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Rural School Education and Youth Entrepreneurship Promotion
– Sikh Institutional Role – Vision 2020 –

Mohinder Singh

The critical collapse of School education system in Punjab and lack of employment opportunities in our rural areas, together with its diagnostic study to evolve some model for imparting quality education, are today’s prime agenda of discussions by all sections of the intellectuals and the society’s think tank. After a brief introduction to government policies’ failure, rural problems and lack of will of introducing effective immediate reforms at political level, I shall be making a presentation with an action-oriented road-map for consideration and implementation by the socio-religious institutions for adoption as VISION 2020. Unless we first concentrate our studies for reforms and promotion of school level quality education in rural areas the planning for providing these students for higher-grade education or training for professional courses shall not be fruitful. Total dependence on political government’s policies and assistances are not justifiable unless ensuring full participation of society’s established institutions (NGOs). Some of the Punjab based NGOs and NRIs have been doing an excellent work by providing competitive higher and professional educational facilities in rural areas after making lot of investments from their own hard earned resources. They are the first main promoters of rural women education and are helping them now to train them for developing their entrepreneurship. I have a long list of such successful Punjabi NGOs/NRIs entrepreneurs and interacted personally with some of them. Another recent report is that S Manohar Singh Gill, MP (Rajaya Sabha), who had contributed more than 90% of his allotted MP ADF for promotion of rural education for the benefit of weaker sections and rural girls schools who were starving for funds for buildings equipments and staff salaries in Tarn Taran District. Other Punjabi M Ps & political leaders should better also follow his example.

No doubt the educational-cum-socio-economic policies adopted for centuries by the Mughals and British regimes were anti-Indian (Punjabi) culture and religious heritage, but the Policies/Plans being implemented after Independence were also quite discriminatory for health of Punjab which is located on hostile international border with Pakistan. The short-sighted language policies adopted from time to time and lack of sound industrial infrastructure development could neither promote the self-confidence among Punjabis nor competitiveness among young generation. Moreover, lack of employment opportunities for less qualified rural youth brought frustration and demoralization which lead them to drug-addiction and involvement in many other anti-social activities. Their migration to foreign lands by any means for better living/wage brought many additional social evils among small and marginal farming families. Their bread-winners found committing suicides due heavy burden of indebtedness on various reasons. The Tribune news service report of 03-04-06 had quoted S. Inderjit Singh Jaijee of Movement Against State Repression that over 1360 farmers of Andana & Lehra blocks in Moonak Sub-division committed suicides between period 1998-2005. According to the writer, “if all of Punjab’s 138 blocks show roughly the same level of suicides, the number would exceed 40,000.”

According to census 2001, the total population of Punjab is 2,42,89.296 (1.29,63.362 male & 1,13,25,934 females), Out of this about 65% (l,60,43,730) reside in 12,729 villages. The villages’ population comprises over 90% Sikhs, therefore, the problem being discussed here for promotion of education-cum-economic rehabilitation and employment, is exclusively related to rural Sikh youth. However, for facing the life challenges, our Divine Heritage provides enough guidelines to attain “Chardikala” by following the Gurus’ divine messages of: “Apan hathi aapna ape hi kaaj swariya...” And “Ghal khai kichh hathon deh Nanak rah pachhane heh...” But the problems of to-day can not now be left unattended and transferred for tomorrow’s solution; neither it can be solved with yesterday’s or day before-yesterday’s knowledge and experience. Globally competitive modern high-tech 21st Century demands fast renewed long term planning with missionary zeal at all levels of society are called for, for collective execution immediately. The government agencies and community need to participate jointly by sharing and utilizing of all available resources at our command. Constitution of another High Power Educational Commission for suggesting ways & means of educational reform, as recently announced by the Chief Minister of Punjab, is not at all any practical solution.

