Monday, November 30, 2009

End Discrimination; take ‘Positive Discrimination’ Policy

(Note: This full article is being reproduced with permission from The Mizoram Chakma Development Forum. This article was first published in the November 2009 Issue of the MCDF’s Newsletter)

I. Introduction
Equality and non-discrimination are two of the main fundamental rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution of India. All are born equal, and the State cannot discriminate against any citizen on grounds of “religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them” (Article 15(1) of the Constitution). Yet this does not prevent the state government of Mizoram from resorting to flagrant discrimination against the minorities in particular the Buddhist Chakma tribals.

The most tangible proof of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and language in Mizoram is available in the form of various official Recruitment Rules (RRs), notified by the government of Mizoram, which prevent the linguistic minorities from availing jobs. The RRs make anyone ineligible for government jobs under Mizoram government if he/she did not study Mizo subject up to Middle School level. Although the RRs are application to even the Mizos the main intention is to target the linguistic and ethnic minorities. Even more outrageous is the denial of any opportunity to the Chakmas to learn the Mizo subject in schools. The government of Mizoram has deliberately failed to appoint any teacher to teach the Mizo language subject in any of the schools situated in the Chakma dominated villages. This is a well-designed policy primarily to prevent the Chakmas from learning the Mizo subject in schools and then, to deprive them from jobs under the RRs. The Mizoram Chakma Development Forum (MCDF) condemns this anti-minority policy of the state government in the strongest possible term.

II. Knowledge of Mizo is must to get jobs
One of the important safeguards guaranteed to the linguistic minorities in India is “No insistence upon knowledge of State’s Official Language at the time of recruitment” (see the website of the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities, http://nclm.nic.in). This safeguard has been blatantly violated by the Mizoram government. The government of Mizoram has officially admitted that “knowledge of Mizo is a pre-requisite for recruitment”. This is available in the reports of the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities (NCLM). There has been no public debate on the Recruitment Rules and the public have been kept in the dark. Even today, these RRs are little known to the Chakmas.

III. Mizoram govt prevents study of Mizo subject in schools
In a report the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities (NCLM) stated that although knowledge of Mizo up to upper primary standard is mandatory for jobs, “But in the visit to the Nepali school, it was found that Mizo was not taught there up to upper primary standard. Since they can then pursue higher studies through English medium, those desirous of joining the services are at a disadvantage” (43rd Report of the NCLM). This fact applies to the Chakma and other minorities who have been deprived of teaching of Mizo subject in English medium or Bengali medium schools.

Strangely the Mizoram government has made knowledge of Mizo up to Middle School level compulsory to get jobs but has not made any arrangement to provide the facility to the minorities like Chakmas to study the Mizo subject in school. The government has not appointed any teacher to teach the Mizo subject in any of the schools in Chakma dominated villages. Studying the Mizo subject by the Chakma children by themselves is out of question.

IV. Why minorities must oppose “study of Mizo” requirement
The Mizoram Chakma Development Forum agrees with the majority opinion of the Mizos that residents of Mizoram must be able to communicate in Mizo language. Surely, any public official if posted in Mizo dominated areas would not be able to function effectively if he can’t speak Mizo with the public who are Mizos. But there is a vast difference between learning (or knowing) the Mizo language and studying the Mizo subject in school. The Mizos in general and the Mizoram government in particular must realize this difference and take corrective measures as soon as possible.

While the Mizo tongue can be learnt at subsequent stage by the Chakmas (say even after completion of their graduation) but the fact that they have been deprived of studying the Mizo subject in school still deprive them of government jobs under the RRs. That is, even qualified Chakmas who know how to speak the Mizo language fluently do not qualify for competitive examinations due to the discriminatory RRs. The Mizos and the Mizoram government must appreciate the fact that the Chakmas, for example, can learn the Mizo language but they can never legally change their school certificates/ mark sheets when they have not studied the Mizo subject. More importantly, the RRs violate the rights of those students whose parents are Central government employees posted outside Mizoram. Surely, they have no chance to study the Mizo subject in schools. Therefore, a student may complete his graduation from prestigious Delhi University or Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) but still would not qualify for jobs in Mizoram under RRs because he had not studied Mizo subject up to Middle School. This is most absurd and constitutes flagrant violation of the fundamental right to equality and nondiscrimination.

