The Meghalaya High Court judgment on linguistic minorities’ school in the state in which the Meghalaya State Reservation Policy will not apply was received with mixed feelings – hope for the hundreds of minority schools in the state run by different linguistic minority communities and despair for the state education department which is always on the hunt to pack these institutions with their tribesmen at the behest of the reservation policy. It is a constitutional right under Sec 29(1) and 30(1), as the learned judge has said in his judgment, to set-up and run educational institutions ‘of their choice’ and the state government has no right to interfere in their administrative affairs including recruitment of staff and teachers. The judgment based on a petition filed by an aggrieved teacher of PN Chaudhuri HS School, Rilbong whose appointment was turned down by the state government on the grounds of state reservation policy because the school is receiving grant-in-aid under the deficit system. Now this aid to schools in question is dubious in itself. This author has been repeatedly told by various teachers from schools run by both minorities and non-minorities that 90% of their salaries are being borne by the union government. The amount is released to the teachers in the state through the state government. So, in reality this grant-in-aid of which the state government boasts it is providing to its so called schools in the state under various categories is, in reality, not its own but in itself an aid provided by the union government. The state government is at the most the disbursing authority, as many aggrieved teachers from the state who get their salaries on quarterly basis say. It is learnt that a miniscule 10 per cent is borne by the state government. And as per the statements of these teachers, the state government does not give any other funds to these schools. So in this context claiming that grants are being provided by the state government is exaggerating the reality of the matter. In fact, Meghalaya whose economy is solely dependent on the union government doles for its very survival, it is indeed an irony of sorts.
This author was told by several aggrieved teachers that despite funds from the union government, teachers’ salaries are not released regularly. And so that is why teachers have to resort to street protests – which have become a yearly affair now. It is alleged by many aggrieved teachers that their salaries are stashed in interest yielding deposits and is released after three months and in some schools twice in a year. Such gross negligence of the teaching community is perhaps nowhere seen whereas on top of this, the state government brazenly claims that it is providing aid to schools but it cannot provide salaries of teachers on time. And the irony is that when the time of release of salaries approaches, these teachers who have to source their salaries from the Inspectorate of School at Mawkhar, the dealing officials there have their own way of treating them. “As if they are paying this from their pocket,” say affected teachers. It has come to light that these officials often leave their workplace and visits the Iewduh marketplace forcing teachers, who have travelled long distances, to wait for long durations and most of the times are asked to come at other dates.
This is the plight of school teachers in Meghalaya which needs to be vehemently condemned by one and all. Education is counted amongst the most neglected sectors in Meghalaya. Here schools of repute, mostly belonging to the linguistic minorities, are the real gems for which education is still thriving and is keeping alive the faint tag of ‘education capital of the northeast’. But there has never been any significant support from the side of the state government except for lip service in each district headquarters.
Education should not be branded with colour or tagged with any particular category. I for one am not for reservation at least in the case of education and healthcare because, to put it simply, it is a matter of ‘life and death’. Educators should be employed purely on merit because it is a good teacher who creates the future citizens of the state and country. Likewise, in healthcare, a good doctor is as important as a good teacher. It is a matter of life and death for the patients. A good doctor can give a new ray of hope and life whereas a bad doctor can rob one of limbs, organs and ultimately life. Hence, to me, reservation policies should never be enforced in these two sectors and there is a need to amend such policies across the states in the country.
Today education is suffering in Meghalaya because of lack of good trainers who can create gems out of nothing. But there aren’t any, not much to see except the last of few of these minorities run linguistic institutions. We often hear that teachers in some rural belts of the state are not visiting their classes for months together because of lack of students and infrastructure whereas elsewhere in the city most teachers are seen doing everything else leaving behind teaching. It is the duty of the state education department to acknowledge those who spend more time with students and thereby still offering hope amidst this fiasco.
In fact, today a majority of the students in all the linguistic minorities’ run institutions in the state consists of sons and daughters of tribesmen. This author has been told by hundreds of such parents that they prefer to put their wards in schools run by linguistic minorities because they are sure of their wards success and future. It is seen that they book a place in these institutions in order to ensure a seat beforehand although there is not much of a need since in Meghalaya we haven’t reached a situation as witnessed in New Delhi where students have outnumbered schools. Why and what does this indicate? Just as a teacher teaches his/her students without any discrimination, whether a tribal or non-tribal, there should be no discrimination while appointing teachers. Let us be brutally frank here. What good is a teacher if he/she is not more competent in terms of guidance and teaching skills than his/her competitor? Where is the merit then? Is it that hard for the state government to identify that these are the last of few surviving institutions founded purely to impart education by their forefathers which are the hopes and aspirations of millions of people in the state? Why then paint them with the colour of reservation at a time when school dropout rate is one of the highest in Meghalaya when compared to other states of the country.
While researching on a particular century old girls’ school in the city during its centenary celebration, I was told by a tribal guardian interestingly, who has the foresightedness to see things in the right perspective, that it is indeed a matter of great honour that the earliest settlers in these hills, particularly the Bengalees who were sourced by the British Raj to work in their establishments, they have always ensured education and culture wherever they settled. To quote this gentleman from Laban, whose name I cannot recall now, “All those localities, bet it, Laban, Rynjah, Jail Raod, Polo, Rilbong, Tura and many more places, they (Bengalees) have put in place schools, colleges and cultural organizations for the benefit of the people,” he said. Let me clarify here that I am not here to take pride what this gentleman said and many may even think that it is quite unlikely a tribal praising initiatives of non-tribal here. But exception is not a word only in the dictionary and there are many right thinking citizens who do not see things primarily from the prism of a myopic identity rather the benefits that it is pouring into to the cross-cultural milieu. Now not only just because this gentleman said so but it is for everyone to see on their own as these are existing facts.
As it is everywhere, it will still be a combination of bo
th good and bad. There will still be teachers who go on joyride excursions taxing students and pilfered meal amounts of visiting cultural participants waiting to receive awards of repute, teachers who treat students on the basis of their colour, background and such but amidst them, the motive should be for good education and that should not suffer. And in this sector these linguistic minorities’ institutions are contributing promisingly and marching forward with their heads held high. To end with a few words of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the great philosopher and first Vice-President after whom the Teacher’s Day is celebrated, he once said, “The importance of education is not only in knowledge and skill, but it is to help us live with others. Co-operative and mutually helpful living is what we should be trained for… We have enough material but it is not guided-properly. We need education in character.”