PURPOSE OF EDUCATION IN VISVA BHARATI?
Why we get educated? This can be a very complicated topic if dealt with serious intentions. One ready answer is ofcourse to earn a livelihood, the common course of action for most of the student community now-a-days. A chosen few might find education to be a pursuit in the higher echelons of intelligence and intellect. The percentage of such students treading on the path of quest would be around 10 percent at the best at Visva Bharati University, as is generally the case in most of the other learning institutes. I am quite confident that the variations in this assessment will not be much in the overall scenario. Few departments of Visva Bharati might have a higher percentage of students pursuing education as an intellectual exercise, in other departments the percentage will be even lower. The number of students who can ultimately scale the higher echelons of intelligence and intellect would be much less from the initially aspiring 10 percent. Interestingly, this statistics establishes that education is, in overwhelming majority, an career oriented activity, just like business, farming, trading et cetera. The issue then becomes whether the education system in Visva Bharati is really career oriented? Is Visva Bharati relevant as a career building organization? On the other hand, being Rabindranath Tagore specific this time, was the education system in Visva Bharati ever career oriented?
Taking the all angles into consideration, it will be amply apparent to anyone familiar with the education scenario in Visva Bharati right now, that this University is not being able to cater to the ideals of Rabindranath Tagore, neither is sharply focussed to the career needs of its students. Visva Bharati, in recent decades, remains a kind of hybrid University in a perpetual conflict, both with it’s own past and future. In practical assessment Visva Bharati is positioned at the B Grade learning institute by the rating agency of MHRD! The poignant factor of this B Gradation, as per accreditation parameters, remains (1) Less number of quality Research Scholars and Research Projects(2) Inadequate Infrastructure, to be more specific absence of new age classrooms and modern laboratory facilities (3) Absence of Career Orientation with some emphasis on Industry Participation in education! That Rabindranath Tagore, essentially, is not even a remote parameter for such evaluation purposes, may sound ridiculous to quite a few, but a stark practical reality now.
Dr Manmohan Singh, as Prime Minister of India around 2010-11, proposed to create 25 Rabindra-Scholar posts in different Universities of India. The idea was to give a fillip to Tagore Studies. Today, I really do not know how many of the 25 such posts were actually created, in fact will not be surprised if none was created except one in Visva Bharati! We would definitely like to have some definite quantitative figure on this from any source. Apart from some valuable research works on Tagore being carried out in few Universities in USA and UK, and barring some unknown opportunities in Japan, Korea & China, we are not too sure about the relevance of Tagore-Studies as a inviting scholastic career. Certainly, Tagore Studies is not much viable an option in his own home land India, and alarmingly not even in West Bengal! What can Visva Bharati do about this? Nothing much would be the most realistic observation. To be honest, exclusive Tagore Studies is not a lucrative career option is Visva Bharati either! But, Tagore blended with Music, Dance, Theater, Philosophy, Art, Language and Education should be a valid field of study, but these can become relevant only if projected very strongly by Visva Bharati-a no easy task indeed! Frankly speaking there is no new generation Tagore scholar anywhere in sight, even within Visva Bharati.
So, on a purely practical ground, by ‘practical’ I actually intend to mean ‘feasible’, going for career orientation focus remains the only viable area for Visva Bharati to work on with relative ease of operation. A ready example can be contemplated regarding the Chinese department in Visva Bharati. As things stand now, Chinese department in Visva Bharati is chiefly focussed on the language studies. I am not too sure, but I think the original idea of Tagore was also to explore the cultural studies way back in 1930s basically to re-establish a lost link between Asian countries. Today, Chinese Studies, is a very important field in academic activity in Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere. But Chinese studies now implies acute observational analysis of Chinese politics including defence, business, commerce, cultural history and ofcourse language. In real life scenario, Chinese Government very recently devalued their currency by around 3.6%, prompting India Government to immediately increase import duty on steel by 2.5% to avert dumping of cheap steel from China into India. The problem has been brewing in India for quite some time, making the new steel units in India non-viable ventures. As State Bank of India, my employer, has a substantial exposure to new steel units in India, the events emerging at the Chinese shores directly affects the health of the loans advanced to new steel units in India, subsequently affecting the banking system of India as a whole, and that in fact directly affects me too in terms of lesser salary hike! So, this example should be clear enough for us to understand, that Chinese studies, to remain relevant, can not remain confined to language and cultural studies only, at this present juncture of time. Naturally, any institution of national and international relevance should have politics, business, commerce etcetera merged into the ambit of Chinese studies to make the study more relevant, and make the course offered much more career oriented. There is a huge scope all over the world for students of Chinese Studies if these aspects are incorporated. It was surprising for me to know, as informed by Dr Yukteswar Kumar, a reputed scholar of Chinese Studies based in UK, that ‘Sino-Indian relations’ is a very important field of study of geopolitics in premiere educational institutes in UK and USA. I really do not know how seriously such studies are taken up in educational institutes in India! But, the modern model of Chinese Studies at least should be available at Jawharlala Nehru University, New Delhi and is certainly available in many Universities in Europe and North America. Formation of such a course hence should not really be a difficult job. But it would need huge amount of concerted team effort to implement such a scheme in Visva Bharati and hence the energy level of Chinese Department and the administration of Visva Bharati has to be on a high. To general people like us, it appears that Government of India, or to be exact UGC, should not be too averse to encourage such initiatives, as Chinese Studies in modern perspective is very important for India for obvious reasons! Would Visva Bharati like to think along these lines? Well, it really depends on the state of energy level within Visva Bharati. Moreover team efforts will have to take a decisive lead over individual aspirations-another problematic area for Visva Bharati.
