Perspective | Oped


Let’s learn from Bihar
Lessons to improve school education
by Amrik Singh
few years ago, Harvard University conducted a survey of teacher absenteeism in India. It was 43 per cent in Bihar, the highest at that time. In Punjab, it was over 40 per cent and Haryana a few digits behind. Then, Bihar was managed by Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Socrates award for Kurukshetra NIT chief
by Harihar Swarup
IME was when Indian academicians were rarely recognised by UK-based European Business Assembly, an independent international project development and management organisation.


Exercise good sense
September 8, 2007
The day of the teacher
September 7, 2007
Uncertainty in Pakistan
September 6, 2007
Liberate AIIMS
September 5, 2007
Mission accomplished
September 4, 2007
A thought for Muslims
September 3, 2007
Web of corruption
September 2, 2007
Criminals as teachers
September 1, 2007
Arson in Agra
August 31, 2007
Victims of system
August 30, 2007


The dawn of freedom
by G.S. Bhargava
HAT an inspiring picture of hope and promise it was 60 years ago when Midnight’s Children, as Sir Salman Rushdie christened India and Pakistan, saw their birth as sovereign States.

Treat war veterans as freedom fighters
by Lt-Col Chanan Singh Dhillon (retd)
HE country is celebrating the 60th anniversary of Independence and the celebrations of First War of Independence or the Sepoy Mutiny called in British parlance.

On Record
Rapists deserve severe punishment: Vyas
by Tripti Nath
HEN Girija Vyas took over as Chairperson of the National Commission for Women in early 2005, her experience of redressing public grievances as Lok Sabha MP came in handy. Vyas has been MP for four terms from Udaipur, the city of lakes in the desert state of Rajasthan.



Let’s learn from Bihar
Lessons to improve school education
by Amrik Singh

A few years ago, Harvard University conducted a survey of teacher absenteeism in India. It was 43 per cent in Bihar, the highest at that time. In Punjab, it was over 40 per cent and Haryana a few digits behind. Then, Bihar was managed by Lalu Prasad Yadav. Once he lost power after 15 years, things began to change. The Nitish Kumar government appointed a committee to study the school system and report within nine months.

The new government appointed 2,40,000 school teachers in one year. An important recommendation has a direct bearing upon Punjab and Haryana.  Himachal Pradesh is different from the two states.  In its chapter on Administration of School Education and Management of Schools, the Report quotes from the 1986 Policy on Education: (a) Management should have a long term perspective and be linked to human resource development objectives; (b) It should promote decentralisation and autonomy of educational institutions; and (c) It should attach priority to people’s participation which includes association of non-governmental agencies and voluntary organisations.

The purpose of quoting them is to reiterate the parameters of functioning laid down two decades earlier. They are still valid. The Bihar Commission has recommended, among other things, the majority of the local committee should consist of students’ parents; only 2-3 nominated members should be there with no eligibility to be elected as office bearers; 50 per cent of the members will be women; the SC, the ST and OBCs must be well represented on the committees; effective linkage between the management committee and the local panchayats; and clear-cut provisions with regard to dissolution of the management.

The issue in question is that some 200 teachers each in Punjab and Haryana are politically influential. They are intimately involved in local politics and make it difficult, for instance, to ban the system of transfer of teachers.  About the time the Bihar Commission was appointed, the state government decided to ban transfers of teachers there. If that could be done in those two states and if the majority in the management are parents, three fourths of the battle would be almost won. Though these proposals have been under discussion in Punjab and Haryana for years, the political parties have refused to implement them. Partly academic, it is basically a political battle.

Not long ago, Punjab was almost leading the country in terms of economic growth. The situation has changed because of the crisis in agriculture growth. Something is being done to resolve it, but it is neither radical nor decisive.Though exactly not similar, agricultural growth in Haryana is somewhat parallel to the situation in Punjab. Owing to proximity of Delhi, the impact of the growth in industry is a notable factor in Haryana. Therefore, its economy is growing in a different way. The neglect of school education in both states is particularly disturbing. While Punjab is more advanced in higher education, the situation is improving in Haryana. Inattention to vocationalisation is one problem. Equally unsatisfactory is the level of performance in the schools.

