Saturday, 26 September 2015

In the Heart of the Country by J.M. Coetzee

A short novel of 266  numbered  paragraphs (151 pages), written  by Nobel Prize Winner J.M.Coetzee in 1977 as his second book  leaves its impact  despite its darkness.It is a story based in colonial South Africa  and  is narrated by a lonely , African white spinster Magda . "Yes; but to you  am I only the miss?Have I no name of my own?"
"Miss Magda?"
"Yes;or just plain Magda."
                               Hendrik is the black  farm hand  and a helper  to her widower father, who is a sheep farmer .Hendrik has found a wife Anna  , because man was not made to live alone.Her  father , who hates only  because he dare not love.He decides to keep Anna as his  concubine ." He believes that he and she can choose  their words and make a private language ,with an I and You and here and now of their own.Bur there can be no private language .Their intimate You is my You too."  Magda cannot tolerate  this relationship  and kills her father.With the help of Hendrik , she buries the dead body in  a place nearby the farm .In perseverance lies our strength.
               After the death of her father, Hendrik rapes Magda .After the rape , due to her loneliness and  her  desire  for sex(Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.Anatomy is destiny.Or perhaps ,I never had animal integrity.)and craving for  love(She needs to be needed."In knowing him better I seem to have lost all that I liked best in him"),with a fear that is also an expectancy, Magda begins to have  sex with Hendrik every night   , in the heart of the country . She begins to question the notions of race and slavery"I am not simply one of the whites,I am I! I am I, not a people." Are you waiting for me to become your white slave?
                                                One day , the  farmers from neighbouring farms  visit  Magda's  farmhouse .Hendrik and his wife Anna , run away , fearing that they might be punished for the killing of  Magda's father, being black and poor.The rest is the story of how Magda deals with her loneliness(My purgatory of solitude."I need people to talk to,I need a history and a culture , I need a moral sense and a teleology  before I will be happy , not to mention food or drink")  ,
(page 128).Slaves lose everything in their chains,I recognise,even joy in escaping from them.  .
        She starts keeping a journal ,like a good castaway.To explain is to forgive , to be explained is to be forgiven.Certain things seem to be forever irrecoverable.Perhaps that proves the reality of the past.
"When one truly means what one says, when one speaks not in shouts of panic, but quietly, deliberately , decisively, then one is understood and obeyed."(page 74)."The innocent victim  can only know  evil in the form of suffering.When evil is known as evil,innocence is destroyed"(page 141).I will die before I get to the truth.I want the truth, certainly , but I want finality even more!
                        The novel has a unique and rare blend  of   intensity  of emotion  and precision   of   language .I recommend you to read this short novel  from a master story teller ,J.M. Coetzee.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Unemployment ,the biggest challenge to Indian democracy.

