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Civic Education in the National Context

One-day seminar jointly organised by NEFAS and FES

12 July 2016 (Boharatar of Jhangajholi Ratamata VDC, Sindhuli)

Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi

Our fledgling republic is still struggling to find its feet although the new constitution has got off the ground. The residues of political conflict continue to nag it. The political mistrust and polarization has threatened to upend the grand constitutional project. The political changes can be sustainable only if they are accompanied by the drastic economic transformation. But, there has been inordinate delay to accomplish the economic feat to the much exasperation of the commoners. The ethno-centric and regional politics has created dangerous cultural and ethnic chasms. The political leadership needs to demonstrate its conventional wisdom to bridge the societal gulf. It requires disseminating correct information to the public. These socio-political maladies can be fixed only if the people are equipped with the civic education.

The civic education has become an effective intellectual tool to enlighten the people living in the nook and cranny of the country about the burning subjects of politics and society. It liberates the people from the infantile instincts and converts them into jagrat manushya (awakened citizens). Only an enlightened citizen stands up to the political and business chicanery. Corruption is gnawing at the institutions from top to bottom. Quality education and health services are beyond the reach of the laymen. Big money and quislings hold sway over the politics. Deep frustration is devouring the youth. The people crushed by the April quake have not been fully assured of state's succours and support. This pervasive quandary demands that the people rise to occasion and nudge the state to be responsive to the people left high and dry. It is only with the civic education that the people come to the scene to sort out the pestering problems.

Against this backdrop, the NEFAS and FES Nepal office jointly organised 'the Civic Education in the National Context' at Boharatar of Jhangajholi Ratamata VDC of Sindhuli on July 12, 2016. The people from different walks of life participated in the seminar that underlined the importance of civic education to educate the people about their rights and duties in the society. Economist and political experts spoke on the topical issues vis-a-vis the significance of civic education. Their views are as follows:

Dr Gunanidhi Sharma, former Vice-Chairman of Planning Commission

The free market economy has weakened the state. It benefits only one section of people that becomes rich overnight. The elite have captured the politics. There is virtually nil representation of workers and farmers in the House. To the contrary, there is the representation of three members from Golchha family, one of the big business families. The common people are helpless to influence the political process. We should follow compassionate capitalism that ensures the people's rights to food, shelter and job. Nepal is endowed with diverse cultures and resources. It is the 17th oldest nation in the world this makes us proud of being a Nepali. Over 250 years ago, Nepal's unifier PN Shah had cautioned that the southern neighbour is cunning and the northern one is cooperative. His visionary remark has been vindicated as India imposed blockade on Nepal three times in 2027 BS, 2045 BS and 2072 BS. In 2027 BS, it announced the embargo after the government removed Indian check posts along the northern borders while the 2045 BS blockade came in retaliation against the import of arms from China. The reason behind the recent embargo is clear- Nepal outright turned down the India diktats on the contents of the new constitution. India never wants Nepal to operate its affairs of state on its own. India did not evolve itself as a civilisation state but is obsessed with the colonial mindset. The nations can be small or big but they are equal when it comes to sovereignty, integrity and right to self-determination.

Despite having rich in terms of natural resources, we became poor and are suffering from inferiority complex. The health and education sectors are not people-friendly. Panchayat system was autocratic but it public policy was good as it stresses that the state had obligation to provide education and health services to the people. The government's hand-off policy has benefited private business and deprived the people of basic services they are entitled to from the state. The privatisation should be selective. It has become urgent to adopt corrective measures to end this. The government should operate the public entities. Some industries carry value of dignity and they should be run under the state's protection. It is necessary to end a situation in which profit goes to the private sector and loss to the government.

The citizens need the state when they are victimised by the natural disasters. The agriculture sector is grossly neglected. As a result, we have to import foods from foreign nations. About 60 per cent revenue comes from VAT and customs. Hard-earned dollars go into buying Indian currency. About 90 per cent of trade is import based. How can we be secure in such a situation? The neo-liberal economic policies have given upper hand to the private sector, which is neither mature nor honest towards the people and the nation. It should abide by laws and regulations. Dons, mafias and profiteers are running the nation. At the moment, the nation enjoys demographic dividend as it has 57 per cent of active population. But, if this young population deviates from their path, this will have long-term negative impact on the nation. Here is irony also. The country receives remittances from the poor people working in different nations. They send money to support their families back home. Quite the contrary, the rich families are selling their property and are leaving the country with their money. The privatization has left the students belonging to the lower class high and dry. It is creating two classes of citizens, and this trend must be stopped.

Ananda Shrestha, NEFAS executive director

Over 26 years passed by since the restoration of multiparty democracy and now the time has come to do soul-searching with regard to the delivery of democratic system. If we go through media outlets, we find them filled with negative news. Frustration runs high. Democratic system is not bad but the politics has failed it. The education system is creaking under the strain. It is ruined by strikes and politicisation. Red-tape and bribery has infected the administration while the health sector is run by mafias and quacks. The time has come for the youth to assume the leadership role to bring economic transformation.

