Sunday, June 26, 2011

Job Creation not on the government’s agenda

A small neighbourhood where I live has about ten houses and not less than ten educated unemployed youths and the educational background of these youngsters range from matriculate to graduate. Most of them studied art stream so job opportunity is indeed very difficult, and it is a known facts that almost all localities in the urban areas of the state is having this similar situation where young people are endlessly waiting for a job. Then I look at the growing numbers of young people who enrolled themselves in the schools and colleges and I can’t help but wonder how and where are these young people going to get employment?
In a meeting organized by the Jaintia Youth Federation in which Bindo Lanong the Deputy Chief Minister was the chief guest on the occasion, this issue was brought to light that the district and the state has a huge population of educated unemployed youth. The Deputy Chief Minister expressed his surprise the fact that people from the other parts of India or even from other countries come to Jaintia to get employment while the young people of the district remain unemployed. A coal baron who is also one of the speaker nods in agreement with what Bindo has just said. I can understand the chuckle of amusement of the coal baron, it is easy for him because he can travel in his air-conditioned SUV and don’t have to expose himself to the heat and dust. Can we imagine an educate young man or woman to slug it out in the heat and dust or worst still get into the rat hole and mine? Why are they being educated if they have to end up doing a menial job like that? It is the duty of the government to respect their dignity and to provide them employment befitting their qualification. It is also believed that industrialization will help solve the employment problem but how much can the cement companies employed? It is also a known fact that the cement companies prefer outsiders than local because they said “the locals don’t have industrial culture.” So, how can we provide employment to our young ones? Some adventurous young men and women went outside the state in search for a greener pastures but what about the average young people?
I am not the first one to blame the education system in the state for creating this gigantic problem but the purpose of this write-up is not to dwell in the past and go on criticizing the government for not doing enough to ensure a better future of our young people. This write-up hopes to suggest ways and means for the government and even educational institutions to take into consideration and improve the employability of the educated youth of the state. By introducing the examination reform; the education department is already on the right track and as mentioned earlier our concern is not with the section of the youths who did well in their studies but the average young people the second-divisioners and the third-divisioners which roughly constitute not less than 60 percent of the youths’ population. The 100 percent cut off mark for admission is certainly beyond what this section of the class can think of, but that is not the end of the world for them, there is a lot that the government can do to help this section of the youth. Thanks goodness, quite a few of them gain employment as teachers in the schools under the SSA but even young people know that the government cannot employ the entire workforce available in the state, but the question is what are the available option?
An old man on his dead-bed summoned his only son and tells him that he want to give him the land that he has farmed for many years. He know his son who is educated is not interested with the land or farming for that matter, so he told his son that he hid all the wealth he earned during his entire life in the field. One day after his father’s death; the son decided to go to the field to ploughs and dig the whole plot of land. But unfortunately he did not find any wealth; he went home dejected wondering where his father hid the wealth. Since it is also the onset of the sowing season he decided not to waste the labour that he had spend to plough the land, he thought to himself ‘I might as well start planting rice in the field.’ When the harvest is done his field yield more that he had expected, it then dawn on him that the wealth his father hid is the paddy field itself.
Social activist A.K. Nongkynrih of the Sociology department NEHU has time and again emphasised on the need of empowering the rural folk. If we want to improve the economy of the state we need to focus our attention on the villages and how else can it be when more than 80 percent of the population resides in the villages. He once reminded the audience that for everything we need we import from outside the state, we spend crores of money importing fish from Andhra Pradesh, we also spend crores of money importing pigs and cows to be slaughtered and satisfy our appetite. We even import safety pins and matchbox and export nothing except our mineral resources. How do we expect the economy of our state to improve if we have nothing to export and our youths are not gainfully employed?
Now many farming families in the villages sent their kids to schools hoping that they may get a better job, but the idea is to let brilliant students (the 100 percent) continue with their studies because we also need doctors, engineers, teachers and what have you, but we can teach average students’ different skills from higher secondary onward. After class 10 results average students can choose to continue their higher secondary school combine with training on skill like fish farming, piggery farming, poultry farming and etc. Students who in spite of ‘the best of five system of examination’ barely manage to scrape through should be encouraged to take the training. I don’t see the need of having a Polytechnic or an ITI to train trainees trades that will not help them gainfully employed but only increase the numbers of people waiting for government job. We need to teach students skill that will help them go back to the field and start farming and may be even create more employment; trades that have ready market available locally.
How do we go about it? Well we have Agriculture department, Fishery, Animal Husbandry, Industries and commerce even at the Block level, departments can chalk out programmes with schools or the Inspectors/Deputy Inspectors of School to conduct these trainings. Government can provide funds to these departments to conduct a workshop in all the higher secondary schools of their respective blocks/sub division and train students in the various job oriented programmes that their offices or departments can offer. For instance a farmer’s programme (Kisanwani Programme) is already on air in collaboration between the various departments and the All India Radio.
I hope this will help the young people employ themselves and it will also reduce if not stop the urban migration. This way the government can make use the best of machineries available to create employment for our educated young people and also improve the economy of the state. Then the cores of money gain from selling our mineral resources will circulate in the state itself and benefit everybody the state. One hopes that the MUA government will start making job creation an agenda of the government if we do not want our young people to squander their life or may be even create a problem for the state in the near future. It is also hope that the proposed MBOSE open school system of the education department to introduce locally need trade and not to copy whatever the NIOS had in its syllabus.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bamphalar: The Cannes of dramas in Jowai

