Friday, December 15, 2006

Ode to motherland - The heritage of Bangla patriotic songs by Karim Waheed

The Daily Star Victory Dasy special:
“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul...” -- Plato
Scene From Muktir Gaan

The impact of music on human psyche may never be fully comprehended. Music has the power to inspire, ability to change moods and bring about social revolution. It's everywhere in nature. Hence the idea that music may predate language is not shocking.

A culture's music highlights its every aspect. Bangladesh has an opulent musical heritage. As many scholars and exponent believe, music in this part of the world was perhaps formed as an expression of devotion. Most songs glorified some deity, mythological accounts while some narrated lifestyles of different classes. However, all that changed in last two hundred years.

The 19th century saw a revolution in the realm of Bangla music. Thanks to a breed of immensely talented poets, composers, artistes and musicians, Bangla music outshined its contemporaries in the region during what was considered its golden age.

Interestingly enough, the idea that music can spark nationalistic sentiments among masses was also realised in the 19th century Bengal. These songs can be categorised as patriotic songs (glorifying the land) and people's songs or Gano Sangeet (themed on struggles of the people).

Bangla patriotic songs are believed to have appeared first at the beginning of the 19th century through the songs of Ishwar Chandra Gupta and his followers. High on nationalism, Gupta started a movement for the improvement of Bangla and also created a positive atmosphere for writers like Bankimchandra Chattyopadhyay and Dinabandhu Mitra.

Bangla patriotic songs attained wide recognition during the 'Swadeshi Movement' (part of the Indian independence movement against the British Raj, encouraging use of everything local and discouraging British goods). These songs became even more popular during the 1905 movement against the partition of Bengal; usual themes were loyalty towards the land and valour of the freedom fighters and martyrs. Case in point: Ekbar bidaye de ma ghurey ashi...on the teenage martyr Khudiram Bose.

This period in Bangla music saw the emergence of creative titans -- Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Dwijendralal Roy, Rajanikanta Sen and Atulprasad Sen.

Motivated by the nationalistic senses, Dwijendralal Roy composed several patriotic songs, which went on to achieve classic status. Familiar patriotic songs by Roy include Bango amar janani amar and Dhanodhanya pushpobhora amader ei boshundhora. His passion for the motherland combined with his musical talent is reflected in these songs. Roy, however, did not reject western musical traits. Dhanodhanya pushpobhora... for instance is based on raga Kedara but the line Shey je amar jonmobhumi, with three types of musical tempo, follows the English music pattern. This trend of incorporating western styles in Bangla songs was soon catching on.

Rabindranath Tagore is perhaps the only person to have written the national anthems of two nations. Amar shonar Bangla, ami tomaye bhalobashi gained popularity during the 'Swadeshi Movement'. Swadhesi activists, revolutionaries and those opposing the partition of Bengal (1905) used this song to ignite the spirit of nationalism among the masses. The song again emerged in mainstream when it was deftly used in Zahir Raihan's feature film Jibon Thekey Neya (1970). The March 7 1971 address of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the then Racecourse Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan) was preceded by the song. It was also used by Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra throughout the Liberation War.

Though Tagore was never actively involved in politics, he was not alienated from the socio-political scene either. He had his unique attitude towards nationalism. A staunch critic of the partition of Bangal, Tagore conveyed his views in the song Banglar mati Banglar jol...Among other patriotic classics by Tagore are: Jodi tor daak shuney keu na ashey (one of Mahatma Gandhi's favourites), Chitto jetha bhoyshunno and O amar desher mati.

Rajanikanta Sen, influenced by Tagore, composed a number of patriotic songs. Mayer deya mota kapor mathaye tuley nerey bhai was hummed by the youth during the movement against the Raj; the nationalistic appeal of the song remains undiminished.

Atulprasad Sen, who wrote relatively few songs compared to his contemporaries, carved a niche for himself in the literary scene dominated by Tagore. The poet and lyricist, originally from Dhaka, wrote a patriotic song underlining communal harmony -- Dekh ma ebar duwar khuley...tor hindu-musalman dui chheley. Moder garab moder asha a mori Bangla bhasha, also by him, made its way again among the masses during the Language Movement (1952) and the Liberation War.

The National Poet of Bangladesh, also known as the 'Rebel Poet', Kazi Nazrul Islam soon became an icon for his poems and songs that formed a striking contrast to Tagore's poetry. His songs were not meant to appease the non-violent followers of the anti-British movements; Nazrul was very vocal about his stance against the Raj and the colonial system put him behind bars for that. Armed with an impeccable base in classical music, passion for Persian, Arabic literature and music and knack for incorporating unfamiliar subjects and vocabulary, people's songs by Nazrul were hard hitting. Among them Karar oi louho kapat, Shikal porar chhal moder, Durgamo giri kantar moru, Amra shakti amar bal, Jai hok satyer jai hok and more are still rendered with zeal. Nazrul did write some patriotic songs in the conventional form -- Eki aporoop roop-e ma tomar and O bhai khanti shonar cheye khanti amar desher mati, for instance.

During the Language Movement, the mass upsurge in 1969 and the Liberation War, these songs motivated political activists, freedom fighters and the masses that wanted emancipation from repression. Ekushey (21st) February played a key role in making Bengalis conscious of their culture and heritage and the song on 'Shaheed Dibash' that has reached an iconic status is Amar bhai-er roktey rangani ekushey February (originally composed by Abdul Latif, the tune was later modified by Altaf Mahmud; the latter, hugely popular version is rendered now). The nationalistic emotions sparked by 'Ekushey' ultimately led to the Liberation War.

Noted artiste Shaheen Samad remembers those turbulent days in 1971; on a truck with fellow members of Bangladesh Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Goshthi -- Lubna Mariam, Naila Zaman, Bipul Bhattacharjee, Mahmudur Rahman Benu, Debu Chowdhury and others -- going from camps to camps, singing to refugees and freedom fighters to boost their morale (featured in the documentary Muktir Gaan, directed by Tareque Masud and Catherine Masud).

According to Shaheen, "We used to sing the Tagore song Oi pohailo timir raati, Nazrul song Karar oi louho kapat, Mushad Ali's Shonen shonen bhaishob, Barricade bayonet berajaal (written by Abu Bakar Siddiqui and composed by Shadhan Sarkar), Sarwar Jahan's Jago jago, Sheikh Lutfar Rahman's Bisham doirar dheu and many more.

"This was our contribution to the war. The sight of freedom fighters being moved to tears while listening to these songs is something I'll never forget. That was our achievement."

Popular songs played on Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra during the war were -- Jai Bangla, Purbo digantey shurjo uthechhey, Mora ekti phoolke banchabo boley judhdho kori (rendered by Apel Mahmud), Bicharpati ebar tomar korbey bichar ei jonota, Shona shona boley, Salam salam hazaar salam (sung by Abdul Jabbar) and Ek shagor rokter binimoye.

The post-Liberation War period saw a range of patriotic and people's songs. Talented lyricists and music composers introduced diverse issues in these songs; some featured in films became overnight sensation. Undervalued contribution of the youth taking part in the war and their frustrations were brilliantly articulated when Shahnaz Rahmatullah sang ...Hoytoba itihashey tomader naam lekha robey na...gyanijon gunider ashorey tomader kotha keu kobey na... Misty-eyed listeners still hum Shobkota janala khuley daona with Sabina Yasmeen or Amaye gethey daona mago ekta polash phooler mala.

Though patriotic songs thrived during '70s and '80s, the tradition seemed to wane in the '90s. However, the political turmoil and the current generation losing faith in the system have triggered a new tradition of patriotic and people's songs. These songs do not necessarily rave about the scenic beauty of the country but point out the bitter reality. Many of this generation agree when Hyder Husyn sings ...Swadhinota ki hotel-e hotel-e grand fashion show? Swadhinota ki aunner khojey kishori promodbala? or Keuba gorey shonar Bangla, keu swanirbhor Bangladesh...goragorir neiko shesh.

As long as Bangla music remains, lyricists and poets will express their devotion for the land, musicians will set appealing melodies to those words and artistes will breathe life into them. Here's hoping these songs keep our spirits high and nationalistic stance resilient come hell or high water, as they have for over 150 years.

Karim Waheed is Staff Reproter, Culture Desk, The Daily Star.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

FROM-THE-FRONTLINES: Singur - The truth about subversion of truth

Medha Patkar
National Alliance Of People's Movements (NAPM)

SINGUR: Looking Back, Looking Forward, on the Human Rights Day

Today when the world celebrates the 58th anniversary of the UN Charter of Human Rights as the International Human Rights Day, the people of Singur or Narmada or Raigad (Maharashtra), Dadri-Bajada (UP) cannot. They cannot be out of struggle for survival, for dignity, for life even for a moment to be able to breathe freedom and enjoy rights not just as citizens but as human beings.

The struggle of people of Singur continues at various fronts, ranging from the fasting group of women and men in Singur area itself to the one in Kolkata, from the everyday small and large actions by the representatives of various people's organisations to the solidarity fora of the academics. It has gone beyond the heated Metropolis to the various districts of North & South Bengal since the voice raised from Singur is echoed in other places, why battlegrounds, and has also effected other mass movements against similar onslaught of the corporatised State as in Midnapur district (against 2 SEZs & 1 Nuclear power plant). The prolonged violation of human rights and postponement of free, fair and informed dialogue on Singur is startling. With a large alliance and network of people's organisations beyond electoral political allies or opponents of the West Bengal Government, a possible dialogue could have been possible by now but for the over confident attitude and arrogance expressed by the West Bengal Government. The lack of initiative coming from anyone of the Left Front allies towards taking a serious cognizance and an urgent resolution through a decisive dialogue is certainly shocking.