In contrast, Himachal Pradesh is performing better than both these states.  The principal explanation is that school education is not as highly politicised in Himachal Pradesh as it is in Punjab and Haryana. More precisely, it is the unholy alliance between teaching leadership and the professional politicians which is responsible for what is happening today. Absenteeism of teachers is crippling at all levels of education.

Thus, the teachers have a role to play in this task. Can they do it? The answer is both yes and no. They have a role of play though it is not a clearly formulated one. Not only that, the alliance between certain sections of teacher leadership and political management is unholy, downright disruptive and self-destructive.

We have reached a stage of development where politicisation of education is beginning to hinder the process of development. Other states, Bihar for example, suffered grievously from this dimension of civic life. Therefore, there was a reaction to it and it led to a change of government.

In Punjab, there has been a political change. But there is no corresponding change in respect of school education nor a feeling of genuine concern. In Haryana, the change of government meant the replacement of one group by another. No wonder, it has not been accompanied by any significant social or moral changes. 
We have to recognise that unless performance in the schools improves, it will adversely affect both higher education and the process of development.  The teacher is the root cause of the malaise. Two things have become imperative — de-politicisation and de-bureaucratisation of school education. Both are important. What we need is more local effort and better teaching as well as improved teacher training.

So many things require to be done but each one of them can wait. The most urgent, however, is that the system of transfers is banned forthwith. That is precisely what Bihar did. It was a public acknowledgement of the fact that while other things will take time to implement, this can be done straightaway.

The ban on teachers’ transfer had a telling effect on the overall atmosphere in Bihar. We can expect similar change in Punjab and Haryana too. For one thing, it will change the educational atmosphere. For another, it will break the unholy alliance between politicians and teachers who are not interested in teaching and are actually promoting widespread absenteeism.

It would be naïve to believe that this proposal will be found acceptable by those who wield political power. There will have to be a public discussion over the issue and its pros and cons discussed further. No one should overlook the fact that such a system does not exist in the UK from where we took over our system of education.

It was not a problem even in India for 15-20 years after the British left.  Most schools were controlled by District Boards in 1947. When the prices started rising and there was a demand for the absorption of teachers in government service, the question of transfers arose. Among other things, it suited those who did not wish to work. They formed political alliances and, in the bargain, earned money to which they were not entitled.

The real solution to absenteeism is close management by the parents. They have a stake in the kind of education that is imparted. Once they are involved in the local management, things will start changing. That will defang those teachers who have political connections, it goes without saying.  There is no point in blaming others. To some extent, the teachers themselves are responsible for what is happening. Thus, breaking this unholy alliance has become imperative.

The Bihar Report has many more things for examination. This writer has chosen to focus on the transfer issue. That is where a beginning can be made. To appoint another committee would only mean postponement of what can be done without anyone being the better for it. No one can say that transferring teachers is an inseparable part of the school system. This is a self-inflicted wound and the sooner we change the system, the better it would be.

The writer is a former Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala



Socrates award for Kurukshetra NIT chief
by Harihar Swarup

TIME was when Indian academicians were rarely recognised by UK-based European Business Assembly, an independent international project development and management organisation.

Till recently, this all-European body did not take note of Indian scholars but with the opening of economics and greater interaction, the scene has now changed. The work of scientists, economists and professors from other parts of the world is now acknowledged by EBA. It chose Prof M.N. Bandyopadhyay, Director, National Institute of Technology (NIT), Kurukshetra, for this year’s Socrates International Award.

Among many awards given by the EBA, the Socrates Award is considered one of the highest degrees, conferred on an individual, in recognition of his professional activities. The medal is made of precious metals with a Socrates image which is covered with pure gold.

Known to be a “workaholic”, Prof Bandyopadhyay is not much elated about the award and wonders if his preoccupation will permit him to attend the Award ceremony on September 24 in Oxford. He has been working on his “dream project” which may one day make India’s IITs and NITs as result-oriented as America’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT’s alliances with industry has resulted in a phenomenal economic boost and its mission has been to “advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation”.