From the ‘heritage’ halo of Rabindranath Tagore, where exactly Visva Bharati University wants to move is not too clear to us. I reckon it is a hazy subject for the think tank within Visva Bharati as well! The overwhelming practical demand would be to make the courses offered in various departments much more career oriented according to the needs of the time. Personally, I would very much like to endorse the idea, as education is a ‘live’ phenomenon as it should be, and can not be assigned a ‘heritage’ status. Heritage is a part of history, and it should remain ‘history’ to keep the contexts of education clear of any ambiguity. After all education has a huge ‘future’ implication; and hence education should have a futuristic essence intrinsically built in the system. Visva Bharati just can not go on chanting the ‘Heritage Mantra’ at every possible opportunity!
Furthermore, personally, I have few angles to contradict the present idea of ‘heritage’ floating around in Santiniketan. As far as we understand, in Visva Bharati few buildings have been assigned the heritage status, as per the notification displayed by permanent placards. ‘Heritage’ essentially should mean objects of history, requiring careful handling or preservation, as these elements represent important facets of civilization. Purely technically, ‘mankind’ itself is a heritage concept then, as we have graced this planet Earth for more than 5000 years (infact much more)! Similarly, ‘nature’ itself is a huge heritage concept too, as planet Earth has existed for thousands and thousands of millenniums. Should then ‘Nature’ be ascribed the ‘heritage’ tag? According to logic it should be. But, in Lalbandh area, declared an Eco Zone by Visva Bharati around a year back, suddenly an attempt to cultivate fish at the lake resulted in all the native birds being driven out mercilessly from their natural habitat, just about two months back! Certainly, as the birds remain the persona-non-grata in Visva Bharati no one felt like bothering about them! Can those ducks, who were residents of Lal Bandh, in gradually depleted numbers though, for about 80-90 years at least, be called heritage residents of Santiniketan? Can the Santhals with their unique cultural facets could be heritage residents of these areas as they have lived here for much more than 100 years? Can the Bauls be an integral part of the heritage concept of Santiniketan? Should Visva Bharati have made an attempt to record and preserve the numerous Terracotta Temples at least in Birbhum district? An effort along these lines was always very much expected from Visva Bharati; but these ideas were never taken too seriously. So, what has Visva Bharati done for the ‘heritage’ qualities of this place? Only some buildings were restored by ASI, that’s all! Interestingly such efforts of Eco Conservation,Santal or Baul studies could have generated funds even from non Government organisations; Visva Bharati simply ignored to tap them. Personally, I am optimistic that that a select group of ex-students could be convinced to fund Eco Conservation at Visva Bharati, specially in the Eco sensitive zone of Lalbandh, if taken up seriously by administration of Visva Bharati. I would like to also make it clear that Eco Conservation is not Beautification by any means! So, the lopsided ‘heritage’ concept as is prevalent in Visva Bharati now appears to have gone stale and stoic, with little scope of selling the existing idea of ‘heritage’ to the outside world. A glaring example is the B Gradation of Visva Bharati by NAAC!
Coming back to the root question of ‘Why do we get educated?’, the generalized answer can be ‘to be aware of the world around us’, if we really do not want to be crass enough to link education with our career progressions. To be aware of the world around us through the spectrum presented by Rabindranath Tagore is definitely a very interesting and absorbing phenomenon. But, perspectives do change, and Visva Bharati is now living in a scenario where the ideals of Tagore remain isolated from the main stream. Wow, then what is the ‘main stream’? Well, the main stream of education in India is just career orientation, with exciting new career options emerging in almost all areas. Can Visva Bharati afford to remain isolated? Should Visva Bharati go main stream? Well, it is for Visva Bharati to decide. But remaining isolated is not going to help Visva Bharati, as no one can remain ‘insulated’ even in an ‘isolated’ state now!
