Presidency College, Motbung

Kakai Singsit *

While I was on an errand to Sugnu, my co-passenger wanted to know where I was from. I dodged the question by bringing up some other pedestrian issues just to keep the conversation ball rolling but somehow he kept on pestering. Hard-pressed I gave in. “Oh Motbung ! (I could feel the thrill in his voice) I completed my graduation there.”

Exchanging pleasantries or engaging in animated conversations with co-passenger shortens invariably one’s journey. Sitting together with a nosy one trying to dig out every-inch of your life can make one’s journey a veritable hell. If it happens to be a beautiful woman with an amiable personality then you wish the journey never ends.

My village is home to Presidency College, notorious for its unfair means during examinations-the hub of the fly-by-nights, imposters, impersonators who converged from all nooks and crannies to obtain their degree but through subterfuge. The college is popular but I feel no joy in it.

Established in 1972, it was the pioneer of higher learning catering to the academic needs of both the hill and valley. Located by the National Highway, its proximity to the State capital, friendly locals and the presence of excellent facilities of transport attracted thousands of students from far and wide.

During its nascent days with the view to woo more students for its survival the use of unfair means was condoned so as to accommodate Government servants who were hankering after certificates for promotion purposes. The move paid off. Though it paid short-term dividends it became pernicious in the long run and whose hang-over is still felt till today.

The college was instrumental in ushering in change of an unprecedented scale. Within a short span of time the number of persons possessing PU or graduate certificates reached saturation. Though not qualitative, but it was enough for finding Government jobs thus dramatically increasing the number of Government employees in the area.

With thousands of students of all hues and colours converging here, the once sleepy hamlet metamorphosed into a bustling hill-town with shops, hotels and other business establishments springing up day by day and thus enriching the life of the locals.

The affluent came with a fad; sending out one’s children to Shillong, Kolkata or Delhi to study in the best institutions yet admitting the same person in Presidency College with an impersonator to do the rest of the job. And they return pale, cadaverous and redundant, yet snobbish.

The new found progress came with a heavy price. The thousands of youths who huddled here were more or less of equivocal characters. They brought in both money and vices but they were dipsomaniacs, pill poppers, junkies, lechers or students in their salad days.

Under the ill-conceived sense of hedonism the local youths also wallowed in the newly introduced drugs and other psychedelic substances. It was comparable to the beatnik age or it was the age of awaiba and girls were not spared either. They came and revel with whatever the village could provide from dawn till mid night.

Many of them perished at the altar of overdose so much so that as time goes by the faces of youths started slowly disappearing away from the society. In fact, life was pleasant but brutally short. Then heaven decided to intervene by unleashing the Naga-Kuki ethnic clash. With the formation of protective militias the local youths were now preoccupied with the defence of the village.

Outsiders who were once welcome with open arms were now spurned. Night visitors were prosecuted and grilled so few dared to tread in. The once boisterous village was now eerily silent. It was a blessing in disguise for many of the sprouting youths.

As the conflagration dragged on, life in the college came to a grinding halt. There were no classes; hence, students were given certain degree of latitude during exams. Once the floodgate was opened it became a habit and this habit became the unwritten rule.

With peace limping back and the subsequent thaw it was anticipated that the college would adjust to the new circumstance. But the scar that the ethnic clash had left on the college was so deep that it was impossible to let go.

The idea of resuscitating the college had struck many people with reformist leaning but after intermittent attempts they resigned in disgust saying it’s an impossible task. For the college had been caught in a deep quagmire and for too long that extricating it becomes a task too difficult.

The indifference of the locals did not help either. If they had empathy for the coming generations they would have brace up for reforming it. Sadly, it was not tangible. I am convinced that the participation of the locals is sine qua non for the revival of this college.

Having a college at one’s very own court yard and not able to avail to its accompanying benefits is uncanny and hard to explain. Let alone Government College there is also one private college, Damdei Christian College at a stone’s throw. It’s the BENGLAM allegory over and over again. The man who was presented with a bag of gold for his extraordinary exploit but failed to surmise its value and exhausted it all by throwing at random birds.

I was there for one year and part of the students’ union but my zeal to reform the college was greeted with hostility and eventually capitulated to the test of time and climes. The college administration had done everything on its part but the lethargy on the part of the students in fulfilling their scholarly obligations even after being coaxed and the laid-back attitude of many of the teachers played the spoilsport.

At the beginning of each session one invariably comes across press release or announcement through PA system urging the students to come for regular classes. But nobody cares a hoot. The interference of extraneous elements also dampened attempts to eradicate unfair means. Teachers and student leaders often found themselves at the receiving end for trying to deter candidates from taking to unfair means. This is why reformists stay away.

The Jacintha Lazarus factor

Jacinta Lazarus was the first and only DC of Senapati who took keen interest in reforming the college. She personally inspected the examination centre and arrested the impersonators. The drive had an immediate impact and if hearsay is to be believed- the number of admission for the next session plummeted. Had she persisted, unfair means by and large would have been eliminated but her preoccupation with the district administration must have inhibited her to carry on. Any way I doff my hat to her.

ATSUM endeavours

To have a better understanding of the problems faced by the educational institutions of the hill districts ATSUM embarked on educational tours in the month March 2018 and again in September, 2019 with priority to higher secondary schools and colleges. Except Churachandpur college the rest were found wanting in every aspects.

The team was accosted by acute shortage of teaching and non-teaching staffs, lack of classrooms, infrastructural lacuna, and lethargy on the part of the college administrations and indifference of the local people. It was found out that Tamenglong college, Hill college Tadubi and Lamka college Churachandpur were functioning with Arts stream only.

The distribution of teaching staffs and infrastructures when compared with the valley college was marked by gross injustice.

For instances, Hill college Tadubi was manned by only 12 Assistant Professors almost equal to the strength of a department in DM College, Pettigrew college Ukhrul was functioning without classrooms and its infrastructures heart rending, Churachandpur college though with an impeccable academic record was deplorable in terms of infrastructure, Tamenglong college it seem was nobody’s child abandoned and abject, Presidency college Motbung was in a moribund state needing resuscitation.

The distribution of college was marked by disparities. Valley with six districts got 26 colleges whereas the hill with ten districts got only 9 colleges. Three districts of the hill viz. Kamjong, Noney and Pherzawl do not possess a single college.

So, the litany of injustices and disparities were brought to the notice of the Chief Minister on the 13th August, 2019 who himself was stunned. Livid he vented out his displeasure on the officials of the Education Department who were present in that talk for the grave injustices they’ve done to the hill educational institutions.

On our part we were gungho and never failed to draw the attention of the concern authorities via press communiqués and official correspondences, and for its amelioration. When we were in Delhi I wrote to the HRD Minister for the opening of seven more colleges in the hill districts.

The then Education Minister with whom I shared a good rapport till date one day patted me on the back saying ‘My boy you never fail to keep my department on the toes with your war-like approaches.’ You might be the Education Minister of the whole State but I am also the Education Minister for the hill districts’, I quipped and he chuckled.

On hindsight, our unrelenting pressure paid off. The teaching staff lacuna was ameliorated with the sending of additional teachers to all the hill colleges. Tamenglong college, Pettigrew college and Hill college Tadubi will see massive renovation works as substantial funds have already been earmarked. Science stream area already opened where it was demanded. The rest also received one or the other package, though in dribs and drabs.

* Kakai Singsit wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer was the education secretary of ATSUM from 2017-2020
This article was webcasted on April 19 2022 .

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