espite stark differences in income levels and standards of living, the Nepali elite and its middle class have a lot in common. Nationalistic hubris, paranoia of people from the plains, and an excessive attachment to the achievements of ancestors are traits that define an acceptable person in Kathmandu's high society. And these are exactly the values that we, lower down the class ladder, attempt to cultivate in order to become agreeable and acceptable.
When the qualities to aspire for are so pedestrian and parochial, there is no need to give anything our best. In academics, economics, social, literary or even sports getting by is enough. Like buffaloes happily chewing the cud in the mud of a drying pond in the late summer afternoon, the Nepali middle-of-the-road class wallows in the cesspool of its own collective mediocrity. With our puny dreams and small sacrifices, we ridicule mass-based politicos and expect false heroes to release us from our suffering.
Our yearning for simplistic solutions to complex social problems, our devotion to the done ways of doing things, our longing for a divine saviour whenever faced with a challenge, our dissatisfaction with the present and desperation about future, and our eagerness to jump to quick conclusions--these are all links of a chain of fatalism that keeps us in bondage.
You would think that a relatively young ideology like Maoism would be free of such shackles of socialisation. But Nepali followers of the Great Helmsman exhibit the same traits as the rest of us. It would be too much to expect otherwise. Their concerns are as superficial as the Nepali elite, their preoccupations are as peripheral as those of Nepali bourgeoisie, and they love obfuscation as much as the ministers we see everyday speechifying on the evening news. All of these attributes are on vivid display in the agitation against private schools by the student wing of Nepali Maoists. Private schools re-opened, but the agitation is far from over.
The Maoists are right about one thing through: our schools are sick. Government-run public schools suffer from politics. Teachers do not teach, they spend their time in preaching the doctrine of the political party that they are affiliated with. The Maoists are taking full advantage of public school teachers, collecting one-third of their meagre salaries. Their concern for the quality of instruction in public schools is as shallow as the neglect by the community and government. Where did the dictators of the proletariat and their progenies go to school? Most private schools, on the other hand, have consciously stayed out of politics, and chased mammon. The operating principle there is not social justice, but freedom of choice. Profit being their prime motive, promoters of private schools seldom have any interest in creating a concerned citizen. What they actually produce are economic robots: persons aware of their rights, but ambivalent at best of their responsibilities towards society.
SOBS (Students of Boarding Schools) parrot popular slogans of parlour patriotism, chic environmentalism and genteel social service. But the free-market is their main mantra. SOBS are taught to seek value for money. The child, the sick, the old, the dying and the poor-'non-economic persons' -do not figure in their world-view. Not all private schools are created equal. A 'boarding school' in Patan (Baitadi) and a private school in Patan (Lalitpur) are as different as a government school and a private limited school. But both are mass-producing foot soldiers of global capitalism by creating consumers. Private schools are addressing the quality gap with an ideological filling of free-for-all capitalism.
No wonder, the Maoists see this as an ideological war for the minds of the young. So, their solution: if there are rats in the house, burn it down. They are using an axe where a scalpel would do. This madness has been characteristic of Maoist methods wherever they have risen: Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Cambodia, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh. But the agitation against private schools in Nepal suffers from a more fundamental flaw-that of mixed-up priorities.
To start with, do the Maoists seriously think that Nepali students of Rupy's International will rush back to Padmodaya? In all probability, they will catch the first available flight to Bangalore, and start singing Jana Gana Mana with even more gusto in some frightfully expensive private school in Kodaikanal, Ootacmund or Mercara. If the Elite's Co-ed were to be closed, their Nepali students will fill the Bhadrapur flights and journey onwards to Kurseong and Darjeeling.
Our comrades must note that a completely closed proletarian utopia is no more possible in a globalised world. Cuba and North Korea are exhibits in glass cases. The aim should be for damage control by opting for the lesser of available evils. Before beating up the principals of allegedly Indian schools, the Maoists should have analysed what the consequence of their action would be: force Nepalis to study in Indian schools in India. And even if pricey private schools were to cut their fees by two-thirds, we in the lower-middle class will still not be able to afford them. Such a cut will benefit the elite kids who will pay even less! Would it not be more sensible to tax these education factories dispensing "quality education", and then use the proceeds to improve facilities in public schools? May be then we induce Honourable Ishwar Pokharel's son back to Nepal, and prompt him to study in Nandi Ratri.
The demand for free education up to tenth grade in all public schools is equally puerile. Free education, if not supported by compulsory schooling and mid-day meals, benefits only those who can afford to pay the fees anyway. Free education does not work in a society where caste and class often coalesce, and grinding poverty makes formal schooling a luxury for children who must work to make a living.
To improve the quality of education in public schools, the challenge lies in attracting students back by restoring power to it once again. Maybe we should ask all public officials (elected, selected and appointed-including Ward Chairpersons and Army Generals) to send their children to public schools. After all, it's a fact that no government official-not even a cabinet minister-can afford to pay the fees of private schools from their salaries alone. And five-star schools will pay taxes just like five-star hotels.
Nepali communists prefer the time-tested bourgeois way of creating a spectacle rather than making an impact. So the student wing of main opposition party CPN (UML) sets chairs of District Education Officers on fire. Students affiliated to CPN (ML) burn microbuses to obtain concession fares. Students swearing by Maoism vanadlise schools. Is this about education? No, it is about power. And the middle-class manufactures apology for one or the other of them. It's a minor miracle that the mess isn't worse. It is the mediocrity of the middle-class that feeds the Maoist insurgency in Nepal.