Interview given to the Kargil Number/Rangyul

Recently I did an email interview for Kargil Number/Rangyul Newspaper. I am posting it here as it seems to touch some of the issues that people may want to know about.

Rangyul: How long is your assignment in Nepal? Tell us more about your work in Nepal. Has it been satisfactory?

SW: Yes it has been most satisfactory and they would like me to work for two more years. After completing my advisory assignment in western Nepal for a project very similar to ONH in Ladakh, I went to France to do a Master’s degree in Earth Architecture. These days I am designing and building pilot models of Green Schools (buildings that are solar heated or naturally cooled) in different parts of Nepal, for the government here. Ultimately some of these models are expected to be replicated in Nepal’s mission to build 50,000 classrooms by 2015.

Rangyul: We hear that apart from Nepal, you have also been invited by the Royal Government of Bhutan. Can you elaborate more about your role in Bhutan?

SW: Bhutan is embarking on a most ambitious mission of making the whole country’s education system more humane and green. They call it introducing GNH (Gross National Happiness) in education. In fact in some ways the programme is quite similar to our Ladakh Model of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (LMSSA). So I have been sharing my experiences from different places with them and hope to be involved in several educational and environmental programmes personally initiated by the Prime Minister.

Rangyul: People seem to feel the need of your return. Have you any plans to return to Ladakh to start any projects in future?
SW: Ladakh being my birthplace I will always return whenever I wish but there is really no reason for my return to do the same things again. Firstly because we had already shown the way (in govt. school reform) and also put in place the tools needed. So the need now is more to walk the path. Secondly I have worked for education reform in Ladakh continuously for nearly 20 years. And since I worked an average of at least 12 hours a day, even by moderate accounts this amounts to 40 years of work. Now most people get retirement after 30 years of service. So it won’t be very unreasonable to say that having put in more than a lifetime in service of Ladakh, I can choose to serve other needy people in the world, especially when people in Ladakh are not even sure whether they need my service.
However if Ladakh really wants that I come and do more, then I would still be ready to do some things but this time we should not be wasting time dealing with petty resistances from various interests. Therefore I shall expect an  expression of interest from the people of Ladakh and a commitment to cooperate and work collectively for a sustainable programme. Since we have a democratic setup in Ladakh, the interest of the people is represented by the elected councilors in our Hill Council. Hence such an expression has to come in the form of a unanimous resolution in the General Council of LAHDC.

Rangyul: In a similar interview to Rangyul two years ago, you said that you were not interested in Politics. Don’t you think you can do much more through politics?
SW: The beauty of the world is in its diversity; not everyone has the same approach to life. I live by a different philosophy of my own. I do not believe in setting up my own home and hearth or to have children of my own. Similarly you will never see me possessing land or contesting others to serve the people from positions of power i.e. politics. But I respect those who are interested in doing these things and in fact my whole approach is to help them do what they want better.

Rangyul: They say you used to interfere with the functioning of the Hill Council. In 2007 when Tsewang Rigzin was shuffled from EC Education, you seem to have told the CEC that you were considering a fast-unto-death if Mr. Rigzin was not reinstated as EC Education?

SW: There is some truth in that but you have to understand the context. In July 2006, LAHDC Leh and SECMOL, in their 10 year old partnership in education had just embarked upon a very ambitious programme called LMSSA (or ONH phase II) which was launched by the President of India himself. The President had taken the event so seriously that he had made a special mention of it in his ‘Address to the Nation’ on Independence Day that year— unprecedented for any development programme in the history of Ladakh.  

Then suddenly all these dreams were beginning to be shattered just because some noisy groups had pressured the CEC to remove the EC Education Mr. Tsewang Rigzin. Since Mr. Rigzin was instrumental in conceiving and executing LMSSA, I could not see how this ambitious partnership could move forward as an additional burden on the EC Agriculture. I felt personally devastated at the loss all my 18 years of struggle and also wanted to create a counter-pressure in order to help the CEC to take a balanced decision as per his own belief — hence my letter, in desperation and not as interference.
Even before the EC reshuffle took place we had not really interfered, in our last meeting with the CEC (25 February 2007) just before the announcement of the EC reshuffle on radio this is what we appealed to him very clearly in the end:
“As the CEC it is your prerogative to choose whosoever you want for the post of EC, but kindly give a gap of at least a month between the aggressive representation from the teachers’ group and the actual reshuffle, otherwise this would send a wrong message for future.”

