The news that seven candidates from Manipur cracked the examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission, for recruitment to the top civil services jobs on offer by the Government of India annually, is cause for celebration. Particularly uplifting was that one girl candidate, Diana Khumanthem, made it to the 24th position, a no mean achievement for anybody. She most deservingly will have the best choices of the jobs on offer, including the Foreign Service. Also heartening is that there is a considerable number from the non-ST/SC classes, including a Meitei Pangal, for whom the Union Civil Services have for long been virtually alien territory. This is good, for this would have removed at least some of the insecurities amongst the Meiteis, who in their desperation to free themselves of what they see as a siege and slow strangulation, had begun demanding schedule tribal status so as to benefit from the liberal reservation norms accorded to the status. We have nothing against the Meiteis’ wish for schedule tribe status, but this wish should not come from a sense of defeat. If at all, this must be out of a commitment to solidarity with the idea of tribal Northeast, even though it must be admitted, what we now know as tribal in the Indian context, and in particular the Northeast, is more constitutional. This is to say it is about communities listed in the 5th Schedule of the Indian Constitution, and hardly to do with a socio-anthropological definition of the notion. No, we do not agree to be tribal is a genetic condition, and therefore destiny. It is on the other hand a social status, therefore in a flux.
Our heartiest congratulations go out to all seven. If there are more names we did not spot in the long list of successful candidates, congratulations to them too. They have all earned their rewards most deservingly, and may they get to serve their people and nation the best way they can in the capacities of the jobs they ultimately land. We also hope this is the beginning of the shattering of the shackles in the minds of the people of the state which have inhibited them from aspiring too high. We are also optimistic that the inspiration they have provided will give the confidence to more young men and women to emulate their achievement in the years ahead.
There are two or three other things that must be said on the matter. It has been a trend in Manipur for the best crop of students each year to opt for the medical and engineering professions. This stems partly again from a general insecurity that while entry into these professional courses ensures a decent future, choosing to compete for the civil services is a tough gamble. This flocking of the best to these professions is also probably why medical candidates from Manipur perform so well in entrance tests to institutes common all Northeast such as the North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, Shillong, taking the lion’s share of the open seats each year. While this is encouraging, it must be added monocultures are seldom signs of good health. A healthy and vibrant economy is therefore marked by the spread and reach of professions. This is why the signs of a breakthrough in the annual UPSC exam for the Union Civil Services is encouraging. But even the Union Civil Services must ultimately not be seen as the end of the job hunt. Resilience can only be complete when the society masters all professions vital for its survival, or at least ease of living.
The success of the seven candidates is also an indication of the improvement of school education in Manipur – a vital agenda government after government have allowed to progressively atrophy for too long. Thanks to private initiatives in the field, triggered by the pioneering efforts of Catholic missionary schools, at least this handicap is seemingly being overcome. Much however remains to be said of government schools still, but hopefully they will follow the examples set by private schools and things will improve soon enough. We also desperately hope our long rotting college education system begins to stir towards something creative. Alongside the impassionate cries for salary and promotion improvements we hear frequently, we also wish they would begin showing results of the kind the seven UPSC candidates have demonstrated are possible. As of the moment, after school, college education in Manipur is not considered an option by most. This is shameful.