Of the 15 odd localities in the town there are 7 localities (known as Dong) in Jowai, which still organize the annual Bamphalar festivals. Bamphalar is a theatrical festival organized by the localities in Jowai namely; Tpep-pale, Dulong, Iongpiah Loompyrdi, Panaliar, Loomiongkjam, Chilliang-raij and Loomkyrwiang and each locality stages a minimum of two dramas in the two months long festival. The festival which is always organized in the months of April and May of the year is like the Cannes of dramas for the theatre-loving people of the town. The only difference is that it goes on for two months and there is neither red carpet nor award ceremony which goes to be part of the festival.

During the festival, week after week theater-lovers of the town hop from one Yungwalieh (community hall) to another to feast their eyes and their soul. Each of the 7 localities chose a week from the eight weeks time to organize their respective show. Traditionally, locality stage their dramas during the evening of Musiang (market day in Jowai) and continue for another one or two days; depend on the numbers of dramas the Clubs decided to produce in the year. Earlier, since most of the people of the town are farmers, labourer, tailors and traders; it is convenient to start the festival on the market which is also the pay day in the town. It is also interesting to note that traditionally the Pnars too rest for two days of the eight days’ a week traditional calendar. They rest on the market day to enable them to do their weekly shopping and they took a day off on Muchai the day after; purely for leisure.

Even the people in the state of Meghalaya know very little about the rich artistic traditions of the ancestors of the Pnars in Jaintia hills. Apart from their unique traditional dance and festivals and erecting of monoliths which is common among the Khasi Pnar tribe, their arts also includes sculpture of different shapes and sizes carved on stones and rocks in different parts of the District, infact Jaintia has the largest collection of Monolith in the entire State. Of the Khasi Pnar stock, perhaps it is only the Pnars which have their own unique tradition of making earthen pots and the only pottery village in the District is known as Lyrnai. Pnar’s art also includes weaving their traditional dress like the Muka, the Thoh-saru, Ryndia-tlem and Khyrwang, goldsmith, various cane and bamboo crafts, music with their own folk instruments and smelting of iron to make tools.

Of the arts practice by the people of the District, dramas is said to be of a recent origin. It may be mentioned that Jaintia Hills District was also part of the erstwhile Jaintia Kingdom which extended to the plain of now Bangladesh. In one of my interview with one of the elder of Jowai town woh Chaimon Pyrbot, he told me that the Pnars learn the theatrical art from their counterpart in (Shilot) Sylhet during the day when the trade between the Pnars of the hills and the Bengalese in the plain was at its peak. Since then the Pnars of certain elaka carry on the theatrical tradition, the theatrical festival is also part of the Chad Sukra festival in the village like Mihmyntdu, Khliehtyrchi, Sabah and Tuber. Nongtalang village also still carry this theatrical tradition and in some villages in the War Jaintia the theatre was included as a part of the festival called ‘Rong Khusi.’

The word Bamphalar is a combination of two words; Bam and Phalar and the festivals derived its name from the last part of this festival when the entire community joins together to share community feast. It is a common practice followed by almost all the localities that after the two or three day’s dramatic extravaganza, the locality end the festival with a feast (Bamdoh).