The rural educational and its economy collapse occurred in our own lifetime not suddenly, but while passing through the five decades of achieving ‘Tryst with Destiny’ and also after exhausting major gains and opportunities provided by the Freedom Era. The common man living in remote villages is still confused to have proper assessment of achievements for his family even after 59th year of the ‘Glow of Freedom’. The promises and pledges made by the National leaders and elected representatives over the years, irrespective of their political party labels (of state legislatures or parliament), had even failed to deliver normal justice to majority of weaker sections and ruralites. Even the basic rights of providing shelter, clean water, health-hygiene, honorable livelihood and elementary education to their kins etc; are out of reach of majority of over 70% of Indian population (over 70 crores) living in backward rural areas. In spite of completion of 10th Five Years Plan (2002-2007) the rural infrastructure development, job opportunities and uplifting of educational standards is a dream yet to be achieved. The lack of accountability and widespread corruption in governance has restricted the gains of area development projects only to a few select area pockets of respective politicians for serving their “Vote-Banks”.

Why to curse the past foreign regime’s educational and employment policies when our own National Policy makers indulged in cooking “Khichries” of outdated recipes of language formulae with each bifurcation and trifurcation of states and by announcing discriminatory reservation & educational/economic policies. The state of Punjab is the worst sufferer under such discriminatory Central Policies. The hostile border and state’s location at the extreme market comer locations were never taken criteria of considerations by the Central Planners during linguistic divisions, waters divisions or economic investments in any sectors of agriculture or industry. The language formula implemented from time to time was also one of the major causes of today’s tragedy of primary educational system collapse. The scarce employment opportunities and tough outside marketing competitions of all essential inputs availability and state’s produce made the life of the Punjabis more miserable. Their migration to out states or abroad are direct results of high cost of all basic inputs, poor infrastructures in prime sectors of education, marketing of agro & industrial products. The young generation is fully vigilant to these bottlenecks in addition to their local problems of joint family system break-up, un-economic land holdings & lack of interest in their age-old ancestral professions. The corrupt-polluted society’s environmental systems prevail heavily upon the youth to seek better wage opportunities by migrating to foreign countries without seeking advice and proper appraisal of their dream projects. Such half educated & untrained youth forces his parents to pay for legal/illegal fee to the touts to seek work-visa. These additional loan burdens raised on pledging assets to agents for seeking migrations are also one of the crucial causes of marginal farmers committing suicides. Besides, the idle youth force is equally being exploited by various underground terrorists, anti-social elements, smugglers & criminal gangs for serving their anti-social agenda. The easily earned money sometimes leads them to indulge in terrorist activities and drug addictions. Even the religious and political institutions/Deras and their leadership can not escape from responsibility of misguiding youth and denying them positive counselling.

The illiteracy and lack of higher education and vocational/professional training is surely an alarming problem especially among the young Sikh community, reflecting their bleak future. The low percentage of women literacy (57.91 in rural & 63.55 in urban), female foeticides & low sex ratio (874 women for 1000 men) among the Punjabi families is also comparatively alarming than in other communities. The lack of studying/reading habit among Punjabis also keeps them ignorant about National/International happenings and the government sponsored development assistance schemes. The lack of self-study also hampers proper awareness of Divine Heritage and true ‘Maryada’ and leads them to hollow ritual practices. The ritualistic practices without proper study & learning leads the faithful away from achieving the real & eternally truthful paths laid down by the Gurus under golden concepts of “Sarbat Da Bhalla” through the continuous life practice of “Naam Japna”, “Kirt Karni” and “Wand-Chhakna”. Thus without understanding the true values, a Sikh can go astray from the true path and away from mainstream. Without proper education and understanding of these concepts a Sikh cannot develop Self-Entrepreneurship.