With the police force still active, and Singur kept closed for many of us, with a misuse of law through section 144 IPC, alleging us of' malicious reasons', it is clear that there is no intention still to respect democratic rights, and freedom to question development plans by those facing the backlash.

Having come out of West Bengal, where the State kept me encircled by three to six police vehicles until I left, under watch day and night, arrested four times during a week but without following any formal or legal procedure, I look back and look forward with much revelation on this special day. Throughout last many days we heard of and even witnessed that the party cadres did not just move into the project affected areas but intimidated people� police continued its brutality and women kept narrating the story of policemen's misbehaviour of molestation while 18 of them (including 4 women activists) were charged (now bailed out) under section 307, (attempt to murder). Four youths and elderly people were seriously injured and hospitalised. It is obvious as to why some of us were not allowed to step in. Those in peaceful marches along with women activists and also journalists, were brutally lathicharged - why?

The obvious reason was and is, to hide the facts. It is another story that we still could investigate, beyond the public hearing held on October 27th and could get a survey of 400 families done through 15 eminent activists and journalists. We have already brought out the report by the panel with Mahasweta Devi, Justice (retd) Malay Senguptaji, and Deepankar Bhattacharyaji as other three members. The fact remains that the state of West Bengal neither opened the Singur area to us (as they did open even the Assembly after the unjustifiable event on December 1st) exhibiting selective transparency so as to allow the civil society only to see whatever the State would like them to, as a Bengali poem goes.

Singur remained all throughout my stay in Kolkata, a foreign territory to me, an Indian citizen without either a passport or a visa! It was indeed amusing, more than disturbing, that a lady police even climbed up (by order) the aeroplane I took for return, in order to ensure that I was in the seat with belts. The only pleasant surprise was the people's mandate that was conveyed to me by no one else but the same policewomen who said to me in a hush-hush voice, "I am your fan. I need an autograph please." The courage and greatness not of a handful of activists but the people of Singur who have been persistent, is the only power that would challenge those who boast of the electoral mandate, ignoring and even crushing the electorate. The force to counter in the present politico-economic context with SEZs and STZs around, which no doubt are to be worse than Singur is the very mandate that is exploited and marketed for their own profit and private interests of persons, parties as also those of the allied forces, at the cost of the people.

All throughout last two decades we, in the Narmada struggle, have had to face a distorted paradigm of development and a subversion of the total system to the powers- to- be. The generations old communities in the oldest of the river valleys civilizations in the world did not matter to those whose eyes were always on the giant designs and the games played through the vote banks. Every inch of land had to be saved or gained only through a battle at every front. With more than 1.5 lakh people(40,000 families) still in the submergence area and with much better rehabilitation policy in hands, the adivasis to other farmers in the hills and plains still have to continue the struggle for survival of ever increasing number of development victims Singur and its people are smaller yet significant new entrant to the battle field. One only hopes that all that the people of Narmada have faced and witnessed will not be a fate accompli for Singur too. Till date, however it seems inevitable that we begin and continue "Satyagraha" against the falsehood that is propagated as economics and development politics.

THE CPM STATUS REPORT ON SINGUR: Truth cannot be subverted with power

Soon after coming out, into a `free zone' this day, I could see a status report on Singur, compiled by the West Bengal Government, circulated by the office bearers of CPI(M). Much impressive with statistics, the report is presented as a counter to "the arguments against the project, not based on facts", and as a truthful narration of bare facts in comparison to the "exaggerated claims of the atrocities" with a request to many "to see for themselves whether the LF Government deserves the criticism which some of our friends in the Ultra-Left are making."

We should take this report seriously and welcome it. I do because, otherwise to this date, even this much of an official data-based statement was missing. No documents have come to us even upon written request and a promise by the Industries Minister, Mr Nirupam Sen. It is also important that we know from the official source that our claims are considered to be exaggerated and the motives doubted. A rejoinder to the status report thus is necessary and follows. First and the foremost, there is no level playing field. While the government or the party, CPM, has all access to the data and the documents, we do not. Apart from the gross violation of the RTI Act 2005, we, at least some of us, were not even allowed to go to the villages in this crucial phase of the struggle where one could check the official claims. In Narmada too, there is a battle over numbers but we are based in the field and not the government.

There too the Chief Secretary or the Managing Director, Narmada (Sardar Sarovar) Corporation writes to our eminent supporters against us, with allegations but we have lists, the submergence village level data and data from the rehabilitation sites in Gujarat and Maharashtra with which we can question and prove the Government to be wrong. Here we have some lists, some statistics but collected under enormous pressure, against all odds by whoever could reach in. We again reiterate our stance: Open up Singur and we will find out the truth.

Come one, come all�as party representatives, office bearers too and see the situation, assess it and take an appropriate stance.

� Jointly with us, form an impartial body, a Commission of Inquiry with three eminent members acceptable to all as honest and known for their integrity, with a six month period granted, and all official documents furnished to them. Let us furnish all of our data and present views before this commission and accept a status quo on land acquisition, on occupation, repression, and mass protests too.

Yet meanwhile let us comment and critique the CPI (M)/ West Bengal Government report.

1. The report is only on land acquisition and rehabilitation and there is nothing on the Tata Motors Project itself, neither the economics nor the MOU agreements and process of finalisation, except for a list of a handful of meetings.

2. All the nine meetings held within four months at the most have been held with the party representatives and Panchayat members (not much different from the former) but not with any Gramsabha, the community with all the Project Affected. Why? The 74th Amendment of the Constitution and the faith in democratic rights and process of planning would require this. It must happen, even now, with transparency.

3. It is clear that there are no details of the project, its cost and benefits, provided also to the Gram Panchayat and consent of the Gram Panchayat is also not sought, as reported to our panel for Public Hearing held at Gopalnagar on October 27th 2006, by Dhud Kumar Dhara, a member of GP.

4. The report is truthful about no consent granted by the local bodies and elected representatives and the fact that it was without any consensus that the land acquisition and the Project was and is being pushed ahead and hence the use of police force.

5. As we were saying all the time and were informed by the villagers, farmers, Bargadars, labourers, others themselves through many sources including personal hearing, there is opposition to the project by 45% to 50% of landholder�cultivators and a few thousand families of other workers dependent on them, who are opposed to giving away their land. This was all through denied and ridiculed by the official sources, right up to the Minister for Industries and CM, who projected a picture of total consent. To quote CM himself, there is hardly 1% resistance. The same we found was informed to the President of India, the Governor of West Bengal and also probably the Tatas.

This status report brings out the reality to be different.

� Out of 997 acres, it was for 620 acres that consent was granted before passing the Compensation Award. We cannot accept this as given and will like to see the documents, under the RTI Act. Why not? In any case, it's not 100% or 99% families' consent.

� We also have affidavits recently proposed and submitted to us by individual farmers who have not and do not want to give away their land totalling 347 till now.

� Our number of landholders too was being challenged. This report itself shows the landholders number for 635 acres to be 9020. This shows the small size of landholdings in the area as we claimed.

� What does post-award consent mean? It means consent under duress, when you complete acquisition under law, declare the same, it is not `Free Prior Informed Consent', a pre-condition that is recommended for large dams and development projects in our Report of the World Commission on Dams, which I was a member of, and is also demanded by all democratic organisations. We must be allowed to look into the consent papers and have copies and get those checked with the villages themselves, please.

� Many of our friends and some of the LF partners too were asking for even a single case of dissent. More than this report our affidavits bring out many which can surely be checked and compared.

� The fact not mentioned is that most of those dissenting have not even accepted land acquisition notice under section 4 of the age old Land Acquisition Act, (which LF friends too challenge, as in their note on SEZ to the UPA) and hence acquisition in their case is ex-parte, on paper.

� It is also clear that there is no Rehabilitation Policy or package clearly put forth� except for cash compensation. As we know, there is no state level rehabilitation policy, either. Training for any vocation, in any technical work does not guarantee employment.

� To offer such training as a complementary economic development activity is appreciable since there is underemployment and unemployment within the agriculturist families, but not destroying the existing employment in the agricultural sector. In any case the 189 trainees are not a big number.

� What would the families do with cash? The absentee landlords may invest in some trade etc., but will the cultivators be able to purchase alternative land of the same quality, of what magnitude, where and when?

The experience of cash swindled away leaving families impoverished has occurred in all the past projects; hence we demand land based rehabilitation in the Narmada dam too (where it is policy and hence 10500 families have got it� not without problems, though thousands remain deprived).

We demand in West Bengal a state level Rehabilitation Act for the minimum displacement that may occur for projects that would be justified and conceded to, by the affected people. We have already drafted a National Policy on Development Planning and the Advisory Council to UPA chaired by Sonia Gandhi, has already approved the National Draft. Let the LF take it up as our supporters and get enactment with one more consultation and finalisation, the earliest possible.

� We will certainly like to check on the trainee's list and the training offered, which is not fully possible in the present circumstances and atmosphere of intimidation.

