Light of the Valley

by Bappaditya Paul

A central university in far-flung Barak Valley in Assam hardly sounds interesting. But in just 13 years of its existence, Assam University in Silchar has carved a niche for itself in the sphere of higher education in the North-east.
The genesis of the university can be linked to the sacrifices of 11 brave martyrs in Silchar on 19 May 1961. They sacrificed their lives with the objective of restoring lost pride and the right of the people of Barak Valley to practice and study in Bengali, their mother tongue.
Students rose in revolt following the tragic episode and forced the powers that were to give in to their legitimate demands. The university came into being in 1994. It started functioning in rented premises in parts of Silchar and relocated to its 600-acre sprawling permanent campus at Dargakona in 1997.
Apart from the three constituent districts of the Valley — Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi — the university’s teaching-cum-affiliating jurisdiction extends to the adjoining North Cachar and Karbi Anglong districts as well.
As of now, the university has about 60 colleges directly affiliated to it, including a few B. Ed and law colleges and a medical college hospital at Silchar.
Within its short period of existence, Assam University has established a separate campus at Diphu in Karbi Anglong, thereby taking higher education to the doorstep of the people of the two hill districts.
The main campus at Dargakona, situated amid hillocks, is some 20 km off Silchar town and the lush green surroundings create a perfect ambience for this abode of higher studies and research.
It currently has the School of Languages, Environment Science, Humanities, Information Sciences, Life Sciences, Management Studies, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences and the School of Technology under its wing. As many as 29 departments offer full-time Masters’, MPhil and PhD programmes.
The university has also introduced a number of professional courses that include Mass Communications, Computer Science, Social Work, Information Technology, Agricultural Engineering and Biotechnology. Unlike Delhi or other metropolitan centres, there are only a handful of institutes in the North-east that offer these courses.
Departments such as Mass Communications, Social Work, Business Management and Bengali have earned significant reputation in recent years and are considered among the best in the country. So much so that these departments are drawing students not only from across the North-east but from West Bengal as well.
Interestingly, every year the university enrolls a sizable chunk of students from West Bengal, especially from the northern districts. While the quality of courses offered is the chief reason why it draws so many students, the homogeneous Bengali society at Silchar plays a no less determining role.

As part of its educational exchange programmes, the university has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Hyderabad University, Pune University, the Regional Research Laboratory, North Bengal University, and Visva-Bharati University. More such deals are on the anvil with an eye on offering students exposure to reputed educational institutes in the country.

Those who want to know more about the university can log on to its official website http://assamuniversity.nic.in/. But one should not make the mistake of judging the university by the website, which is pretty pitiable in both design and content. It is surprising that in this era of fast web connectivity the website is so poor.
In addition to the website the proper functioning of the examination cell should also feature high on the priority list especially with regard to managing under-graduate examinations and results. Establishing intranet connectivity with affiliated colleges is essential with a view to dispensing under-graduate affairs with efficiency and speed.
The university top brass need to develop professional rapport with leading industries across the country with the objective of rejuvenating the placement cell. Water scarcity in the campus also needs to be addressed at the earliest.
Topodhir Bhattacharjee, vice-chancellor, has to ensure that the institution not only nurtures “migratory” learners, but also take initiatives to upgrade the overall educational and cultural scenario in the Valley.
Bhattacharjee has proved that he is on the right path by setting up the much-awaited Barak Bangla Academy that, it is hoped, would facilitate research and preserve the culture and customs of Barak Valley. He, however, needs to deliver much more.
Fondly called the “Light of the Valley”, Assam University must live up to the expectations of the people of the valley and the nation at large.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, Siliguri, India / this article was originally published in The Statesman dt 22 April 2008 )

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