Civic Education for the Young Generation
Organised by Nepal Foundation for Advanced
23 September, Bardibas
Bardibas was one of the choices as seminar
venues for Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies in 2008 because
of its strategic location not just in terms of where it is located
but also because a rising number of schools are teaching the civic
education subject in this town. This did not limit NEFAS from
inviting local political activists, media persons, NGO activists
and prominent personalities of the area, apart from the school
teachers for whom the discussion on civic education was going
to be invaluable. The discussion is an ongoing NEFAS project being
executed with cooperation of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, of Germany.
The discussions began early in the morning
at about 7:30 a.m. because of the difficulty of organizing discussions
during the afternoon in tropical heat. The event kicked off
with NEFAS Executive Director Ananda Srestha welcoming the participants
by introducing the activities of the Foundation to the participants.
He appealed to the participants to make their contributions
through enlightened comments on the papers so that they could
be included in the working papers and published for a wider
use. This was followed by two presentations. One was by Professor
Ram Kumar Dahal on the requisite awareness regarding civic rights
and responsibilities. He made the presentation based on the
book "Handbook of Democracy", an FES publication which
purports to educate citizens on their rights and duties. This
is an important dimension in Nepal's contemporary society as
the nation is gearing itself to draft a new constitution. The
handbook talks about the dimensions of democracy. Prof Dahal
also deliberated on good governance and local governance. The
latter was taken up as a hot issue by participants as the interim
constitution has declared Nepal a federal country.
The other paper by Shivaraj Dahal is a chapter
on civic education used in school curricula and forms the backbone
of the discussion in the series of discussion on the subject
being organized in different parts of the country by NEFAS.
The paper highlights civic responsibilities of citizens and
their rights. It also lacks about the increasing apathy towards
the public space and seeks to urge the younger generation to
be ready to take the mantle of ownership of the space by educating
themselves on the basic tenets of democracy, good governance
The commentators from the floor appeared to
be in a more negative mood towards NGO activities in their locality
in general. Their complaints ranged from the irregularities
they indulged in to more lofty issues like their urban orientation
and their urge to ram down ideas down the throats of villagers.
But when NEFAS explained that the exercise that it was engaged
in was more related with awareness about the public sphere and
their contribution in making it deliver the goods, they began
to change tack. They even began to make their contributions
by suggesting to NEFAS to travel to more rural areas to initiate
the discussion on civic responsibilities.
Locals of Bardibas seemed to be miffed by
the empty promises of politicians and thought that by training
the youth for a leadership role the attitude could see a change
for the better. They saw politicians using the younger generation
as an export item which would easily earn the necessary remittance
to fill the government coffers that they themselves have not
been able to through legitimate jobs-creating schemes. Those
that remain home are used as a tool to gain partisan and personal
benefit by the politicians, they said. Some extended the argument
to explain the perversions seen in the business sector where
advertisements on smoking and drinking are let loose by the
government without check. This they thought was also a way to
trap and prevent the youth from doing anything positive for
At the end of the seminar, the chairperson
himself answered several queries regarding the choice of the
seminar venue saying that he was proof that NEFAS did not intend
to limit itself to urban centers as he himself had seen it come
to Bardibas two years after organizing a similar function in
the Mahottari District Headquarters, Jaleswor.
Excerpt of the proceedings
Uddhav Chettri: chair
Ananda Srestha's welcome address: Let
me welcome you on behalf of Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies
to this event. NEFAS's main objective, since its establishment,
has been to focus on issues relevant to Nepal and its concern.
We have published about 40 books which have been taken up in
school and university curricula around the country and elsewhere.
Our focus is also to take our discussions to the different parts
of our country. This seminar is part of a series of discussions,
on civic education for the young generation, that we have been
organizing for the past 8/10 years. The paper has been enriched
by these discussions. The comments you will be making, therefore,
are important for us in making the working paper even more complete
than it already is.
Shivaraj Dahal's presentation.
