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Civic Education for the Youth

Organised by Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS)

5 September 2014 (Purkort, Tanahu) and 6 September 2014 (Mugling, Chitwan)

Prepared by
Ritu Raj Subedi
Associate Editor
The Rising Nepal

The scenario of Nepal's prolonged transition is not rosy. It has churned out many ills. Most of them stem from indiscipline and indiscretion on the part of the minor and major actors. Although new political values have not taken root strongly, there is no any impediment to the movements and freedom of the people to pursue the professions and business of their choice. While enjoying their latitude, many have apparently forgotten the crux of democratic system: With freedom comes responsibility. Since its inception millennia ago, Nepal has been a duty-oriented society. But, come modernity right-oriented culture has taken precedence over the duty-bound social behaviours. This has led to the decline of civic and moral senses that often inspire the people to discharge their duties and obligations for the broader interests of the nation.

The protracted interregnum coupled with the state's inability to meet the ever rising socio-economic aspirations of the people has catapulted it into a perpetual friction. It is now on a knife-edge balance. But, the likelihood of political disaster cannot be avoided if the gambits and chicanery at the highest political goes unabated. Informed, enlightened and moral citizens can only check the society from descending into the total chaos. This requires the people to be transformed themselves into full-fledged citizens. This transformation is possible only when the civic education is spread to conscientize the masses to realise their bounded duty in the society. And if the youths are imbued with civic education and knowledge, the outcomes can be effective and outstanding. This can be one way to nudge the pugnacious politicians, who often indulge in otiose rounds of talks, to deliver on their promises. The time has come for the youth to rise to
challenges in this critical phase of the constitution writing and the restructuring of the nation.

Realising this humble responsibility, the Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS) Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) launched a series of seminars on the 'Civic education for the youth' in the different parts of the country. In the first week of September, the NEFAS/FES team visited Purkot of Tanahu and Mugling of Chitwan to interact with the locals on the burning issues of politics, economy and sociology. The experts attempted to describe these topics from the lens of the civic education that is itself an all-encompassing discipline. A large number of youths, teachers, students, social workers and leaders of different political parties turned up in the one-day events in two places. Economists, political scientists and civic education experts shared their views and knowledge with the people from cross section of the society. The lectures, comments and suggestions sprang into local to national agenda. The discussions were animated and participatory.

Overview of seminar held in Purkot of Tanahu

Local social worker Khila Sharma chaired the one-day seminar. Local farmers, teachers, students, cadres and leaders of different political parties, women volunteers and the people from different walks of life participated in it. Resource persons from Kathmandu presented their views on the political, economic and social issues in a candid manner. Their opinions have been precisely presented below.

Neo-liberalism puts economy in a shambles: Gunanidhi Sharma

(Sharma is a former vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission)

Social anarchy and economic inequality are on the rise. Around 80 per cent people are not able to earn $2 a day. Neo-liberal policies that the nation adopted since 1990 were to blame for the appalling economic conditions. Neo-liberalists claimed that it was not the job of the government to do business and the profit-making industries were sold at the dirt cheap prices on the basis of this flawed policies. Now almost all industries have been virtually closed down and the prospect of job opportunities is almost nil. Around 90 per cent of our incomes go to buy luxury items. Our economic dependency has grown to the extent that it may one day break down our society. Remittances sent by the Nepalese migrant workers provide a lifeline for the national economy. But, to the bewilderment of all, the elite and the rich send money outside the country. What happens, if many migrant workers settle there? This is a recipe for another round of nastier societal conflict. The foreign dependency is now 70 per cent against 28 per cent before the advent of multiparty democracy.

Annually, 300,000 vehicles are imported and this number is likely to double next year. Our hard-earned dollars go to purchase petroleum products. Now our finance minister calls for opening the import-substitute industries. We have earlier suggested that the nation should not jump to adopt the neo-liberalisation policy without proper preparation for this. We do not have goods to import. The present generation, groomed in the consumerism, is not able to lead the nation. The investors are putting forth several conditions. We want both prosperity and future security. This requires sustainable development. The nation needs honest leadership but our leaders are corrupt. We should promote positive discrimination that means to uplift the marginalised groups without hitting other status of other advanced classes. Ethnic diversity is the asset but it has become a liability. The marketisation of society has disturbs its fabric. There is a tendency to earn money by hook or by crook. The government's role is to facilitate, support and stabilise, and it should create jobs. There is Rs 660 billion lying idle in various banks but we are seeking donations to build a toilet at the Pashupatinath Temple. We are now selling sands and stones, leading the nation to the possible desertification. The government has surrendered to the crusher industries. We want the kind of economy that will enable the nation to end poverty. We have brain power and it should be utilised. We need not to suffer from the inferiority complex. We are rich in the natural resources. The new statute should carve out a new economic model to develop an independent economy.

