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‘Need to educate rest of India about North East’

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By Surbhi Moudgil

For decades now, the Northeast, comprising seven sisters – Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh – and a brother – Sikkim – has been neglected by both, the government and their fellow countrymen.

Almost 98% of the north-eastern borders are international borders, which the states share with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China. A major risk associated with this unique geopolitical hotspot, apart from militancy or development, is its lack of representation to the rest of our country.

Why has their plight not been dealt with? Is it only the government which is to be blamed or the locals should be held responsible as well? Most importantly, will this country ever realise what it is losing in this bargain of ignorance and rights?

To find out answers to these queries, NewsGram interviewed Member of Parliament Dr Thokchom Meinya representing Inner Manipur from India National Congress.

Speaking about the diversity of Manipur, the MP remarked about the state’s beauty of a diverse set of heterogeneous people, with so many dialects living in harmony with as many as 38 multi-lingual ethnic communities. The beauty of Manipur lies in the unity of ethno-diversity and multilingual co-existence.

Manipuri language is called Meiteilon; it is the lingua franca of the state and is spoken by all locals. Meitei is a Sino-Tibetan language whose exact classification remains unclear. It has lexical resemblances to Kuki and Tangkhul Naga.

Giving a historical perspective, in the wake of the Bhakti movement, the Manipur monarchy converted into Hinduism, leading Hindu priests to burn their holy books (Puran) written in their own scripts. They decided, instead, to introduce Bengali characters to rewrite their old literature. Of late, people have started to express their concerns over the authenticity of Bengali, leading to controversies as there were multiple (3-4) scripts that were claimed to be original by different groups.

The Manipuri language was finally included in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution after the loss of many lives during the long drawn language struggle from 1972 to 1980. Yet, a proper development of the languages is not being carried out, laments Dr Meinya.

For a functioning state and better governance, rest of India would have to know the history of the Northeast region and be inclusive towards them, concluded the MP.

Dr Meinya condemns the state for representing such an administrative failure.

“For this I don’t blame the Union of India. The blame should also fall on the state because of the three provisions in the constitution; one is the Union List, another is the Concurrent List, and the third is the State List.

“Since, education, health and home come under the State List, it is Manipur government’s prerogative to display good governance. Unfortunately, for many reasons, I am sorry to say, good governance cannot be carried out in these parts of the country.”

He added, “Manipur locals, including the hill region people, speak Manipuri. We don’t know the dialects and languages spoken by the tribes but we all know Manipuri. We now have a big plan to rewrite the entire books written in Bengali. We will retain them but we are also publishing their rewritten versions in the new script.”

There is another issue that the adoption of the new script faces. Technology as well as tradition, somehow, is a hindrance to the new script as the youth prefer English whereas the older generation understands the Bengali script.

“Bengali script is fading away. So, the language is in a haphazard status. We now print all our cards in Bengali scripts but the young people write their names in English. English is becoming easier in terms of expression,” said Dr Meinya.

Although this “easier term of expression” (English) is a completely alien language to the tribals. If the young generation is encouraged to use it, won’t it create a language gap within the state?

With the language issue comes educational problems: what should be the medium of instruction in schools and colleges; do we have books in that script; is it in line with the national education policy; is it good enough to give confidence to the young men and women who fly away to Delhi and Bangalore. The surge of militancy is related to lack of livelihood which finds its origin in lack of proper, skill-oriented education.

The MP claimed that higher education had expanded over the years in Manipur in terms of the number of institutions. Data shows that from just one college in 1946-47, higher education today is imparted through two universities and 68 colleges, including seven women colleges. However, these are concentrated mainly in the valley districts of Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur.

Dr. Meinya expressed concerns over the safety of students in the light of militancy. For a state trapped in the claws of the insurgency, the students need to feel safe and need to be at peace. An ideal study environment needs to be established for the better accumulation of tutelage.

He recognised the issue of student safety and appeared concerned. Militants often convey threats amid a lack of safety provisions for students. Persistent strikes, boycotts and curfews interrupt the regular schooling of students. As a result, they lack the skills and knowledge of their respective subjects due to the fewer lectures delivered.

Deficiency of academic atmosphere, parental and government support are some the reasons for this situation. Therefore, it is not surprising that many parents send their children outside the state for their studies.

The MP from Inner Manipur spoke at length about the apathy of governments, mostly the state, for the issue of militancy and unsafe environment for the youth. However, when asked if there was a solution, he expressed disappointment as well as emphasised upon the prevailing atmosphere where militancy was just one issue.

He said that the Northeast was gripped in corruption, bad physical and human infrastructure, lack of ideas and will for the betterment of the state at the governance level, among many other smaller issues like violence, conflicts, blockades and strikes.

MP Meinya stressed upon the fact that “the solution lies with the people, of Manipur as well as rest of India,” and nobody else. Institutions and societies are made of individuals who care about it.

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How telecom has become driver of economic change in India

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The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front.
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. Wikimedia Commons
  • India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
  • The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
  • India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world

For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.

India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.

Also Read: Social Media in India: Understanding The Dynamics of ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’

Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.

A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country.
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.

Also Read: Quoting WhatsApp message renders ‘delete’ feature ineffective

First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.

To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.

Today's smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons
Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons

Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.

Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.

Also Read: Facebook to ‘Signal’ news gathering for journos

An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.

Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)

(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)