When the  Secretariat Administration Department (SAD) of Government of U.P.  advertised in August ,2015 for the 368 posts of  peons , they got a shock.They were flooded with over 23 lac applications.The shock got  intense when it was revealed that   255  among the  applicants were Ph.D.,25 thousand were postgraduates,1.5 lacs were graduates,7.5 lacs were intermediate pass and 11.21 lacs were  High school pass.The rest 54,000 only  were class 5 pass.This was  the first advertisement  for  peons' jobs in the  state secretariat in ten years.
             This is not the  only instance of glaring unemployment in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Recently , against  1400 posts of  Lekhpals in the state , 27 lakh persons appeared  for the written test.This  is another evidence to prove that the unemployment among the educated youth in Uttar Pradesh  is very acute.
                  The post of a peon in  the U.P. government  carries a pay scale of Rs. 5200 to Rs. 20200 ,with a grade pay of Rs.1800. The Dearness allowance for Government Employees  is 119% with effect from 01/07/2015. This makes the  gross salary of a peon  to be Rs. !5260  per month.The essential qualifications for the job ,as advertised were
:(1)The  candidate  should have passed class 5.
(2) Should know how to read and write in Hindi.
(3)Should be between 18-40 years of age.
(4) Must know how to ride a bicycle.
                            Incidentally , under the Right to Education Act ,2009 , every student  who enters  class one will automatically  pass till class  eight. So, marks secured in school examination in class five have no relevance.The state government had  incidentally  asked the candidates to submit applications online.
While it remains to be seen what  way  the  U.P. government finds to recruit "on merit"  368 peons out of 23 lakh applicants, the situation has raised many questions.:
1.Why is there  such a large scale unemployment in U.P. ?What changes are needed in our policies  of creating employment? Why candidates with Ph.D.  and postgraduate degrees have applied for unskilled jobs , the minimum qualifications for which is class 5 pass?
2.Is our education providing skilled labour force?What changes are needed in out education system?Do we have similar level of unemployment in  labour market of skilled jobs?Is our system generating adequate number of jobs requiring skills?            
3.What is the ideal system of recruitment  for unskilled posts of peons?5.Who is best suited for the post of a peon , a class 5 pass or a Ph.D?7.Was it right to ask for online applications from class 5 pass persons?(  The best way to recruit peons is to re-advertise , and to stipulate clearly that only people with class 5  education will be considered , and any person having qualifications higher than class 5 will not be considered).
           While one may try to explain  this development  away by  saying that the government jobs  hold  special attraction for youth because of  better pay  and better job security in the government at  junior  levels than the private sector , this cannot explain the  unprecedented  rush  for these jobs.It certainly indicates  chronic unemployment  in Uttar Pradesh.Successive governments, both at the centre and in the state , have   not paid any attention to the  problems being faced by the youth , especially in lower middle classes.
    The grinding" factories" of universities, colleges and institutes of technology  keep on churning out  thousands of Ph.D's , postgraduates , engineers and other graduates , without  imparting the  skills needed for employment. Skill Development Missions at state level  have tried to impart training in skills to the youth , but  it has not been able to  meet  the challenge of unemployment.The private sector requiring  persons with skills , is not  getting  such persons  ,because the products of most of universities are un-employable.
     The  problem of ever increasing unemployment  is a great challenge to the state government of U.P..The 66th round of the National Sample Survey Organisation report  projected  that by the end of the 12th Five year Plan(2012-17), the number of unemployed youth in the age group 15-35   in U.P.  will be about 1.32 crores. This youth needs good skills, training, meaningful   and decent job opportunities , before they become  the cause of social unrest and crime.This requires  a public policy and its  implementation  which has a thrust  on finding a solution to  problem of unemployment .Mere rhetoric , road shows, posters ,hoardings  and  promises cannot meet this gigantic  challenge.


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker

The Denial of Death is a very profound book  (  314 pages) ,   by Ernest Becker,who got Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for this book ,two months after his death.Becker quotes profusely  Otto Rank ,Kierkegaard and Freud to make his points clear.He died at the age of 49.5 years .The book is full of some incredible insights.
                    Becker says that all human beings have death anxiety.The fear of death haunts us like nothing else.To transcend the sense of mortality, all human beings seek to do   heroic acts.Seeking heroic acts is the central fact of human nature, as it   helps us to become a part of some thing eternal.Heroism is a way of defying death by means of achieving lasting value outside of one's transient self. From birth till death , every human being is  living to identify and pursue an immortality project till he dies.Becoming conscious of one's own method  of heroism is the primary self-analytic problems of life,Becker says. People yearn for fame , anticipate it ,hope that through it , they could create their own immortality."Immortality means being loved by  many anonymous people."It means living in the esteem of men yet unborn, for the works  that you have contributed to their life and betterment.
                    Two motives or urges  that seem to be part of creature consciousness and point in opposite directions.One is a powerful desire to identify with the cosmic process ,to merge with the rest of nature.On the other hand , is the desire to be unique, to stand out as something different.The heroic  striving  for a Beyond  gives self-validation , which is needed to live .This transference is due  to fear of death on one hand and  due to heroic attempt to assure self-expansion and connection to surrounding nature.
                                      Romantic love  is also a continuation of the causa-sui project (immortality project),it is also a lie that must fail.True heroic validation of one's life lies beyond sex, beyond the other("Thou"), beyond the private religion, beyond the consolations of others and of things of this world.People "tranquilise themselves with the trivial"- so they can lead normal lives.The essence of normality  is the refusal of  reality.In this sense,some kind of objective creativity is the only answer man has to the problem of life.
                   Otto Rank says: "With truth ,one cannot live.To be able to live,one needs illusions,not only outer illusions such as art,religion,philosophy, science and love afford, but inner illusions which first condition the outer(i.e. a secure  sense of one's active powers, and of being able to count on the powers of others).The more a man can take reality as truth, appearance as essence,the sounder , the better adjusted , the happier will he be . . . this constantly effective process of self-deceiving , pretending and blundering , is no psychopathological mechanism.". Life is possible only with illusions..When we talk about the need for illusion, we are not being cynical.On what level of illusion does one live?It depends on how much freedom , dignity , and hope a given illusion provides.These three things turn our minds to  creative living.                    
                        Human character is a vital lie.Man lives by lying to himself about himself and about the world.The failure to build dependable character defences allows the true nature of reality to appear to man. Anxiety is the result of the perception of the truth  of one's condition.Anxiety leads to possibility only by destroying the vital lie of character, the vital lie of cultural conditioning.
               Becker quotes   Ferenczi : " The  need to be subject  to someone remains as we grow up;only the part of the father is transferred to teachers , superiors, impressive personalities;the submissive loyalty to rulers that  is so wide-spread is also a transference of this sort". .Freud  provided the best insights ever into the psychology of leadership  in his great work "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego".Men  abandon their egos to the leader's,identified with his power,try to function with him as an ideal.
      Becker finally quotes Tillich " Man  has to have courage to be himself, to stand on his feet, to face up to the eternal contradictions of the real world" .
                  This book has the power to change the way we look at life and the world.You will understand why people want  fame and immortality.I recommend you to read it.It is worthy of  your time.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Appointments at High Places in the Government