� Our brief investigation and the status report itself show that many of the training programmes are yet to begin while occupation of their land has started. Whatever little programme has commenced, some of the trainees are from the project affected families and others are not. So why should the families face displacement to get such training which is a need of women and youths all over?

� It is also no guarantee of employment. The application forms filled by the trainee youths, state clearly that training does not mean the guarantee of a job! One knows from experience of
industrialisation all over that the oustees don't get absorbed, they do not get a share in the benefits. The reasons,politico-economic, cannot be ignored.

� The report claims development works to have been undertaken in the affected area. Are these a part of rehabilitation? Installing bore wells, excavations of silted water channels, building roads etc. are regular development activity and why should it wait for some big industry to acquire the area? The industrious population is to be deprived, agriculture with further potential for agro industry and harnessing water in this Damodar Valley Command area is to be lost�.towards what end

� Even the cash compensation affected seems to be high to an outsider � Rs 6 to 9 lakh per acre as basic price and 9 to 13 lakh per acre paid price with solatium etc. We are told the actual market price for these two quality lands is actually almost double. Also, the land adjacent to the Durgapur Expressway is too expensive. In today's world especially the urban, when land is gold its value is ever escalating. This is land near the metropolis and hence the Tatas want it too. Why should the resident farmers part away with the same?

� The questions of course go beyond the rates and the market. First, should the displacement be imposed on people living with agriculture for generations? Second, what is our experience with rehabilitation?

Narmada and such tens and hundreds of projects are known but so are those in West Bengal. Damodar Valley Corporation affected too, and is yet to be rehabilitated. The research by Walter Fernandez of the Indian Social Institute, now at the North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati, brings out that in West Bengal as other states, at least 70 lakh persons got affected due to the projects since 1947 till 2000, and only 9% of them are actually rehabilitated. This is too low a percentage compounded to that for other states (AP- 28%, Orissa- 33%, Goa - 34% & Kerala - 13%).

� There is no doubt, therefore that farmer- cultivators, registered bargadars to labourers in Singur are not for displacement, nor for rehabilitation. The report only mentions their numbers but not any opinion survey or referendum has been conducted. The numbers given by the official and the non-official also differ. The registered bargadars cannot be 237 and one must note that the `operation barga' the popular land reform exercise was to be completed, not only registering all bargadars but as a second phase, granting them land rights too. This has not happened yet. That the land records are not updated, was accepted by Mr Nirupam Sen, Minister for Industries himself, who admitted that updating work is being done simultaneously.

� The experience of the Tata project-affected people else where also is and should be known to the people of Singur. The Tata's Indica project, comparable to Singur was established as an extension to its initial car-truck and other production enterprise, in Pimpri, Pune. Tatas were given 188 acres of land possessed by Pimpri Housing and Area Development Corporation that was supposed to be used for housing of labourers in the industrial belt. While 13000 per acre was the price paid to the oustees, Tata paid about 20 lakh/acre (now by the High Court order, it has to pay 60 acres for the loss in the deal suffered by the corporation), even though the same land cost about 80 lakhs per acre today. The Corporation also has had to accept that by mistake, it had allotted 15 acres more land to Tatas, which Tatas have to pay back.

But the most relevant fact to be noted is: employing some persons beyond 6 months on a temporary basis, no one from about only 125 families who lost their land for the project is employed in the factory which is highly mechanised and have altogether only 300 employees. Telco has anyway slashed about 10,000 and more jobs during last 4 years and Tata steels down sized its workplace by 30,000 during one decade, as per estimate. It is obvious, therefore, that thousands of farmer labourers of Singur have neither a guarantee nor a reserved place.

Moreover, what the Government of West Bengal report does not bring out truthfully is the issue of the human rights violation. To say in the covering letter that none is hospitalised is not at all true.
There are at least 4 persons who were hospitalised at Imambara Hospital, Chuchura, they were known to be in critical condition and one recently granted bail for an activist. The continuous presence of hundreds of (people say, thousands) policemen camping since end of November, hundreds of CPM cadre members marching around in the villages, intimidating people and so much of pain, anguish, struggle as also politicising is going on but no plain and fair dialogue. Why? Why is there no transparency, no accountability? Why is there no peaceful response to peaceful struggle, acknowledging democratic rights? One hopes this report and our rejoinder wanted at least to be a basis for the same. But the matter of grave concern is not merely numbers but also the ideological and development issues raised, beyond Singur, as well as at the places where much larger attacks on the farming populations are, planned. Whether in Medinapur and other places in West Bengal of Orissa, in Maharashtra or Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, the fight has begun. The transfer of agriculture land affecting food security, destroying the living communities, widening the disparity between agriculture and corporate industry is also much more unacceptable when it is undemocratic and forcible. Development cannot be furthered at the butt of the gun. It can be demonic growth, not development. The industrial growth or even the statutory welfare, nothing can be without justice at its core. The Left knows better.
The Left Front must take up a more honest position, deeper investigation and an ideologically consistent approach to development throughout the country. We look forward to a response protecting human rights, guaranteeing life and livelihood.

The day it happens, will surely be celebrated as the Human Rights Day.

Medha Patkar

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2006 - Dr. Muhammad Yunus' Nobel Lecture

Re: The Nobel Lecture given by The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2006, Muhammad Yunus ( Oslo , December 10, 2006)

© The Nobel Foundation, Stockholm , 2006.

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Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honorable Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Grameen Bank and I are deeply honoured to receive this most prestigious of awards. We are thrilled and overwhelmed by this honour. Since the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, I have received endless messages from around the world, but what moves me most are the calls I get almost daily, from the borrowers of Grameen Bank in remote Bangladeshi villages, who just want to say how proud they are to have received this recognition.

Nine elected representatives of the 7 million borrowers-cum- owners of Grameen Bank have accompanied me all the way to Oslo to receive the prize. I express thanks on their behalf to the Norwegian Nobel Committee for choosing Grameen Bank for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. By giving their institution the most prestigious prize in the world, you give them unparalleled honour. Thanks to your prize, nine proud women from the villages of Bangladesh are at the ceremony today as Nobel laureates, giving an altogether new meaning to the Nobel Peace Prize.

All borrowers of Grameen Bank are celebrating this day as the greatest day of their lives. They are gathering around the nearest television set in their villages all over Bangladesh , along with other villagers, to watch the proceedings of this ceremony.

This years' prize gives highest honour and dignity to the hundreds of millions of women all around the world who struggle every day to make a living and bring hope for a better life for their children. This is a historic moment for them.

Poverty is a Threat to Peace
Ladies and Gentlemen:
By giving us this prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has given important support to the proposition that peace is inextricably linked to poverty. Poverty is a threat to peace.

World's income distribution gives a very telling story. Ninety four percent of the world income goes to 40 percent of the population while sixty percent of people live on only 6 per cent of world income. Half of the world population lives on two dollars a day. Over one billion people live on less than a dollar a day. This is no formula for peace.

The new millennium began with a great global dream. World leaders gathered at the United Nations in 2000 and adopted, among others, a historic goal to reduce poverty by half by 2015. Never in human history had such a bold goal been adopted by the entire world in one voice, one that specified time and size. But then came September 11 and the Iraq war, and suddenly the world became derailed from the pursuit of this dream, with the attention of world leaders shifting from the war on poverty to the war on terrorism. Till now over $ 530 billion has been spent on the war in Iraq by the USA alone.

I believe terrorism cannot be won over by military action. Terrorism must be condemned in the strongest language. We must stand solidly against it, and find all the means to end it. We must address the root causes of terrorism to end it for all time to come. I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy than spending it on guns.

Poverty is Denial of All Human Rights
Peace should be understood in a human way in a broad social, political and economic way. Peace is threatened by unjust economic, social and political order, absence of democracy, environmental degradation and absence of human rights.

Poverty is the absence of all human rights. The frustrations, hostility and anger generated by abject poverty cannot sustain peace in any society. For building stable peace we must find ways to provide opportunities for people to live decent lives.

The creation of opportunities for the majority of people - the poor - is at the heart of the work that we have dedicated ourselves to during the past 30 years.

Grameen Bank
I became involved in the poverty issue not as a policymaker or a researcher. I became involved because poverty was all around me, and I could not turn away from it. In 1974, I found it difficult to teach elegant theories of economics in the university classroom, in the backdrop of a terrible famine in Bangladesh . Suddenly, I felt the emptiness of those theories in the face of crushing hunger and poverty. I wanted to do something immediate to help people around me, even if it was just one human being, to get through another day with a little more ease. That brought me face to face with poor people's struggle to find the tiniest amounts of money to support their efforts to eke out a living. I was shocked to discover a woman in the village, borrowing less than a dollar from the money-lender, on the condition that he would have the exclusive right to buy all she produces at the price he decides. This, to me, was a way of recruiting slave labor.

I decided to make a list of the victims of this money-lending "business" in the village next door to our campus. When my list was done, it had the names of 42 victims who borrowed a total amount of US $ 27. I offered US $ 27 from my own pocket to get these victims out of the clutches of those money-lenders. The excitement that was created among the people by this small action got me further involved in it. If I could make so many people so happy with such a tiny amount of money, why not do more of it?