Kurma Hari Subedi: We have sent 108
thousand youngsters to the Gulf countries. Many are expending
their geniuses in Europe. At home, political parties are pitting
the youth against each other. How do we mobilize them and take
them to positions of leadership so that these trends can be
changed for the better?
Heads of the executive have been leading youngsters
to seize land and extort money. Policemen themselves are involved
in robbery. Had we formulated employment oriented polices in
the past, we would have been able to give them jobs by now.
The planning commission changes [long-term] plans with each
change in government. The result of all this malfeasance is
seen in the villages. Elections have not been fair and the 'might
is right principle' is followed everywhere. We suffer from poverty.
For people to own the public space they should
invest in it. If you do not pay for the public drinking water
tap then you let it run on to waste, without even thinking that
some other people may be suffering from shortage of drinking
water. Governance is on the decline. Today, we see criminals
like Baban Singh as lawmakers.
In our villages we have separate toilets for
the male members of the family and their female counterparts.
How can you talk of managing public and common toilets in a
civilized manner when we ourselves practice discrimination at
You should also have talked about the gap
between availability of resources and our needs. The constitution
should be inclusive of the needs of the various groups in the
country. It should include the right to food. The road blockades
or people's tendencies to take the law into their own hands
is because there is no other alternative available to them to
draw attention to their plight. Even in these desperate measures
that they adopt, it is the politicians that lead them there.
Bidhoot Kafle: You are bringing your
urban thinking to our rural areas. Please take our issues to
the centre and not vice versa. The election showed that villagers
went ahead and voted despite the fact that they did not know
what the Constituent Assembly was and what it was they were
Subedi: You [the NGOs] are dangerous
people. You came to train us on election monitoring. We see
that even the T-shirts supposed to be distributed to us were
actually given to your own housemaids and servants.
Santa Pariyar: The function seems to
be a mere formality that you want to fulfill. It is urban-oriented.
Please make it more oriented towards the needs of the rural
people. The suggestions you seek regarding the kind of constitution
we need to draft will not be available to you until you go to
Laxmi Bhattarai: During the elections,
a Musahar man told me that he was happy to see people coming
to his villages as he thought that they would give him his citizenship
papers when it was actually the election officers who had arrived
to conduct the election in Bardibas. This is the level of awareness
in the villages. I also agree that you should be rural-oriented.
Janardan Pokhrel: I see more elderly
people participating in this seminar than those of the younger
.........: I think the topic is important.
There is a real need to empower the younger generation. Our
youths are more educated on Indian film stars than Nepalese
statesmen. The media has been used in a powerful way to create
such a situation. They should have been educating the people
to make them able citizens. The songs played on the radio are
composed in such a way as to make women an inferior class, or
to show disrespect to the elderly people. Ads promote consumption
of pan, smoking and alcohol that deteriorate the health of the
younger generation. The youth are turning into more of a liability
to the parents than being helpful. The government is happy in
collecting taxes from such perverted business activities. The
situation is such that it is like a government telling us to
grow good crops, on the one hand, and then, on the other, setting
free a bull to destroy the crops that we finally grow. The government
should control what is traded and consumed by the youth.
Santa Pariyar: Politicians talk about
the youth and praise them as future leaders but do not talk
about their present situation as a stakeholder in the societal
interests. How much of an obstacle is the younger generation
[in correcting the situation]?
Subedi: The government is supposed
to serve the people and not act as their master with the privilege
of doing what it wants as it has the law in its hands. We see
MP's raising their own salaries without even blinking. If we
talk about public policy with them, they do not seem to be much
concerned. In fact, political parties have even split over such
trivial issues. The government sees no qualms in reducing funds
allocated to religious activities. Today, we see Kathmandu burning
because of the insensitivity shown towards successfully holding
the Kumari Rath Yatra. If you can go scot free after doing what
you want with people's beliefs like religion and faith, then
you can do anything. The government must reform the various
governmental institutions right from the top.
