The results of the High School Leaving Certificate (HSLC) examination 2018 conducted by the Board of Secondary Education, Assam (SEBA) are a clear pointer to what has often missed the education narrative both in Assam and elsewhere in the country. One is that it does not take an elite institution in a metro for a student to prove his mettle. Potential can be manifested anywhere. Talents can flower anywhere. Only, what it takes is hard work, sincerity and will power, as HSLC 2018 exam topper Raktim Bhuyan of Moonlit English School, Tezpur has rightly said. This time, most of the students in the top 20 list are from lesser known areas, areas that have now risen to eminence for producing meritorious students countering the general perception that only elite, air-conditioned schools in metros are capable of producing result-yielding students. Today as parents enamoured by the glint and glamour of education in a whole lot of private schools run by cash-rich education entrepreneurs summon all their resources to get their wards educated in them, examples of students from rural areas and small towns doing extremely well in both exams and life must serve both as an eye-opener and an inspiration. That if one is hardworking, serious and serious, he or she will brave all the tempests of life and shine, is beyond contestation.
The other eye-opener is that in areas that are infamous for chronic poverty and backwardness, it is education that can serve as the best panacea to all ills and evils but it is education that has failed their people, or, rather, it is education that has been allowed to fail them for lack of initiatives on the part of the government towards effecting policies that can address the concerns peculiar to such areas and help the poverty-stricken children of such areas rescue themselves from the vice. Take the tea garden areas of Assam, for instance. In the HSLC exam this year, while the overall pass percentage is around 56, that in the tea garden areas stands at just around 27, the lowest in eight categories. It is children in these areas, whose parents have to negotiate a very difficult life of poverty, backwardness and disempowerment, who deserve the best of educational facilities in a welfare state that the government is never tired of trumpeting. Tea Tribes Welfare Minister Pallab Lochan Das has admitted that primary schools in tea garden areas are run by tea garden managements that do not follow the laid-down norms and regulations. According to a report by the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, at least 80 per cent of the tea garden managements have not implemented the Right to Education Act. This is serious. Only now the State government seems to have woken up to the misfortune and lugubriousness of the situation. The report says that in such schools most of the teachers are employed for managerial works in tea estates while children have to work either plucking tea leaves or helping their parents in factories for living. This is not education. This is a recipe for a disaster – a new generation of youth with no real and meaningful education but with the option of picking up a gun one fine day for living! What kind of society we are interested in, it is our choice.
The Upper House Case
The need for a legislative council in Assam has been a long-standing demand in many circles in the State, including that of the ULFA, on the grounds that the diversity of ethnic tribes of the State and the concomitant issues plaguing them due to lack of proper and effective representation in the State legislature call for an upper house. This house would be the State equivalent of the Rajya Sabha at the Centre. While there may be arguments for and against the need for such house of indirectly chosen legislators in the State, there is no gainsaying that a vast majority of the directly chosen legislators – MLAs – have failed their subjects not because they have been helpless due to funds and other constraints but because it has been a matter of choice for them to not serve the people who have elected them to eminent positions in the corridors of power. These are positions that have been used mainly to respond to their self-interests, and not to the interests of democracy and the welfare state that these self-styled VVIPs otherwise never fail to dwell on at their gimmicky best during election times. The unfortunate part of the story is that the MLAs individually representing 126 legislative constituencies in Assam would be sufficient to serve the cause of democratic representation if they were to think of themselves as democratically elected representatives to act for the greatest good of the greatest number with dedication to public welfare, and with honesty and integrity, and not to think of themselves as a specially privileged species entitled to higher and exclusive things in life while the commoners may rot, but what is glaring is their apathy and callousness when it comes to representation once they are elected, a handful of exceptions apart. Therefore, as the clamour for an upper house in the State rises, one would also do well not to gloss over the question as to whether it all boils down to the matter of will to serve the people or to a mere ritual of having to wear the hat of a non-representing house of legislators living on the public exchequer. Otherwise the idea is good – for such a diverse and troublesome State as this.