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THE CULTURAL DIMENSION OF EDUCATION

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The Bose Foundation School

Baidyanath Saraswati, Shivashankar Dube & Ram Lakhan Maurya

Swaraj in Education

Baidyanath Saraswati

The eighteenth-century European colonization and Christianization indicated the direction in which the wind of education was to blow in India. But this is not a ‘thing’ to celebrate. It is common knowledge that the westerly direction of that wind has remained unchanged well into the twentieth century. We do not know why the wind is so particularly strong, but we do know that there are other directions in space-time.

Among early colonialists, there were liberal-minded Europeans who felt the desirability of "preserving the ancient culture of India from the state of rapid decay into which it [had] fallen on account of the loss of royal patronage". They also saw the utility of the careful study of ancient Indian literature by Western scholars and the adoption of English as a medium of instruction for the Indian people. The missionaries and their friends, on the other hand, looked at Indian culture with utter contempt. They believed that Western ‘light and knowledge’ should take the place of Eastern culture and religion. The foremost among them was Charles Grant, the father of colonial education in India, who painted an exaggerated picture of the ‘depraved’ condition of Indian society. He analysed its cause and suggested a remedy: "The causes of the miserable condition of the Indian people were ignorance and want of a proper religion. The situation could only be improved if Indians were educated through the English language and finally converted to Christianity." Lord Macaulay, a torch-bearer in the path of colonial progress, also recommended the spread of Western learning through the medium of the English language. In his infamous minutes he wrote, "a single shelf of a good European library [was] worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia". He talked of creating "a class of persons who would be Indian in blood and colour but English in tastes, in opinions, and in intellects".

What flowed out of these two streams of thinking was a pattern of education with the ultimate objectives of (a) securing servants for public administration; (b) diverting young men and women from the study of oriental to occidental literature; and (c) arousing in young hearts a passion for Western knowledge and culture. The objectives were carried out by (i) the creation of a government department of public instruction; (ii) the establishment of universities, colleges and graded schools; (iii) the training of teachers; (iv) the introduction of government grants-in-aid; (v) the maintenance of a few educational institutions under the direct control of the government and allowing private educational enterprise by missionaries and non-officials; and (vi) the recognition of educational institutions by the government department and universities.

At the culmination of the colonial process India inherited: (a) employment-oriented education; (b) Westernization of the content of education; (c) public examinations so used as to impose uniform curricula and textbooks; (d) a class of persons educated in a foreign language; (e) neglect of indigenous systems of education; and (f) the withdrawal of religious education through direct educational enterprise.

The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885. The Swadeshi movement brought about a great ferment of educational thought. It demanded Indian control of Indian educational policies, teaching love of the motherland, no servile imitation of England, and the removal of the domination of English. Unfortunately, hopes of educational reconstruction with a bolder and freer hand have not yet materialized.

India struggled for freedom, and it did achieve political independence. It asked for Indian control of Indian educational policies, and it got it. It wanted to teach love of the motherland, and it is doing so. But is independent India free from servile imitation of the West? Has the domination of English gone? Has the Western system of education enriched Indian culture? Has it added at all to its happiness? Does India need such education?

India debated Gandhi’s great idea of education for nearly a century. It seems to be in earnest in its endeavour to educate people. More than 90 per cent of the country’s rural areas now have schooling facilities within a radius of one kilometre. The national policy on education is revised periodically and the investment on education has now reached 6 per cent of the national income. Yet the picture is unclear.

The national policy aims at (a) promoting national progress; (b) creating a sense of common citizenship and culture; (c) strengthening national integration; and (d) giving greater attention to Western science and technology.

The national organization of education is formed by (a) sharing of responsibility between the governments at the centre and in the states; (b) administering at the national level, state level, district level, and local level; (c) establishing the Indian Educational Service as an all-India service to bring a national perspective to education; (d) forming education tribunals fashioned after administrative tribunals; and (e) giving shape to the national system of education through such institutions as the University Grants Commission, All-India Council for Technical Education, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Indian Medical Council, National Council of Educational Research and Training, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, National Council of Teacher Education, National Council of Adult Education, etc.