Typical drama stage by any locality also contain usual popular Bollywood blockbuster masala, a bit of gyrating dance, a bit of action and a lot of romance in the air. There are times when the locality would also stage a play on a historical and legendary figure of the community, like that of Kiang Nangbah, Lo Ryndi, Suna Raja and many other legendary figure of the area. To add flavor to the drama some locality spice up the dramas by inserting some comedy scene in the dramas, while some locality has an evening entirely for a comedy show. For the convenient of the local daily labourers, the drama normally started at 8 (eight) o’clock in the evening and goes on till 12 in the midnight.

Bamphalar is not only an opportunity for the local artist to showcase their talent, but it is also a great fund raising event for the locality and the neighborhood uses the fund for variety of welfare programmes of the community. It may also be interesting to know that even though all the actors, dramatist, comedian, dancers and helpers spend their time and energy to present to the audience the best drama that they can, yet they did it all for free. The troupe spend weeks to practice the different dramas but they all did it voluntarily and for the love of their locality and of course the art making a drama. Bamphalar is not only unifying factor of the locality, it is also a great leveler of the community. The comedy I watch few weeks back was organized by the dong Tpep-pale and it has in its list of actors (comedian to be precise), a doctor, an engineer, a peon, a student and other people belonging to other profession, they all took their role seriously irrespective of the position they held in the society.

Now that filmmaking is a thriving business in the District, Bamphalar is becoming an opportunity for the artist to display their talent and it is also like a springboard for budding artist to try their hands in the new medium. It is also noteworthy that Filmmaking in Jaintia hills known as Jollywood has produced more movies than its counterpart in Shillong. This is because the theatrical tradition is already part and parcel of the society and Bamphalar is like a training ground for artist to get into acting.

The scripts of the dramas are wealth of literary treasure of Pnar dialect one wonder what happen to these hundreds of dramas? If each drama is published into a book, Pnar literature would be richer by a minimum of 14 plays a year. Add to the dramas there are also songs that goes to be part of a drama to make it similar to a perfect Bollywood hit. The theatrical festival also generates another secondary art like the art of making paper flowers and painting. Huge screen of approximately 12 by 10 feet in diameter are used to divide the stage as curtain, these shutters were used to divide the act in the play and they are always beautifully painted like murals of famous painters. The paper flowers are used to decorate the stage particularly the romantic scene when the hero and the heroin dance in a particular scene known as ‘chad-kper-syntu.’ A drama is incomplete without ‘chad-kper-syntu’ which literarily translates to dancing in the garden and all the flowers in the garden were handmade.

Earlier; apart from the 7 localities, old dongs of Jowai also took part in the drama festival, dong Tympang Iawmusiang also used to organize Bamphalar, but stopped doing so sometime in the later part of seventies. Nothing is known whether Chutwakhu locality and Lion or Mission Compound organize similar dramatic festival or not, but the other localities of Jowai town are new township which came into being in the later part of the seventies and the earlier part of the eighties hence they have no Bamphalar tradition.

Bamphalar is another tradition that the Pnar has kept since time immemorial and this is one practice that is not only alive and thriving but it is improves and evolves as time goes by. Bamphalar can also be another event that can attract tourist if the concern authority promotes it properly. If the Cannes is for cinema, Bamphalar of Jowai is for dramas (at least in Meghalaya) it only needs proper packaging and product promotion. The Shillong Times 20 June 2011.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Congress making mockery of democracy

Can the people of the state breathe a sigh of relief, now that Dr Mukul Sangma finally has the guts to call a spade a spade and do away with trouble makers in his cabinet? Obviously the answer is no, the tell-tale signs of the swearing in the ceremony of the new ministers as reported by the media left so many questions unanswered. When more than half of the Congress legislators are baying for his blood, the question is how long can he keep the leadership crisis issue in the backburner and concentrate on governance? Until and unless the intra-party stalemate is resolved, Mukul will find it difficult if not impossible to get into the business of governing. Though Mukul has the support of the high command, it remains to be seen how best he can make use of the grace period that the high command has given him.