That is what I have been trying to do ever since. The first thing I did was to try to persuade the bank located in the campus to lend money to the poor. But that did not work. The bank said that the poor were not creditworthy. After all my efforts, over several months, failed I offered to become a guarantor for the loans to the poor. I was stunned by the result. The poor paid back their loans, on time, every time! But still I kept confronting difficulties in expanding the program through the existing banks. That was when I decided to create a separate bank for the poor, and in 1983, I finally succeeded in doing that. I named it Grameen Bank or Village bank.

Today, Grameen Bank gives loans to nearly 7.0 million poor people, 97 per cent of whom are women, in 73,000 villages in Bangladesh . Grameen Bank gives collateral-free income generating, housing, student and micro-enterprise loans to the poor families and offers a host of attractive savings, pension funds and insurance products for its members. Since it introduced them in 1984, housing loans have been used to construct 640,000 houses. The legal ownership of these houses belongs to the women themselves. We focused on women because we found giving loans to women always brought more benefits to the family.

In a cumulative way the bank has given out loans totaling about US $ 6.0 billion. The repayment rate is 99%. Grameen Bank routinely makes profit. Financially, it is self-reliant and has not taken donor money since 1995. Deposits and own resources of Grameen Bank today amount to 143 per cent of all outstanding loans. According to Grameen Bank's internal survey, 58 per cent of our borrowers have crossed the poverty line.

Grameen Bank was born as a tiny homegrown project run with the help of several of my students, all local girls and boys. Three of these students are still with me in Grameen Bank, after all these years, as its topmost executives. They are here today to receive this honour you give us.

This idea, which began in Jobra, a small village in Bangladesh , has spread around the world and there are now Grameen type programs in almost every country.

Second Generation
It is 30 years now since we began. We keep looking at the children of our borrowers to see what has been the impact of our work on their lives. The women who are our borrowers always gave topmost priority to the children. One of the Sixteen Decisions developed and followed by them was to send children to school. Grameen Bank encouraged them, and before long all the children were going to school. Many of these children made it to the top of their class. We wanted to celebrate that, so we introduced scholarships for talented students. Grameen Bank now gives 30,000 scholarships every year.

Many of the children went on to higher education to become doctors, engineers, college teachers and other professionals. We introduced student loans to make it easy for Grameen students to complete higher education. Now some of them have PhD's. There are 13,000 students on student loans. Over 7,000 students are now added to this number annually.

We are creating a completely new generation that will be well equipped to take their families way out of the reach of poverty. We want to make a break in the historical continuation of poverty.

Beggars Can Turn to Business
In Bangladesh 80 percent of the poor families have already been reached with microcredit. We are hoping that by 2010, 100 per cent of the poor families will be reached.

Three years ago we started an exclusive programme focusing on the beggars. None of Grameen Bank's rules apply to them. Loans are interest-free; they can pay whatever amount they wish, whenever they wish. We gave them the idea to carry small merchandise such as snacks, toys or household items, when they went from house to house for begging. The idea worked. There are now 85,000 beggars in the program. About 5,000 of them have already stopped begging completely. Typical loan to a beggar is $ 12.

We encourage and support every conceivable intervention to help the poor fight out of poverty. We always advocate microcredit in addition to all other interventions, arguing that microcredit makes those interventions work better.

Information Technology for the Poor
Information and communication technology (ICT) is quickly changing the world, creating distanceless, borderless world of instantaneous communications. Increasingly, it is becoming less and less costly. I saw an opportunity for the poor people to change their lives if this technology could be brought to them to meet their needs.

As a first step to bring ICT to the poor we created a mobile phone company, Grameen Phone. We gave loans from Grameen Bank to the poor women to buy mobile phones to sell phone services in the villages. We saw the synergy between microcredit and ICT.

The phone business was a success and became a coveted enterprise for Grameen borrowers. Telephone-ladies quickly learned and innovated the ropes of the telephone business, and it has become the quickest way to get out of poverty and to earn social respectability. Today there are nearly 300,000 telephone ladies providing telephone service in all the villages of Bangladesh . Grameen Phone has more than 10 million subscribers, and is the largest mobile phone company in the country. Although the number of telephone-ladies is only a small fraction of the total number of subscribers, they generate 19 per cent of the revenue of the company. Out of the nine board members who are attending this grand ceremony today 4 are telephone-ladies.

Grameen Phone is a joint-venture company owned by Telenor of Norway and Grameen Telecom of Bangladesh . Telenor owns 62 per cent share of the company, Grameen Telecom owns 38 per cent. Our vision was to ultimately convert this company into a social business by giving majority ownership to the poor women of Grameen Bank. We are working towards that goal. Someday Grameen Phone will become another example of a big enterprise owned by the poor.

Free Market Economy
Capitalism centers on the free market. It is claimed that the freer the market, the better is the result of capitalism in solving the questions of what, how, and for whom. It is also claimed that the individual search for personal gains brings collective optimal result.

I am in favor of strengthening the freedom of the market. At the same time, I am very unhappy about the conceptual restrictions imposed on the players in the market. This originates from the assumption that entrepreneurs are one-dimensional human beings, who are dedicated to one mission in their business lives to maximize profit. This interpretation of capitalism insulates the entrepreneurs from all political, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental dimensions of their lives. This was done perhaps as a reasonable simplification, but it stripped away the very essentials of human life.

Human beings are a wonderful creation embodied with limitless human qualities and capabilities. Our theoretical constructs should make room for the blossoming of those qualities, not assume them away.

Many of the world's problems exist because of this restriction on the players of free-market. The world has not resolved the problem of crushing poverty that half of its population suffers. Healthcare remains out of the reach of the majority of the world population. The country with the richest and freest market fails to provide healthcare for one-fifth of its population.

We have remained so impressed by the success of the free-market that we never dared to express any doubt about our basic assumption. To make it worse, we worked extra hard to transform ourselves, as closely as possible, into the one-dimensional human beings as conceptualized in the theory, to allow smooth functioning of free market mechanism.

By defining "entrepreneur" in a broader way we can change the character of capitalism radically, and solve many of the unresolved social and economic problems within the scope of the free market. Let us suppose an entrepreneur, instead of having a single source of motivation (such as, maximizing profit), now has two sources of motivation, which are mutually exclusive, but equally compelling a) maximization of profit and b) doing good to people and the world.

Each type of motivation will lead to a separate kind of business. Let us call the first type of business a profit-maximizing business, and the second type of business as social business.

Social business will be a new kind of business introduced in the market place with the objective of making a difference in the world. Investors in the social business could get back their investment, but will not take any dividend from the company. Profit would be ploughed back into the company to expand its outreach and improve the quality of its product or service. A social business will be a non-loss, non-dividend company.

Once social business is recognized in law, many existing companies will come forward to create social businesses in addition to their foundation activities. Many activists from the non-profit sector will also find this an attractive option. Unlike the non-profit sector where one needs to collect donations to keep activities going, a social business will be self-sustaining and create surplus for expansion since it is a non-loss enterprise. Social business will go into a new type of capital market of its own, to raise capital.

Young people all around the world, particularly in rich countries, will find the concept of social business very appealing since it will give them a challenge to make a difference by using their creative talent. Many young people today feel frustrated because they cannot see any worthy challenge, which excites them, within the present capitalist world. Socialism gave them a dream to fight for. Young people dream about creating a perfect world of their own.

Almost all social and economic problems of the world will be addressed through social businesses. The challenge is to innovate business models and apply them to produce desired social results cost-effectively and efficiently. Healthcare for the poor, financial services for the poor, information technology for the poor, education and training for the poor, marketing for the poor, renewable energy - these are all exciting areas for social businesses.

Social business is important because it addresses very vital concerns of mankind. It can change the lives of the bottom 60 per cent of world population and help them to get out of poverty.

Grameen's Social Business
Even profit maximizing companies can be designed as social businesses by giving full or majority ownership to the poor. This constitutes a second type of social business. Grameen Bank falls under this category of social business.

The poor could get the shares of these companies as gifts by donors, or they could buy the shares with their own money. The borrowers with their own money buy Grameen Bank shares, which cannot be transferred to non-borrowers. A committed professional team does the day-to-day running of the bank.

Bilateral and multi-lateral donors could easily create this type of social business. When a donor gives a loan or a grant to build a bridge in the recipient country, it could create a "bridge company" owned by the local poor. A committed management company could be given the responsibility of running the company. Profit of the company will go to the local poor as dividend, and towards building more bridges. Many infrastructure projects, like roads, highways, airports, seaports, utility companies could all be built in this manner.

Grameen has created two social businesses of the first type. One is a yogurt factory, to produce fortified yogurt to bring nutrition to malnourished children, in a joint venture with Danone. It will continue to expand until all malnourished children of Bangladesh are reached with this yogurt. Another is a chain of eye-care hospitals. Each hospital will undertake 10,000 cataract surgeries per year at differentiated prices to the rich and the poor.

Social Stock Market
To connect investors with social businesses, we need to create social stock market where only the shares of social businesses will be traded. An investor will come to this stock-exchange with a clear intention of finding a social business, which has a mission of his liking. Anyone who wants to make money will go to the existing stock-market.

To enable a social stock-exchange to perform properly, we will need to create rating agencies, standardization of terminology, definitions, impact measurement tools, reporting formats, and new financial publications, such as, The Social Wall Street Journal. Business schools will offer courses and business management degrees on social businesses to train young managers how to manage social business enterprises in the most efficient manner, and, most of all, to inspire them to become social business entrepreneurs themselves.

