Category Archives: Education

‘Trinamool can never be an alternative to progressive Left movement in Bengal’

By bappaditya paul

THE alliance of CPI-M’s Students’ Federation of India and CPI-ML Liberation’s All India Students’ Association on Saturday swept the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) elections by winning all the four top seats.

Among the winners is a Bong ~ Satarupa Chakraborty ~ who has been elected the new general secretary of JNUSU. She defeated Vijay Kumar of BJP’s Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad by 1,094 votes.

There is an added dimension to Satarupa’s identity: she hails from Karimganj town in Barak Valley, where people became martyrs in the 1961 and after in opposing the imposition of Assamese language on them and upholding the right to study their mother tongue Bengali.

There is another aspect that needs a mention. Satarupa comes from Barak Valley where Left politics have been elbowed to a marginal corner for over three decades now.

No wonder, Satarupa’s father Sankarjyoti Chakraborty, is far from being jubilant by the fact that his daughter from remote Karimganj has travelled this far to get elected a JNUSU office bearer.

“We are happy that she has won but I believe her focus should be on studies. We did not object to her getting into election as she told us that at JNU, student politics is part of education,” Sankarjyoti said over the phone.

NEWSMEN caught up with Satarupa on a telephonic interview for her reaction to the big win, the anxiety of her parents, and her future plans. Here are the excerpts:

How does it feel having got elected the general secretary of JNUSU?

There is nothing individual about it. It is the collective victory of the people who stood up against the #ShutDownJNU campaign of the BJP and joined the fight for #StandWithJNU.

But getting elected to the student union of India’s topmost university and that too when you belong to Barak Valley where Left has no strength, is remarkable. Isn’t that?  

Once the Left, in particular the CPI-M, used to have a robust presence in Barak Valley. Over time, the party has become frail there and after the demise of Nurul Huda last year; there is a crisis of leadership. But the Left politics there is not over.

How did you get drawn into Left politics?

I became a member of SFI in 2006 when I was studying XII at Karimganj College. But my association with Left politics became strengthened while I was pursuing masters at Hyderabad University in 2010-12.

Subsequently, I joined JNU in 2013 to pursue MPhil in philosophy and got elected the student convenor of School of Social Sciences at JNU last year. I learned a lot from the tumultuous days at JNU campus last winter; we were the ones who took lead in the protests when our fellow students were being branded “anti-nationals” and were being slapped with sedition charges.

Has your family been associated with Left politics?

Not exactly! My father was employed with LICI and had an inclination towards CPI-M but he never took part in active politics. This holds true for my homemaker mom, who is a native of Tripura where the party has been in power for over two decades now.

However, my elder brother Subhankar, who is pursuing research at National Institute of Advance Studies in Bangalore, is an active member of CPI-M and is into progressive movements.

What was your parents’ reaction to you participating in JNUSU polls?

They have been in anxiety ever since the turmoil broke out at the campus last year but they never stopped me from joining student movement. All they wanted me to is focus on studies alongside the campus politics.

Bengal, till the other day, was the strength of Left politics in India, and now even CPI-M MLA is switching over to Trinamool. Do you think, you people sweeping JNUSU polls will infuse some energy into Left politics there?

See, liberal thoughts and democratic movements across India is under attack from authoritarian power mongers, and West Bengal is not any better. In fact, Bengal has been ruined in the past few years: education sector has been ruined completely and people’s democratic rights are under suppression.

There have been mistakes on the part of the Left (in Bengal) but these can be rectified and will be rectified. Trinamool can never be an alternative to progressive Left movement that has been a tradition in Bengal.

What would be the focus of JNUSU now? Would it be any different from the policies that Kanhaiya Kumar pursued?

Despite some ideological differences, Kanhaiya Kumar and we belong to the same Left liberal politics. Hence, there will not be much change as far as the broad politics is concerned. However, as regards the campus politics, we would like to focus more on issues that students face at JNU day to day, such as hostel facilities, funds cut by the BJP-led Centre etc.