Therefore, the MCDF does not think the Recruitment Rules of Mizoram (those providing for mandatory knowledge of Mizo up to Middle School level) will be legally sustainable in the Court of law if the Chakmas challenge the legal validity of these RRs.

V. Recruitment Rules deny jobs to Chakmas
According to the government of Mizoram, there are 546 Recruitment Rules which provide that the knowledge of Mizo is desirable or compulsory for direct recruitment for jobs under government of Mizoram. These RRs blatantly violate the fundamental rights of the Chakmas and other minorities as enshrined in the Constitution of India including Article 14 (Equality before law), Article 15 (non-discrimination), Article 21 (right to life, including right to livelihood) and Article 16 which states that “(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. (2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.”

In February 2008, a public examination was held by government of Mizoram for selection of primary Hindi teachers. In this very exam, 50% of the questions were asked in Mizo language, which, as any sane individual will admit, the linguistic minorities such as Chakmas, Nepalis or Bengalis or Gorkhas or Reangs, who are citizens of Mizoram, will find difficult, if not impossible, to answer. This is against the fundamental right to equality and non-discrimination in state employment. The audacity of the education officials to engage in such type of discrimination springs from the discriminatory law. According to the Recruitment Rules for Group ‘C’ posts in the Department of Education and Human Resources Development, 2007, the essential educational qualifications for recruitment of primary school Hindi teachers are “1. Hindi Prabodh/ Parichay/ Army First Class Certificate of Education or equivalent examination recognized by government of India. 2 Class VIII passed in general education 3. Working knowledge of Mizo language at least Middle School Standard.”

The government of Mizoram has officially admitted that “knowledge of Mizo is a pre-requisite for recruitment”. In response to this, the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities (NCLM) rightly observed that “In such a case there s no chance for linguistic minorities to get Government jobs" (see the 41st Report). This explains as to why the representation of non-Mizos like Chakmas and Reangs in government departments is so negligible.

In the 41st Report the Commissioner Linguistic Minority recommended that "Mizo should not be essential for entry into services though it can be stipulated that it will have to be learnt in the prescribed period and before the end of probation period”. The Commissioner repeated this recommendation in the Forty Third Report 2004-2005 stating that the requirement of knowledge of Mizo should either be relaxed or should not be made “compulsory at the time of recruitment” but that “since Mizo is the Official language, the knowledge of Mizo must be acquired with a stipulated period after joining service.” The government of Mizoram failed to heed to these repeated recommendations but continues to insist “knowledge of Mizo language” as a qualification for jobs in Mizoram.

VI. Recommendations:
Majority of the Chakmas still engage in Jhum cultivation (shifting cultivation) but their life is increasingly becoming harder due to lack of green forests and dwindling productivity in Jhum cultivation. The Chakmas who form over 8% of the total population of Mizoram (2001 census) are one of the most backward communities in terms of social and economic development. Recently the government of Mizoram has even referred them as “primitive tribe” due to their extreme backwardness. Due to lack of jobs and insignificant representation of the Chakmas in the state government, the Chakmas are less empowered to deal with their own problems. For Mizoram to develop wholesomely there is a need to look after the needs of each and every community and the state government must therefore undertake some positive discrimination in favour of the Chakmas for their rapid socio-economic development. Only educated and developed Chakma society can contribute to the progress of the state.

Therefore, the MCDF fervently urges the state government of Mizoram to take the following measures:

1. Provide 8% reservation for the Chakmas in all government jobs including Mizoram Civil Services in proportion to their population as a positive discrimination towards the Chakma minority community who are one of the most backward tribes in the state;

2. Immediately abolish the discriminatory Recruitment Rules or suitably amend them by deleting any reference to the requirements for knowledge of Mizo; and

3. Appoint teachers to teach Mizo language in all the schools in Chakma inhabited villages. In such appointments Chakmas who are qualified to teach Mizo must be given first priority for appointment. In the absence of enough qualified Chakmas the government must train them by providing financial assistance and later appoint them as Mizo subject teachers.

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