A brief knowledge of a new decentralized-democratic system of governance being implemented by the government, though half-heartedly, is also necessary to understand before dealing with subject of finding some methodology to overcome the current 21st Century crisis created by collapse of school and professional education in rural areas. The Panchyati Raj System is now being empowered in the 17 (currently 19) districts of Punjab, under the Punjab Panchayati Raj Act, 1994. The Act envisages the 3-tier system of governance and there are 17 Zila Parishads, 140 Panchyat Samitis (or Development Blocks) and 12,369 Gram Panchayats. The Punjab shall now be governed at rural level by 281 members of 17 Zila Parishads, 2,485 members of 140 Panchayat Samitis and 12,369 Sarpanches of 12,369 Gram Panchayats. Every Panchayat Raj Institution shall have a tenure of 5-years. The Act invests the Panchayats with powers to execute the works relating to Agriculture, Animal husbandry, Dairying & Poultry, Minor forests & social forestry, Small & Agro processing, Khadi industries, Rural housing, Drinking water/health & sanitation, Poverty alleviation, Family/social welfare, Cultural activities, EDUCATION-including primary & secondary etc. The list of works & duties of Sarpanches/Panches are defined. The judgment on their performance at village level is yet too early to comment. But the liaison & coordination with Panchayats is essential for rural development.

The Punjab Government have taken initiatives to set up 95 Mega Projects in next few years with total investment of Rs.43,265 crores. The important ones being the Special Economic Zone at Mohali & Amritsar, Agriculture diversification & infrastructure development, Education for all with compulsory computer education in schools, Greenfield Airport at Halwara, Bio-technology Park at Dera Bassi, Mega Industrial Projects in SEZ, Petro-Chemical Project at Bhatinda, Thrust on Infrastructure Development, IT Hub at Mohali & Central Institute of Science & Research at Mohali, etc. The CM of Punjab assured to create additional employment to the youth to over 8-lakhs in these projects. These are good signs of fast economic development in Punjab. But what is the guarantee that all jobs shall be available only to Punjab youth when they are yet to achieve high technical experience. The rural employment scope is bound to be limited to few unskilled jobs. What about the rehabilitation of thousands of land oustees?

Action Programme Methodology
A module for community’s Institutions’ involvement for uplifting the rural educational system, promoting employment & imparting counselling shall comprise the following steps:

1. It is a wake-up call for all Punjab based institutions in general and the Sikh institutions in particular to adopt any peripheral village(s) for multipurpose development by forming Selp Help Group.

2. A registered self help group of volunteers has attained a constitutional recognition for seeking any development grants and concession as bank finances on behalf of individual area development. The institutions have a right to utilize their resources & infrastructure for any socio-economic activity in addition to conducting their routine ‘Maryada’. A “Sabat Da Bhalla” concept achievement.

3. For eligibility of development concessions, the sponsoring institution has to amend their bye-laws to include such objectives in addition to normal activities already defined in their original constitution.

4. A self-help-group can be independent or branch of sponsoring institute and may be controlled by the constitutional head of that institution. A team of few experts may be included out of locality-based retired or in-service voluntary professionals for imparting expert counseling to the likely beneficiaries.”

5. An endowment fund can be created separately for the purpose with lump sum initial seed contribution from the sponsoring institution and adding likely flow of donations later. The premises and the built up available infrastructure & light entertainment facilities shall be provided free of cost.

6. The meetings at identified villages, in addition to the regular one at the Central Office, shall be held on pre-appointed days and time in cooperation and association of local Panchayat members, Gurdwara and social leaders. Such group members shall be working without any political agenda or party affiliation.

7. The funds may be used proportionately after jointly identifying each project of likely beneficiary on need-cum-merit basis. The educational promotion should form top agenda, besides granting other help scholarships, tutorials, women-children health, vocational training & economic rehabilitation, etc.

8. The Career and Counselling Cells should be established & short duration rural camps also be held frequently for spot guidance & settlement of youth’s career options/grievance, promoting health and sports activities & assist settling other minor family disputes and government departmental issues, etc.

9. Such Counselling Cells are likely to create positive effect on youth psyche, providing him religious awareness, and shall help winning back the strayed drug-addicted youth back to Sikh mainstream.

The Self-Help-Groups can easily be financed & organized by large number of Gurdwaras, & Deras, administrations by curtailing frequently held building renovations, Kirtan Darbars and Chetna Marches. SGPC can also be approached to assist & propagate these activities through newly established 6 missions.



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