Among the many important factors  ,which are responsible for the poor governance in our  country,in our  state of Uttar Pradesh , and in many other states , is the  appointment of people  to very high posts  on grounds other than merit.  The  judgement of  a division  bench of  the high court  Allahabad  on September 7,2015 (Monday) quashing the appointment of three members  of the UP Higher Education Services Commission (UPHESC) ,has  put this  unfortunate reality in  sharp focus. The court  has also directed the state government  to make fresh appointments to the three posts by  adopting a TRANSPARENT PROCEDURE.
                    The  division bench comprising of  chief justice DY Chandrachud  and Justice Yashwant Varma  passed the above order on the  writ petition filed by  Gorakhpur University  Affiliated Colleges Teachers' Association .The court quashed the appointment of three members  Ram Veer Singh Yadav,Dr. Rudal Yadav and Anil Kumar Singh.The court was categorical that the state  government had made these appointments  ,without following the twin norms of transparency and objectivity.The state government had not issued any notification  to public at large  about the vacancies in the Commission .As a result , eligible candidates could not apply.The government made selections out of  whoever sent his bio-data, without following any transparencyThe court said:"Appointment to high government post cannot be allowed to be  a means to breed  nepotism and political patronage in a society which is built on  the principle of Rule of Law  and any such appointment attracts  provisions of Article 14 of  Indian Constitution".The three persons were neither eminent  nor had made any valuable contribution in the field of education .The government claimed about one member   that he was eminent because he had received an award from the  Akhil bhart Varshiya Yadav Mahasabha.
            This is  just one instance of  the non-transparent  manner in which ineligible persons   were appointed to  the posts at high places in the public domain .There are  other important posts at high places , like the chairman and members of  state public service commission, state information commissioners , members of  state  electricity regulatory authority , chairman and members of state pollution control board  and so on .In Uttar Pradesh,  differences  over the appointment of Lokayukta  has led the state  government  to  get the  amendment bill   related to the appointment of Lokayukta  passed by the legislature.The bill is now under the consideration of the Governor of U.P. The list is long .The incumbents of these posts have an extremely important role on the quality of governance.But alas!  very often , the appointment to such important posts  have been  made on the  basis of political patronage  and personal loyalty to the influential political personalities.In turn , such appointees  became   tools  for nepotism , and indulged in corrupt practices.The governance is the  obvious casualty.Such blatant disregard by the  state government to governance ,probity ,integrity and transparency in appointments , raises many doubts about the future of democracy in our country.
                        Let us hope that  there will be more awakening among our citizens so that each such wrong appointment at high places is challenged before the judiciary till  the state  government starts  making  appointments   at high places transparently ,objectively and true to the letter and spirit  of our constitution , without indulging  in  political patronage  and nepotism.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Elementary Education in Uttar Pradesh and the helpless Child