At least for the time being Mukul can go back to his Chief Minister’s secretariat and start doing the job that people expect him to do. Mukul, unlike his bĂȘte noire, is being praised by many for his sincere and genuine desire to take the state further on the road of development. People spoken to are in favour of giving him a chance to complete his term as Chief Minister. Unfortunately the support is from the layman and lay woman in the street and not his fellow legislators from the Congress party who can make the difference. Many independent observers with no particular bent of mind recognize that Mukul has it in him to take the state forward. Many question how he can be expected to change Meghalaya overnight when he has only completed one year of his term. The allegation of rebel Congress MLA’s of Mukul’s style of functioning is an internal matter of the Congress; even his refusal to convene the CLP meeting is none of our business. They should have settled the issue internally and not wash their dirty linens in the street. Thank goodness the party leadership in the capital did not give in to the demands of the dissidents. The Congress is the single largest party supported by the other likeminded parties and individuals which has the mandate to govern and that is what people expect the party to do.

On the other hand, the rebel Congress group’s choice of a new Chief Ministerial candidate in the person of old DD Lapang smacks of hypocrisy. How can a person they had declared unfit to be the Chief Minister a year ago, now be ready to take on the same mantle? Has he done any special course or has he been to any counseling or perhaps even yoga class (with some Baba may be) that would make the rebel Congress MLAs change their mind and decide that he is not the same DD Lapang that they had helped overthrow a year ago? The people of the state know DD Lapang’s style of functioning. His (non) performance in his many stints as a chief minister is still fresh in the minds of many denizens of the state. There is no love lost between the people of the state and DD Lapang anyway. Maybe the rebel Congress MLAs would got peoples’ support if they had come up with a new face as a Chief Ministerial candidate. But how can they when everybody is a contender for the post? The problem in the Congress party now is every MLA wants to be a minister and every leader wants to be a chief minister.

One would also expect many elderly Congressmen like OL Nongtdu, Friday Lyngdoh and even DD Lapang to call it a day and retire gracefully, but that is not to happen. It seems Congressmen like communist comrades do not retire but they just fade away. In countries where they have real democracy, when politicians have run their race, they retire from politics gracefully. John Major, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and even George Bush junior, keep a respectable distance from politics after they have retired even though age is still on their side. Why can’t the distinguished Congressmen for the love of the party create a second rank leadership then support and guide the young generation rather than creating a problem every time younger people try to step into their shoes? Had it been me, I would wish to spend the twilight of my life with my near and dear ones and particularly to spend the best part of it with my grand children and may be make amends for past mistakes. But not so our Congressmen!

The Congress legislators are making a mockery of democracy and have taken the people of the state for a ride for three long months. The purported 18 Congress MLAs had literally taken the entire state hostage. Sadly the final curtain of the drama is yet to be drawn down. It is truly said that democracy is not the best form government because if the situation arises that we have 29 wise men and 31 fools in the house, then no one can save us! The state had literarily been without a government during these last three months; it’s time for the legislators to get down to business and spare us their diatribes against each other. We voted them to serve the state and not to indulge in a never ending game of musical chairs. Talking about the musical chair game, it will be interesting if somebody tries to find out the numbers of trips the Congress legislators took to Delhi during the three months period and the amount of money they spent. If an attendance register was maintained at the Secretariat, it would also be interesting to know who and how many days did the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries attend office during the period. Why don’t the Congress legislators realize the embarrassment they put Madam Sonia to? The party already has more problems in its hand than it can handle, from the Lok Pal Bill, to Anna Hazare, to Baba Ramdev, black money and the never ending corruption charges. Hence leaders can hardly spare time for Congress legislators fighting for scraps. The people of Meghalaya are also fed up with the infighting in the Congress. They want them to end this mockery as soon as possible.

The other pertinent question is, whether it is wise for Mukul Sangma to punish the rebel MLAs and reward only his close confidantes? Mukul’s strategy of rewarding his supporter will backfire and further widen the gap instead of narrowing it. Since they all belong to the same party one would expect an astute politician like Dr. Mukul to play his cards well and walk the middle path pleasing both sides rather than widen the chasm. Mukul has further aggravated the already tense situation. If at all Mukul can complete this term, seeing a united Congress party before the 2013 elections is a distant dream if not impossible. The three months stalemate will not augur well for the party. Leaders may think that public memory is very short and by 2013 voters will forget about it. But if the Congress MLAs continue with their infighting they will have only themselves to blame when the results are declared in 2013. From what we have experienced of late, I think we need to suggest one more condition in the proposed electoral reforms of the Election Commission of India. Apart from the condition that the candidates not only need to declare their wealth, they also require to mention the source of their income and the inclusion of the non-of-the-above button in the electronic voting machine. I think we should also have a law to recall our MLA or MDC if they do not perform their duties or if the voters are not satisfies with the way he or she functions. If we have such stringent laws, then I think the situation in Meghalaya is a fit case for people to recall their MLAs. (The writer is an elder of the Unitarian church, scholar and a political commentator)The Shillong Times Monday, June 13, 2011.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