Role of Social Businesses in Globalization
I support globalization and believe it can bring more benefits to the poor than its alternative. But it must be the right kind of globalization. To me, globalization is like a hundred-lane highway criss-crossing the world. If it is a free-for-all highway, its lanes will be taken over by the giant trucks from powerful economies. Bangladeshi rickshaw will be thrown off the highway. In order to have a win-win globalization we must have traffic rules, traffic police, and traffic authority for this global highway. Rule of "strongest takes it all" must be replaced by rules that ensure that the poorest have a place and piece of the action, without being elbowed out by the strong. Globalization must not become financial imperialism.

Powerful multi-national social businesses can be created to retain the benefit of globalization for the poor people and poor countries. Social businesses will either bring ownership to the poor people, or keep the profit within the poor countries, since taking dividends will not be their objective. Direct foreign investment by foreign social businesses will be exciting news for recipient countries. Building strong economies in the poor countries by protecting their national interest from plundering companies will be a major area of interest for the social businesses.

We Create What We Want
We get what we want, or what we don't refuse. We accept the fact that we will always have poor people around us, and that poverty is part of human destiny. This is precisely why we continue to have poor people around us. If we firmly believe that poverty is unacceptable to us, and that it should not belong to a civilized society, we would have built appropriate institutions and policies to create a poverty-free world.

We wanted to go to the moon, so we went there. We achieve what we want to achieve. If we are not achieving something, it is because we have not put our minds to it. We create what we want.

What we want and how we get to it depends on our mindsets. It is extremely difficult to change mindsets once they are formed. We create the world in accordance with our mindset. We need to invent ways to change our perspective continually and reconfigure our mindset quickly as new knowledge emerges. We can reconfigure our world if we can reconfigure our mindset.

We Can Put Poverty in the Museums
I believe that we can create a poverty-free world because poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social system that we have designed for ourselves; the institutions and concepts that make up that system; the policies that we pursue.

Poverty is created because we built our theoretical framework on assumptions which under-estimates human capacity, by designing concepts, which are too narrow (such as concept of business, credit- worthiness, entrepreneurship, employment) or developing institutions, which remain half-done (such as financial institutions, where poor are left out). Poverty is caused by the failure at the conceptual level, rather than any lack of capability on the part of people.

I firmly believe that we can create a poverty-free world if we collectively believe in it. In a poverty-free world, the only place you would be able to see poverty is in the poverty museums. When school children take a tour of the poverty museums, they would be horrified to see the misery and indignity that some human beings had to go through. They would blame their forefathers for tolerating this inhuman condition, which existed for so long, for so many people. A human being is born into this world fully equipped not only to take care of him or herself, but also to contribute to enlarging the well being of the world as a whole. Some get the chance to explore their potential to some degree, but many others never get any opportunity, during their lifetime, to unwrap the wonderful gift they were born with. They die unexplored and the world remains deprived of their creativity, and their contribution.

Grameen has given me an unshakeable faith in the creativity of human beings. This has led me to believe that human beings are not born to suffer the misery of hunger and poverty.

To me poor people are like bonsai trees. When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a flower-pot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted, only the soil-base that is too inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong in their seeds. Simply, society never gave them the base to grow on. All it needs to get the poor people out of poverty for us to create an enabling environment for them. Once the poor can unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly.

Let us join hands to give every human being a fair chance to unleash their energy and creativity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me conclude by expressing my deep gratitude to the Norwegian Nobel Committee for recognizing that poor people, and especially poor women, have both the potential and the right to live a decent life, and that microcredit helps to unleash that potential.

I believe this honor that you give us will inspire many more bold initiatives around the world to make a historical breakthrough in ending global poverty.
Thank you very much.

Defending Human Rights the Buddha Way - Prof. Kunal Chattopadhyay

10th December was observed as Human Rights Day all
over the world, including in West Bengal. The
interesting thing about West Bengal was the programme
organized by the State Human Rights Commission. In the
presence of Shyamal Kumar Sen, the Chairperson of the
Human Rights Commission, West Bengal Chief Minister
Buddhadev Bhattacharjee explained that there is a
difference between preserving human rights and
hobbling the police. When it is a matter of fighting
terrorists, police should not be demoralized by
criticisms. Excesses against terrorists should not be
viewed as human rights abuse.

This speech by Mr. Bhattacharjee came just five days
after The Telegraph, English language paper claiming
to be most widely circulated in West Bengal, wrote an
editorial, where it advocated a very hard line against
Maoists. It argued: “The menace of Maoist violence is
not new to West Bengal. When it had first surfaced in
the late Sixties and early Seventies, it was
eradicated through counter-violence. Mr Bhattacharjee
must learn from that experience and nip the present
movement in the bud before Maoist weeds strangle the
hundred flowers of West Bengal.”

There is a pattern in this approach. And that pattern
is called drive to authoritarianism. It is possible to
conduct seemingly democratic elections, when an
organised cadre force, backed by the police at need,
threatens and cows the whole of rural Bengal, as well
as substantial parts of cities, before election time.
At that stage, a few protests do emerge, and of
necessity, some of them become violent. Every violent
protest can then be labelled Maoist, or terrorist. If
this sounds too outlandish, we should remember some
news The Telegraph or Ganashakti never published. A
few years back, there was a panic (and manic) arrest
of people suspected to be Maoists. Now the CPI(Maoist)
or its predecessors, the CPI(ML) PW and the MCC, were
not banned organisations in West Bengal. But people
were picked up on suspicion, tortured, harassed. One
man named Abhijit Sinha was so shattered by his
experiences that he committed suicide. An Association
for the Protection of Democratic Rights activist was
arrested for possessing, among other things, a copy of
>From Marx to Mao Tse-tung, written by George Thomson.
This is a book any political science M.A. student
might consult. In May 2002, Sheila Roy and Mamata Ray
in North Bengal were suspected of being close to the
Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, and were made to
stand in the courtyard of their own house and brutally
beaten up. Mithu Roy and Shampa were two of the urban
women arrested in this phase. Shampa, a first year
student of Gurudas College, was arrested for being a
member of the Peoples’ War Group.On 16th August 2002,
she was presented before the Baharampur Court, and
told the judge that for the past four days she had
been kept in the police lock up without any food.

Coming to recent events, like the peasant protest at
Singur, we have had a very interesting development.
First, a sizeable part of the mass media (not
including The Statesman and the Bengali Dainik
Statesman) has been supporting the ruling party and
the government to such an extent that even honest
reporting of news has been given a go by. Just like
the CPI(M), these papers went on repeating that only
outsiders were fomenting trouble. An English daily
even sought to link up every issue in West Bengal with
Singur. A train hijack was associated with Singur. And
the responsibility for the violence in Singur was laid
on the doors of Maoists coming from outside. As a
matter of fact, the Chief Minister was even more
explicit. According to him, these were Maoists from
Jadavpur University. Yet, eyewitness accounts, police
arrest lists, all show that in fact, most of the
people were locals, and it was a massive police force
that committed violence, entering peoples’ houses,
often helped by local members or supporters of a
particular party, and dragging out and beating up
people. One woman, Swapna Banerjee of Nari Nirjatan
Pratirodh Mancha, was arrested, and a widely
circulated English daily promptly turned her into the
key Maoist organiser. The police also treated her in
the same way. So she was taken to the police lock up,
and according to her own testimony, she was locked up
inside the toilet. Even after the bail petition was
granted by the Calcutta High Court, it took nearly 48
hours before she was released.

In another case, Abhishek Mukherjee, a young man who
had suposedly attacked a Tata showroom, was charged
with ‘Conspiracy Against the State’.

Just these few cases give an indication of the utter
lawlessness of the police in West Bengal. If some
minister or CPI(M) functionary turns up to say, as
they are doing these days, that the police always
behaves like this, we need to turn to the Chief
Minister’s comments. We do not, at least according to
the Constitution of India, live in a police state. We
live in a democratic state, says the constitution.
There is a rule of law, not a rule by the police, says
the constitution. Every person is presumed innocent,
till found guilty by a court of law, in a trial where
proper procedures are followed and the accused have
full rights to defend themselves. The elected
government is supposed to represent the people, not
rule it like a medieval ruler with his soldiers.

If our “Marxists” wish to show contempt for the
constitution, we should pay heed to the attitude of
Marx and Engels. Writing to August Bebel in 1874,
Engels commented: a free state is one in which the
state is free vis-a-vis its citizens, a state, that
is, with a despotic government. So for Marx and
Engels, the aim was to maximize democratic popular
control over the state. As Marx put it about the same
time: Freedom consists in converting the state from an
organ superimposed upon society into one completely
subordinate to it. And near the end of his life,
Engels dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s when he
explained that the dictatorship of the proletariat he
and Marx had talked about was realised by the Paris
Commune, which had an absolutely democratic,
pluralistic, multi-party government, accountable to
the people.

So what is Mr. Bhattacharjee arguing for? What are
certain newspapers urging him to do? We can now put it
down in simple terms. Mr. Bhattacharjee believes that
if he wins elections, this gives him a mandate for
riding roughshod over every oppositional viewpoint,
emerging from all layers of society. He and his
government are willing to allow people the right to
protest if police have actually beaten a suspected
thief to death. But for any matter relating to
government policy, civil society protest will not be
tolerated. First, it will be branded anti-development.
Then there will be the charge of being ‘outsiders’.
And finally terrorism related accusations would be
brought forth. Once that is done, the police would
have the right to apply any manner of brutality,
without being challenged. For after all, the Chief
Minster says criticising them when they are fighting
terrorists will break their morale. And then they will
shoot people in the back, claiming these were
encounter deaths. This was how the Naxalite movement
was broken in the early 1970s.

