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Civic Education: Present National Context

One-day seminar jointly organised by NEFAS and FES at

30 March 2016 (Mahadevsthan, Kavrepalanchowk)

Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi

Nepal's new constitution has envisioned 31 fundamental rights and four duties of the citizens. This sheer dichotomy has made the national charter an ambitious document and the people the demanding lot. Flagging economic growth and scanty sources of income hardly allow any government to easily implement the statute in letter and spirit. The yawning gap between the constitutional promises and state capacity is sure to trigger another round of state-people conflict. Some ethnic and social groups are still hell-bent on inserting more rights in the constitution, risking it becoming a contested constitutional dossier. It requires a conventional wisdom from all sides to avert the looming conflict and convert the statute into the charter of destiny of all Nepalese. In this context, civic education is the most viable democratic antidote to the potential conflict because it enlightens the people about the equal importance of their rights and duties. It transforms the people into awakened citizens, wise and moral. It frees them from the atavistic instincts and infantile behaviours. Once the people are imbued with civic values and principles, they play critical role in democratising the society and cleaning up the politics.

The Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS) and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung(FES) have been spearheading the campaign to spread the values of civic education to the nook and corner of the nation for many years. The two organisations have teamed up to conscientize the grassroots people about their constitutional rights and duty towards the nation. The NEFAS and FES have provided forums for experts, intellectuals and local people to share their concerns, knowledge and experiences against the backdrop of nation building campaign. Such a forum was created in one-day seminar 'Civic Education: Present National Context' organised on the premises of Dedithumpko Higher Secondary School in Mahadevsthan VDC of Kavrepalanchowk on March 30, 2016. Speaking at the function, the speakers said that the civic education ultimately transforms the people into awakened citizens, who possess moral fibre and strength to knock the bad politicians off their pedestal. They noted that civic education has become a necessary intellectual instrument to evolve the nation into a robust, sovereign and prosperous republic in the aftermath of the promulgation of historic constitution. They dwelt on the diverse subjects of national interests. Teachers, representatives from different political parties, students and local intellectuals participated in the animated interaction.

Neo-liberalisation vitiates national economy: Sharma

National Planning Commission former vice-chair professor Guna Nidhi Sharma said that India's malign intention and hegemonic policy towards Nepal precluded it from attaining prosperity and stability. Nepal's economic growth never moved beyond 3.50-4 per cent because of India's policy, he said. His views can be summed up in following sentences-

  1. The 1950 Treaty has constrained Nepal from framing independent policies on employment, labour and prices. India invokes it whenever Nepal takes sovereign decisions and executes independent foreign policies.
  2. India has mentality to extract something in return of its economic aid to Nepal. The southern neighbour is stingy in a sharp the contrast to the magnanimity of the northern neighbour as seen in the border issue.
  3. Added to it, fatal neo-liberalisation and free market economy, which the post-1990 government adopted impetuously, continues to deflate economy. Four Ds- decontrol, downsize, deregulate and denationalisation became the mantra of government but the neo-liberalisation policies put the country's economy in shambles.
  4. Health, education, road and transport are public goods and the state has responsibility to provide these utilities to the citizens but with the start of privatisation in 1991, the public have been deprived of them. Pro-market ethos that 'the might is right' alienated the people from the state, leaving them in the lurch.
  5. It is irony that private sector became strong and the government weak. The private sector is selective. The state has to open those areas of services and industries that can compete with the private sector but should not open those areas sans the competitive edge.
  6. Today our dependency has grown by 70 per cent, up from 30 per cent in 1990. This amply shows the lackadaisical approach of the government when it comes to opening new industries and boosting economy. It has become necessary to diversify trade to reduce deficit and dependency.
  7. Hydropower development requires foreign technology and knowledge. It is a long-term investment. Since capitalism is motivated by greed, the private sector wants quick return of its investment so there is not sufficient investment in the hydropower sector.
  8. Until and unless, our political leadership is honest and loyal to the nation, it is difficult to achieve independence and economic prosperity.

Civic consciousness is like a spark of light: DR Dahal

FES Office Nepal head Dev Raj Dahal said that civic education aimed at liberating people from their infantile behaviour and self-ordination, and transforming them into awakened citizens and human beings. Dahal notes that civic education helps acquire maturity, make critical judgement, promote democracy and active citizenship, build national identity and close gender and intergenerational gap. His views can be summed up following way:

  1. Civic consciousness is like a spark of light, which reveals life beyond the needs of body and mind, and help familiarize the people with various rights and duties.
  2. Civic education cultivates citizens to acquire knowledge, skills and dispositions and enables them to participate in the public life of society and use their constitutional and human rights. It converts the people into citizen and makes them moral and patriotic. It bridges the gap between knowledge and wisdom.
  3. Civic education is praxis- the use of critical knowledge to shape positive attitude towards the nation and polity and create norms that are socially binding. The critique of existing praxis helps transform people into citizens and hones their conscience.
  4. Civic learning does not mean the passive absorption of data, facts and information or rote-learning of text books written in a an entirely different context, but active reflection, inquiry and discovery on the life-context, issues, actors and rules to resolve problematic conditions.
  5. Nepal has not framed its policies since 1950. In order to ensure right to self-determination, the country should have ownership of its policies in the sphere of politics, law and development.

