It’s dig out, silly!

Teaching can be fun, at least if you’re not doing it full time. That is what I was told and that is what I thought so. And having had worked in the media for long, a teaching opportunity seemed to me like a sensible break. Plus if additional money is coming into your pocket, it’s all the way better.

So off I ventured into the teaching realm on a part-time basis, a totally unchartered venture, in August 2013. I was assigned to teach journalism to final year students of English/EVS and English/Dzongkha at Royal Thimphu College.

Classes began and formal introductions were over. But before delving into the history, definition and canons of journalism, I thought it would be befitting to ask them a question. So I asked, “Who wants to become a journalist?”

Blank faces stared at me – an apparent reaction that perhaps they didn’t want to. “No one interested?” I asked them again, trying to reassure myself. Silence ensued and much later a single hand rose in the air. “I want to become a TV anchor,” a female student in the second row replied.

“Well, this is going to be tough,” I braced up. But days went on swiftly and soon the semester had come to its end.

I went to teach again the same subject for the second time last year. Classes for the fall semester began like usual from August 2014. The first day of the class and I threw the same old question. “Is anyone interested to take up journalism as a career?”Jesus-Christ-Teaching-2031760

Silence ensued. Perhaps another indication of a prompt ‘NO’ to the question. Another grueling task again, I thought. Days, however, continued. Time swiftly passed by, going through numerous assignments – the excruciating part of being a teacher. And another excruciating part is going through the exam papers.

You come across a myriad of answers that you can’t even imagine. At times it leaves one befuddled. I still remember that instance when a student of mine had written ‘…journalists d**k out information…’ while answering a question on the role of journalism in one of the exams. I thought over this statement many a times, wondering what if it’s right. What if? I might go to teach again this time too; oblivious whether I might d**k out someone too who wants to become a journalist.

P.S: Laugh out loud. Just couldn’t help sharing. Please excuse the slang.

Lost in mediocrity?

Are we as proud and gallant Bhutanese starting to lose ourselves in mediocrity? Or have complacency got the better of us that we take it as if it’s an answer to every debacle of ours?

Take for instance our qualifying games for the World Cup 2018. Bhutan earlier lost with 0-7 score in favor of Hongkong. A few weeks later, Bhutan was again humbled by China 0-6 here at Changlimithang stadium in Thimphu.

Not so much so about the fact that we lost or were beaten badly, but we had a myriad of comforting reasoning and explanations after the game. For Hongkong, the players didn’t appear that they were from there and we lost. And in the game against China, they were too tall or professional than the Bhutanese side. Or results were at least better than the one that we had then in the game against Kuwait.

The mere fact, however, is we lost. That we were defeated badly is a fait accompli. We need to accept this fact and then right the wrongs accordingly. The perceptions or the complacent nature that we have now will not suffice. We need to question ourselves. If lack of infrastructure and facilities are reasons for our soccer debacle, such facilities must be put in place. If the present perceptions that pursuing sports is not a career option, then it should be made into a promising career. If investment into sports has been minimal or lacking, increased investment must be made accordingly.cirque15rv2

The complacent perception that ‘we can only do this much’ appears to be not just confined to sports alone. If some of the country’s media are doing wrong and performing poorly, for example, the outright justification is ‘we can only expect this much from the media considering media being a fairly young development in Bhutan’.  There is no cogitation to where it’s going wrong and changing the situation accordingly.

And if our high school students are getting below average grades in English exams, it’s not surprising to hear some justification like ‘English is not our first language’. There is no cogitation to where it’s going wrong despite English language being the main mode of communication in the schooling system. There is nothing like what must be done to change the situation.

We must, therefore, realize that to change these many situations we first need to change ourselves. And to change ourselves effectively, we need to change these perceptions first.

Consume at your own peril!

Just because something is ‘easy to cook, good to eat’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy and safe. The perfect example is that of Nestle India’s Maggi noodles, which got embroiled in controversy recently following test results that confirmed the noodles contained added Monosodium Glutamate and excess of lead.

In India, the company was asked to withdraw and recall all the noodles from the market. Accordingly, these yellow packets, one of the most loved instant noodle brands in Bhutan, have also disappeared from the shelves of most shops in the country after Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority imposed a temporary ban on Maggi on June 6 this year.