Outside the campus, we would continue to raise our voice against the way Centre is appointing ill-qualified people in academic institutes all over India, as has been in the case with FTTII Pune.

On the personal front, any plans to join active politics?

I am in the middle of my PhD in philosophy and would like to complete it first. At this point in time I am not sure about joining fulltime politics, but whatever I do and wherever I stay in future, I would continue to take part in progressive movements.

Would you like to pass on any message to the students in Barak Valley?

The people in Barak Valley are not getting exposed to the kind of student politics that are vibrant in the campuses all over India. There students are largely discouraged by parents and others from taking part in politics. This is even as the education scenario and the state of the campuses there are really pathetic.

Look at the Assam University in Silchar: it is plagued by so many problems. There is an inadequate hostel facility, frequent power cuts, and above all the quality of studies is deteriorating. Yet, students are not speaking up, they are not taking stands.

People in Barak Valley must recognise the fact that if students do not speak up for their rights, the region will continue to get neglected as always.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor NEWSMEN. This interview first appeared on NEWSMEN on 11 September 2016.)

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‘Let’s wait for court judgement before commenting on JNU row’

By bappaditya paul

NOTWITHSTANDING the debate over police crackdown at JNU raging through the country, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi has said that he would rather wait for the court judgment on the issue before giving his opinion.

“I am not an expert on this and am not aware of all the details. Many experts from both the political and apolitical spectrums are there to speak on the issue,” Satyarthi said when asked about his take on the nationalist versus anti-national debate that has cropped up centring the JNU episode. Satyarthi was interacting with media persons at Kolkata Press Club this afternoon.

Next, asked specifically about his views on the arrest of JNU Student Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, the Nobel laureate steered away from taking a stand. “The matter is already in court. Let us wait for the court judgement,” he said.

Satyarthi later qualified the response saying that he had returned from Latin America only three days ago and could gather little insights to form an opinion on the JNU issue. “In fact, I spoke to a friend to learn the details.”  

The 62-year rights activist was conferred the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his near four decade fight against child labour and child slavery.

Interestingly, the very next of the JNUSU president’s arrest on 12 February over alleged “anti-national” slogans, another Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, had remarked in Delhi that India as a nation had become too tolerant of intolerance. Sen made the comment while delivering a lecture about the right to dissent.

Satyarthi today said that according to him, there were three serious dangers to society and those were ~ apathy, fear, and intolerance. “But these are global phenomenon and not peculiar to India,” he said.

The foundation named after Satyarthi would launch a “100 million for 100 million campaign” later this year to ustilise youths across the globe to reach out to their deprived counter parts. “I see frustration, violence, and intolerance increasing among the young people. On the other hand, they are full of enthusiasm but their strengths are not being harnessed. To change this, I am planning the biggest campaign in human history wherein 100 million empowered youths would reach out to 100 million of their counterparts who are not empowered,” the Nobel laureate said.

The campaign would run both online and offline over the social and traditional media. Satyarthi has plans to rope in the universities in India to further the campaign.

Referring to the upcoming Union Budget, the Nobel laureate demanded an increase in allocation of funds for programmes related to children.

“In India, over 41 per cent of the population is below 18 years. But the budget spending on children education and healthcare combined is less than 4 per cent. If India wants to do justice to her children, the government must have to spend more on children,” Satyarthi said.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor NEWSMEN. This report first appeared in NEWSMEN on 20 February 2016.)

A case against interference

INTERVIEW WITH WORLD BANK CHIEF ECONOMIST KAUSHIK BASU

By bappaditya paul 

Expressing dismay over the declining standards of higher education in West Bengal, the World Bank’s chief economist Dr Kaushik Basu today said that the state government should not interfere with the autonomy of institutes such as the Presidency and Jadavpur University.     Kaushik BasuThe advice comes at a time when several colleges in Bengal are grappling with unrest over student union polls and the students of Jadavpur University have been agitating for months now demanding the resignation of vice-chancellor Abhijit Chakraborti for calling police into the campus. They allege that Mr Chakraborti is a political appointee.

