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Central and State Governments in India spend about 3.5% of India’s GDP on education. Elementary education takes about 10% of the budgets of individual states. Since 2009, enrolment in primary schools in India reached over 90% and girls making up 50% of the new students. But 29% of children drop out before completing five years of primary school, and only 42% complete high school. India is ranked among the top five nations for out-of-school children, having 1.4 million children in the age group 6 to 11 years, out of school. Primary schools are short of about 700,000 teachers. Only 53% of the schools have functional girls’ toilets and 26% have no access to drinking water. When children are expected to understand simple sentences easily, 32.5% of children in Class II at government schools cannot recognise letters of the alphabet. More than 50% studying in Class V cannot read Class II text books. Around 40% of rural children studying in Class III do not recognise numbers upto 100. Corruption runs through the entire school education system. Cases of misappropriation of school building funds amongst school principals, failure to pass mandatory competency tests for primary school teachers, submission of fake university degree certificates by teachers and contaminated free mid-day meals are rampant.

In 2014, 52.8% of rural children, belonging to age group 6 to 14 years in Uttar Pradesh went to private schools. The corresponding all India figure is 30.8%. By an Order of September 2015, the Allahabad High Court has directed the Chief Secretary of UP to ensure that from the academic year beginning 2016, children of all officials serving with the government including judiciary, local bodies and representatives of people, must send their children to study only in government primary schools, failing which the fees paid by them to private schools should be deducted from their salaries, and paid to government account. The Chief Secretary has been given six months time to implement the Order. UP spends about Rs 20,000 crore a year on elementary education. Justice Sudhir Agarwal observed that although 90% of UP’s children study in government primary schools, their conditions remain ‘‘shabby’’. The quality of poor-quality teachers, minimum infrastructure, basic facilities like drinking water and sanitation, hardly show any signs of improvement.

Nepal Constitution
Taking more than seven years to complete amid political infighting, Nepal formally adopted a new constitution on 21 September 2015. Smaller parties and ethnic groups opposed to the new charter issued fresh threats of violence. The violence of Sep-Oct 2015 left at least 70 people dead. The new constitution sets Nepal as a secular federation of seven states. Demanding more states and seats for ethnic minorities, some ethnic and religious groups say their concerns were ignored. Opposition parties from the southern plains are protesting against what they see as an unfair demarcation of Nepal into seven states. India wants Kathmandu to include the dissenting voices of Madhesis (people in the plains) and Janajatis (indigenous communities) to be included in the new constitution promulgated. Hindu groups are aggrieved by their failed bid to have the constitution define Nepal, as a Hindu state rather than a secular state. Women’s groups object to what they see as discriminatory provisions. The Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist- Leninist) and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the three large parties in the 601-seat parliament, overwhelmingly approved the constitution. ‘‘Restrictions’’ imposed by the Indian government, on the economic activities at India-Nepal border points, has created a shortage of fuel supply and food grains in Nepal.

Myanmar’s Muslims
The population of Myanmar (Burma) is about 51 million, as of 2014. An estimated 4% are Muslims. Excluded from the elections of 08 November 2015, were the Rohingyas, ‘migrants’ from Bangladesh, who are crowded into squalid camps along the Bay of Bengal. A ruthless and systematic campaign of disenfranchisement has stripped half a million of them, of their right to vote. Even though for generations, many Rohingyas have served the Burmese state as soldiers, policemen and civil servants, militant Buddhist monks started the campaign against them. They are seen as stateless people—‘‘Bengali’’ immigrants.

Thousands of Rohingyas have been forced to hand over the white identity cards, that gave them a precarious status in Myanmar. More than 25,000 fled in rickety boats across the Andaman Sea, earlier in 2015. Hundreds fell victim to people smugglers, extortion, kidnap and murder. About 140,000 Rohingyas remain confined in the camps in Rakhine state, also known as Arakan. They are trapped by local militias and police, who seized control of schools and hospitals, and succeeded in driving out most international aid groups. The Rohingyas discovered on the eve of polls most of their community members just vanished from election rolls. The refugee camps do not have enough food, completely inadequate medical services, no access to education and no livelihoods. Aung San Suu Kyi, the iconic symbol of Burma’s democratic voice, has failed to speak out directly in support of the Rohingya. New discriminatory laws have been shaped to protect ‘‘race and religion’’. Four bills passed by parliament will force women to apply for permission to marry a Muslim, require anyone changing religion to seek state approval, restrict women in certain regions to having one child every three years, and outlaw polygamy. Sectarian intolerance has expanded beyond the Rohingya to all Muslims. Not one Muslim candidate for parliament and regional assembly elections has passed stringent citizenship tests.

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 26, Jan 3 - 9, 2016