Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Constitutional Imperative Of Civic Education

Dev Raj Dahal

A progressive human life depends on continuous learning about the changing ecological, social, economic, technological and political conditions of complex society. Human birth is biological but the goal of life is not death. Its settled answer lies in enlightenment which spurs inner vigilance or knowing self for building good character. It is the mainspring of courage, freedom and self-determination. The outer purpose of education is to acquire better skills for survival competition, efficiency and progress. Civic education is political, non-partisan in the sense that it aims to cultivate public-spirited citizens. It is vital to combat all kinds of dependence and subordination- familial, economic, political, legal, religious, institutional and communicative ones and gain guts for freewill and freedom of conscience.
Only conscious learning can improve the ability of their judgment. The worth of persons cannot be realised until the torch of education sparks their enlightenment. It thus unchains Nepalis from the absurdity of tribal conformity and cave-men feeling by promoting critical faculty of judgment and action essential to acquire civic maturity. Conscious citizens with good character are capable of exercising dignity and autonomy in public affairs. Nepalis of all generations need civic education to widen their democratic desire, overcome herd mentality and one-sided indoctrination and thought-control that stunt their critical faculty.

Rights and duties
It is a programme with sovereign citizens, not passive patients, clients, impolite, aliens and objects. Society needs strong civil sector to satisfy social needs and keep a sense of democratic citizenship. The Constitution of Nepal has granted 31 rights and 4 duties to citizens but the bitter irony is that neither do they know how to exercise them nor the state is capable of realising them. Unless the nation has ample educational programmes and resources to link democratic theory into practices beyond the rituals of one-time voters’ information during election it only lulls them into a false sense of political empowerment without any control on the endless undesirable consequences their leaders produce until next election to rectify them.
The sovereignty of Nepalis enshrined in the Constitution demands their efficacy capable of performing responsibility on major issues including the election of appropriate leaders. Yet, without the spread of democratic intelligence in society it is difficult to cut fatalism, aid them to exercise cognitive power, practical skills and aptitude and bridge the gap between knowledge and wisdom. The obvious political purposes of civic education is to create civic culture by means of citizens’ engagement in policy choices, make social contract implementable and amplify valid voting turnout in the elections. Nepal’s voting turnout of over 70 per cent, however, in no way marks their civic competence where they feel that their participation affects the course of politics and they are responsible for their choice of leaders and actions.
Nepali constitution promises an egalitarian society founded on core values of liberty, justice, tolerance to diversity and solidarity. The legal equality of Nepalis has created a basis to fight for factual equality vital to create a level playing field for civic participation at communities, villages, towns and higher scale of the institutions of representation. This helps them gain political experience. It nurtures a fresh perspective to envision Nepal from the native viewpoint and helps to realise life’s potential.
Reflective, not rote or mimicking, knowledge derived from praxis frees the imprisoned minds that deem all ills of the nation to natives. It enables them to learn the utility and limits of universal knowledge befitting national human condition defined by labour market opportunity, work environment and the stock of knowledge necessary to harmonise ties with family, kinship, society, institutions of the state and uphold cosmopolitan duties known as sanatan dharma. It is important now in Nepal to rescue the minds of political leaders and citizens from excessive material self-indulgence, passion for power monopoly and addiction to negate others by any means available. The universal consensus on public good to be shared by all the Nepalis has turned human needs non-negotiable.
Education about the Constitution bears positive impacts on the behaviour of leaders and citizens enabling them to become law-abiding for ordered life and restyle civic culture worthy of oneness of self, species being, nationality and humanity. Nepali leaders’ duty lies in educating the union of the sovereignty of the state and popular sovereignty as the basis of authority and legitimacy of government enabling them to peacefully exercise their rights in life. But there are certain duties that demand the sacrifice by them for common good and accept rational change, not through violence or hostile protest but though peaceful social movements which can also be an arena for training future citizens and leaders.
Constitutional ideals provide Nepalis an orientation to reform their own condition, assist acculturation to public morale, prepare for civic duties and build their patriotic character without being prejudiced to humanitarian norms and obligations. In a multi-hued society like Nepal, citizens’ productive engagement in civic associations that dot the public sphere is vital for social integration of disconnected and marginal groups and spur national integration. Leaders’ reflection on the Nepali society’s diversity opens the possibility of feedback from many mini publics and eases them to learn from citizens about the way to resolve the practical problems by rational action. This can contribute to spur cross-cultural understanding and strengthen attachment with the Nepali state.
Improved rationality of political practices in Nepal can build a national consensus for constitutional, political and policy coherence on the basis of changing popular mandate. Experience about civic virtues animates a balance of the leaders’ use of democratic concepts and ordinary citizens’ richness of the nation’s philosophical, historical, cultural and spatial life. It helps nurture constructive relation of politics to citizen’s life and cultivates civic sense to conquer parochialism, paternalism and patronage of leaders. Too much personalisation of authority weakens civic competence and reduces them into an unthinking crowd which fails to bind all Nepalis in their common identity. It nullifies the challenge to the unity of state by internal forces of class, caste, ethnicity, gender, religion and region and external meddling. Amitai Etzioni, therefore, calls for a need to “find ways to blend the virtues of tradition with the liberation of modernity.”
The onset of modernity has set free the culture of emancipation and, therefore, Nepalis are struggling for justice across many spheres of life. Proper and regular education about the functions of many constitutional concepts, such as directive principles, separation of power, checks and balances, constitutional and human rights, rule of law, autonomy of constitutional bodies and cultural industries, social and gender justice, social welfare state, human security for all the citizens, etc. by party schools, civil society, media and Election Commission can animate self-awareness of citizens for scores of social works and civic actions - cleaning public houses, roads, toilets, school compound, controlling domestic violence, girl’s education, safety of the disabled, creating green parks, health awareness, deference to elders, waste management, pollution control, education about local government, management of common resources, etc.
Proper civic education can penetrate the social and political webs to eradicate entrenched vices and keep social and political order by preventing leaders to pull politics to the extreme and erode any prospect for compromise in the democratic middle. Nepali leaders too need the decency and civic virtues in the use of language to each other and keep public morality. Doing otherwise, would bring an authority crisis for the government and loyalty pattern of citizens to the state, polity, political parties, parliament and the actors of governance thus creating obstacles to shape healthy national character. Institutions of governance fail to remain inclusive if the vision of building Nepali nation cannot address key challenges: control of pandemic, poverty alleviation, job-creation, ending social exclusion, combating violence, realisation of subjective and objective rights and escape from the eternal fear of natural selection of life.
The basic duties of citizenship involve paying tax, becoming law-abiding, remaining vigil, protecting public property and rendering service to the nation in times of hardship. Citizenship, as a member of state, begins with commitment to and respect for state sovereignty and territorial integrity, national language, anthem, national flag and social harmony in a spirit of solidarity among all the members and collective action. Deep internalisation of the values of citizenship by leaders desists from enhancing fawning profiles. Democratic construction of citizenship in Nepal is vital to make political system functional. It empowers them to select workable choices that the polity offers and constantly feeds their power of feeling, thinking, working and creating new reality Nepalis aspire. Gautam Buddha eloquently preached and practiced mindfulness to nature, women, children and senior citizens.