It is not surprising that the results have been devastating. National policy has been influenced by the political expediency of conciliating the people and education has been politicized. There is greater and greater dependence on the government bureaucracy. Uniformity has been imposed through common education structure, common school system, common curricular framework, and universal literacy. Deculturation has come about through religious neutrality or secular education. Employment-oriented education has led to the privatization and commercialization of learning, and a colonialism of the English educated urban elites has come into being.

Is there a way out of this slavish system? ‘Where there is a will there is a way’ is the old proverb. India’s ‘national policy’ on education is at the moment geared to horizontal (westward) movement in time. If education is meant to provide an ever greater degree of moral and mental sophistication, it has to develop through vertical movement. Exploration of the vertical dimension with free will and accompanying intellectual responsibility implies a vertical movement from the past to the future. This essay is an invitation to appropriate for ourselves a vertical movement in education. To do that let us go to the sacred city of Kashi on the Ganga, the source from which India’s wisdom tradition sprang.

Education in Kashi

Three cities, Rome, Mecca and Kashi (Varanasi or Banaras, as it is also known) need no introduction. So far as the continuity of the classical tradition is concerned, Kashi, the city of light surpasses all the civilizational centres of the world. And yet it is a puzzling city, a city which has an infinite capacity to absorb the most beauteous and bear the most repulsive things. It is like Shiva the Nilakantha, the supreme deity of the city.

Several centuries before Christ, Ajatsatru, the king of Kashi, defeated the Brahman Gargya in the shastrartha (debate on scriptural matters), and Gautam the Buddha turned here in Isipatan (modern Sarnath) the wheel of his dharma. In course of time Kashi grew into a great seat of learning, surpassing Takshashila and all other educational centres of India. Huien-Tsang was struck by the scholarship and devotion of the Brahman students and the Jain and Buddhist ascetics of Kashi in the seventh century. Earlier, in the fifth century, Fa-Hein noted that "here in this great city there were thirty monasteries and about three hundred Buddhist priests, and the Hindus had about one hundred temples with ten thousand sectaries and their principal God was Maheshwara whose copper image was a hundred feet high". The ancient travelogues also indicate that Brahman, Jain and Buddhist scholars lived in harmony while engaged in their pursuits of learning.

In later times Kashi gained a high reputation and attracted scholars from far and near. It became famous for the assembly of the pandits, which organized shastrartha on disputed matters of social importance. Any decision arrived at by the learned assembly of Kashi was accepted as the norm by the entire Hindu community. The chief source of the Banaras School of Law, one of the five recognized schools of Hindu law, was Vijnaneshvara, the author of the Mitakshara of the twelfth century. Bernier described in detail the methods of study of the pandits of Kashi in 1667. When Ward visited Kashi in 1917 he found forty-eight teachers instructing 893 in the Vedas alone, and seventeen teaching 218 disciples the mysteries of Panini’s grammar.

The lamp of Sanskrit learning was kept alive in Kashi for a long time, particularly by the Maharashtra and Kannada Brahman families who migrated to the city at the beginning of the sixteenth century. These families remained at the helm of Sanskrit scholarship for no less than three centuries; later the pandits of Mithila and Bengal came to their support.

Besides being the leading centre for the study of religion, philosophy, medical sciences and astrology, Kashi enjoyed a reputation for its handicrafts and commerce even during the pre-Buddhist period. Banarasi silk fabrics were exported to all parts of India. It was famous for perfumes, scented oil, ivory works, and sculpture. Its contributions to Indian vocal music are the melodious thumri, dadra and tappa.

