chase persists. With the advantage of hindsight, we do know nothing of the nature of what Orwell imagined happened in the year 1984 or even later. But we do know that in the closing decade of the last century, the obituary for all totalitarian rules was already written. Difference between peoples is a destiny of nature and there is nothing much anybody can do about this. All things are by this virtue, different despite very many similarities. Even children of the same parents have as many differences as there are similarities. Inclinations, temperaments, intelligence quotients, skills etc, have seldom been identical, not even in mono-zygotic twins (identical twins). All the better too, for variety is what ensures life is never a drag. In any case, to force everybody to a pre-defined level in the name of equality can hardly be called promoting freedom.
Celebrating variety and differences does not however also mean we must celebrate inequality. On the other hand, this is only a reiteration of a much stated wisdom that the quest for an egalitarian society must be set on a different foundation. The basic principle must be to make opportunities equal, and from then on let it be every individual’s lookout. No we are not at all talking about existing or planned positive discrimination policy measures. Let that be a matter of another debate. We are here talking about a more fundamental issue of ensuring equal opportunities precisely by ensuring basic quality education. Unfortunately, this is one area which the government has been neglecting for far too long, and in the process creating a condition in which availability of opportunities has been incrementally made unequal. In fact, thanks to this criminal neglect, the ladder to the top echelon of the social hierarchy may have already become totally unavailable to a larger section of the society’s future generations. In this increasingly competitive world, which student from a poor family who has had no option but to study in a government primary school can hope to bag a seat in the courses for the top professions such as medicine and engineering etc. Given the quality of education in government schools where a majority are bound by the economic conditions to study, can opportunities be said to be equal even if by a legal definition it may be so and there are no legal obstacles against any class of students from taking part in the competition.
In this regard, the new and imaginative initiative of the government to revive government schools is laudable. Other than this, by and large those who have held the rein of power in the state have remained unconcerned. They have allowed the school system here to rot though they would have their own children educated away from the state, and be amongst the elite few to book a place in the society’s top strata. Year after year, government schools have shown dismal results in the public examinations, and this year too it was hardly different. For far too long, recruitment of teachers have been through D.O. letters and recommendations, rather than merit. Teachers’ transfers and postings too have been by the same route. Bad performances by schools have gone un-penalised just as outstanding performances have seen no rewards. Schools without students as well as schools without teachers have been allowed to remain outside the government scanner. This condition of anarchy, it seems is the government’s idea of freedom.
The question is, can a minority group who has had all the best benefits the system can provide, ever find peace in the same space they will have to share with a majority who had been excluded from the system altogether because of dereliction of duty and responsibility by those in power. Inequalities that result because of natural differences and abilities will seldom be resented, but inequality because of deprived opportunities is what comes with explosive potentials. Manipur is currently witness to this phenomenon. We do hope there is a change of outlook soon.