Nepal is not a tribal state but a civilisational state with the oldest history of knowledge.

Conclusion: Civic education is important for a society like Nepal for reconciliation of various identities through the elevation of perspectives. It offers chance to the Nepali citizens to converse with power elites on equal terms and create a common ground for cooperative action. In this sense, it seeks to foster normative consensus over democratic values across the political parties of various hues and boost state-citizenship ties.

Know the history: Dahal

Professor Ram Kumar Dahal said that Nepal was one of 17 oldest ancient states in the world with the dignified socio-economic and cultural tradition. It is necessary to think retrospectively as to how we have come to such a pass, he rued. He said:

  1. The citizens should pay equal attention to their rights and duty. The lopsided focus on rights create anarchist situation as we have seen for decades. We should apply our own lens to define human rights narratives. It is wrong to define the HR from the parameters of Western standards.
  2. Our education policy needs to be reoriented so that the ethical values can be inculcated into the young generation. They should be conscientized about the history, geography, and cultural and intellectual tradition of the nation.
  3. We often pooh-poohed first Rana Prime Minister Jung Bahadur for his bloody political venture but there are plenty of things to be learnt from him. When he visited Britain, he demanded that the British Empire fully recognise Nepal's sovereignty and treat him as the Prime Minister of sovereign nation. He even refused to take gifts from the British queen to her bewilderment, saying that Nepalis are known for only donating others, not accepting the presents from others. As he arrived in Calcutta, thousands of people thronged to have a glimpse of the man, who has become legend in his life time.
  4. There is growing tendency to abominate politics, terming it a dirty game played by political idiots. This negative stereotype should be removed. The youth should join politics to clean up it. Chairman Mao had said the youth are the rising sun but the Nepalese youths are leaving the country in search of job abroad. It is challenging to keep them here by providing employment opportunity to them. With the rising political awareness, the youth should join the politics.
  5. Promoting civic education, good governance and rule of law is imperative for the overall development of nation.
    'Politicians have become dealers, not leaders'
    NEFAS programme coordinator Shiv Raj Dahal called for purging politics of evils and greed that are ruling the roost. "The politicians have become dealers, not the leaders of people. They have used politics as a means for minting money. This egregious practice must be eliminated to democratise the society," he said. His views are as follows:

Civic education makes the citizens moral, wise and conscious of things happening around them. Every citizen should be imbued with following civic virtues:

  • Good socialisation- It is a process of learning and experiencing social values, culture, skill, language, art and literature.
  • National identity- Every nation has its identity. Nepal as the oldest nation in the south Asia has its own flag, anthem, dress and national unity day. Nepal Army has earned its distinct identity as the peace-keeping force in the conflict-torn nations across the world.
  • Etiquette- As a social member, all citizens should demonstrate polite behaviour and respect others' views.
  • Patriotism- It is a devotion to independence, dignity, glory, respect, welfare, rights and security of the nation. It is imperative to promote national culture and unity.
  • Rational civic commitment- It is a commitment to Loktantra, human rights, social justice and constitutional norms and values.
  • Protection of national integrity- As the nation is moving ahead to implement federalism, national integrity should be put at the centre. No proposal should be allowed in the parliament that hurts the territorial integrity and national unity.
  • Critical consciousness- It is an intellectual ability to see burning issues in proper perspective by analysing their pros and cons.

Civic thinking/skill- Citizens should rise above the ethnic, regional and communal factions and promote positive thinking focusing on the subjects of public, community or national importance. They should be equipped with knowledge and participatory skills so that they can be aware of their rights, duty and responsibility towards the society and nation.

Leaders are the role models of the citizens. They are the carrier of public policies and morality. Imbued with national vision, knowledge, skill and practical experiences, they mirror the society. Statesmanship that evolves from the long democratic exercises and experiences cannot be imported from outside. Without a good political leadership, the politics hardly takes a positive shape.

Today, civic virtues are disappearing from politicians. Politics is infested with vices and filthy practices. The young generation should join politics and remove all its anomalies. Politics should be a service to the nation and society; it should not be an instrument to fulfil one's own interests. It is civic education that enables the people to revamp the image of politics, making it a viable means of serving the people and preserving the national interest and sovereignty.

Ram Chandra Lamsal, principal of Dedithumpko Higher Secondary School underlined the need for promoting democratic culture.

From the chair, Ganga Kumar Mandal said that the programme was highly propitious to inform the participants about the core values of civic education. The people should be the centre of development, he added.

Arun Kumar Singh of NEFAS moderated the programme and highlighted its objectives. Singh said that the seminar sought to share the views between the experts and locals on the social, political and economic themes and present the conclusions to the policymakers.

From the floor

Deepa Sharma inquired how the timbers that are lying in the forests and subject to decay can be used. Why doesn't the government sell them to the people or distribute them? Ananda Sapkota said that the participants wanted that they were enthused by the seminar and made optimistic as the nation was still in some kind of political turmoil. There are also positive sides of political changes in the aftermath of the 1990 change, he said and urged the organisers to come up a proposal of hydropower development in the investment of the people . Pushpa Raj Awasthi said that model of federalism should be based on the reality of the country

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