Education in ancient Kashi, as elsewhere in the India of that time, was a self-organizing system. Generally speaking, the schools had no buildings of their own. Temples, private buildings donated by pious men, the houses of teachers, and even the ghats on the Ganga, were the glorious centres of learning. Of the teachers, the majority were Brahmans who taught more through a sense of righteousness rather than by consideration of economic gains. The pupils did not race through examinations to pick up lucrative jobs. As the outcome of a humanistic aspiration, education was considered at that time a life-long pursuit. Freedom in academic life was so firm that even the strongest ruler could not tamper with education. Education in the arts was largely informal and orally transmitted within hereditary, non-competitive, monopolistic, endogamous groups. However, this self-organizing system declined during the long period of changing political patterns.

The medieval rulers remained indifferent to India’s integrated religious and metaphysical system of education. In the beginning, like their pandit brethren, the ulemas also enjoyed intellectual freedom. But as Islam’s earlier democracy was replaced by authoritarianism, Muslim education became dogmatic and inward-looking. Hindus and Muslims built separate centres of learning. However, as Persian became the official language of administration and justice, many Hindus had to learn Persian by force of circumstance.

And yet Kashi provided sufficient incentives to all those who made it their home: artists, craftsmen, philosophers, traders and ordinary persons, regardless of their creed and caste. It did not permit a sectarian outlook to prevail upon the cultivation of excellence. Or else Babu Miyan, a Muslim, would not have been a specialist in the Hindu shilpashastra; Samsuddin, another Muslim, would not have been a pandit in Hindu astrology; Ulfatbai, a Muslim lady, would not have made an endowment for the playing of the shahanai by Muslim musicians in the temple of Vishwanath; and Muslim weavers would not have made auspicious wedding garments for Hindu ladies.

Kashi holds people by generating a deep sense of attachment, which is not restricted to Hindus alone. The illustrious Iranian poet Sheikh Ali Hazeen did not like to leave Kashi for anything, and wanted that even after his death his body should lie in this holy city of light where every scholar is treated like gods Rama and Lakshmana:

az banaras na ravam, mabadi-am ast een ja;

har barahman-pisaraya lachhaman-o-ram asta een ja.

The Sheikh further noted: "The people of Banaras admired and respected me and my talents in the like manner and that is what I longed for during all these roamings from Ispahan, my native place, to Banaras. Hence I feel satisfied to remain in Banaras till death". He died in 1180 and was buried in the Fatman of Banaras, as desired by him.

European colonization initiated the final death blow to the self-organizing system of Kashi’s intellectual tradition. With the establishment of the Kashi Raj in 1725 and the control of the East India Company in 1757, a new educational system began to grow. Initially the British Company was reluctant to take responsibility for education. But later, in 1813, it felt that "it must educate the sons of influential Indians for higher posts under the government and thereby win the confidence of the upper classes and consolidate its rule in India".

The Banaras Government Sanskrit College owed its establishment to this political consideration. It was founded in 1791 by Jonathan Duncan, Resident of Banaras. In 1813, a Persian class was started in this Sanskrit college to teach those students of Hindu law who wished to be appointed pandits in the British courts; but not a single pandit ever availed of this opportunity. So in 1833 the Persian class was temporarily suspended. In 1841 it was begun again under the orders of the Governor-General; but the situation remained the same, and in 1844 the Persian class was finally removed to the English College, which had been started in 1830 under the title of the Banaras English Seminary or the Banaras Government School. Jayanarain Ghosal, a native Bengali, established here the first English school in 1817, and opened the door for English education. Christian missionaries began to operate through educational programmes with a view to capturing the intelligentsia of Kashi. This led to the establishment of the Church Missionary Society in 1888.

From enslavement and dispossession sprang a new consciousness, supported by large-hearted Europeans. In 1897, Mrs Annie Besant founded the Hindu College and established the Theosophical Society to "revitalize the faith in Upanisadic Hinduism among those who were enamoured of English education and Western culture". While Sanskrit education in the Government College was christianizing and transforming and the British administration was patronizing the pandits, a number of scholars became interested in the development of Hindi. The Nagri Pracharani Sabha was founded in 1893.