He is of the considered view that there should be constant interaction between the industry and technology institutes. “There should be synchronisation between what industry wants and what we teach”, the objective being “whatever we teach should be properly utilised by the industry”. He is busy formulating a curriculum with this end in view. He wants the faculty members to take initiative in this sphere by acquiring the knowledge of requirements of industry.

The MIT, he points out, works on this pattern. Two of 12 months MIT takes projects from the industry and the salary bill is cleared by the industrial houses. In the process, government saves two months salary and the workers, often, make more money than their fixed emoluments.

Another advantage is that when a graduate joins an industry, he knows from the first day what he is supposed to do. In India, Prof Bandyopadhyay says, it is not an easy job but he is sure one day this project will bear fruit. Recalling how India made rapid strides in information technology and electronics, he says, the country is now a pioneer in this sphere in the world and is in a position to compete with the US. “A day may come when students from the US will come to India for studies”. Indian industry too can reach that level of perfection if there is proper interaction between the industry and technology institutes.

Kolkata-born, 58-year-old professor has taken his Ph D from Jadavpur University. He has devoted his life to research and studies, having presented 45 papers at national and international forums and penned seven books.

They included Power System and Signals and Digital Signal Processing. His yet another book, Theory and Practice of Electrical Machine is under publication. He began his career as an engineer with the Damodar Valley Corporation.



Wit of the week

Manmohan SinghI am now in politics. But I am a teacher by profession. I have taught in universities of Punjab, Delhi, Oxford and Cambridge and my heart is still for the teaching profession.

— Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while speaking to National Award winning teachers in New Delhi

Sitaram YechuryTalks relating to India-specific safeguards should not be held at Vienna’s IAEA meet. If it is not, there is no crisis. If it is, there could be a crisis. It is now up to the government.

— CPM leader Sitaram Yechury

Pilot-wise, engineer-wise, cabin crew-wise, we are still the best. With an Air India captain, you’ll feel most comfortable flying through turbulence and landing on an airstrip. Despite being very old, our planes are maintained to very high standards.

— V. Thulasidas, CMD of Air India

It appears Ministers from Tamil Nadu, who are holding very important portfolios, are controlling the entire Government at the Centre. They are standing united and driving hard bargains. Ministers from Kerala are not doing that.

— Kerala Law Minister M. Vijayakumar on the row over the inauguration of the new Salem Railway Division

It’s just my take on a film that has intrigued generations with its characters, plots and technique. It is not a risk either, for there are three kinds of people. One, those who remember the original by heart; two, those who know Sholay but have forgotten its spirit; and three, the 16-25-year-olds who haven’t seen the original. All of them should have a reason to watch Aag.

— Ram Gopal Varma, film director

My daughters Karisma and Kareena are like my two eyes. I want to keep looking at them.

— Randhir Kapoor

Darshan JariwalaPlaying Gandhi in the film Gandhi My Father was very challenging. At the same time, copying his mannerisms was extremely difficult as unlike others, a person of Gandhi’s stature is born only once in a century.

— Darshan Jariwala, actor

Sachin TendulkarTailpiece: Sachin Tendulkar has pipped Brian Lara as my greatest cricketer because of his mental toughness. For me, he remained an unsolved riddle throughout my playing career. One has to appreciate the pressure that he is under every time he bats. Tendulkar grew up under incredible weight of expectation and never buckled once even under poor umpiring decisions or anything else.

— Shane Warne



The dawn of freedom
by G.S. Bhargava

WHAT an inspiring picture of hope and promise it was 60 years ago when Midnight’s Children, as Sir Salman Rushdie christened India and Pakistan, saw their birth as sovereign States. For persons of my generation who had gone through several vicissitudinous experiences starting with the pulsating Quit India struggle — when we gave up our studies to land up in jail or work “underground” — the dawn of freedom was an exhilarating culmination.

That was notwithstanding the massive bloodletting initiated by the “celebration” of “Deliverance Day” observed by the All-India Muslim League to welcome the resignation of Congress ministries in seven provinces. The toll of post-partition mayhem and the massive mutual migration of millions of men, women and children dwarfed the earlier trauma.