World Environment Day Not an occasion

The 5th of June is celebrated every year as World Environment Day with much joy and lot of tree plantation, then we litter the place with the plastics in which the sapling was planted is another question. Celebrating the WED is expected to create an awareness in the people about the threat to the fragile earth but the question is has celebrating WED really had any impact in the people particularly those in the decision making?

After reading Bryan Kharpran Daly’s article ‘the shameful plunder’ The Shillong Times Saturday May 28; I realized I was not the only one who was frustrated at the way we treat our nature. It seems like all our efforts to communicate to the people about the importance of preserving our nature is wasted. Our MLAs and MDC at least those who can read English looks like they hardly had time to read the newspaper. Knowing bah Bryan’s efforts to explore, survey and map the caves system in the state and his untiring endeavour to save them, I can only add that the article is not only a must read for everybody but it is wealth of information on the subject. The article reminds us of the unique cave system that the state is blessed with and the reason we should be proud of the caves. Bah Bryan is also the only authority in this subject in the state of Meghalaya and I think his article should be preserved for posterity. But like anyone else who is involved in some sort of nature conservation, bah Bryan’s article too is a depiction of that disappointment with regard to the ‘the shameful plunder’ (if I may use bah Bryan’s own words) of the nature by the miners and a government which look the other way while the nature is being looted and destroyed.

Can we really depend on the Government to protect our mother nature? From what we have seen in the past, the answer is no. Government after another has failed to come up with any policy to protect the environment. The state government’s current policy seems to be mining-centric and not environment-centric; it only caters to the benefit of the miners and the environment takes a back seat in the government priority. Has the government done any study on the destruction cause by mining in the state? Has the government conduct any study to find out whether mining has really help boost the economy of the state? How does the economic boom (if there is any such thing) fare when compare with the damage done particularly to the environment? Can all the money we create from coal and lime stone mining help pay to reclaim even a fraction of what we have lost namely rivers, forest and our way of life?

But environment is a big issue; it not only deals with the way we manage our natural resources, is also concerns with our attitude to everything around us. On one hand the government is to be blamed for the way it had managed (or rather did not manage) our resources, but can we blame the government for the entire environment problem we are facing now? What have we done to keep our villages, towns and cities clean? Isn’t it true that we still live by the NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitude? As long as it is not in my back yard, I can dirty any lane any parks even someone else backyard. This is our generation and the generation before ours’ attitude when it comes to garbage disposal. In Khasi Pnar we say “tang ba lait na kti,” we throw waste anywhere just to relieve our hands from holding something particularly trash. One my most embarrassing moment was when I took my English friend John Hewerdine to “u Moosniang” one of Jowai town important landmark. While I told John the folklore about the image of pig carved on a stone, John was busy picking all the litters that was scattered all over the place. He placed the waste in his pocket and threw the same on the next garbage collection point we found.

I think our children’s attitude towards the nature is much mature that ours, many friends told me stories about how their children in some way are teaching their parents about the important of the nature and at times the children were even upset with the way their parent treat the nature. Ma A. N told me of their trips from Mizoram to Jowai and on the way back, the driver of their vehicle purposely hit a young Leopard and the animal died. Not surprisingly the tribal hunting trait took over and the elders in the vehicle were all overjoyed with their catch. The only exception was a young man who was upset of what he had seen and remained silent till he reach home. Once they reached home he angrily told his dad, you were all happy for being able to kill the Leopard but very soon you will only see them on screen. That was the lesson of a lifetime for my friend Allan. One day my youngest daughter returned home from school wearing a long face, I asked her why? And she said “today they have murdered many trees in front of our school”. Notice her choice of word to describe the incident; she did not use the Khasi word “pom” cut instead she said “pyniap” murdered.

