By Albert Thyrniang
It’s no small feat that Kevinstrong Lawriniang of Mairang in West Khasi Hills won the SSLC 2021 exam by beating all of the state’s elite institutions. Coming from the humblest of backgrounds to record the fulfillment of a life makes it more special. The second position was also obtained by Wanteibok Pator from Mookaiaw. There were also inspiring stories of how the students excelled despite the challenges arising from the pandemic. A student in the top 10 recounted how she had to share online lessons with her other four siblings using the same cell phone.
As it is the Olympic season, we have to share the successes of Tokyo. Mirabai Chanu of Manipur, the first Indian medalist to win silver in the 49kg women’s weightlifting, had to travel 50 km a day by truck to and from her training site. The Olympian who eats on the floor of her kitchen honored the truck drivers on their return from the “Land of the Rising Sun”. Boxer Lovlina Borgohain, who won a bronze medal in the welterweight women, is from the village of Bara Mukhia in the Golaghat district of Assam did not have a motorable road to her home. The greatest history maker is javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra who became the first Indian to win a gold medal in athletics at the Olympic Games and only the second Indian individual gold medalist in Olympic history. The 23-year-old is the son of a farmer from a village in Haryana.
The revival of India Hockey is also making headlines. The men’s hockey team won its first Olympic medal after 41 years, the last being the Moscow gold medal in 1980. The women’s team horribly missed the medal podium, but won many hearts for its display scintillating.
We are witnessing these exploits on an equal footing. The competitions are on an equal footing. The winners emerged purely on merit. So Mairang and Mookaiaw could leave Shillong and Tura behind. The “coup” should help debunk the myth that rural students can’t shine. It irritates me when the “educators” themselves say “the children in the village cannot learn the computer, cannot speak English and cannot compete with their counterparts in the city”. This writer has had the privilege of supervising the rank holders in two institutions. In both cases, the binders came from rural areas. The level of knowledge, skills, competences and achievements does not depend on the place of origin. All children are born with equal abilities. It is the opportunity that determines their growth, development, career and future. If opportunities arise, the Lawriniang, Mirabais, Lovlinas, Neerajs, hockey games and athletes will surface from any corner. Academic excellence and sports medals and trophies can come from unexpected backgrounds. Given the opportunity, stars can be produced from anywhere.
Does equal opportunity exist in education and elsewhere? We noted that Mairang’s pupil triumphed over the candidates of the most famous schools in the city. But Mairang is not an unknown place. It is not an unknown city. It is a thriving center. It will be the capital of a new district. If applicants from obscure hamlets honor merit lists, then we can say that education in the state has come of age. If institutions in remote villages are producing first divisionals or achieving one hundred percent results, then education in the state has matured. But this scenario will not be a reality in our lifetime because in the villages, the infrastructure is pitiful, teacher absenteeism is at an all-time high and “contract” teaching is rampant. There are rural primary schools (classes IV) with a single teacher. There are schools without math and science teachers most of the year. How to ask them to compete with schools whose teachers have rest periods? How can they compete with schools with qualified and trained teachers? There is no level playing field.
If a full analysis is performed, South West Garo Hills (23.01%), South Garo Hills (27.50%), North Garo Hills (27.88%), West Garo Hills (34.63%) and East Garo Hills (35.10%) performed poorly in this order because educational opportunities were denied to their students and certainly not due to inferior intelligence of the students! On the other hand, the reason for West Khasi Hills (58.28%), Ri Bhoi (62.40%), South West Khasi Hills (70.78%), East Khasi Hills (71.97%), West Jaintia Hills (73.41%) and East Jaintia Hills (85.09%) doing well is due to better opportunities and not to higher abilities of their students.
Are we providing a level playing field in society? Are we promoting fairness? Do we consider merit above all else? Do other considerations come into play in a clandestine but visible way? Are we trying to gain an unfair advantage over others? Are power, money and influence the deciding factors? Do we post our privileges to gain benefits? Are we misusing religion, race, caste and gender? The party that won the 2014 and 2018 general elections exploits religion to revealing effects, with the main leaders polarizing the entire electorate. The current regime would have prompted judges to bail it out with favorable judgments guaranteeing quid pro quo appointments after retirement. The elections are noticeably won with the help of the Election Commission and the propaganda media. Pegasus is illegally spied on on opposition leaders, journalists and activists for covert access to information. Draconian laws, investigative agencies and law enforcement agencies are used selectively against opponents. The elimination of fairness is the mission.
In his swearing-in speech which was posted on Youtube and Facebook, the current president of KSU recounts how job seekers are approaching him. When asked about the reasons if they had the necessary skills and qualifications, they revealed that they didn’t know any influential person and didn’t have the ten / fifteen lakhs to land the dream job. Thus, government jobs in Meghalaya are for the highest bidder with nepotism.
One of the MPs from southwest Khasi Hills reportedly said young people should depend on themselves and not on political patronage for jobs. However, he was surprised with a text message mistakenly sent to another Whatsapp group where he asked his supporters to apply for vacant positions in government departments. So it is clear that the words and actions do not match. Merit went for a toss and thrown out the window. The ruling class controls the government’s “labor market”.
The proliferation of illegal coke factories under Sutnga Elaka in East Jaintia Hills cannot happen without a traditional link between leaders, bureaucrats and politicians. The trick that got the job done is money, bribes, corruption, and personal interests. One of the owners is an MDA government minister. How did the 32 coking plants, which have become dangerous to health, obtain the authorization of the one-stop shop under the presidency of the Prime Minister himself to install units adjacent to human habitats? How can the illegal and polluting “chimneys” function to literally stifle the breath of the villagers? Why have we welcomed businessmen exiled from Arunachal Pradesh with open arms to pollute and damage our environment? Who benefits from this nefarious deal? How dare the factories not to comply with the closing orders of the Deputy Commissioner of July 15? Who are the owners linked to? Why was the CD unable to sanction the non-compliance? The government is teaching citizens this: “You can even do questionable business as long as you have the right connections.”
What follows is a brazen and blatant disregard for the law. Coke factories were able to secure an uninterrupted supply of raw material – coal amid a mining ban by the Supreme Court. Wasn’t NGT aware of this? Was the district administration blind? Did the police look away? Was the state government ignorant? Why did the tribunal not take cognizance of the multiple reports of illegal coke factories on the motorcycle? The coke and coal illegalities, scam and favoritism in MeECL are public lessons about the lack of fairness in the state.
It is astonishing that the income support for the poor promised at the start of the pandemic almost two years ago has still not been accelerated. This requires relentless monitoring by Thma U Rangli-Juki (TUR) to hope that beneficiaries actually receive the meager Rs 2,100 intended for the 2019 lockdown. Without civil society, it would have been an undetected “pandemic scam” that enriches few pockets. This is a classic example of the poor taken for granted and exploited by the powerful.
One group alleged special treatment to the BJP. The Saffron Party was allowed to hold political meetings during the pandemic in the presence of a secretary general in Shillong and Nongpoh, even bypassing deputy commissioners and exceeding the participant limit. Apparently there would have been no subsequent censorship for the violations. If the BJP is allowed to hold political rallies while the coronavirus is raging, why not for other parties? If in Laban’s meeting the violators are not punished, why are others fined elsewhere for the same offense? We demand equality as a right!