“The politicians must realise that education is a vital sector and they should leave it to the experts to handle. There should be autonomy, which should not be interred with by the government; the government must be kept at a distance,” Dr Basu, who is also the senior vice-president of World Bank, said in an interview. He was in Kolkata for the Infosys Awards 2014 for which he had been a Jury Chair.

Terming the ongoing fiasco at Jadavpur University as “very unfortunate”, he refused to take a stand on the demand for the VC’s resignation or the police foray into the university campus saying he was “not aware of the entire episode”.Presidency University“West Bengal was once at the forefront of the knowledge sector. Presidency once used to be a globally renowned institute, which it is no longer…After Presidency, Jadavpur used to be the next best institute but overtime things have gone wrong. The nurturing of the best brains that used to be done here have shrunk remarkably. All these have to be rebuilt,” he said.

Saying that the erstwhile Left Front government’s policy of sending teachers from Presidency to the districts was partly responsible for the decline as that made talented minds leave the state; Dr Basu made it clear that the new dispensation had also failed to take the right course.

“Institutes like Presidency and Jadavpur must have the full autonomy in terms of appointments and designing their syllabus. In order to draw and retain the best brains there should be no cap on the salary of their teachers,” said the 62-year old economist, who was the chief economic advisor to the government of India until July 2012.       Jadavpur University He maintained that the “elitist nature” of Presidency and Jadavpur University must be retained to enable them regain their lost glory. “I am talking about intellectual elitism and not financial elitism.”

Dr Basu pointed out that while in the short run economic polices, GDP growth etc were important, in the long run it is the human capital that would matter most. “Nurturing and incentivising the best minds are the key to lasting progress.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This is an elaborate and modified version of the news report that first appeared in The Statesman on 6 January 2015.)

Only one from Class-10 toppers make it to HS merit list

By bappaditya paul

For months Nivedita Manna had been waxing lyrical in television advertisements endorsing reference books by a Kolkata publisher saying they helped her make it to the official list of eight meritorious students who had scored “AA” grade in all seven subjects in the 2011 secondary (Madhyamik) exam in West Bengal.

WBBSE LogoBut today (3 June), with the publication of the 2013 higher secondary results of the West Bengal board, Nivedita has taken a back seat. She is one of the seven students who have slipped off the list of eight meritorious students from the 2011 Madhyamik. Only one of the eight ~ Dipanjan Chatterjee of the Bankura Zilla School ~ has found a place in the HS top 10 with him being ranked ninth this time.

Nivedita, who appeared for the higher secondary examination from Nava Nalanda High School near Golpark in the city, has ranked 11th with a cumulative score of 462.

Students celebrate exam result“My papers this time were even better than that of Madhyamik but I slipped due to a comparatively low score in Chemistry. I have got 87 in chemistry,” she said over the phone this afternoon.

Other than Nivedita, the remaining six to have slipped from their earlier Madhyamik ranks include Swati Mondol Shau, Arka Chanda, Megha Mallik, Poulami Nandi, Achinta Dey and Aditya Adhikari.

They had featured in the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education’s list of eight meritorious Madhyamik examinees in 2011 with “AA” grade score in all seven subjects ~ the rating represents a score between 90 and 100 per cent. The board, which had done away with the publication of Madhyamik merit list from 2004-2011 due to a directive from the Centre, had published the list of eight saying they were only “declaring the names of those candidates who performed outstandingly in all the subjects”.

WBCHSE LogoThe publication of Madhyamik merit list has been reintroduced since 2012.

In the unofficial merit list for the 2011 Madhyamik that made it to the print, there were 10 students ~ Subhamoy Chakraborty, Soumyadeb Mahato, Sourav Bairagya, Dipanjan Chatterjee, Mrinmoy Pal, Nivedita Manna, Poulami Nandi, Megha Mullick, Aditya Adhikari and Sartaki Chakraborty.

