In centenary year, Visva-Bharati stays in news for wrong reasons

In the latest since the incumbent V-C took charge in 2018, faculty member files FIR against him for humiliating teachers

For the Rabindranath Tagore-founded Visva-Bharati, 2021 was meant to be a year of celebrations, marking 100 years of the university, but it stands overshadowed by COVID-19 and constant clashes between the Vice-Chancellor and the staff.

On Friday evening, Manas Maity, a Professor of Physics, filed an FIR at the Santiniketan Police Station against the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Bidyut Chakrabarty, for humiliating teachers during an online meeting on June 8. While it is highly unlikely that anything of significance is going to come of the complaint, the FIR is an indication how the university is marking its centenary.

“I guess something must be happening [to mark the centenary] but most of us have no idea about it,” said a teacher who has been employed with Visva-Bharati for over two decades now.

Ever since Prof. Chakrabarty took charge in November 2018, the university has been in news for all the wrong reasons: a gag order on staff, several new dos and don’ts imposed on teachers of an institution that has been in existence for a century, constant issuing of show-cause notices seeking to discipline employees, eviction of “erring” students from hostels, construction of high walls around the campus, and conflict with the local population.

Also read: In Visva-Bharati, a major political flip-flop

“As humans we tend to live through landmarks like birth anniversaries, a decade, or a centenary. Our natural tendency is to value these landmarks as course-correction moments. Visva-Bharati has completed 100 years, one would justifiably wish this would be a year of introspection, but the institution seems to be hurtling along the path of all the ills that have befallen it under the present dispensation,” said educationist Sudripta Tagore, a former student of the university and a descendant of Rabindranath’s family.

“Denial is one such ill that plagues the institution today — that is the gift to Visva-Bharati by its administration on its hundredth year. Another gift is walls, both literal and figurative,” Mr. Tagore said.

Also read: Visva-Bharati places popular critic of VC under suspension

A senior academician who was closely associated with Visva-Bharati for many years but who did not wish to be named, said: “How does the Tagore model of education square up to the much-touted New Education Policy; why it is important for the entire world to emulate the nature-based education system that Tagore had envisaged; what is the value of interfacing with the community; why we must integrate the sciences and humanities with creative arts — these are some of the questions that Visva-Bharati could have addressed in its centenary year.”

“But the present administration is busy with all non-Tagorean thoughts such as erecting walls around the campus, alienating the community by eviction, humiliating the teachers by summary suspension and issuance of show-cause notices. There is no discernible attempt to put the COVID-derailed educational system back on track. Instead, a fear psychosis is being created all around.”

Visva-Bharati was formally established as a university in 1921, even though it had existed as an educational centre — in the form of an ashram school — since 1901. Together with the Banaras Hindu University (1916) and Aligarh Muslim University (1921), the three institutions were rooted in traditional Indian values and, unlike other Indian universities of the time, did not follow the British model of education.

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