What the turncoats from Marxism and the liberal
ex-professors of History do not seem to realise is the
simple lesson of history, that once we create a police
state, it does not stop with the “right” victims. When
the Weimar Constitution, hailed as the most democratic
of constitutions, was created, it left one loophole
for emergency rule. This loophole would be used for
years to rule without a parliamentary majority,
further whittle down democratic rights, till that in
turn paved the way for Hitler’s rise to power. The
Maintenance of internal Security Act was originally
brought forward by Mrs. Indira Gandhi ostensibly to
fight Naxalites. In 1975, leaders and cadres of every
opposition party realised that by not fighting tooth
and nail against the MISA, they had created the
situation where they too could be arrested and put
under bars.

We can of course understand the motivations. Hailing
from a Stalinist tradition, Mr. Bhattacharjee and his
party are people who never recognised real right to
dissent. They remain one of the few big political
parties in the world that even today believes that the
genocide (of communists, of peasants not willing to
hand over land for collectivisation, of national
minorities) carried out by Josef Stalin was really
good, and it “built socialism”. So even when they give
up socialism and opt for globalised capitalism, they
have not changed their methodology.

As for that section of the media yelling for blood, we
can understand their motives too. Liberalism comes in
two basic forms, within which there has always been a
contradiction. Political liberalism stresses civil
liberties. Economic liberalism stresses the right of
capital above all. If, to uphold that, political
rights like civil liberties have to be jettisoned, so
be it. Behind the seemingly proper words
“counter-violence” lies the reality that the state is
being asked to ignore all constitutional guarantees.
We have, under the tender ministrations of Mr.
Bhattacharjee, already slipped a long way down that
road. Unless we act at once, the result will be
terrible, not just for Maoists, but for all of us who
value our democratic rights.

[*] The author is Professor of History, Jadavpur
Professor Kunal Chattopadhyay
Department of History, Jadavpur University
Res. 2 Palm Place, Appt #1B, Kolkata-700019
Tel: (O) 91-33-24146962; (R) 91-33-40088174
Cell: 09831398301

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Integrating Work and Education - Vinod Raina

Interest in linking and integrating work with education appears to have been rekindled by the National Curriculum Framework 2005 since it not only contains a whole section devoted to it, but also had a focus group that prepared a separate report on the subject (called FGR hereafter).

One says rekindled because active interest in this area has dwindled over the years, but for stray references to Gandhi’s views on the subject and his nai talim. There could be various reasons for that, but the major one seems to be the misplaced but growing fascination of curriculum framers in the past decade or two to address the question of ‘knowledge explosion’, demanding an increasing addition of fairly meaningless and disjointed facts from ‘thrust areas’ in the curriculum, mostly tested through memory-based examination systems. Though never clearly stated, such mindless approach to curriculum framing has operated with an inherent bias as to what constitutes legitimate knowledge. What is ignored in curriculum frameworks and resulting syllabi must therefore not be worth teaching, would be the obvious conclusion of persons who finally get down to writing textbooks. Work related knowledge of the majority of Indian population has therefore been continuously delegitimised, notwithstanding Gandhian exhortations to the contrary.

Though the attempt of the NCF2005 to regenerate interest in this critical area needs to be welcomed, it would appear that the subject has not been analysed in the kind of depth and range that would be necessary if the objective was to ensure implementation, rather than one more academic essay for future researchers to comment upon. The FGR and its summary in the main part of NCF2005 rightly attempts to distinguish between vocational education and work-centered education but in my opinion, one needs to examine the issue in a much more multi-dimensional manner in order to arrive at strategies that may facilitate implementation. These other dimensions would include, in addition to the pedagogic issue, the historical debate between liberal and work based education, links between labour and education, locating within dominant political ideologies, and the human and institutional requirements to implement a work-based mass education system.

Liberal and Vocational education

The familiar conflict between liberal and vocational education stems from the concept of streaming, whereby liberal education is seen as a vehicle for mobility into ‘high culture’ and prestige, and vocational education as a means that assigns working class, dalit and minority youth to a narrowly “practical school experience, limiting their educational access to mobility, and stigmatizing them as incapable of learning anything worthwhile, ‘academic’ subjects and skills”[1]. Many educationists and philosophers have, in recent times, however questioned the apparent dichotomy between liberal and vocational education[2]. Richard Pring, for example has argued for a broadening and reformulating of the liberal ideal so as to embrace the idea of vocational relevance, along with practical intelligence, personal development and social and community relevance[3]. Similarly, Christopher Winch has developed a detailed and rich conception of vocational education, embracing concerns about ‘moral and spiritual well-being alongside notions of economic and political goods[4].

Pring’s approach could be called more pedagogic since he disbelieves the perceived diametrical opposition between liberal and vocational education. In particular, he questions that: “the vocational, properly taught, cannot itself be liberating –a way into those forms of knowledge through which a person is freed from ignorance, and opened to new imaginings, new possibilities: the craftsman who finds aesthetic delight in the objects of his craft, the technician who sees the science behind the artifact, the reflective teacher making theoretical sense of practice”. (Pring, 1995)

The concern to reconcile vocation with education is however old, and runs across various ideological streams, though for differing reasons, as we shall presently discuss. Going with Proudhon that “the work a man did was something to be proud of, it was what gave interest, value and dignity to his life’, Smith extended the idea thus: “An education that was divorced from the world of work, that is, an education that was bookish and grammar-schoolish in conception, was valueless from the point of view of ordinary working class children. Of course, an education that went too far in the other direction, which brought up children merely to be the fodder for factories, was equally unacceptable. What was required was an education which could equip a child for the work-place but would also give him a degree of independence in the labour market.”[5]

It is customary, and rightly so, to invoke Gandhi when vocation and work are prefixed to education in India. Henry Fagg [6] in his slim volume has tried to locate Gandhi’s ideas of nai talim within the politics and issues that prevailed in 1937 when Gandhi, at the ripe age of 67, made his radical proposals for mass education that he thought were appropriate for India. It has remained a matter of debate whether Gandhi advocated work-based education as a means of self-support in order to circumvent his disappointment regarding the inability of the state to fund universal education, or as a pedagogic necessity, or both. His plea for adequate finances for universal education was met with a response that if at all, the way out was to utilize revenues from liquor sales. That meant he had to either give up his stand on prohibition, or his plea for universal education with state support, which he expressed quite plainly: “the cruellest irony of the new reforms lies in the fact that we are left with nothing but liquor revenue to fall back upon, in order to give our children education”[7].

This seems to have led Gandhi to propose a national system of education that would be self-sufficient, rather than solely dependent on state funding thus: “but as a nation we are so backward in education that we cannot hope to fulfill our obligations to the nation in this respect in a given time during this generation, if the programme is to depend on money. I have therefore made bold, even at the risk of losing all reputation for constructive ability, to suggest that education should be self-supporting …. I would therefore begin the child’s education by teaching it a useful handicraft and enabling it to produce from the moment it begins training. Thus every school can be made self-supporting, the condition being that the State take over the manufacture of these schools”[8].

His enthusiasm for self-support was expressed more forcefully after Narhari Parikh, a teacher at the Harijan Ashram at Sabarmati provided figures in defense of self-supported education from his school. This led Gandhi to assert that:

“Public schools must be frauds and teachers idiots, if they cannot become self-supporting” and, “corporate labour should be, say after the first year of the course, worth one anna per hour. Thus for twenty-six working days of four hours per day, each child will have earned Rs. 6-8 per month….We should be intellectual bankrupts, if we cannot direct the energy of our children so as to get from them, after a year’s training, one anna worth of marketable labour per hour”.

That he clearly saw links between education and vocation in terms of alleviating unemployment is clear from his answer to a questioner: “you impart education and simultaneously cut at the roots of unemployment”[9].

The self-sufficiency argument of Gandhi strongly suggests that he was professing an income generating vocational education. It is well known that one of his dissenters to this approach was none other than Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore considered the emphasis on vocation and training in Gandhi’s formulations deeply reductionist, asserting that the purpose of education was liberative rather than merely vocational. He in particular took exception to Gandhi’s emphasis on weaving education around the Charkha. The two engaged in a fascinating public debate on these issues.[10]

Gandhi of course did stress on the pedagogic importance of linking work to education, pleading for a system that considered work as a starting point to delve into history, geography, technology and science, exemplified by his famous passage about the use of takli to learn not only about spinning, but the history and geography of cotton, history and technology of the spinning wheel and so on, thus anticipating the ideas of Pring, Winch etc. many years earlier. He also stressed on the nurturing of the ‘cooperative’ and ‘peaceful’ values in children, when work was the basis of learning, rather than mindless rote learning. Above all, he pleaded for an education that would integrate the head, heart and the hand.

