Friday, Oct 31, 2014

The barefoot government

There is something dreadfully wrong with an education system that produces graduates from even private, expensive, snobbish schools and colleges who are still prejudiced about caste, class, religion, sex and colour. There is something dreadfully wrong with an education system that produces graduates from even private, expensive, snobbish schools and colleges who are still prejudiced about caste, class, religion, sex and colour.
Written by Bunker Roy | Posted: August 25, 2014 11:57 pm | Updated: August 26, 2014 9:30 am

of this country.

Now they will call me a “namak haram” because I went to Doon School and St Stephen’s College and I am trashing my own kind. They deserve it. Their snobbish elitist education has made them arrogant, inaccessible, insensitive and devoid of any humanity or humility. Just because they received a Western education, they think they know their country. Superficially, they may know urban India but they are clueless about rural Bharat.

Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock, said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be someone who cannot read or write. It will be someone who is not prepared to learn, unlearn and relearn.” In the 40 years that I have lived and worked with the rural poor in Rajasthan, what have I learnt that I did not manage to make my own kind “unlearn and relearn”?

It was not for want of trying. What did the prime minister, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and finance minister of the decimated UPA government have in common? They were all “educated” abroad. They were all for subsidising the rich and cutting subsidies for the poor. They had no idea about real poverty and hunger and how the rural poor survived, expecting the whole country to be gullible enough to believe that the rural poor today could survive on Rs 27 per day.

Out of sheer ignorance of rural realities and showing extremely poor political judgement, the three of them almost managed to strangle the MGNREGA. The MGNREGA prevented migration by the millions into cities. The bungling and corruption by village officials notwithstanding, the rural poor now have more money to spend on food, clothing, housing and essentials. So, of course, prices will go up.

The prime minister is evidently serious about improving the quality of life of the rural poor, as he eloquently stated in his speech on Independence Day. So what are the out of the box solutions that need to be considered urgently?

The MGNREGA should stay with “Modi-fications”. Pay minimum wages, which the Congress’s three armchair foreign-returned economists so stubbornly and unethically refused to do, in spite of a high court order. Make it more transparent and accountable, take action against corrupt officials exposed in social audits to set an example. Pass the public grievance bill in Parliament as soon as possible. Call a meeting of respected grassroot practitioners across political ideologies who know the MGNREGA from the village level and follow up on their recommendations.

The focus has to be on innovative job creation in the rural areas. Provide 100 days of employment at minimum wages to construct low-cost toilets for girls and rooftop rainwater harvesting tanks for drinking water, tree plantations and flush toilets in rural schools by the thousands. Construct rural godowns to store food grains instead of letting nearly 5 million tonnes of grain just rot in the open. Start community colleges on Gandhian lines instead of sending delegations of “experts” on education to study the American model. There are enough indigenous examples to continued…

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