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Civic Education for the Young Generation

Organised by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies

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 and leadership.

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 the society.

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 home?

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 voting for.

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 the villages.

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 generation.

.........: 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 vital issue.

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 is imparted.

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.

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