Towards the powerful wave of Gandhi’s freedom movement the intellectuals of Kashi were divided into two groups. Most pandits opposed Gandhi’s attitude towards Brahmanic orthodoxy; others wholeheartedly supported his liberalism and nationalism. The establishment of the Bharat Dharma Mahamandal in 1902 and the foundation of the Syadbad Mahavidyala in 1905 were due to the response of the orthodox tradition. Mahamana Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, a liberal Brahman who wanted to instil the spirit of nationalism among the youth of the country through modern educational system, established the Banaras Hindu University in 1909. Further, the Mahamana wanted students to be firmly entrenched in the glorious tradition of this country, which obviously meant to him the Sanatani Varnashrama Dharma — the eternal order of human life visualized in the Hindu tradition. The nationalists, who did not approve of his attitude toward the Varnashrama order, established yet another educational institution. In 1920 the Kashi Vidyapeetha was founded by Mahatma Gandhi and began to operate as a national school for revolutionaries and freedom-fighters. Those who joined the Vidyapeetha were largely anti-Brahmans. The clash of ideologies came to the fore when the nationalists enrolled members of non-Brahman castes and Muslims for a course leading to a diploma called ‘Shastri’, a title derived from the Sanskrit system of learning, traditionally held by Brahmans. In imitation of the modern university system, the Vidyapeetha, having given up the title of ‘Shastri’, now awards bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Although Kashi today is an important city enjoying all the benefits of modernization that are normally available to any other city of this size and resources in India, it has a unique way of modernizing its tradition. This is reflected in the formation and functioning of its three universities and three temples of Vishwanath — the presiding God of this sacred city — each symbolizing a cultural type. The Varanaseya Sanskrit University and the new Vishwanath temple, founded by Swami Karptrijee, represent the orthodox Brahmanic tradition; the Kashi Vidyapeetha and the golden temple of Vishwanath, managed by the state government, represent the liberal tradition; and the Banaras Hindu University with its magnificent temple of God Vishwanath and teaching of modern science and technology, represents the most modern view of tradition. However, the common factor which binds all these three cultural types together is the unshakable trust in tradition.

The experience of an experiment may perhaps be best expressed through the analogy of drama. As previously indicated, the context of education presents itself at the most magnificent theatre of Kashi; its text draws upon a humanistic appreciation of tradition having a universal significance; its melodies and notes produce a new life and freedom; and its joys proceed from truth and goodness.

The Sutradhar of an Experiment

On 1 November 1972 a Foundation was formed in Kashi in memory of Professor Nirmal Kumar Bose, the famous Gandhian anthropologist who had the fortune of serving Gandhi for several months in Noakhali in 1946-47 as his Bengali interpreter and private secretary. The Bose Foundation started with the objectives of promoting and propagating such elements of cultural tradition as are helpful to the development of Indian society in particular and to the cultivation and progress of a peaceful and loving coexistence of human societies in general, carrying on both applied and fundamental research in cultural anthropology, evolving an appropriate methodology for the studies of complex societies, and training researchers in the field of cultural anthropology. To begin with, the Foundation devoted considerable effort to examining the various elements of Kashi’s cultural tradition, namely ascetics, pandits, temples, rituals and pilgrimage. This was followed by applied anthropological research on the status of widows and the problem of indebtedness among the scavengers of Kashi.

In October 1978 the Bose Foundation was made responsible for the Annapurna Shikshalaya, a social welfare trust located in Kashi at Gauriganj. The person who entrusted the Foundation with this responsibility was the late Professor Asit Bhattacharya, a student of Nirmal Bose and a great-grandson of Sarojini Devi who had founded the Shikshalaya. The Foundation felt that this good fortune of having been invited to perform a certain role in social work would not have come without the grace of guru and God. Nirmal Bose, in whose memory it was formed, was always concerned with making human beings. He was an ally in the struggle for freedom and his true terms of reference were the poor. In 1930 he organized a Khadi Sangha in a slum at the outskirts of Bolpur town located about 2 km away from Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan and Visva Bharati. He set up there Shikhagar, a night school for adults of the poor ‘untouchables’ — the Muchi, Hadi and Bauri castes. Following Bose’s ideology and experiment in social reconstruction, the Foundation found it fit to accept the new responsibility.