An educative fictional work that won the Booker Prize in 1981, Midnight’s Children, one may recall, is a “loose allegory” on the events in India — mostly Bombay — in the immediate aftermath of Independence. It has deep insights into the thoughts of the “common” people. A chartered accountant’s record of the last 60 years in the two countries will, on the other hand, read different. It will possibly tote up a massive array of instances of internal strife and mutual animosity.

With networking in action in a sustained manner, the multiplier effect is larger- than-life images of outrages like the demolition of the Ayodhya mosque or the Gujarat killings of 2002 in India in recent years. One cannot open a newspaper without one of the bleeding hearts dilating on one aspect or another of demonised visages. Padma awards of the Indian State have also been in the bargain.

Posted as a correspondent in Rawalpindi for the Hindustan Times by Mulgaokar in 1961 I had sought the advice of Jayaprakash Narayan on what I should strive for while working in Pakistan His advice was simple: As an Indian journalist in Pakistan you should try to share their pleasures and pains, he said. It was not easy to live up to his precept. There was not much love lost for Field Marshal Ayub Khan and his country in India then. Nehru himself was dubious about the Field Marshal’s idea of indirect operation of adult franchise or “basic democracy” and made no secret of it.

Ayub Khan’s theory was that the tropical climate in south Asia was not conducive to successful functioning of adult franchise, especially when there was massive illiteracy. The Communists — they call themselves Leftists now —nursed Cold War hostility towards Pakistan and it spread to some Indian diplomats and journalists as well.

Going back, meanwhile, to the 1946 massive massacre of men, women and children in the eastern metropolis, cynically called the “Great Calcutta killings,” the still uncleared bodies on Park Street, the Sikh taxi-drivers going in twos while plying their vehicles, the atmosphere of fear hanging in the air have got etched on my mind as among the most depressing events witnessed at the start of my professional life. It was, incidentally, my first opportunity to report on events in Calcutta. Gandhiji had enlisted the cooperation of H.S.Suhrawardy, the incumbent “Premier” of Bengal, in quenching the fires of hate. Simultaneously, he pressed into service his “soul force” by going on a fast until the violence stopped Years later, I asked Suhrawardy in Karachi in 1961 about the “encounter” with Gandhiji, It was soul searching, he said. He was one of the ex-politicians gingerly finding their political feet in the Ayub regime.

Almost simultaneously, in 1946, there was what was dubbed RIN Mutiny, a revolt by the Indian ratings of the Royal Indian (British) Navy, protesting against the treatment meted out to them by the British officers. They had been putting up with it for years but now the coming shadow of Independence had begun to affect the core of the colonial power structure, possibly also spurred by the Indian National Army of Netaji Subhas Bose. While British warships were targeting the “rebel” vessels, the people of the city, especially the doughty “Ramas” — the hardy Mahratta youths of household work — fought the Tommies.

It was an exciting, even if unequal, contest. Quite a few times, the bricks (stones) hurled by the “Ramas;” would catch the soldiers in the jeeps on their heads. Our (white-collar) contribution was gathering different kinds of missiles for use by our fellow combatants as all of us ran up and down the Tilak Bridge in Dadar.

The RIN ratings in Karachi also were drawn into the agitation. Years later (1962) I met a few ex-INA and ex-RIN personnel in Mandalay in Rangoon. Their nostalgic affection for their motherland was touching. Neither the Nehru Government, nor its Pakistan counterpart, got any of them reinstated.

Incidentally, my brief Pakistan tour of duty also enabled me to interact with Chaudhry Mohammad Ali, a fomer Prime Minister. He was, like Dr Manmohan Singh, a civil servant, drawn into the vortex of Pakistan’s cut-throat politics. He was appreciative of India’s political system with a grassroots political organisation sustaining it.

According to him, the fragility of the ruling Muslim League in Pakistan, which after the Quaid-e-Azam and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan collapsed like a house of cards was his country’s bane.