An Indian shopkeeper arranges packets of Nestle 'Maggi' instant noodles from the shelves in his shop in Siliguri on June 5, 2015. India's food safety regulator on June 5 banned the sale and production of Nestle's Maggi instant noodles over a health scare after tests found they contained excessive lead levels. AFP PHOTO/Diptendu DUTTA

While the maggi controversy has abated for now, it has, however, highlighted safety of other instant noodles and processed foods in the market. It’s good that other brands have come under the scanner too. The question is what about other instant noodles flooding the market? Are they safe? Have tests been done? Or are we waiting that some other countries do the test and take action first, and then we follow accordingly as it has been happening in most instances?

It has, therefore, become apparent that we question ourselves whether it’s safe what we consume. We will today find a myriad of other instant noodles, processed and junk foods from so many countries, whose names we even don’t know of. How safe are they? For some products, forget the ingredient composition on the label, we even cannot read its actual price, manufacturing and expiry dates. In such a situation, it’s the shop owners who charge prices on their own whims. It’s like no one is complaining, no one is asking, and no one is monitoring.

There is no denying the fact that we are an import-based economy. In fact, imports have been increasing every year and it will only increase in future. Call it because of increased commercialization or changing modern lifestyle, fast foods and processed products are replacing actual meals. And as more and more variety of food products find its way into the country, there is a need to upgrade our testing facilities and develop capacity to ensure what we consume is actually safe and healthy. It’s a matter of public health issue and it’s time we are serious about monitoring the quality of imported foods.

As of now, ‘Consume at your own peril’, at best, is the only statutory warning!

What’s in a number!

It’s heartening to see that the government is making good strides on the unemployment front, at least that’s what the findings of the recent National Labour Force Survey reveal.

The national unemployment rate has slightly declined – the figure standing at 2.6% as of 2014. That it has come down by 0.3 percent in 2014 is an assuring indication.

Unquestionably, such an outcome has been possible because of new initiatives that the government has undertaken to address the unemployment issue in the country. Initiatives such as Guaranteed Employment Programs and Overseas Employment Scheme have certainly helped to get jobs for some of our unemployed youth for the time being.

Such measures are short term, but it’s also an indication that the government is doing something. The mere acknowledgment that youth unemployment is a major concern is a good beginning in itself. We also need to stop comparing unemployment scenario in Bhutan with other countries and stop saying, “It isn’t that bad, here!”

Even if figures are ostensibly assuring, many a time, it’s not the depiction of the real situation in the job market. Sometimes, it’s just the contrary. Unemployment among young adults is increasingly becoming a serious issue. Finding jobs is becoming difficult in all areas and it will only get worse with the increasing jobseekers who graduate from colleges and universities each year.YouthL

So where do we absorb them? How do we absorb 3,567 graduates, who have completed their preliminary exam and when there are just 538 slots in the civil service? While government jobs will be the most sought after, we need to understand that it’s not the role of the government to give or offer employment opportunities. The government is not there to give jobs.

The government should instead create enabling conditions and come up with policy reforms and interventions that allow the corporate and private sectors to grow so that they can play an increasingly important role in fostering economic growth and employment creation. The private sector has been envisioned as an engine of growth since the Sixth Five Year Plan, but it’s still in its infancy. The private sector is inflicted with problems of all sorts – doing businesses isn’t easy. Bureaucratic rigmarole and access to finance and credit have stunted its growth.

This is where the government can intervene and create enabling conditions. For now, layoffs and workforce retrenchments in the private sector is more common in the private sector. Let’s not even talk about job creation.

Civil service setbacks

Call it one’s disinterest or the stringent rules and regulations, but not many seem to be swayed in setting foot in politics, especially civil servants.

The civil servants are dubbed as the cream of the nation, albeit for a good reason too. We have many capable heads of government agencies – the bureaucrats such as the secretaries, directors and et al. And while they are chosen amongst hundreds as the most deserving people, the least they want to do is get into politics.

The reasons are obvious too, and it’s all the stringent rules which they are chained with. It is never free and it wasn’t. It is foremost the hardest decision of having to relinquish a well secure job, a timely pay, trainings, workshops, other perks and incentives. But even if someone wants to, it would tantamount to slamming your door to all these benefits.

All said and done, we just can’t ignore that there are loopholes in the civil service rules and regulations. Why would a civil servant resign, deliberately knowing that he/she will never be able to join back? Such conditions are already stipulated in the Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations 2010. How do we overcome this?civil service

Then there is the three-year cooling period a person affiliated with a political party must serve to vie for any civil service openings. This applies to the candidates too, meaning that a former civil servant after losing the elections cannot just go back and serve in the civil service.

And while how it would be taken up is a different issue, a political party outside the Parliament suggested last week that civil servants should be allowed to take leave to contest in apolitical offices like the National Council and Local Government elections. Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party president, Sonam Tobgay, says if they (civil servants) do not win the elections, they should be allowed to go back and serve as civil servants.