In an article written in May 1937 entitled ‘Intellectual Development or Dissipation?’, Gandhi developed the central premise that ‘Man is neither mere intellect nor the gross animal body, nor the heart and soul alone. A proper and harmonious combination of all the three is required for the making of the whole man and constitutes the true economics of education’. He then gave the outline of his vision of an alternative pedagogy:

“As against this, take the case of a child in whom the education of the heart is attended from the very beginning. Supposing he is set to some useful occupation like spinning, carpentry, agriculture etc., for his education and in that connection is given a thorough and comprehensive knowledge relating to the theory of the various operations that he is to perform and the use and construction of tools that he would be wielding. He would not only develop a fine, healthy body but also a sound, vigorous intellect that is not merely academic but is firmly rooted in and is tested from day to day by experience. His intellectual education would include knowledge of mathematics and the various sciences that are useful for an intelligent and efficient exercise of his avocation. If to this is added literature by way of recreation, it would give him a perfect well-balanced, all round education in which the intellect, the body and the spirit have all full play and develop together into a natural, harmonious whole”[11].

It would appear that Gandhi was trying to do many things through his radical suggestions linking work with education. Along with deeply philosophical perceptions regarding the purpose of education, he seems to have been trying to solve practical problems like funding for education and unemployment. It does become somewhat difficult to separate the philosophical and the instrumentalist in his formulations. The Tagore-Gandhi exchange aptly highlights the contested nature of the subject (missing in the NCF2005 and the FGR), since it provides insights to the resistance to the concept of work-based education even at the time of an emotionally charged atmosphere, conducive to do something new, during India’s independence. The intellectual and practical resistance to his views must have been considerable that in spite of his unquestionable stature, nai talim did not find favour for incorporation into mainstream education and was experimented as a non-state alternative. Identifying such resistances would seem to be vitally important in forging an implementational strategy sixty years later, in an India that is radically less conducive to Gandhi’s thinking. It is important to point out that the repeated reference in the FGR to the ‘Brahamanical mindset’ as the single most dominant resistance to Gandhian ideas may in fact be quite wrong. Because it would imply as if the dalits and low-castes saw merit in Gandhian ideas, and were opposed by the ruling high-castes. The situation in fact is quite the opposite.

Ideology and work-based education

Where as pedagogical considerations constitute issues internal to the educational discourse, mass education never is independent of external factors; political ideology being the most prominent. The NCF2005 states up front that it has deliberately side-stepped such issues in order not to indulge in ‘blame game’. Where as the merit of such a stance has been debated in relation to the history textbooks controversy, the absence of such an engagement in relation to work and education is very surprising, since work and labour are deeply political categories, and an absence of such engagement can lead to fairly erroneous conclusions.

There seems to be an implicit assumption in the FGR that the deprived, marginalized, dalit and toiling masses have a common enemy that is resisting vocationalised education, namely the Brahaminical elites. This evades the issue that one of the strongest opposition to vocational/ised education has in fact come from the dalits. This has to do with the very notion of the ‘worker’, and the historical social formations around work. Without reference to that, statements regarding the political left can also become misleading, as they have in the FGR, when it universlises Gandhi’s approach by stating that ‘similar experiments have been done in erstwhile U.S.S.R and other socialist countries’.

Let us consider vocationalisation in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries first. Gandhi’s vision of education was intrinsically located in the realities of rural India, as was his system of governance and essential production. At the forefront therefore to him was the carpenter, the blacksmith, the potter, the artisan, the handicraft maker, the agricultural labourer and so on. When he talked of vocationalising, he clearly had work related to such professions in mind. For the emerging Soviet Union of the 1920’s, education was intrinsically related to the creation of a massive industrial workforce. The rural artisan and peasant, very dear to Tolstoy (who greatly influenced Gandhi’s views in many ways)), was seen as a transitory phenomenon by the end of 1920’s (Anatoli Lunacharsky, who was charged by Lenin to put into place the Soviet education system stated around 1925 that Tolstoy’s artisan-based education might be allowed to continue for sometime, till it was replaced by industrial worker-based education). The development paradigm was rooted in massive industrialisation and collective farming, to replace household production and feudal agriculture. Work-based education, either through labour schools or polytechnics was therefore not related to handicraft but big industry. More importantly, the motivation was not merely pedagogic, it was deeply political. Class struggle being intrinsic to the Marxist thesis, creating class consciousness amongst the workers was integral to the Soviet education, and was simply called propaganda education. Treating such work-based education in the same manner as nai-talim can therefore be quite misleading, the political visions and developmental outcomes being very different.

It might be pertinent to refer to the US around the beginning of the 20th century here. Philanthropists worried about the problems of poor youth started small vocational programs outside the public schools around 1880’s. Between 1890 and 1910, vocational education in the narrow sense of job preparation attracted the support of a diverse range of social and economic interests. The National Association of Manufacturers was a strong advocate, pushing for schooling that would prepare workers for factories and workshops. After initial hesitation, labour unions supported and participated in these efforts.

As is evident, the nature of vocational/ised education is deeply entrenched within the political ideology that promotes it, in particular the development paradigm under which it operates. For a class struggle-based industrial workforce of the erstwhile Soviet Union, work-based education is deeply ideological; for the capitalist US industry of the early 20th century, it is mostly vocational education to prepare a disciplined workforce; and for Gandhi it was deeply linked to his ideal of India that would live mostly in villages, and produce locally in a manner that was harmonious with nature.

To put it simply, the nation was clearly divided, rightly or wrongly, regarding such a future at the time of independence. As protagonists of the modern industrial India, the Governments that came in right after independence embarked on an industrial paradigm to which Gandhi’s nai talim seemed irrelevant. Rightly or wrongly again, it has to be conceded that that was the dominant political consensus of the times.

Amongst the major dissenters of the Gandhian paradigm, then and now, are people for whom, perhaps, Gandhi was most concerned about, the dalits. Not only did they have his term for them, harijans, removed from the political lexicon, they have been vociferous in opposing any dilution of the liberating nature of Enlightenment values, in particular in the area of education. Spearheaded by the Columbia and London School of Economics trained economist, and barrister of law, Grey’s Inn, London decorated lawyer, the ‘untouchable’ Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the dalit vision of development, education and human rights are firmly entrenched in the modernization paradigm, far removed from that of Gandhi.

The dalit aversion to anything based on traditional vocation should hardly be surprising. Given that the caste system is entrenched in the hierarchy of vocations, most of the artisanal castes being at the bottom of the hierarchy, relating them to education is viewed as a means of maintaining caste distinctions rather than obliterating them through liberal education. Vocation based education is tantamount to caste based education from this viewpoint.

I firmly believe that the major challenge to bring in work-based education in India would not be so much pedagogic, or formulation of policies. It is a political challenge; a negotiation with the liberal, left and the dalit points of view, in order to establish that work-based education can be progressive and emancipatory, both in a class and caste sense. The strong reaction of a section of left intellectuals and academics to the inclusion of local knowledge (artisanal or agricultural work would by definition derive from local knowledge systems) in the teaching-learning process, as proposed by the NCF2005 clearly indicates that the sites of resistance to work-based education are deeply ideological, and are not confined merely to the self-interests of the middle-class that views the dominant liberal system of education as conducive to their vocations.

The case for work-based education: Labour and Education

Sixty years onwards from the time of independence, we have the advantage of looking back how the system of education has proceeded, which formulations have been validated, and which have turned out to be flawed. To do so we could pose the question sharply: Has the predominantly liberal mode of education that the state opted for at the time of independence acted favourably to reduce inequalities amongst class, caste, gender and minorities; and has it transformed a majority of country’s population to creative, productive and secure citizens? The answer has to be a resounding no[12].

A few figures should help to support the answer. Even though the literacy rate has increased from around 21% at the time of independence, from a total population of around three hundred millions, to around 68% in 2001, out of a total population of around a billion, the absolute number of illiterates is greater than the population at the time of independence. This is of course related to the gross inadequacy of the school system. Where as it was constitutionally mandated that all children up to fourteen years of age should have received eight years of education by 1960, the situation in 2004 was that out of 21 crore children in the age-group 6-14, more than half, around 12 crore were never enrolled or dropped off by class eight, making a mockery of the constitutional mandates, which now includes the Right to Education for the 6-14 year olds guaranteed by the 86th amendment of 2002.

The progression beyond class 8 has been dismal. Only around 2.2 crore children are in classes 10 and 12, which reduces to half, 1.1 crores, in classes 11 and 12. Those in higher education number around a crore, most of them pursuing an utterly aimless undergraduate ‘liberal’ education degree in colleges that have been reduced to mediocre haunts.

The degree of exclusion by class eight is staggering, particularly the drop off rate of 52%. Where as the non-enrolment of over three crore children could be attributable to lack of access, the non-retention of around nine crore children, and the lack of adequate achievement of those who do remain in schools must surely have to do with the education that is transacted. Two attributes suggest themselves, that the education is uninteresting for children and it is irrelevant to their lives.

Creating interest is clearly a question of pedagogy; how to make teaching-learning more fun and less drudgery. Relevance is deeply developmental; requiring weaving education around the social, cultural and productive realities of a child, while empowering her to ‘liberate’ herself from the exigencies of her birth, experiences and social/economic constraints.

Quite clearly, livelihood considerations are related to education. An ‘educated’ unemployed is a serious problem, in as much it underscores the fact that the nation has invested in a person, without making him/her a productive citizen. The normal undergraduate and even post-graduate program would seem to be producing a large number of such unemployable youth. But the question could be asked: is that because jobs are not available or ‘suitably’ educated persons are not available for specific jobs?