Entropy rules the roost: Ananda Shrestha

(Shrestha is NEFAS executive chairman)

In the political, economic, academic and administrative realms, entropy rules deeply, generating widespread pessimism among the people. We are not seeing order in any state institution. Politicization and corruption have plagued virtually all organs of the nation. Following the 1990 political change, there was a big hope for development and stability but this hope has turned into despair. It is a matter of shame that nowadays the country's history and geography are not taught in the schools and colleges as they have become commercial and are motivated by the profit-making tendencies. We are producing the students, who have no sense of history at all! Where does this trend take us? The people want the kind of democracy that would bring prosperity and happiness to them.

Economic equality strengthens democracy: CD Bhatta

(Bhatta is a programme officer at the FES, Nepal office)

The FES promotes the ideas of freedom, equality, solidarity and social justice. It is involved in strengthening democracy. Freedom for whom- the rich or the poor? It is the needy people, who need freedom for securing their better livelihoods. But, these days, vulgarity has increased in the name of freedom. Even the political freedom alone is not enough to steer the poor country like Nepal into the economic progress and prosperity. Maximum liberty gives rise to anarchy. What the Nepalese want is the economic equality that bolsters the foundation of democracy. Ethical elements must be fused into the democratic system to make it pro-people and functional. The western society is right-oriented while the oriental one like that of Nepal is bound by duty-oriented norms. This is why there is conflict between the local and western values. Following the political change in 1990, the level of inequality has increased as the modernity has bred more problems than solution.

There is a saying, 'too many cooks spoil the broth.' This also applies here. In Nepal too, there are many leaders but there are fewer policies. The civic education is necessary to enlighten the people so as to check the erosion of socio-cultural values in the society. It synthesizes between knowledge and science. Education helps sustain democracy. The more the teachers raise their academic standards, the more democracy is enhanced. But, sad to say the problems lies in the education system that is neither helping the graduates to get jobs nor wising up the people to the reality of the society. A good policy is must to revamp the education system that is creaking under the strain. We have many leaders but not the policies. Ancient knowledge and wisdom need to be preserved so they will inspire the coming posterity to carry development works. This seminar promotes the factors that connect the society.

Leadership lacks maturity: Dr Ram Kumar Dahal

(Dahal is a professor at the Tribhuvan University)

The political leaders lack maturity and tolerance. At the theoretical level, the leaders are fine but when it comes to the practices, they fail to prove their mettle. The first political generation of the US made great sacrifices to make their nation. If the politics and politicians become bad, all sectors descend into chaos. There is apparent disdain for the politicians. The youth have become disenchanted with the politics and politicians because of declining democratic values and norms in the parties. The politicians should try to be role model and the civic education tends to create ideal citizens. The parties must gear up for economic development to stop the exodus of youths towards foreign nations. If they fail to grow economy, a disaster is unavoidable.

We, all, have to develop a sense of Nepali-ness and a strong civic education should be promoted. Our foreign policies are weak and our ambassadors to foreign nations have brought nation into disrepute. We have no foreign policies but India has and we are following it. This raises a pertinent question- Are we sovereign people? The capitalistic notion is unlikely to foster the feelings of nationality. Those lacking the knowledge of history and geography are unlikely to love the nation. Without sacrifices and penances, the nation cannot be built.

Civic education helps mobilise social capital: Shiva Raj Dahal

(Dahal is the NEFAS programme director)

Civic education has become a must in the current transition to guide the youths to the right direction. It is a continuous process of learning from the society and sharing acquired knowledge with the members of community so that they can be rational, progressive and independent. It enables us to mobilize social capital and conscientize the masses about their rights, duties and responsibilities. Civic education needs to be imparted to the youth to press for writing the new constitution in time.

Samakalin Nepal, a book published by the NEFAS, is included in the curriculum of the higher secondary education and taught at the Plus Two schools. The book is based on the rigorous interactions on the themes of civic education held in nook and cranny of the country. In society, every member possesses knowledge and wisdom, and the civic education seeks to imbibe them for the broader interests of the community. The eastern civilisation contains oodles of knowledge on yoga, meditation, discipline, ethics and collective consciousness. Development does not mean only the construction of roads, houses and bridges but it is also about generating consciousness and spreading enlightenment that enhance emotional and cultural heritage of the society. We need the politics that connects the society. The civic education promotes empowerment of the people and communal harmony. It stresses on self-confidence, self-reliance, good-governance and pluralism. It lays emphasis on social democracy.