Stringent rules should be relaxed if it would only contribute in the creation of a more compact, small and efficient civil service. It’s only then that the bureaucracy can grow and the civil servants can grow too. It should have the best and the most capable candidates, and if need be allow those to join the civil service fraternity through open selections rather than reshuffling people within the same fraternity.

We are a young democracy. And a strong bureaucracy is an important component of it. Civil servants must be encouraged to play a good role in democracy. There must be congenial environment for them to join politics, and if need be allow them to join the civil service. Both ways, it will do good – for deepening democracy and bureaucracy as well.

Women & politics

It’s just not easy for women to get into politics. At least this is what many of the surveys and studies have been indicating so.

This predicament is further espoused by the report on the situation of low representation of women in elective offices that Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) released last week. It was timely and befitting too as we continue with our efforts to augment women’s representation in politics.

There is no denying the significance of women’s participation in a democracy. It’s pivotal. An increased women’s representation in Parliament or local governments for that matter will ensure that women’s voices are heard equally when it comes to making decisions that mostly affect their world. This importance is best summed up by Hillary Clinton, who said, “There cannot be true democracy unless women’s voices are heard”.women

Women’s representation is presently dispiriting in the Parliament as well as the local governments. Even the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report shows that women in Bhutan in elected positions are unfortunately rare – having been reduced from eight to four of the 67 elected Members of Parliament in the 2013 elections.

So where are we going wrong?

Firstly, gender stereotype has been identified as one reason for restricting women’s participation in the electoral processes. According to the ECB’s report, majority of the respondents feel that women are best suited to be teachers and a very few see women being suited for elective and top positions in governance.

Today, women are not yet adequately represented despite positions in the higher levels of government and decision-making being open to both genders and placement of women in the higher strata of government being encouraged. This, going by the report, is found that fewer women compared to men express interest in participating in elections as candidates.

Then there is the notion that politics is a male dominated field and that men make better politician than women. Even most women continue to have the same belief as well. A significant percent of respondents believe as well that men are better leaders compared to women. This notion, therefore, should subtly change if women are to make a difference.

However, what is heartening going by the ECB’s report is the agreed perception among the majority of respondents, who feel that there should be more women’s representation in the elective offices. This, however, won’t come easy or happen in a day.

More than facilitating women’s entry into politics and changing the present practices or systems, what is found wanting for now is attitudinal and behavioral changes against women that stems from the inherited psyche of society. It’s only after that where we can, perhaps, then envision Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s world – a world where there will be no female leaders in the future, but just only leaders.

The darker side

It’s regrettable as well as very upsetting, but none the less true. Suicide is gradually creeping into our society.

Just about a month back, we saw two students in Bumthang commit suicide where the disturbing photograph depicting the deceased with graphic details was even going viral on social media like Facebook and WeChat.

The above case, however, is not the single one that many of us chanced upon. There are many more people taking their own lives for one reason or the other that we don’t hear of. About 96 suicide cases, including attempted ones, were reported to the police last year. This means that eight people committed suicide every month in a country like ours with around 750,000 people. There is definitely a reason for great concern. But what is quite thought provoking is the reason for people resorting to this mean. Are lives’ circumstances precipitating suicide in our society?

Going by the cases, it’s not only adults but also children who have the tendency to take one’s life. The rich could be prone to it and so is the ordinary person. But what we are oblivious about is that small voice that triggers such a consequence.

It’s a very disturbing trend. We proclaim ourselves as the land of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Almost every policy is centered on this concept. However, we should also not forget the fact that a chunk of our near and dear ones conclude dying as the best way out.  These are obviously not the people who seem to be happy. Are we failing in our pursuit of GNH then?

The soaring suicide cases are also a vindication of our collapsing social system. There was more altruism in the past. People sacrificed for each other. Today we don’t even know who our next neighbor is. People are becoming individualistic. In the midst of all that, poverty is high. The least trigger may send people to the extremes.Reluctant

According to scientific reports, the reasons for suicide are numerous. But it’s mostly extreme depression that sometimes drives suicidal tendencies. And as a country, we don’t have adequate experts to tackle cases of severe depression and mental disorder that may lead to suicide. Pathetically, we have negligible numbers of psychiatrist or psychologist working in the country.

Further, we even don’t know exactly how common suicide is in the country. There are no available data. Getting the correct statistics and a real study on this matter is pivotal if we are serious about tackling this issue. The time has also come, besides the training of psychiatrists to take care of severe depression and creating awareness, to place emphasis on this issue because the problem of suicide is becoming real.