Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Social Justice: Misplaced importance on education

When B.R. Ambedkar was insulted time and again for his caste, he figured out that the only way to get respect is by education. With his experience, it sounds just fine. Over the years, the importance of education continued to grow. To be fair to the system, it has given enough opportunities for the oppressed classes to be educated. But the story doesn't end here. There are millions who can't do well in education in its current state. We continue to see school drop-outs and kids reaching 10th grade without an ability to read in their mother tongue.

My interaction with such school drop-outs and poor performers showed one thing. (Not all of them belong to the oppressed classes.) They are fine without education. They know their interest is not in education. They have a good understanding of what they want to do in their lives. They can take up a profession that doesn't demand much skills. With their hard-work and some luck and support, they can lead a reasonably comfortable life. They are fine being drivers, delivery boys and maid servants. They are happy doing what they do; the good thing is, some are proud of their quality of work too. This has nothing to do with the education they attempted earlier in their lives. Had the education system been a bit sensible, they would be able to lead a better life. They would do better had there been some mentoring on areas like management of their money, basic sanitation and healthcare and human interaction.

I see the approach on education and reservation as two fold. The oppressed class must take to education, the better off class must let this happen. Nowhere we have tried to fix the primary problem that Ambedkar faced. It is that of disrespect to fellow humans for they belong to a different class or earn their living by physical activity. Nowhere in our education we stressed enough on a healthy human interaction. Being a doctor, engineer or a lawyer had been glorified; being rich is accepted; but being kind to all is never stressed. Though I am not for cultivated virtue, stressing the dependence within the society would have ensured some amount of courtesy to fellow humans. And nowhere we've talked about self-respect in its true sense.

We continue to see this disrespect shown to maid servants, laborers and anyone without equal or more power. And the power varies from situation to situation but discourtesy is the norm. The person driving a car is more powerful to the one driving a bike to a one riding a bicycle to a one walking. Disrespect flows throughout. We have created a situation where discourtesy is a way of life for all - irrespective of education, caste or religion. Now is the time to fix it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Government - Is it relevant?

When I was a kid, the Government had factories, sold milk, bread and other essentials, in addition to the basic responsibilities of policing, transportation, sanitation, healthcare and education. Some cities had private transportation, private medical practitioners etc. There weren't private policing or sanitation. There were very few private schools - most schools were Government aided. Private engineering colleges started when I entered college. It looked reasonable as the government couldn't handle the demand for professional education. This was in late 1980s.

As time progressed, the government began slowly withdrawing from its basic responsibilities. More private engineering and medical colleges came up in the 90s and 2000s. Still fine as the demand for professional education continuing to raise.

In healthcare, Apollo and other chain hospitals established themselves all over the state. The quality of service in government hospitals steadily deteriorated to a level that anyone who can afford to spend for quality healthcare wouldn't visit government hospital.

Transportation got privatized like crazy. In healthcare and education private institutions took over the service from the government. In transportation, individuals took it upon themselves. Two and four wheeler are all over the place. As with other services, government provided services deteriorated.

When it comes to sanitation, Tamil Nadu government started to offload the responsibility to NGO like Exnora and then to private operators like Onyx and Neel Metal Fanalca. The government washed off its responsibility without establishing checks and balances for the basic services.

The sorry state of government shying away from responsibility showed up in policing. Unable to provide basic order, it let the people take care of themselves. There were private security agencies for low level policing. More influential people took to the mafia to resolve conflicts. Now, the difference between police and mafia has disappeared.

Around 2002-2003, there were instances where people funded drainage systems, arranged for their own water supply etc. I believed that it is natural that people have to take care of themselves. How wrong I was?

As people get richer, they would pay for these services. What about those who can't? What about conflicts that private service providers can't resolve? What about the impact on environment when business interests take precedence over service? The government continues to accept taxes in many forms, those in power accept bribes to hand over the tax payer's money to businesses and businesses focus on their margins.

We are at a stage, where we can't question on why the garbage isn't cleared, why the doctor doesn't show up at Government hospitals, traffic goes uncontrolled or schools not providing quality education. We elect a government that would accept taxes to siphon it to business. Sickening... isn't it?