Cultural synthesis
Nepalis since old days have created and transmitted cultural synthesis and values across generations for socialisation. Now, Nepalis seek a solution to the problem of a clash among leaders’ imperative for power, intellectual curiosity in juggling data and theories of unknown efficacy, citizens concern for the fate of democracy, business rationality of the market and ideological rationality of social engineering. The last one appears fatal as it deconstructs native roots of socialisation, its culture, heritage, history and society and makes Nepalis rootless without any anchorage to its ancient virtues of enlightenment. It has left weak prospect for social sector of non-profit organisations, volunteers and social workers who can release their spiritual and moral energy and compassion to work together and restore national resilience. If ethical and cultural values that bond Nepalis are torn asunder, all that is left to power fails to catalyse citizens for transformational change.
Shared purpose and concern for fellow citizens help those who are deprived of their dignified life mainly the exhausted poor and create their stake in democratic governance. The vital task ahead for Nepali polity is to bridge the rising chasm in the words and deeds of leaders and save democracy from its foes. This entails massive doze and sustained campaign for civic education to communicate the common intellectual and cultural heritage of the nation and cosmopolitan values to all Nepalis. This can enable them to exercise the power of the public for the synergy of good of governance and enlarge their circle of affection to live a healthy life in the community fulfilling their needs for care, justice, solidarity and social peace, needs that are the heartbeat of constitutional democracy.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)