In retrospect, it is a moot question whether the Congress party’s innate character and élan have survived its degeneration into a family concern, shorn of internal democracy and infusion of new blood. In Pakistan, too, the Quaid-e- Azam’s vision of non-denominational polity, in spite of the two-nation theory behind its creation has evaporated.



Treat war veterans as freedom fighters
by Lt-Col Chanan Singh Dhillon (retd)

THE country is celebrating the 60th anniversary of Independence and the celebrations of First War of Independence or the Sepoy Mutiny called in British parlance. All efforts are to awaken the spirit of countrymen and reinforce their determination to stand unitedly for the good of the country.

In this multi-pronged effort, the most vital link that is missing is that not even a word is written or said about the sacrifices of millions of those soldiers who donned uniform when exhorted by our respected leaders to fill the trenches to ensure victory of the British. Nor do we hear anything about the soldiers who, provoked by senior leaders to mutiny against the British. There were more than two dozen mutinies, big and small, in all the three wings of the armed forces in different stations including the biggest mutiny of RIN which spread to 24 ships in Bombay and Karachi, now in Pakistan.

The IAF soldiers at Dum Dum and Signal men at Jabalpur Signal Centre revolted. The ratings in  Bombay when they took to the streets not only un-nerved the leaders who provoked them but also the British authorities. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel pleaded with the government to crush the rebellion with a firm hand but Jinnah and Nehru advocated leniency. Perhaps they realised the futility of provoking the army belatedly as they, by then, realised that soon they will have to deal with the same Army.

Earlier, they refused to consider the caution by Gen Auckenleck, the then C-in-C of the Army who repeatedly said and often wrote to Indian leaders not to break the discipline of such a fine army.

Mahatma Gandhi was honoured earlier by the British for his untiring efforts to help recruitment during the Boer War. During both world wars, there was tacit understanding that India will be rewarded after the victory. Though Indian armed forces stayed in the middle east up to 1925 after the First World War, there was hardly any constructive effort on the part of the British to loosen their grip as India was their ‘milch cow’.

However, there was a big difference of ratio of Indians and British which rose to 9:1. This had to be brought down to 3:1 immediately after the Sepoy Mutiny. But during World War II, because of Indianisation of the officer cadre, which rose to 9,000 Indians officers, among the 22,000 British officers. The British Government was wary and was playing with the options not to divide the army and try to go for a workable federal structure as recommended by the Viceroy General Wavell and Gen Auckenleck. Mr Leonard Mosely reminded Gandhi’s outburst when the later said, let the whole nation be in flames, we will not concede even an inch to Pakistan. But Gen Wavell’s sudden replacement with Lord Mountbatten came as a shock to the former who lamented to Gen Auckenleck that he was treated like a cook.

It is noteworthy that Indian armed forces served as the backbone of the country and wherever rebellion took place it was the unity and combination of all faiths. The ratings, the Army  and the Air Force personnel of all faiths suffered equally. Likewise on the western and eastern fronts, the constituents of rebellion belonged to all faiths and demonstrated unitedly.

Mountbatten’s arrival changed the whole scenario and leaders accepted Partition and this left Gandhi wailing like he did after failing in the Caliph Movement, saying that no body listened to him. Obsessed with self-esteem and hurry, Mounbatten even advanced the Partition date without visualising its consequences and dividing the Army on communal lines.

It became a free for all and chaos prevailed. Nehru and Patel met Mountbatten and declared their helplessness and later demanded a pound of flesh that henceforth they will not interfere in the matters. He ruled like a Lord and even sidelined Gen Auchenleck.

More than half a million soldiers were demobbed immediately after the war. The British government created amalgamated fund to give ex-gratia grants to the non-pensioners, but these funds never reached the beneficiaries leaving them at the mercy of the state governments who played havoc with these funds. The National Government which took over did not even fulfill the obligation of demanding compensation from the Japanese government as advised by the British government.

In the hustle and bustle of division of the army and its assets, the Centre and the training depots failed to identify thousands of soldiers who were reported missing believed to be dead, in the operations in Crete, Southern and Northern Italy and so also during the numerous shipwrecks which were carrying them from North Africa while passing through the Mediterranean sea. The accounts of such soldiers still remain unavailable to their kin, leave aside the compensation.