Our agriculture is based on monsoon and civil services on bhansun (unlawful requests to the higher-up to secure job and position). The country lacks the pro-village and youth-oriented planning and schemes. The cadres have political training but do not have civic awareness. The agreements made in the time of crises are hardly applicable and abided by their signatories. This is a reason why the parties have piked out their commitment made in an array of accords in the moment of political difficulties. It is necessary to have inter-disciplinary knowledge but the parties have neither absorbed knowledge nor do they impart it to their functionaries. Nepal is turning into a place to experiment the politics of different shades. Education is the spirit of society and it must be practical so as to serve the economic, social, cultural and spiritual needs of the people and the society.
(Dahal presented his working paper 'Civic education: the present national context,' in the seminar)

Deependra Poudel, campus chief of Purkot Kalika Multiple Campus, Tanahu

We were held spellbound by the thought-provoking speeches of the experts. There has been no division among the local people. They have unity and unitedly worked to construct the campus.

Floor discussions

Altogether seven individuals put forth their views and comments during the discussion. Their opinions are as follows: We are still people, not modern citizens. In the villages, there are children, who scrape a living by selling alcohol. How can they enjoy freedom and equality? Corruption is rife and the contractors and technicians embezzle funds meant for development. For example, they spend just Rs 2 million for a project for which five million rupees have been allocated from the centre. The fertile lands have been used for the human settlements but these days the villages wear a deserted look with most of the youth going abroad for jobs. Hand in glove with the smugglers, the government has adopted the policy of cutting down the trees and is earning money illegally. Education is not free as claimed by the government. The politicians are behind the plight of the nation. This sort of seminar should be held for the politicians. There is a distinct lack of planning in the state mechanisms. No any experts have made their way to the list of 26 lawmakers picked by the cabinet. Spouses, hangers-on and sycophants have dominated the list of nominated. Around 4 million youths are outside the country and this has impeded the nation's development. The youth need to be the imparted practical education. Is that there are not any leaders, who deserve to be cited in the seminar? Why do we all the times quote the Indian leaders?

Responses from the experts

Ram Kumar Dahal: All stakeholders, including the government and the civil society have their equal role to create an equal society. If the state becomes strong, it will be easy to pursue business and professions in the country. Let's foster positive thinking. The politicians lack patience to listen to the genuine complaints of the people. Investment made in education sector yields outcomes late. The government needs to devise the youth policy in a way that would deliver concrete results.

Shiv Raj Dahal: One is called youth not on the basis of age. It is vision and thought that make one youth. Everybody possesses knowledge and all should share it among the members of the community.

Gunanidhi Sharma: The market-led growth often puts the notion of planning on the backburner. The economic policies pursued after the 1990 political change gave unilateral emphasis on de-control, de-regulation and de-nationalisation. The time has come to review these economic policies. Our development framework is pro-market and pro-private sector oriented. There is the monopoly of the private sector in the economy infested with mafiadom, kickbacks and corruption.

Speaking from the chair, Khila Sharma Bagale said that there is a need for all to be honest and responsible. The ideas heard and shared in the seminar should be spread to the nook and corner of the district. There is lacking a clear planning in the country. This is a reason why the roads have made inroads on the fertile lands where the concrete houses have been erected, overshadowing the prospect of high agriculture growth. If the planners fail to devise proper planning for the economic and other developments, the people and the nation are bound to suffer a lot.

Overview of seminar held in Mugling of Chitwan

Bishnu Prasad Sharma, a resource person of a local secondary school, chaired the seminar participated in by the people from cross-section of Chitwan district though the locals from the northern Chitwan dominated it. The attendance of the women was remarkable. The local leaders and security personnel had shown their curiosity about the topics and speeches of the seminar that also witnessed hot and fervent question-answer sessions. The title of the seminar was 'Civic education to the youth.'

Ananda Shrestha

Since its establishment in 1990, the NEFAS has been holding seminars in the different parts of the country with a view of soliciting the opinions of the people at the grassroots. Our mission is to propagate civic education to the youths and other members of the society. The culture of bhagbanda (sharing important government posts among the major parties) has marred the efficiency of the state institutions. Our nationalism is also becoming weak. Leaders have failed democracy. They have indulged in power politics.

CD Bhatta

The FES often puts emphasis on social dialogues among the social and political players to strengthen democracy. Many political movements occurred here in the past but the people could not realise a true democracy. The weak section of the society demands for economic equality while the strong pitches for democracy. The tendency to talk about the political freedom but to intentionally omit the agenda of social justice is wrong. Education aims at buttressing the human civilisation. It should serve the life and the world but it fails to live up to these stated goals. Here the education system has merely pointed up inequality by producing two different classes of people. The judiciary system we are practicing has its origin in the colonial rule of British Empire in India and elsewhere and it lacks practical relevance because it is only the rich that can afford it.

Ram Kumar Dahal

Many foreigners hold their biased outlook on Nepal by virtue of their ignorance of the country's history and geography. Our politicians have distorted the definition of democracy by Abraham Lincoln. It has been distorted from 'by the people, of the people and for the people' to 'buy the people, off the people and far the people.' It will be injustice to dub all parties immoral and bad. There is no alternative to the political parties in democratic set-up. It is true that democratic culture is sorely lacking. It is the duty of civil society to guide the government towards the right direction.