When the Annapurna Shikshalaya was handed over to the Foundation, it was in a moribund state with two widows, a lifeless primary school for children, and a loom for weaving carpets from tattered clothes. To streamline its activities, the Foundation reorganized itself into three departments. The old school was named Sarojini Vidyakendra after the name of the founder of the Shikshalaya, and the craft centre was called Kuntala Shilpakendra, after Kuntala Devi, the eldest grand-daughter of Sarojini Devi and the mother of Asit Bhattacharya. The school and the craft centre were placed under the charge of Shiva Shankar Dube and Ram Lakhan Maurya, two men of glorious light, the sutradhars who were earlier involved in the study of widows and scavengers of Kashi. The Bose Research Centre continued its academic activities as before.

The Theatre

In its early enterprise the Foundation had opened the whole panorama of Kashi. With the eye of a team of researchers it had seen a light within Kashi: a city of cultural pluralism, a city of bhoga and moksha — materiality and spirituality — a city of affluence and grinding poverty, a city with two major religions and three cultures, and a city where the sacred was in tune with the secular. The studies of widows and scavengers let it traverse the area of darkness. The Foundation was now called upon to rekindle a ‘power for better things’.

Gauriganj is a magnificent complex of multiple cultures, sheltering at least thirty-seven Hindu castes and fifteen Muslim endogamous groups. Besides the first three varnas — Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya — there are castes of silk weavers, dyers of clothes, potters, ironsmiths, goldsmiths, tinkers and braziers, barbers, grocers, fowlers and hunters, palanquin-bearers, milkmen, washermen, cultivators and sellers of green vegetables, tavern-keepers and wine-merchants, manufacturers of salt, cobblers, shahanai players, and those who prepare and sell cups made of leaves. Most of these caste groups have now given up their traditional callings. There are only a few wealthy individuals; all others live in abject poverty.

The ‘hub’ of Gauriganj, a riot-prone area, is surrounded by a number of culturally significant shrines (Map 1) such as the cremation ghat, where in the Age of Truth (satayuga) the truthful king Harishchandra had to serve the master of the crematorium; the Shivala Imambara, where Muharram, a Muslim occasion of sorrow, is observed; the Assi ghat, where the lilas of Rama and Krishna are performed; the Tulasi ghat, where the great saint Tulasidas composed his celebrated Ramacharitamanas; the Durgakunda, where fairs are held in honour of the Mother Goddess; the Krimikunda, the pond of the worms, where healing and fertility rites are performed; the Lolarkakunda, where the ‘Trembling Sun’ is worshipped, and several other springs associated with legends and myths of therapeutical value. Here are located countless shrines of gods, the birthplace of the Jain tirthankaras, Sikh gurudwaras, mosques and tombs, cathedrals and missions, and a very large number of mathas and akharas of ascetics.

This southern sector of the city, according to the Padma Purana, is Kedara Khanda, the third segment of Kashikshetra. In the popular oral tradition the southern zone is called Shiva Kashi. In the human domain it is a meeting ground for Hindus and Muslims, north Indians and south Indians, ascetics and pandits, rich and poor, rural and urban, traditional and modern, and so on. This is the area where, for the first time, modern educational institutions were founded — the first English school, the first Hindu college, the first modern university, the first theological school for Jainism, and the first Arabic university. It is also the breeding ground for indigenous pathashalas, madarassahs and private modern schools.

Making an experiment in education in such a magnificent theatre of culture was a test of intellectual powers and patience. We had both advantages and disadvantages. The greatest advantage was easy access to the visual text of a living cultural tradition with its constant newness. The disadvantage was of facing iconoclasts of the Indian tradition who dogmatically affirm Western education. Though in thought this kind of challenge may appear destructive, in reality it is constructive. It makes differences between normal and abnormal conditions in education explainable; it provides for enduring contemplation; and it ultimately leads all activities to the carried end.