There is a litany of woes from the families of these soldiers as to why there is feeling of disdain and abandonment on the government’s part. There are only a few remnants of veterans and widows alive who volunteered in World War I and those who volunteered in this are also in the evening of their life. Most non-pensioner veterans’ widows are leading a miserable life as they cannot sustain themselves in the era of high price escalation.

Sadly, those who volunteered and acted as secular force have been totally forgotten and left to fend for themselves despite their travails and sacrifices like any other so-called freedom fighters who got all benefits and honour available to them. All the volunteers of World Wars I and II should be treated as freedom fighters and benefits made available to them. This will be a befitting gift to the veterans during the ongoing celebrations.



On Record
Rapists deserve severe punishment: Vyas
by Tripti Nath

Girija Vyas
Girija Vyas

WHEN Girija Vyas took over as Chairperson of the National Commission for Women in early 2005, her experience of redressing public grievances as Lok Sabha MP came in handy. Vyas has been MP for four terms from Udaipur, the city of lakes in the desert state of Rajasthan.

She has served as a Union Deputy Minister and has held almost a dozen portfolios as minister in Rajasthan. She has been President of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee. A doctorate in Philosophy, she has taught at the University of Udaipur and the University of Delaware in USA. Vyas has several books to her credit including Ethical Teaching of Gita and Bible, Philosophy of Shuddhavaita, Seep, Samandar, Moti, Nostalgia and other poems and Philosophy of Democracy.


Q: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance is committed to one-third reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies but it is yet to introduce a Bill in Parliament. Why?

A: We are waiting to get 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies. With the exception of one or two parties, almost all parties made this promise in their election manifestos. During the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s regime, the percentage of women MPs in Parliament was more than 11 per cent. Women are excelling in every sphere. Why then should we deny them political space?

Q: Are you in favour of capital punishment for rapists?

A: Rapists should be given the most stringent punishment. They deserve no clemency. Rape is a heinous and unpardonable crime and those convicted should be given exemplary punishment.

Q: India ranks 98th out of 140 countries in the Gender Development Index despite all the talk of women’s empowerment. Why?

A: Yes, we are lagging behind because of low literacy, high drop out rate of girls and child labour. The mindset of society is such that women are meant to suffer. Besides, women are not aware of their legal rights. The implementation of government schemes for girls and women is not up to the mark. In most states, schemes for their education, health and sanitation exists only on paper.

Women belonging to the minority communities are in a worst condition. When Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, he had observed that very little of the money sent by the Central government actually reaches the beneficiaries.

Q: What is the NCW doing regarding the scheme for the welfare of women deserted by overseas Indian spouses?

A: The government has made the scheme on the basis of our recommendations. We have put details of the scheme on our website. As and when we get such cases, we refer them to the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs which has set up a sub-committee to look into complaints filed by Indian women deserted by NRI husbands. The woman’s recourse to justice is greatly constrained as such marriages are not governed by the Indian legal system but by the far more complex private international laws involving the legal system of the other country.

Q: Domestic violence daily has increased from an average of 125 in 2000 to 160 in 2005. How to tackle this menace?

A: Cases of domestic violence are on the increase. The state governments are still not sensitised. A majority of the states have still not deployed protection officers as stipulated in the Protection of Women in the Domestic Violence Act. One of the important functions of these officers is to assess the complaint of the aggrieved women and file domestic incident report in the prescribed form to the Magistrate and forward copies of the complaint to the police officer concerned. Any person who has reason to believe that an act of domestic violence has been or is being or is likely to be committed may give information about it to the Protection Officer having jurisdiction in the area either orally or in writing.

Q: What is your opinon regarding the demand to legalise prostitution?

A: Human trafficking is an international issue. Prostitution is the last resort of most women. In most cases they have been forced into it due to financial circumstances. Who wants to be in prostitution by choice? We want to ensure that women in prostitution are provided other livelihood options. The government should also ensure that they have access to periodic medical examination and treatment and their children are taken care of.


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