That requires a scan of the labour profile of the country. In spite of the emphasis on industrialization in the initial five-year plans after independence, that could have created a large industrial proletariat, the labour force in the formal sector in India has remained abysmally low. In the decade and a half since the liberalization and privatization phase of the Indian economy, beginning 1991, where as the growth rate might is touching 8% per anum, it is accompanied by a decrease in formal employment, from 282.45 million in 1997 to 269.83 in 2003[13]. The decrease is most prominent in the public sector, from 195.59 millions to 184.49 millions, but evident too in the much hyped private sector, from 86.86millions to 85.34 millions in the said period. Unorganized labour however increased from 354 million to 390 million in the corresponding period, demonstrating clearly where the employment growth potential has been.

There is however a significant factor crucially linked to education within this employment scenario, which is the phenomenal growth of the service sector. The net decrease in formal employment is largely due to the decline in employment in the manufacturing/industrial sector, compensated by the increase in the service sector. This is also reflected in the disaggregated economic growth rates in the 10th plan period (2002-2006): the total growth rate was 7%, agriculture increased by a dismal 1.8%, industry by 8% and services by 8.9%.

The skewed nature of such development is evident from the fact that the sector that employs the largest labour namely agriculture is least productive economically, and the one that employs the least number of people, namely services, is the most productive.

What are the implications of this for vocational/ised education? It should remain undisputed that as far as integrating knowledge from non-organised areas of production, be that agriculture, artisanship, medicinal plants, forestry, construction, local water systems etc., are concerned, teaching-learning materials up to class 8 or 10 ought to be prepared in such a manner that they relate to the social, economic and cultural lives of the children, a majority of whom come from families of such backgrounds. The consequent relevance and identity of the school to the lives of the children, along with pedagogic methods that are interesting to the child might go a long way in arresting the massive drop-out rates, 52%,up to class 8.

The major question would be about purposeful streaming after class 10 and 12. It is evident that the existing undergraduate degree, in terms of quality, is neither a tonic for the mind, nor suitable for learning productive skills. The question is, if the vocational stream is to be enlarged at the 10+ and 12+ stages, along with improving the quality of the under and post graduate degrees, which directions should it take? The decline in the agricultural and industrial sectors and an increase in the service sector requires that we address this issue, in educational terms, with a fresh mind. The growth of the IT related service sector – call centers, outsourcing; and management related service sector require vocational programmes quite different from those pursued at existing ITI’s. Unfortunately, most of the educational needs in these areas are met today through the mushrooming of unregulated commercial fly-by-night shops, masquerading as private educational institutions; even as ‘universities’ as happened in Chattisgarh, where 52 such set-ups were granted university status, till the Supreme Court intervened. That is because the state has not responded to such vocational needs.

This of course doesn’t imply that vocational courses related to artisanship and agriculture are not required. One might in fact argue that if school education reflected the knowledge base of these sectors, that might provide an additional input to make these areas of production, where maximum labour is involved, more robust and active. However, one can also not overlook the over all constraints imposed by the developmental path the country unfortunately seems to be pursuing, which is higher growth rates with less employment.

Two things seem to be clear from these arguments. One that the hope that a very large part of the rural population would be proletarised as industrial workforce has remained a myth sixty years after independence, confirming Gandhi’s prophecy that India is essentially a nation of rural dwellers. Second, that instead of strengthening the rural economy, or creating manufacturing potential, hence employment, close to rural areas (as township manufacture in China has), India has stumbled on to the service sector, including IT related, as a major source of economy. Educational planning has however remained mute to such changes, and continues to blunder on with drop outs at lower stages and redundant degrees at higher stages, in a completely haphazard manner, benefiting dubious commercial education by default.

It has also to be recognized that the expansion of the service sector has given rise to aspirations, imposing educational demands that can be at complete variance with pedagogic principles. Take for example language. Crucial to the national system of education, as envisioned by Gandhi, elaborated by the Kothari Commission, and substantiated by researches all over the World, the use of local languages, if not mother tongue, in the formative years of formal education is critical to the creative growth of a child. Aspirations of parents and society at large for children, particularly in order to get a foothold in the IT related service sector is however pushing for increasing use of English as medium of instruction from the pre-primary level. Dalit organisations too favour learning in English as emancipatory, leading to dignity within the society. Can vocational/ised education remain immune to such demands? Learning English would in fact appear to be a major form of vocational education today!

Implementing work-based education

It is not as if NCF2005 is the first policy document favouring vocational/ised education. The Kothari Commission report and the National Policy on Education 1986, and its revised version of 1992 have already stated much of what NCF2005 contains. The question one may ask is: what have been the constraints on implementation?

Firstly, it is perhaps conceptual. Work-based education has mostly been interpreted as vocational education; a policy to create a separate vocational stream. Accordingly, we have seen the opening up of vocational education schools, or the addition of vocational education facilities in existing higher secondary schools. An overarching National Council for Vocational Education has also been set up, at Bhopal. Open schooling has also embraced the vocational stream, with the National Institute for Open Schooling (NIOS) and some state open schools offering a variety of courses.

It would appear that the National Knowledge Commission set up by the current UPA government in June 2005 has also been examining the question of production and work related knowledge in some detail. At a recent consultation on school education and literacy organized by the Commission, the Vice-Chairman of the Commission informed that their survey revealed that existing vocational institutions all together provide courses related to 80 vocations, most of them related to the formal sector. However, the Commission was reported to have compiled an exhaustive list of vocations covering both the formal and informal sectors, identifying 3000 vocations! So even at the level of streamed vocational education, a massive task awaits, in preparing courses in areas encompassing handicrafts, artisanship and other rural work.

This is quite different from integrating knowledge from areas of production, particularly from unorganized areas, into the mainstream liberal education. Evidently, such a task remains unattended. Will the publication of NCF2005 spur it on? Not unless attention is paid to the constraining factors. School books are made by the NCERT and state bodies like the SCERT’s/SIE’s/Boards. The faculties at these institutions and other textbook writers have mostly subject backgrounds, including from the Education discipline. It is obvious that they normally have no background, experience, knowledge, ability and hence inclination, to look beyond their subject areas (most of them also have no experience of having worked with school children, particularly rural). So in spite of what the policies might say, there are no matching institutional and human capacities to translate them into action; this has happened in the past and is likely to happen after the NCF2005.

In the first year after the NCF2005 when the NCERT has begun to write fresh books, I have formally participated in the effort as a member of a committee that is monitoring the new drafts. As a consequence, one gets an opportunity to read all the book drafts and interact with the writing groups. However one sees a great deal of resistance and throwing up of hands when it is pointed out to the writer groups how ‘knowledge from below’ could be incorporated, or generated from the children and teachers. The common responses are: ‘we don’t know how to do so; it is dangerous since the information is not validated; it will dilute the subject matter; that is not science/mathematics/history, or whatever’!

A mindset that considers codified liberal education as the only valid knowledge is unlikely to create teaching-learning material that incorporates knowledge from work. In contrast, while we were making textbooks in Eklavya for use in the government schools of Madhya Pradesh, not only were the rural school teachers (most of them also being farmers and artisans) participating in the process, but we would involve a carpenter, mason, farmer or other artisans wherever required. That is how chapters on leather tanning, bidi making, folk forms of mathematics, panchayat functioning, land, soil, and crops and so forth were written. Unless a similar process is initiated within the state owned textbook writing institutions, or people with such experience and understanding are involved in large numbers, rather than only cut and dry subject experts, implementation will not take place. The most evident example from the recent NCERT books is the class 3 mathematics book that has attempted to incorporate algorithms of folk mathematics, made possible because people behind it had worked in that area before, and believe in such integration. The class 6 mathematics book is however devoid of any such effort, possibly because its writers do not believe in the policy, no matter whether it is the NCF2005 or the Kothari Commission, or do not have the capacity to do so. The resulting approach, across the classes is therefore very uneven. But if that can be ironed out over the years, particularly in state level textbooks covering nearly 97% children is schools, it would be stupendous. That however would require a massive overhaul of the institutions responsible for textbook writing, teacher trainings and examinations. That, and not just writing policy, is the major challenge!

[1] Allen Graubard; Could Vocational Education be Progressive, Radical Teacher, Spring 2004, Center forCritical Education Inc.
[2] Judith Suissa; Vocational Education: a social anarchist perspective, Policy Futures in Education, Vol 2, No. 1, 2004
[3] Richad Pring; Closing the Gap: liberal education and vocational preparation, Hodder and Stoughton,1995, (in Judith Suissa, ibid)
[4] C. Winch; Education, Work and Social Capital; Towards a new conception of vocational education,Routledge, London, 2000
[5] M.Smith: The Libertarians and Education, George Allen and Unwin, 1983
[6] Henry Fagg; A Study of Gandhi’s Basic Education, National Book Trust, 2002
[7] Harijan 5:222, in Fagg, ibid
[8] Harijan 5:197, in Fagg, ibid
[9] Harijan 5:261, in Fagg, ibid
[10] Sabysachi Bhattacharya; The Poet and the Mahatma, National Book Trust
[11] Harijan; 5:104, in Fagg ibid
[12] Vinod Raina; Where do children go after class eight?, Seminar, July 2006
[13] Vinod Raina, ibid

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Arise Awake Stop not till the goal is reached. - Swami Vivekananda Swami ji is my inspiration, not as a monk but as a social reformer and for his universal-ism.