Thursday, May 15, 2008

SSA Mission in Mizoram: Mission to educate or discriminate against the Chakmas?

By: Paritosh Chakma

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is Government of India’s flagship programme for achievement of universalization of elementary education. The 86th amendment to the Constitution of India (2002) has made “free and compulsory education” to all children of the age group of six to fourteen years a Fundamental Right. The SSA programme is being implemented across the country in partnership with the state governments. Hence the role of the state government officials is crucial in the success of this education mission.

The government of Mizoram started implementing the SSA during the financial year 2000-2001. After seven years of operation, Mizoram has certainly benefited in terms of enrolment of students. In February 2008, State Education Minister Dr R Lalthangliana stated that Mizoram has “almost achieved total enrollment in primary education”. But has SSA Mission in Mizoram been able to provide quality education? Far away from providing quality education, Mizoram SSA Mission has become another tool at the hands of the state to breed discrimination against the Chakma minority community in the state, at least in the areas falling outside the political borders of the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC).

The Mizoram SSA Mission’s slogan is “Mi Tin Tana Zirna Leh Hmasawnna” which means “Education and Development for All”. But it seems that “all” does not include the Chakmas. The functioning and administration of SSA in Chakma areas has been frustrating, to say the least.

Worst, a particular SSA Mizoram official has even come out to publicly call the Chakmas as “nomads” and thereby justified the reasons for SSA for not been able to educate them. Such remark can only emerge out of utter ignorance about the Chakmas and/or due to the personal prejudice against this community. If he was referring to the traditional Jhum cultivation practiced by most Chakmas, which requires shifting from place to place every year, why, even a vast number of Mizo villagers survive on this traditional form of agriculture. The SSA official in question must be aware that Jhum is increasingly being recognized in this civilized world as a form of agriculture, not a “nomadic” lifestyle of the tribals. That Jhumming in traditional form destroys the forests and ecology is a different subject matter.

The reality of SSA Mizoram is completely different on the ground. The SSA has become a breeding ground for rampant discrimination and injustice against the Chakmas in Mizoram!
This author has recently visited some Chakma-dominated villages in western side of Mizoram, bordering Bangladesh and found several disturbing facts about the functioning of the SSA Mission in the Chakma areas.

First, almost in every school under SSA established in Chakma dominated villages, a Mizo teacher has been appointed along with the Chakma teacher, even if qualified Chakma candidates were available for appointment. These Mizo teachers cannot speak the Chakma language, the mother tongue of the Chakmas and the Chakma children at primary and upper primary level would understand neither Mizo language nor English. In such circumstances, it is quite difficult for the Mizo teachers to communicate with the Chakma students, let alone teach them the lessons. If the students cannot learn, how will the SSA Mission be of any help to them? Hence, mere enrolment will not lead to universalization of primary education which is the mission of SSA in India.

Second, appointments of Mizo teachers have been made without any prior consultation with the local Village Education Committee, headed by the President of the concerned Village Council. The District Project Coordinator, who is the head of SSA at district level, is acting as the judge and jury in the matters of appointment, transfer or termination of the SSA teachers.

Third, most of the Mizo teachers who have been appointed in Chakma villages are non-locals and they hail from villages far away from the Chakma village where they have been given appointment. They do not stay in the Chakma village, among the Chakmas, to teach the Chakmas. In other words, they do not attend classes. In a few cases, the school children have not even seen the faces of their Mizo teachers as they never came to teach them but these teachers continue to draw monthly salaries without any problem. This is an absurd democratic practice and model of professionalism which Mizoram is unfortunately trying to impart to the people! The loss is directly caused to the Chakmas who would not receive good education. But the loss is also to the state and the country as a whole, as children are considered to be the assets of the nation.