It is a pure coincidence that I write this post on Teachers Day.Those of you  who have not yet read the judgement of Hon'ble High Court   ,Allahabad  ,delivered on 18th August , 2015  ,should read it .For reference , this judgement was delivered by Hon'ble  Justice Sudhir Agarwal    in  ten  writ petitions, with lead case of Writ -A No-57476 of 2013  ,Shiv Kumar Pathak and 11 Others  versus State of U.P. and 3 Others.The  Judgement was reserved on 25.05.2015 and was delivered on 18.08.2015. If you don't have time to read the 35 pages long judgement , you  may read only the last 5 pages , starting from para 79.
PARA 90 :
"Therefore ,the Chief Secretary, U.P. Government  is directed to take appropriate action  in the matter  in consultation with other Officials , responsible in this regard, to ensure that the children /wards of Government servants,semi-Government  servants , local bodies , representatives of people, judiciary and all such persons  who receive any perk, benefit or salary  etc. from state exchequer or public fund , send their child/children/wards who are  in age of receiving  primary education , to Primary  Schools run by Board.He shall also ensure  to make penal provisions for those who violate this condition, for example , if a child is sent to  a Primary  School not maintained by  Board , the amount of fee etc.  paid in such privately managed  Primary School , an equal amount  shall be deposited  in the Government  funds, every month, so long as such education  in other kind of Primary  School is continued.This amount collected can be utilised  for betterment of  schools of Board.Besides such person ,if in service , should also be made to suffer other benefits  like increment,promotional avenues  for certain period, as the case may be.This is only illustrative .The appropriate  provisions can be made  by Government  so as to ensure that  ward(s)/child /children of persons , as detailed above , are compelled necessarily to receive primary education in  the Primary Schools run by the Board."
  On the face of it , it is an unusual order.Moreover, the writ petitions were  about  recruitment  to the posts of  Assistant teachers in basic schools , not only on the basis of  academic qualification , but also giving weightage to the scores obtained by candidates in  Teachers Eligibility Test (TET).While giving judgement  on the issues  prayed for in the writ  petitions , the  Court  thought it fit to  make a few  additional observations and orders:" However, before parting , this Court finds  something necessary to be said with respect to primary education in the State and shabby manner  it is being dealt with  by the Department  and Officers responsible therefor which has resulted in  multiple litigation also."
      The Court observed that in  November 2013,2.70 lacs posts of  Assistant  Teachers  in Primary Schools run by Board were lying vacant .This was    due to huge litigation , which was due to   "unmindful,irregular and casual approach of officials  responsible for managing such recruitment , lack of accountability as well as sincerity.Unmindful and casual legislation  by way of frequent amendment of Rules has worsened the situation .
          The Court has categorised the  Primary Schools in three  categories.These are Elite Schools, Semi-Elite Schools and  Common-men's Schools .It is the third category of schools which are run and managed by the Board(Basic Shiksha Parishad).Numbering about 1.25  lacs,these schools lack infrastructure , drinking water ,toilets ,and even class rooms.At many places , buildings are in dilapidated conditions.Court has observed that  "there is  no real involvement of administration  with these schools.. . . The  public administration  therefore has no  actual indulgence to see functioning and requirements of these schools.These schools have become a mode of earning political mileage instead of  real catering to its need.  'These schools  are victim of  highest level of misappropriation, maladministration and widespread corruption."
                                 " A competition is going on  for political reasons  to make lacs of vacancies  available in  Primary Schools as a source  to create committed voters  by appointing persons,if not illiterate, but not really competent to teach children in Primary School.....A persistent  effort is going on  now to absorb these  persons (Shisha  Mitras, Anganbari Karyakartris) as Teachers in Primary Schools run by the Board.,if necessary , even by frequent amendments  in Rules , without caring  but compromising with standard."
                         "It  is lack of accountability and casual approach on the part of  officials of  Basic Education Department  that mindless , negligent , casual amendments in Rules , defective Government  Orders have been issued from  time to time  creating cause for  multifarious litigations  resulting not only delay in appointment of  Primary Teachers  but also a very heavy pressure  on this Court also."
                        Let us try to summarise:
1.The condition of Primary Schools of Board  is bad(Shabby) due to a large number of vacancies of teachers as well as due to poor infrastructure.
2.An effort is being made "for political reasons " to recruit  non-qualified persons as teachers , by  frequent amendment in Rules.The legislation  in this regard is unmindful and casual.
3..There is   no involvement  and seriousness   of the administration  with these schools.
4.There is a lack of accountability on the part of the officials of the Basic Education Department.They are casual ,mindless  and negligent in  amendment of rules and in issuing defective Government Orders.
        I had the chance to work  as Principal Secretary of Basic Education of U.P.  in 2008 for 90 days  , and I  cannot agree more  with the above summary of the Court's  observations .But the remedy suggested  in para 90 of the judgement quoted above , is   not really a solution to the four very serious points  listed in the above summary. Most of the people , Ministers , Legislators , Bureaucrats  influential in decision - making are well past the  age and stage   when their children  go to Primary Schools.So, the remedy suggested is not likely to be effective.
                      The  real remedy lies in accountable and responsible governance in U.P., strict control on corruption , rising above the political interests in appointments of teachers and other officials and ensuring that appointments are made impartially and strictly on merit.This in turn requires  revamp and cleansing of Recruitment Boards. I know , in Uttar Pradesh , this is just a wish list , but I was encouraged to put across this list , thanks to Hon'ble High Court of Allahabad.I hope ,this Judgement will  generate a healthy debate and meaningful decisions .