It is with this urge that the old school at the Annapurna Shikshalaya was directed to a new life and new rhyme. The new venture was envisioned as a ‘lab school’ alive with the ideas of making experiments with swaraj in education, developing aesthetic sensibility and cross-cultural understanding, evolving new perspectives and new methods in primary education, and making the school a self-organizing, self-supporting, non-commercial, non-governmental institution.

 

The Text

Equally important is the text of the drama, which its activities follow. Preparation of the text developed sequentially, designing new styles within the circle of a tradition. Five questions, all of which call for explanation, were raised to review the grounds of education.

From the depth of Kashi’s cultural consciousness arose the first fundamental question. What is education? In traditional words, education is vinaya, the virtue of humility, which is the gateway to all other virtues; vinaya is the attribute of a perfect person; education is the light of the soul which is other than the body; a place where that light does not shine is not an educational institution; ‘interior education’ is real, complete in itself; ‘exterior education’ is illusory, incomplete, though useful in worldly life.

From the structural framework of the theatre arose the next question. Are these non-literate weavers, potters, ironsmiths, musicians and all the rest, uneducated? Knowing that their works of art and feelings of humanity are genuine and overwhelming, they cannot be called uneducated. Five hundred years ago Kabir, a weaver of Kashi’s spirituality, had struck at book learning:

I touch not ink nor paper

Nor take pen in my hand;

Of the greatness of the four ages

Kabir has given instructions with his lips.

He taunted the pandits and the mullas for their pride in booklore:

The Pandits are in error by reading the Vedas.

They have no common sense.

O Quazi, what book is expounded by thee;

All such as are pondering on the book are killed.

Emphasizing the importance of personal experience, he reproached the pandits by saying:

You say what is written on paper;

I describe what my eyes have seen.

For, he believed:

Should all the earth be turned into paper

and all the trees into pens;

Should the seven seas be turned into ink,

yet could not an account of God be written.

 

Lively children

Be cheerful

Be patient

Together in Love

Training body and mind

Meditation of peace inspires calm

Yogasana, a perfect performance

Physical education

Also for Gandhi (1908), literacy alone was not enough:

It (education) simply means a knowledge of letters. It is merely an instrument, and an instrument may be well used or abused. The same instrument that may be used to cure a patient may be used to take his life, and so may a knowledge of letters. We daily observe that many men abuse it and very few make good use of it; and if this is a correct statement, we have proved that more harm has been done by it than good . . . . I do not for one moment believe that my life would have been wasted had I not received higher or lower education . . . . I have not run down a knowledge of letters in all circumstances. All I have now shown is that we must not make of it a fetish . . . . Our ancient school system is enough. Character-building has the first place in it and that is primary education. A building erected on that foundation will last.

From the realization of the life-view of Kabir and Gandhi the third question arose. Can the wind of modern education be contained? The sutradhar of the Foundation said: By the act of faith in tradition, by the act of will in transforming, surely it can.

From the flowering of all these thoughts the fourth question arose. What would be the seed and the soil of the new school? The sutradhar explained: Education is the art of intelligent living; it involves the training of the mind and the awakening of the heart. Deeper humanity emerges when the mind is trained and the heart is awakened. It is wise to remember that the seed of universal education lies in the mother’s womb and blossoms in her lap; it is cultivated in the soil of nature and culture, kinship and community; and it brings with it the ideal of beauty, goodness, and happiness.

From the inner idea of the playwright, the fifth question arose. What can pervade the mind of the spectators? The sutradhar replied: The emotional and other states, as created by human nature and in accordance with the ways of the world.

The Opening Scene

The sutradhar’s movement in time began with chaos and despair. Within a few days of taking over the Shikshalaya opposition came from the two inmates. A group of Bengali women staged an angry protest. Not so surprisingly, the woman who used to clean the premises led the demonstration. In the midst of utter confusion the new management began its mission — ‘the education of heart’. However, much of what happened in the beginning ultimately served as a shock absorber.

