Equal Opportunity is Key

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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 hen 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 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 quotient, 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.

This does not however 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.

Yet, those given the rein of the state remain unconcerned, after all their own children would have the best education from elsewhere, 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 it is unlikely to be any different because the leaders who should have taken the initiative to make the necessary changes are not bothered. Teachers’ recruitment would still be through D.O. letters and recommendations rather than merit. Teacher’s transfers and postings would be by similar considerations. Bad performances by schools would go un-penalised just as outstanding performances would not see rewards. Schools without students as well as schools without teachers would still be allowed to exist too. This condition of anarchy, it seems is the government’s idea of freedom. Let us not even talk about any abstract notions of rightness and wrongness, but can there be anything more short-sighted than this, even from the selfish outlook of ensuring a good future for their own well-bred children? 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. Inequality that results because of natural differences and abilities will seldom be resented, but inequality because of deprived opportunities is what is explosive. Manipur is currently witness to this phenomenon, and yet our leaders refuse to learn. And so here we are all, condemned to another “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

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