Here, I have only tried to express a certain line of thinking, which is important to me only as far as an Ex Student of Visva Bharati, naturally harbouring a soft corner for my alma mater, just like all other ex-students of this place! Nothing more than this. Just like all others, I can also conveniently forget about Visva Bharati and Santiniketan, and concentrate on my own trajectory of life. The real issue for ex-students is that, no proper forum for discussion or interacting with Visva Bharati as an Ex Student is available. Visva Bharati Alumni Association so far remained fairly narrowly localized and politicized with an elected body, and a non-performer as a selected body. In short VBAA is not the ideal platform either for any exchanges with Ex Students and Visva Bharati. Right now, the web platform ‘Muktodhara’ is being used to articulate matters related to Visva Bharati, and we have tried our best to circulate these articles within the Visva Bharati community, basically to keep the faintly trickling flavour of discussion open and alive. Many within Visva Bharati community have acknowledged the presence of ‘Muktodhara’, mostly as a refreshing change. But a very scarce few are willing to interact with the wider community of ex-students.
Personally speaking I had bizarre experiences dealing with matters of Visva Bharati. Sometime back I published an appreciating article in Muktodhara, with a link in facebook, praising the Vice Chancellor Prof Sushanta Dattagupta for taking a huge initiative to keep the Ashrama Area clean and for the newly laid gardens. Soon, I had to encounter angry phone calls from within Visva Bharati from the anti-Vice Chancellor camp blatantly asking me ‘Why are you supporting the Vice Chancellor? Are you trying to look for a job for your wife in Visva Bharati?’ I was stunned, and my temper got shrill to be exact, but cooling down soon I realized that praising the Vice Chancellor for any of his actions from within Visva Bharati implies looking for a job for either the spouse or children! So, I felt amazed at the company the Vice Chancellor keeps around him, never knowing whether they were working for Visva Bharati or looking for a promotion or a job for someone! Another time, fairly recently, when I voiced my objection to the proposal of the same Vice Chancellor to summarily dismiss the automatic entry into graduation for Patha Bhavana and Siksha Satra students; someone from within Visva Bharati warned me directly, ‘Shubhashisda, do not write such articles openly, it may harm near and dear ones to you’. This time I was less startled, and realized that any disconcerting voice to the administrative moves even on policy matters can be a harmful exercise in Visva Bharati. So, the intellectual ambiance of Visva Bharati is in a very poor health, and interacting with Visva Bharati simply as an Ex Student can be a fairly tricky affair!
So, this website ‘Muktodhara’ is poised into a funny space for now. The web site was conceived as a leisure time venture, basically to keep the wide spread Ex Student community in touch with Visva Bharati. The editors, at the time of inception of the site in 2012 December at Poush Mela time, only had a vague plan to publish a coffee table hard copy version after some time for Ex Students to relish. ‘Muktodhara’ was never conceived as a pro-active venture to delve into internal matters of Visva Bharati. But, eventually, we find Muktodhara’ into the internal territory of Visva Bharati, trying now to intervene and forge some exchangeable link with faculty members and administrators of Visva Bharati. An casual attempt of amusement, now has got a bit serious unintentionally, taking the editors into an hitherto unknown zone. As editors, specifically Prosit Mukherjee at New Delhi and yours truly, Shubhashis Mitra at Santiniketan, we are hugely confused about the territory we are treading on. Neither do we know if we are eligible to tread into an near prohibited area(!), neither do we know if the whole exercise is really worth the try. We are plain confused at the bizarre complexities of an institution called Visva Bharati!
In spite of an active electronic social media and hyper active press, the real scenario is, Visva Bharati society is much more close than what it was even two decades ago! The recent spates of court cases to sort out internal matters of Visva Bharati, including a few appointment issues, points out the fact that the affairs within Visva Bharati are no more transparent even to the internal society of Visva Bharati. Now intervention by court is being sought to sort out such internal issues and ironically the court rulings on several occassions gone against Visva Bharati. To avoid any mis-conception about this website ‘Muktodahra’ and it’s intentions, as an editor, I would like to clarify, that we would only like to see the ‘discussion and debate mode’ within Visva Bharati to be more free flowing and democratic. Visva Bharati needs to open up it’s mind within itself; and at least to the ex-students community as many of us would like to co-operate with Visva Bharati provided the mood within Visva Bharati is democratically liberal and transparent. It makes us, the Ex-Students to ponder again, what is the purpose of education at Santiniketan, even when we, the Ex Students can not find our ways in this maze called Visva Bharati? All we realize that we have come very very far away from Tagore’s ideals on Education with a highly stifled intellect within Visva Bharati community preferring to keep walled within itself, and the Ex Student community perfectly baffled. The essential question affecting all of us, however remains unanswered – ‘What is the purpose of education at Visva Bharati?’