Why are we a Nation of Citizens Without Conscience?

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Are we a nation that plays the blame game best and point fingers at others? All these are done to shirk away our own responsibilities, states Hemashri, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Within a couple of hours of joining in a new district, a university classmate called on me. I was naturally very happy. We started talking about other friends. He was not in my inner circle of friends during the university days and I really felt touched by his gesture to pay a visit to wish me in my new posting. We remembered him well because he was in love with a classmate and to be able to marry her he had started appearing in various competitive examinations. Just before our final examinations, he actually got selected for a job in a big insurance company. We were all very delighted to see his determination to marry the girl he loved. After exchange of initial pleasantries, I  had asked him how was his lady love.

His reply made me sad. He said he did not marry her because her parents wanted to marry her off within that year and he wanted some time to settle in his career. All those years we thought about him as the boy who had slogged hard to marry the girl he loved. It was a rude shock that the girl, who was his inspiration to get  a job was married off elsewhere.

However the real shock came when he told me the purpose of his visit on the very first day of my joining. He was assigned election duty and he requested me to relieve him from the duty. I was not handling detailment related matters, which was handled by an officer junior to me. He tried to convince me why he could not attend the duty. He said his wife was a teacher eligibility test (TET) qualified teacher, who lived far away and their only son was with him. He also told me that he had refused his promotions to be able to stay in his own home. When I told him that he was in such a good job, his wife could actually do something else to live together. He replied that her pay and perks would  increase in future and it would enhance family security. I could make out that I was talking to a very practical man and felt pity for his wife who had to stay away from her only child. As a mother, I found it to be a stressful arrangement to stay away from a young child.

I was completely put off by this practical man and told him with utmost politeness that I had just joined and it would not be possible for me to request anyone to relive him from election duty. Perhaps he could read my face, as I cannot hide emotions. While leaving my chamber, he told that he felt very sad that inspite of being a bright student, I turned out to be such an average achiever. He added that he draws the government of India pay scale and was aware about pay structure of the state government. I was only amused thinking that still he had to take refuge in me for a favour. He had taken my number and would send messages, which I never replied.

In our country everyone knows what the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister should do for betterment of the state or the country. However, for the biggest democratic process of the state, when they get an opportunity to serve in the election, the first response would be how get relieved from the duty. In every elections, I meet scores of people queuing up seeking relief from election duty. Once a man had come to seek relief from election duty just before the election duty after attending three rounds of training programme, where I was a trainer. I asked him why he did not ask before and waited till the last hour. With one hand he indicated the other and said, “I had lost my hand in an accident, still I thought I would be able to manage. I have been assigned duty of the first polling officer and I think it will be difficult for me.” Only then I noticed that the man was right. We immediately relieved him from duty. However, this kind of people are rare, who inspite of such serious limitations are willing to cooperate. Why we are so devoid of commitment?

A few years back, I was part of team where we were assigned to do a study to recommend measures to activate the school managing committees of the government schools. Government schools have now become poor man’s schools, who cannot afford expensive private schools for their children. Being a government school product, perhaps I am a bit emotional. The government has already made it mandatory to have guardians of children of that school to be in the school managing committee. It was necessary to know what was the status.

My research finally led to discovery of a third party evaluation report on the effectiveness of school management committee. The report had interesting findings. It stated that though schools are community asset yet hardly 2 % people of the community take active interest in the running or maintenance of the local school, as per the survey.

Under the prevailing guidelines there were huge variations in the performance of school managing committee (SMC). In one school where there were huge land, the SMC did paddy cultivation and with the sale proceeds purchased various equipment for science laboratory and sports amenities. In another school in upper Assam, where the wooden door got damaged, the SMC asked the students to use the window to enter the classrooms. Same set of guidelines prevailed but the degree of commitment of the respective SMCs got reflected in performance. Does it all boil down to commitment?

To revive the government schools, now a very ambitious project, Gunutsav has been undertaken where officials from different departments are engaged to visit those schools to evaluate various aspects of the schools. The first reaction of such official would be to rush to seek a relieving order. I was sitting in an office chamber of an officer dealing with this programme. Two well-dressed ladies entered and asked for relieving from school visit programme. The officer heard their stories patiently and asked politely, “Madam, are you all getting your salaries on time. If so, why not devote a day for the poor children?”

Ask not what the country has given you but ask what you have given to this country. All of us only know what the CM or the PM should do but we have no concern  as to what can we do for our community. Is it time that compulsory military training be introduced for every citizen of this country? In that case the queue seeking exemption will be longer than the earth’s radius.

Can any government be effective with citizens without conscience? Let’s do some soul searching before playing the blame game.

©Hemashri Hazarika

Photos from the Internet

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