CD Bhatta, FES Programme Officer

Freedom is very important but it should be complemented by equality. The people in the seat of power always prefer freedom but the poor people demand equality. There is need for ensuring equal opportunities to the people in the field of education, health and job. A society with a strong sense of solidarity helps the people. Ours is the society known for his culture of charity but it has been marketized. Those, who talk about inclusion, are promoting exclusion at their home. Existing education system has failed to link life with the world. It is neither producing knowledge nor giving employment to the youth. Ours is the civilisation state steeped in culture, language and knowledge but we are in penury. It is moot issue that merits serious soul-searching. Our politics discarded Raj dharma (the duty of the state). Nation building requires sacrifice, discipline and penance. Everything is in the statute but what we lack is the constitutional culture and enabling socio-economic structures. Civic education promotes positive thinking and teaches the people to respect labour.

Shivaraj Dahal, NEFAS Programme Coordinator

In order to build a strong and affluent Nepal, the youth should be trained on the universal values of democracy and inspired them to emulate them. This is because today's youths are future's able citizens. The present education shapes their future. For the state to be strong, all citizens should be conscious, active and capable. Citizens are the members of the state and they have both rights as well duties. The state and citizens have equal duty to ensure the people's rights and make them responsible towards the nation. It is not possible to write all the duties of the people in the constitution. It is civic education that makes the people aware of their duties towards the nation. It enhances consciousness, wisdom and good socialisation of the people. It empowers the individuals, promotes ethnic harmony and religious tolerance and maintains class balance. It opens up the horizon of the people. It converts the people into citizens, enabling them to defy the political highhandedness and to do away with the societal anomalies.

The political leadership should be a living embodiment of ethical politics. A true leader has capacity to show the path to the families, the parties, society and nation. The political leadership should be honest, committed and far-sighted. We can import doctors, engineers, pilots, scholars and heroes but cannot bring in leaders from outside. The statesmen are born out of long exercise of democracy. This requires theoretical knowledge, intellectual skill, national thinking and pragmatic experiences. Politics is a social service. Sometime the entire political realm has to suffer owing to sleazy acts of one politician. It is wrong to treat all parties with a same parameter. This will do injustice to the honest political leaders and preclude the young generation from joining the politics.

Roshan Pokharel, lawyer-cum-lecturer

Around 31 fundamental rights enshrined in the new constitution are its positive attributes and needed to be implemented to bring about changes to the life of the people. It has recognised pluralism and religious rights. The shadow of politics must not be allowed to fall on the judiciary. No any Supreme Court Justice should be affiliated to the political parties. If so, this will erode the credibility of court. All should abide by the rule of law and no one is above it. There are two types of democracy- social democracy and liberal democracy. It is necessary for the parties to be democratised. The local election has not been held for the last 18 years. The new constitution has not well mentioned the provision about mitigating the natural disaster.

Dev Kumar Acharya, principal of Pragatisheel Higher Secondary School

Our district is like a shadow under a lamp. It was ahead in the education field in the previous generation. In the past, parents passed down knowledge to their offspring. Religious books such as Vedas, Geeta and purans were sources of education and ethics. The Macaulay education that entered the country through Durbar High School produced the snobs, who treat physical works disdainfully. There are many educated people but they are lacking in skill. The technical education is imparted to those, who flunked in the SLC exams. Education system should teach ethics to the students.

Programme coordinator Arun Kumar Singh highlighted the objective of the one-day seminar attended by the teachers, representatives of political parties, local intellectuals, farmers and students.

From the floor

Ramji Rana Magar said that the organisers of the seminar should incorporate the suggestions of the participants. Ram Hari Dahal noted that the seminar informed them about the anomalies besetting the Nepalese society. Our political system is churning out discrepancies and it is necessary to adopt controlled democracy to do away with them. Democracy does not mean chaos. It requires discipline. Bal Raj Shrestha said that this sort of seminar should be held throughout the nation. How can illiterate individuals, who are lawmakers, frame the laws? Samiksha Acharya, a student, underlined the need for expanding technical education to create jobs. The poor students like me have no chance to be a doctor and engineer in this country. Is education the property of the rich? We have also a dream but the state has shown a height of indifferent to the offspring of the poor. Keshav Kumar Bhattarai said the civic education should be imparted to the political leadership.

Dr Sharma's replies to the queries:

In order to change the system, the leadership should be bold, committed and honest. We need the people's controlled democracy. Elected members should abide by the code of conduct. Civic education is necessary with the people keeping vigil on the activities of the political parties. Young generation should join the leadership rung to change the society.

Responses from Shiva Raj Dahal

Our education system is producing unemployed people. It is wrong to adopt knowledge without experimenting it. Our examination system is faulty. Our intellectuals are not connected to the society.

Chairman of Pragatisheel Higher Secondary School Management Committee Chandra Bahadur Shrestha said that the teachers should instil a sense of ethic into the students. We people are to blame for producing bad leadership. We have been unable to pick right persons to represent us in the parliament.

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