We have report in the press; time and again of dorbar shnong organizing community cleaning drive and the efforts of the village to clean the rivers in their area for fear it becoming like wah Umkhrah. All these are good efforts but maintaining the cleanliness of our village, our town and city is not a one day affair, we need to change our attitude with regard to garbage disposal. This write-up will not serve its purpose if it does not provide us with ideas how we can change our attitude towards the nature and the environment around us. We have all heard of the famous three “R”s of nature conservation which reminds us of what we need to do when we use stuffs that are harmful to the environment particularly plastics. First of all flatly refuse using materials that we know are harmful to the environment, if using these materials is unavoidable, we should at least make sure that we re-use them and then to not just dump them but to try to recycle them. This can be our small humble contribution to save the environment and more importantly to keep our villages, towns and cities clean and green.

The theme of this year’s WED celebration is “Forest: Nature at your service,” the United Nation has also declare this year as the international year of Forest. I think it is time for us to ask ourselves what kind of relationship we have with the nature or what kind of relationship our kids have with the nature. When was the last time we venture out into the forest? A Unitarian Universalist Church in the US organise a year long programme to get kids close to the nature, they organize nature camp, rock climbing camp, trekking etc and the theme of the programme is CRP, connect, respect and protect. The objective is if kids are able to connect with the nature they will learn to respect it and then fight to protect the nature. We need to get our kids as close to the nature possible, we also need to generate more forest area. Our ancestors has a tradition of keeping sacred groves, we can recreate more sacred space in our villages, towns and cities by converting our cemetery and cremation ground to memorial parks. I like Khushwant Singh’s idea of planting a tree instead of setting up a tomb stone on our grave, and why not?

India has also been selected as the host country of this year’s World Environment Day not only because India is an emerging Asian economic tiger, but because of the fact that current government’s policy put a major thrust in environment protection. Recently; in a radio interview I was asked what I in my opinion is the threat that await the coalmine areas of Jaintia? My answer was water scarcity particularly during winter. The silver lining is that villages can make use of the MGNREGS to make check dam and dig ponds to harvest rain water and plant trees in any available space in the villages. Projects like this will not only benefit the village but it is also in line with the central government policy of reducing global warming.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Change that we can in 2013

Meghalaya does not need a fortune teller to prophesise the kind of future that is in store for the state if it continues to be led the way it is now. Neither does the state need a soothsayer to declare that it needs monumental change if it is to make any progress and catch up with the rest of the country. The curve in the growth chart of Meghalaya is currently on its downward slide; be it in the health, education or other social sector; it therefore calls for an immediate change to make the curve head north and that change should start from the top. A popular adage says; “there is only one thing permanent in the world and that is change,”

The change that we need is from top to bottom precisely because the rot in the system is not at the grass root level but at the top hierarchy of our political system. It reminds me of the wisdom of an elderly man in Nongtalang who in one of our discussion about corruption said, ‘You only need to push the big boulder from the top and the shingle will follow suit.’ We need to strike at the top which is the seat of power and also the foundation of corruption and once we are able to remove big problem; all else will eventually follow.

We cannot afford to let corruption remains merely a topic of debate in the hearth of the Khasi Pnar or the people of Meghalaya’s homes, enough rumbling and grumbling, the need of the hour is to act and the time is now. If we are hoping to achieve any semblance of a clean politics after 2013; there is no other way but to work for a clean electoral system, because election is where corruption starts.

Few people like bah Arden Basaiawmoit refuse to remain a mere spectator to what is going on in the state decided to move ahead and refused to be cowed down by his adversaries who would certainly discourage him and suggest that he is fighting a losing battle. Like any activist he is foolish enough to believe that he can at least make a difference if not bring change to the political system. How far can the movement go? Only time will tell whether it can bring any change in the political system in the state or not. Certainly the CPC has achieved one thing and that is making people talk about change rather than just grumble about it.

Arden’s Clean Political Campaign is not enough; we need more civil society’s involvement if we are to see change after 2013. If the political parties have started preparing themselves for the next state election, the people of the state too; need to gear themselves up for the same. If the political parties are fighting to win the election, the civil society should see to it that clean political system wins the day and it should starts from the 2013 election. The recent election results of at least the two states of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal once again prove right the adage which says ‘you can’t fool all the people all the times.’

I believe if we can only have a clean election, half of the battle against corruption is won. The Election Commission of India has introduced radical electoral reforms but politicians can always find some loopholes in the system and circumvent the rules. There are also issues peculiar only to a certain areas which the general election guidelines fail to address. As the saying goes; local problems call for local solution, only the local civil society can, address these local electoral problems.