Shivaraj Dahal's reply: Thank you Subediji
for the suggestions. Measures to be taken to bring the youth
to the political mainstream is to be mulled over as it is a
Please let me tell you that we are not an
NGO in the way you appear to understand. Ours is the job of
holding discussions with you. We just provoke discussions. The
output is used by students and others. The political parties
are the ones to resolve all these issues that you raise. But
we cannot press them to do so. Even the politicians we have
elected are a part of our own society and since we voted them
we have to accept what they do.
There are responsibilities as well as rights
of a citizen. You are right that we should take education to
the rural areas. But we feel that bringing this programme to
this place is a big achievement for us. You are also responsible
for taking the education to the villages. We have been able
to do a lot with the publications as they are being used by
universities and schools. The young generation that is turning
the other way from its responsibilities can be made to return
if we can make them see the problem they are creating. Jobs
alone will not help. They too can create jobs if the right education
Regarding state failure, a state fails if
there is corruption and attempts are geared towards weakening
the leadership. A failing leadership, if allowed to continue
for a long time, leads to failed states.
I feel that to bring the deviated youth to
the right track, we must first give them civic education. Moral
education is not the same as civic education. The former talks
about morals while the latter about civic responsibilities.
For employment promotion, trade and tourism must be promoted,
work permit enforced, micro hydels encouraged, political unity
of the youth brought about and so forth.
Subedi: I think we have a more extensive
people-to-people relations with India than Tibet. I think we
should talk more on whether or not to create a 'Berlin Wall'
between Nepal and India [by introducing work permits].
Shivaraj: The reason for flight of
youth to foreign countries is the autocratic history that promoted
it, like the export of manpower for the World Wars. Employment
opportunities are lacking because of wrong policies like shutting
down of industries in the country through the use of macroeconomic
policies. Closure of schools have forced them to go abroad for
studies. There is also the issue of mental slaves who only work
for foreigners, rather than indulge in lower-paid domestic jobs.
Modernization has also led to job losses with traditional industries
and arts going into history books. We also have the issue of
a mismatch between the education and training that we impart
and the kind of jobs that we can give them. The political leadership
has found it convenient to send the younger generation abroad
as the creation of jobs is a more challenging task.
Janak Lal Mahato: What can we do to
remove the unemployment that we face?
Doma Shahi Bista: What is social transformation?
Shivaraj: Social transformation is
the change, in social traditions, towards progress.
Political stability is needed for jobs creation.
We have a medical college in our district, but none of the Nepalese
students can afford it. To end this, rule of law must be enforced.
We ask the donors to create jobs for us. But when they come,
they have their own interests in mind and not our jobs. Domestic
investment must be promoted.
Pariyar: What have you contributed
for the relief of flood victims?
Shivaraj: Personally, we did something
each, but not as an institution, because of resource constraints.
Still, we have been raising awareness about the Koshi Treaty
and the problems that could be created in the future. Our duty
is to see that unequal treaties do not get signed. A citizen
should not allow injustice to happen to him or her. One of the
means to do so is by using the election to elect the right leadership.
Ananda Srestha: Our organization raises
relevant issues for discussion. Our limits are that we are an
academic organization. We nudge decision makers by publishing
what the people feel. Academic institutions have been using
those publications, but we do not see political and decision
making sectors taking up the recommendations as seriously as
we would have wanted to. This is a sad state of affairs. Still
our efforts will continue, regardless whether they hear us or
not. Please try and understand our limitations. But, still,
we do not plan to stage demonstrations or sit-ins.
Vote of thanks by Shivaraj Dahal
Chairman's remarks: I hope that this organization
is successful in its mission. Four years ago, when it was organizing
its function in Jaleswor, I had asked NEFAS to take the function
to the remoter villages than limiting it to district headquarters.
Today, I see that you have come to a more rural part of the
country like Bardibas. I hope you will go to remoter villagers
still, in the next two years.
We have seen that while drafting the constitution
India split into two countries, with the separation of Pakistan.
A similar situation prevails in Nepal today. If we do not make
our youths aware, we too could split as we are on the verge
of doing so.
Our culture of burning tires must end and
the constitution must guarantee by making the necessary arrangements
to prevent that from happening.