All the teachers of the old school were Bengali. They were retained but were told that no amount of dry discipline would do the children much good. In those days Muslim and Harijan children were not allowed to use the toilet, which was meant exclusively for the inmates and teachers. This was changed forthwith. Muslim girls above eight years used to attend the school in burkah (veils). They were asked to give up the veils within the school premises. The response was encouraging. After a few months no one came with the burkah. The attendant of the school was an old lady who had been given a low position. The headmistress of the school, a suchibai (purity-pollution maniac), treated her as an untouchable even though she was a Bengali Brahman. When the school attendant was invited to inaugurate the Independence Day celebration everybody present was shocked. This kind of radical change subsequently caused a silent stir inside the Shikshalaya.

A few months later there was a theft in the premises. What the thieves left behind was more dreadful than the loss of property: the footprints of a child followed by larger ones. After some time, another theft occurred. The drunkards, the gamblers and the goondas began to play their role of villain. At this stage a suggestion came from one of the members of the Bose Foundation that reformative measures should be initiated first to better the people of the locality whose children were to be educated in the new school. The sutradhar responded that the results of the reform would be seen only after two decades, when the children of the school were grown.

The next year, the old teachers left the school en masse without notice. By that time the number of students had sharply declined, and people got the impression that the school was going to be closed down. A wealthy trader in silk fabric came out with the suggestion of opening a madarassah-type school for which a suitable endowment and some two hundred children would be made available to the Foundation. The benevolent proposer was told that the Foundation would be happy to teach Urdu, Arabic or Persian and would also impart religious education in Islam, provided that the children received instructions in the arts, elementary science, mathematics, Hindi and English. This was unacceptable to him. Later he offered the Foundation a plot of land (double the present space) some 4 to 5 km away, a new building, and five lakh rupees as compensation for the campus. He was told that his pious resolution had no value because the objective of the Foundation School was to make education self-organizing and self-supporting and to develop aesthetic sensibility and cross-cultural understanding among both Hindu and Muslim children. He was assured that as soon as the school was firmly directed towards its goal and the neighbouring community became strongly inclined to take up the responsibility of running it without government aid, the Foundation would withdraw and would repeat the experiment in another area of the city.

The Foundation was prepared to brave the worst.

A Kashmiri pandit was staying at the Foundation as a guest scholar. He was working on Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. A Persian teacher used to call on him frequently. Their relationship appeared to be normal. But a stage came when the teacher began terrorizing his student because he refused to be converted to Islam and married to a widow. The seventy-year-old pandit had no courage to face death in the present crisis. He left the Foundation in fright.

The air of the city was poisoned by communal bitterness and rancour following the court’s verdict on the temple-mosque issue in Ayodhya, politicized by sections of Hindus and Muslims. All educational institutions were ordered to close down. When the Foundation School reopened after a few days, the Muslim children came with black strips on their arms. They did not know why their parents made them wear this colour of sorrow. For these innocents it was a mere fun and fashion. The school was sunk in shame and sorrow. Not a word was uttered on this subject. The bell rang for the prayer meeting. The usual duration of silence was prolonged. In silence the sutradhar and teachers prayed for purging all hearts of communal hatred and ill will. Within no time the Hindu and Muslim children rolled into one and the black strips disappeared completely unnoticed, as the darkness of night is dispelled by the sun.

The Melodies

From chaos and despair emerged new thoughts and activities like melodies in a concert. At the Foundation School swaraj, swadeshi and sarvodaya — the three arts of life and education — began sounding together in harmony.