For instance we have a practice in Jaintia hills wherein during the 20 odd days of electioneering, candidates organize election campaign in the major town or villages of their respective constituency. The candidates visit all the places followed by a huge motor cavalcade which include buses, cars and what have you. Every evening; each candidate spends thousands of rupees if not laks to hire these vehicles to carry his supporters from their respective villages to the meeting place. The host local Dorbar Shnong (where the meeting is held) can help curb the expenditure of the candidates by allowing only the candidates and few of his supporters to come and canvass in their village. If all the Dorbar Shnong can stops this madness during the election; I think half of the candidates’ expenditure is saved. Better still, instead of allowing the candidates to campaign in their village on different dates, the Dorbar Shnong can instead organize a common platform for the candidates to debate in front of the people.

I don’t know how civil society group would address a peculiar problem like people asking money from the candidates. During election people literarily come to beg money from the candidates for their medical checkup, buying books for their kids, money to pay their children schools fees or admission fees and even buying nappy for newborn babies. Young people particularly boys queue in front of the candidates’ houses to seek sponsor for picnic, musical concert, excursion trip and even for drinks. How can we do away with the practice of visiting candidates’ houses during election for a cup of tea or a few plates of rice and pork? There is joke doing the round in Jaintia hills about a certain candidate who came up with a clever idea to test his chance of winning the election. He thought since there are so many people who came to dine in his house on the voting day, simply counting the numbers of used plates will help him guess the numbers of votes he will get. The numbers of used plates almost exceed half the numbers of the voters in the electoral roll of the constituency. From the numbers of used plates our candidate was very confident to win the election. But on the counting day, contrary to what was expected, he did not even get quarter of the votes polled and loss the election. Since then we have a saying in Jaintia hill ‘don’t ever estimate your chance of winning the election by counting the numbers of the used plates.’ This is another election problem that the civil society needs to be creative enough to come up with idea to discourage people from visiting the candidate’s house during election.

There is another practice perhaps peculiar only to the Khasi Pnar society and that is when the Dorbar Shnong decides to sponsor a candidate because he is from the village, he is the son of the soil or for other reasons. Of course everybody knows that there is no such thing as 100 percent unanimity in any kind of community decision and very often than not, the minority who do not conform to the majority’s decision were denied their rights to votes and even ostracized by the village. We have instances where houses of those who opposed the DS (majority) decision were burned to ashes. DS should be discouraged from sponsoring candidate because it is undemocratic and it is against the tradition.

Political observers in the state have a reason to cheers when the churches too have taken a stance against rampant corruption in the state. Pastors of the Presbyterian Church in many of its gathering; be it the Assembly or the Synod used the pulpit to speak against the evil of corruption, this is indeed a reason to be optimistic. Albert Sweitzer on one of his trip to the USA; visited Chicago and many people waited to welcome him at the railway station. Setting foot on the railway platform; Albert Sweitzer saw an old woman struggling to carry her bag, instead of walking straight to the dignitaries and press people waiting for him, he immediately went to help the woman carry her language and then return to meet the welcome party. A journalist watching in awe at what had happened can’t help but remarked ‘that was the first time I saw a sermon walking.’ While the church’s move to rid corruption from the society is a good sign, it is equally important that the church start to walk the talk. There are many ways churches can involve in the process of bringing clean electoral process by not favouring a candidate just because he belongs to the flock is one. Allowing the members of the congregation to exercise their free choice without direct or indirect influence from the church is another. A reporter friend told me of a big church meeting just before the MDC election. The church leaders made a special seating arrangement for all the candidates which are members of the denomination. At a certain part of the service; the priest walked to place the candidates sat and introduced them to the gathering and pray for them. No, there is nothing wrong with praying for anybody if it is done at the right place; the right time without any ulterior motive.

There are plenty that the church or civil society can do to improve the electoral system in the state, perhaps the church can also help by instructing its members not to visit the candidate’s house or ask money during election. The church and the civil society can work together and form election watch group and help publicise candidates with criminal antecedent and other information which will help voters make an informed and conscious decision when they vote. These are just few areas that faith groups and civil society can do to create an atmosphere conducive for free and fair election. The need of the hour is for the people to start doing something that will not make us live to regret the next five years and blame ourselves for not doing enough to bring change.