Of them, the first five have succeeded to make it to this year’s top 10 list with them being ranked at 6, 8 and 9.

According to academics, complacency, coupled with a diversion of focus to medical and engineering entrance exams, is mostly responsible for secondary rank holders slipping in the higher secondary exam.

“Madhyamik toppers losing ranks in their higher secondary results is nothing new. This happens mainly because of the complacency that creeps into the students,” said an academic.

(The author is Senior Reporter, The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 4 June 2013.)

18,000 ICDS centres in Bengal running without shelter

By bappaditya paul

About 18,000 Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centres in West Bengal are functioning under open sky as they lack a shelter of their own. The total number of ICDS centres in the state is, 112,432.

According to figures of the state child development department, most of the ICDS centres in the state are operating either out of rented premises or from primary / high school buildings in their respective localities.

“Of the near 1.12-lakh ICDS centres that are at present functional in Bengal, only 27,656 have their own buildings. Of the rest, while a vast majority are housed in local schools or at rented premises; about 18,000 of them do not even have a shelter at all,” said a senior official in the state child development department.

Lack of funds is the main constraints in constructing permanent buildings for the ICDS centres, he explained.

What’s worse, half of the total ICDS centres in the state do not have drinking water facilities and again about 75 per cent of them lack a lavatory.

The  child development minister Shyamapada Mukherjee blamed the state pof affairs  on the previous Left Front government.

“For decades they did not pay any heed to the ICDS centres and also lacked the vision to improve their infrastructure. But now we have taken up intuitive to construct permanent buildings for all the ICDS centres in phases. This year alone, with funds from the 13th Finance Commission, we will construct buildings for 2,174 ICDS centres. Lands for 1,500 of them have already been identified,” he said.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This piece first appeared in The Statesman on 24 July 2012.)

West Bengal plans ‘women-only’ libraries

By bappaditya paul

The state mass education extension and library services department, has now decided to build 50 libraries exclusively for women.

The department apparently learned that in areas inhabited by the Muslim community, Scheduled Castes (SC), and Scheduled Tribes (ST), women do not go to libraries staffed and accessed by men.

According to the department’s plan, in the first phase, 50 women-only libraries will be set up across the state as a pilot project this year. The department has sought Rs 14 crore from the state finance department, and is now waiting for the funds.

“The idea of building libraries managed and accessed only by women was initiated by a proposal that I received from Gangarampur in South Dinajpur,” said the library services minister, Abdul Karim Chowdhary. “Several such proposals were made at the district book fairs that I visited the last season.”

“Following this, I sat with the officials of my department and prepared a plan to set up 50 women-only libraries in the SC/ST and Muslim community-dominated areas of the state. I took the plan to the chief minister, who highly appreciated the move,” he said.

Of the proposed 50 women-only libraries: 19 will be additional district libraries; 15 will be sub-divisional or town libraries; and the remaining 16 will be rural libraries at the block level.

One of the women-only additional district libraries is to be set up in each of the state’s 19 districts, barring Kolkata. The sub-divisional/town and rural libraries will be built in areas inhabited by the target communities.

“We have already written to the district administrations to identify land for the purpose and send us detailed proposals as soon as possible. We want to complete the pilot project by the end of this fiscal year,” the minister said. There are several plots lying vested with the district administrations, so getting small plots of land for the libraries shall not be a problem, he said.

The department will recruit eight to 10 women staff members to operate each of the 19 additional district libraries, four for each of the sub-divisional/town libraries, and two for each of the rural libraries.

When asked whether it would not be better if his department took up campaigns to persuade Muslims and the SC/ST women to visit the existing libraries, the minister said the ground realities are different.

“At present, we have 2,455 libraries in the state. But, for years now, women in the backward and Muslim-dominated areas have not visited them as they are managed and frequented by men. If we do not build separate facilities, women in such localities will never visit a library,” Mr Chowdhary said.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This piece first appeared in The Statesman on 18 July 2012.)

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 )