Friday, September 12, 2014

WHEN AN INSTITUTION FAILS


























I am trying hard to start a school in Santiniketan. I want it to be like the ancient hermitages we know about. There will be no luxuries, the rich and poor alike will live like ascetics. But I cannot find the right teachers. It is proving impossible to combine today’s practices with yesterday’s ideals. Simplicity and hard work are not tempting enough…
Rabindranath Tagore, 1901

The recent case of sexual harassment of a student of Vishwa-Bharati University has provoked me to write this piece. It is such a shameful thing that the University authorities are protecting the culprits and denying the allegations. The statement given by the victim’s father throws light on how best possible ways were laid to hush-up the matter. I read regarding an inquiry team being appointed, as usual. As a mark of condemned, the Vishwa-Bharati Vice-Chancellor’s effigy was burned down in JNU campus. Good that incident of this kind is not taken insouciantly.

Any university in India or abroad has commitment to foster campus environment that both promotes and expedites prompt reporting of sexual misconduct and appropriate and just adjudication of sexual misconduct cases. I am wondering whether Visva-Bharati as a university has Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) which clearly states, ‘any act that falls within the definition of sexual misconduct constitutes a violation of University policy.’ The universities that has GSCASH brings about rules and provisions which are designed to protect the rights, needs, and privacy of the student making a University complaint, as well as the rights of students accused of sexual misconduct. In some of the universities, sexual misbehavior might also constitute criminal activity. In such instances, students are strongly encouraged to bring the matter to the notice of law enforcement authorities. Students may inform law enforcement authorities about sexual misconduct and discuss the matter with a law enforcement officer without making a formal criminal complaint or a formal University complaint. 

In record it shows, the chances of a fruitful criminal investigation are considerably enhanced if proof is collected and maintained immediately by law enforcement officers. Sexual misconduct can be committed by men or women, and it can happen between people of the same or different sex. Readily, the Universities have to make this policy and educational opportunities available to all students and other members of the University community for creating a respectful, safe, and non-threatening environment, which, indeed is the responsibility of all members of the University community.

What surprised me most was the institution where it happened, and sadly, this is not the first time, it has happened in past too.  No, I am not an alumna of Vishwa-Bharati University but I know its history, it is different from other university in many ways. To start with, it was the brain child of Rabindranath Tagore, the poet I truly respect. Tagore as an internationalist stood for the cooperation of various nations, he did not believe in the confinement of a nation with itself. His international experience gave him a new idea, that he must bring his country into contact with the world at large. He felt that over emphasis on narrow nationalism led men and countries into paths of conflict. There should be an institution that emphasized the unity of the world’s culture and streams of knowledge. He considered Santiniketan (later renamed into Vishwa-Bharati along with Sriniketan) to be that institution.  Tagore believed that India might be intensely national and yet, at the same time, international with her thought and sympathy embracing the world. In the midst of our national struggle, he created that symbol of internationalism that is Visa Bharati. During his last stage of life he is supposed to have said to Gandhi the words below, which in a way shows how deeply he loved the university he founded,
“Visva-Bharati is like a vessel which is carrying the cargo of my life’s best treasure, and I hope it may claim special care from my countrymen for its preservation.”

Apart from the need of education, Tagore had great respect for ‘woman’ and her position in family and society.  If we have to categorize Tagore’s writing then he was see that his early writing phase (1881-1897) concerns with injustice against the women. The inner strength of a woman was portrayed through mythological and female deities. Tagore emphasized that women should not be submissive under any circumstances. The second phase (1893-1913) of his writings was considered as the most imaginative phase by many scholars. In this phase, he depicted Indian woman as an urban and educated woman.  In the last phase (1914-1941) of his writing, women spoke in open the ills of the society, like untouchability, the caste system and the hypocrisy of religion. Much emphasis was given on education of women. In his novel, The Home and the World, he writes, “For me women are not only the deities of the household fire, but the flame of the soul itself.” So incidents like these, where the dignity of a woman is questioned could have make him feel mortified about the very university he has founded, if only he was alive.

The people who control the University should not forget its humble beginning and why it was started at the first place. When an institution fails, specially an institution of learning…who suffers? Many suffer but what damagingly suffer are the ideals on which the institution was build.

I pray that justice will be mended out at the earliest.