Fourth, some of the Mizo teachers have already been transferred to SSA schools in Mizo villages from Chakma villages where they have been actually appointed. Such transfers are completely illegal and arbitrarily decided by the concerned District Project Coordinator. (Many other Mizo teachers are probably waiting for their chances of transfer.) In consequent to such transfers, the SSA school (which usually has two teachers only) is left with the lone Chakma teacher to teach the entire school whose strength is not less than 50 students. Can a teacher effectively teach 50-60 students of different classes? If the answer is yes, it is not difficult for anyone to guess about the quality of education being imparted in these schools. The lone teacher should be devoting his/her time and energy to controlling the kids who are usually naughty and noisy rather than teaching their lessons. Surprisingly, the post left vacant due to the transfer has never been considered as “vacant” and notified as such for appointment of another teacher.

Fifth, as visible from above, the SSA Mission has turned out to be a job vending machine for some Mizo youths. Jobs are first created in Chakma areas, only to be transferred to the Mizo villages later.

In addition, the Chakma teachers could face termination from services any time without following the due procedures. In a particular case which this author has come across during his visit, a Chakma teacher in a Chakma village was terminated from job without any formal notice by the District Project Coordinator (DPC), SSA, Mamit district. The only cause for the dismissal, which was verbally informed to the Chakma teacher, was that there has been a complaint against the Assam Sanskrit Board, Guwahati from where this Chakma teacher did his matriculation, alleging that the Assam Sanskrit Board was not recognized and hence all certificates issued by the Board should be deemed as fake. It is worth-mentioning that there was no complaint against this Chakma teacher individually. Hence, verification if any should have been conducted into the genuineness of the Assam Sanskrit Board, not against the Chakma teacher. Yet, without verification of the allegation contained in the purported complaint, he was dismissed from job, albeit verbally. A Mizo girl who was a staff of the DPC office, Mamit, was appointed by the DPC in place of the Chakma teacher. This Mizo girl, who hails from Mamit town, has never attended class but continues to draw regular monthly salaries. Later, when a Chakma student submitted a written complaint with the State Project Director of SSA Mizoram, Aizawl on behalf of the deposed Chakma teacher, the DPC Mamit, as part of compromise, issued an order appointing the deposed Chakma teacher as Education Volunteer at the same school at fixed pay of Rs 2,000 per month up to December 2008 on the condition that he may be dismissed from job any time without any notice! Seemingly, the Chakma teacher was denial promotion as an “upgraded teacher” (which would have increased his monthly salary to Rs 8,000) solely because he was a Chakma. While this Chakma teacher is trying hard to educate the school children, most of who are from his community, the Mizo lady teacher is enjoying her fat salaries as an “upgraded teacher” staying in her home town Mamit without attending any class. If this is not “injustice”, what is “injustice”? If this is not “discrimination” then what is “discrimination”? Of course, this is a clear case of racial discrimination and injustice against the Chakmas of the state in general.

The SSA Mission Mizoram is clearly further dividing the two biggest tribal communities (Chakma and Mizo) of the state on communal line. As a result, the Chakmas residing outside the CADC areas see the SSA Mizoram as a curse than a blessing for them.

Is SSA Mission in Mizoram a mission to educate or to discriminate against the Chakmas? The SSA must attempt to promote a holistic approach to education, human rights and embody a pluralistic and non-discriminatory view of society. Therefore, Mr V.Ralliana, the State Project Director, SSA Mizoram and Chief Minister Mr Zoramthanga as the Chairman of the Governing Body, SSA Mizoram must enforce the mechanisms of checks and balances in case of any misuse of power by any officer and launch an investigation into the non-attendance of classes by Mizo SSA teachers appointed in Chakma areas, illegal transfers made so far, and arbitrary denial of promotion of Chakma teachers, among others.

A prompt and impartial high-level investigation is must to probe into the ongoing discrimination and injustices against the Chakmas under the SSA Mission in order to establish fairness, transparency and accountability to achieve the goal of universalization of elementary education in Mizoram apart from delivering quality elementary education for the betterment of the society.

[For further understanding of the educational problems of the Chakmas of Mizoram, read: The illiterate children of a literate mother: The case of the Chakmas of Mizoram ]

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