Swaraj in education means "the self-rule in the management and administration of an educational institution". Most people today feel utterly unable to run a school without a government grant-in-aid. Alternatively they turn the school into a commercial enterprise. If the desire to establish swaraj is genuine the problem will have to be faced boldly, not replacing government rule by the rule of merchants. The teachers who came to the Bose Foundation School merely to earn a living without the spirit of service found it trying. Many of them left within a few months; many insisted upon applying for a government grant-in-aid; many wanted expansion of classes or grades with a view to increasing income through pupil’s fees; others suggested conducting special tutorial classes on extra payment. Nothing of this kind was conceded. The failure of their attempts caused many experienced teachers to leave the Foundation School. Happily, in course of time it was found that some youths from middle-class families developed a fascination for the School, despite the fact that they were barely paid a living wage. The Foundation is proud of having teachers like Rama Lahiri and Rajesh Iyer, who have served it lovingly for more than six years. Freedom, friendship and trust are the strongest bonding factors that give the workers at the Foundation School amazing courage to face collectively the music of life. Looking back, it can be said that the Foundation today demonstrates the ancient idea of teachers teaching for the love of it and receiving the barest maintenance.

The Foundation School has no corpus fund, no annual grant, not even irregular grants from any source. It is run on school fees and royalties on the books published by and for the Foundation. It is not a profit-making venture; it has learnt to live in holy poverty. The fact that it has managed in this manner for over sixteen years strengthens the Foundation’s conviction that primary or elementary schools must necessarily be self-organizing and self-supporting. Community and religious trusts could provide a corpus fund for the life of the school. If education means the awakening of consciousness, if the children have the freedom to grow into fine human beings, and if cultural diversities are to be respected, then all primary schools must be managed by those whose children are to be educated. No centralized nation-wide system should operate at this level of education.

Swaraj in education means swadeshi in spirit. In the domain of education swadeshi implies that it is a virtue to remain firmly grounded in the perennial wisdom tradition of one’s own culture. Education is essentially a cultural process of making human life efficient and complete. Hence indigenous institutions are the best to impart education at the early stage in life. As Gandhi said, "Swadeshi is not a cult of hatred". Swadeshi spirit in education means the spirit of expansion, not by driving out ideas but by absorbing new ideas without suffering cultural identity crises.

As a research centre, the Foundation receives distinguished scholars — specially anthropologists, sociologists, linguists, philosophers, historians of religion — both Indian and foreign. Their presence has contributed immeasurably to the awakening of the children. For several years the students of the Wisconsin College Year in India Program were affiliated with the Foundation. Their first step on entering into the Foundation was to interact with the children of the School. They practised Hindi on the children and in return widened the perceptions of those who had never seen the world beyond the physical space of Kashi. In this interchange, friendships developed. The children invited them to their homes. Most of the students of the Wisconsin Program studied various aspects of Kashi’s cultural traditions. One of them studied the children’s traditional games, another worked on the riddles known to the children. Joyce Hubert wrote in 1983 a dissertation based on an anthropological study of the Bose Foundation School. Some of them taught English to the children of classes IV and V. For the last six years the Foundation School has been a training-cum-study centre of the University of Karlstad (Sweden) for its teachers in education. Inger Wiklund, the co-ordinator of this scheme, has been a Visiting Teacher at the Foundation School since 1991 (see Appendix-1). Indian scholars, Gandhian social workers, and religious personalities are frequent visitors to the School. This constant exposure affords a highly refined sense of perception that brings great confidence to the children and ultimately purity in cultural order. It is this way of education that enables the children of the Foundation School to live with the swadeshi spirit in the extraordinary world of ideas.

Swaraj in education aims at sarvodaya — education for all. A votary of true education cannot subscribe to the utilitarian formula of the greatest good of the greatest number. He must strive for the greatest good of all. Every child must be educated enough to observe morality and to attain mastery over its mind and its passions.

The Foundation School brings transformation from within tradition; it maintains a high standard of teaching and tries its very best to serve the desire of parents, who demand instruction analogous to that of the modern mission schools or the commercialized public schools. But it does try in its own way to suit the capacity of poor parents. Life at the school is simple. The neighbourhood is poor. The school stands by what is implied in the Gandhian phrases ‘Sarvodaya’ and ‘Antyodaya’ — Unto This Last.

Contd...

 

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