Rangyul: You have always been a controversial figure and many people oppose you. Why?

SW: All professions have some hazards or risks. A soldier risks being fired at, a pilot risks meeting a crash, a journalist risks being harassed by vested interests. Similarly a social activist risks disturbing people’s comfort and antagonising powerful people.
When I chose this path I knew that I will not be a popular person for the various roles I was playing in the society. For being a neutral and secular person Buddhists thought that I was anti-Buddhist, Muslims thought that I was anti-Islam, as an education reformer I annoyed some bureaucrats and teachers, as a journalist I annoyed many corrupt people, as a language reformer I antagonised many monks and scholars and as an uncompromising head in an NGO few of my staff also went against me. And yes it would be unfair if don’t say that I must also have hurt some people by being ignorant, unfair or even mean. After all I am human and hence full of weaknesses and always learning.  

If you chose to become a social activist I think you should not be surprised if people oppose you, you should be surprised only if they do not react, and re-examine your own effectiveness. We are mere mortal humans; even Buddha had his opponents, so does HH the Dalai Lama. Christ was crucified, Socrates was poisoned and Gandhi was shot. So who am I? What is important for me is not whether I have opponents or not but that I on my part do not develop any negativity towards the people who ‘oppose’ me. And I feel happy to say that today there is no one I could call my enemy.

Rangyul: Any message to Ladakhi public in general and the youngsters or the teaching community in particular?
SW: Truth shall always prevail and we shall overcome someday!

2 Comments - Show Original PostCollapse comments

Blogger said...
Acho lay the more we get to know about you the more things become Cristal. It has been amazing to know more and more about you. one thing I that must ask is about the approach u take against the elites/powerful. Do you think, you can seek support from politicians when they stupidly fear from your previous popularity. Do u think they will ask you to come back and work independently according to your own ideas of Reform in the education system, when they resisted a little bit of popularity and resisted your reformative moves. Do you think that they will call you as popular peoples reformer with a redical approach. Don't you think if changes are not taking place due to political resistance,there is a need to re-examine the approaches and strategies, look up to cases of community organisation in highly political villages and slums in Inida and abroad. AS i personally think that without going against the NETAS openly (A redical Approach I mean) nothing bigger then what could be achieved in last 20 years can be done. Hence don't you think that you should come back on peoples demand as I firmly believe that people support is the most important thing and that has to be gained tactfully, considering modern day challenges. As far as political & administrative pressure are concerned, don't you think, networking with Activists and Media would do. should not you come back when a new generation is calling you......
....Kean-Juuga thaltea youtna, gongspa salazat..Jully
May 4, 2010 4:23 AM

Blogger Sonam Wangchuk said...
Many thanks Zahir lay. Since we are talking about changing the government system of education rather than creating a parallel one, I don't want to ignore the great gift of local democracy that we have in Ladakh i.e the Hill Council.
But that does not mean that one has to beg helplessly from political bosses. In a democracy the supreme bosses are the people, politicians are only managers appointed by the people.If the people want something really strongly then the political leaders are compelled to manage that. And if they don't, the supreme bosses give their verdict every five years. And in Leh's case it is this year in Sept/October.
So also in the case of SECMOL's work in Ladakh, if the people really want, then the councillors and therefore the Hill Council will have to honour this desire of the supreme bosses. I strongly believe in and want to honour this Chakra of Democracy.
The new generation calling is nice and good but we should not jump the mechanism of democracy. In fact the most sustainable and 'proper' channel for the new generation to call would be via their respective elected representatives. The issue is not about my coming, it is about working together to make government institutions function in the long run. After all it is them that we the people entrusted the various systems of service of delivery five years ago. The bosses may want to change their managers but there is no reason why they should want to give up the ownership of the system if the managers don’t do a good job.

Best wishes
(for more clarity on this theory I shall later post an article I once wrote about the 'Chakra of democracy')
May 4, 2010 9:34 AM

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