Gunanidhi Sharma

We are in the critical phase. The politics and economy are intertwined. They affect each other. Now the government is weak and the private sector is strong. Motivated by the profit-making urge, the private sector has set its eyes on the natural resources such as lands, waters, stones and sands. Agriculture contributes 35 per cent to the GDP while 65 per cent people are dependent on it but it is not in the priority of the government. It has now slackened. Altogether eight banks have Rs 1,000 billion. The Nabil and the Investment Bank alone hold Rs 300 billion and 200 billion. This is a sheer dichotomy. There is the flight of the capital from the country. The lack of institutional infrastructure remains a big problem. Until a people-friendly statute is framed, the country will not see progress and prosperity. The constitution will put a system in place. We need to build the labour-intensive industries. The capitalistic system is so strong that it can buy the politicians. In order to change the structure of the economy, the political structure of the country requires a major overhaul. There is need for redressing the ethnic grievances but the idea of federating the nation on the basis of ethnicity is erroneous.

Shiv Raj Dahal

A militaristic culture has crept into the big parties. The parties and their leaders have come under the influences of foreigners' policies and Nepal has turned into battle ground for the powerful nations. Therefore, the country has become a place for the experiments of all political theories of the world. The presence of the state in politics, society and the market has become weak. In order to strengthen the state, it must have monopoly in the use of force, implementation of the penal system and the collection of tax. The first prerequisite for this is the competent political leadership and the rational citizens. The Nepalese have not yet transformed themselves from people to citizens. Instead of identifying themselves as Nepali, they are carrying the narrow regional, linguistic and partisan identities. For democracy to be functional and sustainable, the citizens must possess and foster following virtues:

1. Skill of decent socialisation.

2. National identity.

3. Courteous behaviour.

4. Patriotism.

5. Rational civil commitment.

6. Committed to protecting national integrity.

7. Critical consciousness.

8. Collective thinking and civic skills.

Youth and politics

A person, whose youth has not gone off and whom oldness has not touched, is a youth. The youth are the sources of social power. They are the engineers of the construction of the society, messengers of changes, hope of future and the partners of the present. But, the youth have nurtured negative feelings about the politics. The politics is itself not bad. It is not only the system of participating in the government on the basis of partisan competition. It is the master policy and it holds power for the social transformations. It is a service to the society so the youth need to get rid of the negative thinking about politics. It is wrong to blame the entire political system and the parties for the mistakes of certain individuals. The youth should play their proactive role in writing a democratic constitution so as to build a strong and able nation. For this, the expansion of civic education is very necessary because civic education helps the people to become responsible, rational, self-reliant, moral and dignified citizens.

From the floor

Altogether nine participants, including Sujata Bista and Chandra Mani Sapkota from the audience aired their views at the seminar. Their views have been summed up as follows:
The youth are suffering from different problems in the absence of right leadership in the country. The partisan sharing of powers among the parties has hit the political system negatively. It would have been better if there were also female speakers on stage. Why do we need the state? Are there efforts to bring back the 1990 constitution? Whether the character of state was discriminatory from the past or it is the phenomenon of the present? Is it that the seminar organisers are promoting anti-party sentiments? The experts on the dais should answer these questions.

The seminar is very relevant. The civic education should be expanded to the remote parts of the country. It is useless to put forth the questions whose answers from here are impossible. The seminar includes as diverse issues as of economy, politics and sociology. The Nepalese living in Chadani and Dodhara VDCs beyond the Mahakali River have become the victims of the government apathy. Why does the government stay shtum about the plight of these people? India is exploiting Nepal over 10 cusec water. Anarchy has ruled the roost. The middlemen are active everywhere. The 1990 statute had envisioned a welfare state. The privatisation was adopted in haste. The private sector should also discharge its social responsibility.

Shiv Raj Dahal

Our intention is not to condescend to the political parties. There is no any political system that is better than democracy. The seminar seeks to arouse the interests of the youth in the politics. Politics is services and the real leaders are the asset of the nation but here the leaders have become dealers. We cannot import leaders from outside. Let's choose the competent and honest leaders in the elections.

CD Bhatta

Nepal became weak following the Sugauli Treaty. The 12-point agreement was forged outside the country and leaders are working as per its provisions. The problems came when the secularism has been instrumentalised, undermining the country sanatan dharma. The rights of all castes and communities need to be secured but the nation's religious heritage must not be damaged on the pretext of implementing secularism.

From the chair, local resource person Bishnu Sharma noted that the seminar had been immensely useful to the participants comprising the teachers, local political leaders, woman activists and the people of different walks of life.

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