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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 20, May 10, 2014

Rural Reconstruction and Education — Tagore’s Views

Monday 12 May 2014

[May 9 this year, that is, Baisakh 25, 1421 (Bengali calendar), marks Rabindranath Tagore’s 153rd birth anniversary. On this occesion we are publishing the following piece and reproducing an article by N.C. that appeared in a special commemorative supplement of The Calcutta Muncipal Gazette (published on September 13, 1941, more than a month after Tagore’s demise).]

by Jayanta Ghosal

Having grown up in an atmosphere of patriotism and nationalism in the family, Rabindranath was naturally drawn to the politics of his time. But it was different from the ideas of politics then preached by our leaders. Rabindranath’s own philosophy of patriotism and his own concept of swaraj allowed him to reject the ideas which he called ‘the politics of begging’. Several times he regretted that the political leaders of his country failed to realise that the real India lived in her villages. He insisted on first developing our power of the self or atmashakti and then strive for political power.

He wanted to see his motherland transform itself into something like the following immortal verse he had himself compared:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of Truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habits;

Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action:

Into that Heaven of Freedom, My Father, let my Country awake.

Tagore valued ‘society’ more than the ‘state’. He considered social servies more valuable than the exercise of political authority. In his imagination India appeared to be a great ‘society’, the village republics would be its nuclei. Depending on force and coercion, the state is incapable of aiding the development of the individual self. He always questioned the ability of the government bureaucracy to enthuse the people for rural development. As village uplift had to be done by villagers, Tagore wanted them to be self-dependent as far as practicable.

In his presidential address to the Bengal Provincial Congress Conference in 1907 at Pabna, Tagore drew the attention of his countrymen to the sufferings of rural oife where the people “do not have food, health, happiness, security, mutual co-operation: people accept their adversity without challenge, meet death without making any effort, and blame their own misfortune when they receive injustice, and leave their distressed relatives in the heands of the Fate”. He eloquently observed that “the real face of our motherland can be seen in the villages: here is the abode of life-force: the Goddess of prosperity seeks her seat here.” Such was his feeling for the villages and their poor inhabitants. And we are left to wonder how deep was his understanding of rural problems and how much thought and efforts he devoted for village uplift.

Tagore always agrued that India’s real problem was not political, it was social. If society was paralysed, the whole state would face a crisis. In his famous essay ‘Swadeshi Samaj’, he strongly advocated for the inaugu-ration by all means of rural India’s capacity for managing the multifarious problems of the people by making suitable reforms and recon-struction of the social system, including the economic and self-governing institutions. For this purpose he declined to take the help of the government and its bureaucracy. Tagore never accepted the omnipotence of the political state and government. He stressed upon self-initiative and self-help. As a great social philosopher his most favourite ideas were social progress through self-initiation and social co-operation.

For Tagore, social service was considered more valuable than the exercise of political authority, ‘State’-backed force and coercion are incapable of aiding the individual self’s develop-ment. As mentioned earlier, he had great distrust about the ability of the government bureaucracy to enthuse the people for rural development. As the villagers are the key force for the upliftment, he also wanted them to be self-dependent. We have seen how in the post-independence era the programme of community development and other such programmes practically failed. Tagore himself forecast that unless the villagers them-selves were given the power and responsibility for development activities, rural development projects were bound to fail.

Tagore had great faith in the ideals of basic democracy which had its roots in his practical humanism and philosophy of swaraj. Side by side he was shocked to note that in his time there ws no emotional/sentimental link between the educated, urban middle class and the people in the villages. The situation is still the same. And it is also true that his ideas of village self-governance, cooperation and statesociety relationship were not seriously recognised by his contemporaries and the government.

Tagore carried out several experiments of his rural development ideas at Sriniketan and the Kaligram estate. He tried to form an army of students to implement his ideas. He rightly realised the importance of education for the village people. We may quote one of his biographers—“Rabindranath always insisted that ‘adult education’ did not mean only the teaching of adult peoples how to read and write, it meant also helping them to think to lead a life of healthy interests and therefore of happiness.” (Rabindranath Tagore—Marjorie Sykes)

In continuation of his ideas on adult education we should try to find out why Tagore laid so much importance upon education. This was for understandable reasons. Tagore’s major emphasis was on education of the village boys and girls. He had realised that the success of his entire scheme of rural reconstruction would ultimately depend upon them. He expected the future leadership in the villages to come from these educated boys and girls. He rightly thought that for adopting the modern scientific approach in all-round rural developmental activities, educated boys and girls will play the pivotal role. In a letter written to one of his friends he expressed his feelings thus: “We all hope that here science in the end will help man. It will make the necessities of life easily accessible to every man, so that humanity will be freed from the tyranny of matter which now humiliates her. This struggling mass of man is great in its pathos, in its latency of infinite power.” In his famous essay A Poet’s School, he described clearly and vividly his ideas on rural education as the backbone of his thoughts on rural reconstruction.

For making his social development ideas a success Tagore organised the ‘Sahayak Sangha’ in 1923, which was later known as ‘Brati Dal’. The members of Brati Dal took the pioneering role in all activities like health awareness, spreading of education, fire fighting etc. “Among other activities of social service by the Brati Balaks (Scouts) are .... collecting rice and other articles of food and clothing for the poor and needy in their villages, clearing the jungle and filling up the pits of stagnant water; kerosinisation of tanks to destroy the mosquito larvae; making drains in villages to allow the water during the rains to run out, and many other types of service they may be called upon to render at any time.” (‘Reconstruction and Education in India’ —P.C. Lal)

From his personal observasations of the village life in his young days, he had derived a close view of the immense sufferings of the villagers. These were mainly due to their superstitions, ignorance and lack of mutual co-operation. The removal of ignorance by education thus became one of the main passions of his life. In his speech delivered at the Madras National Education Development Society in 1919 he offered an outline of his educational ideas appropriate in the changed modern context. Tagore said: “Our centre of culture should not only be centre of the intellectual life of India but the centre of economic life also. It must cultivate land, breed cattle to feed itself and its students, it must produce all necessaries, devising the best means, using the best materials, calling science to its aid. Its very existence should depend upon the success of its industrial ventures carried out on the co-operative principle, which will unite the teachers and the students in a living and active bond of necessity. This will give us also practical industrial training, whose motive force is not the greed of profit.”

It was Tagore’s firm conviction that poverty, disease, depopulation, joylessness and back-wardness of the rural areas could and should be removed by cooperative efforts. If the cooperative institutions function properly it will promote self-sufficiency in all our primary needs such as food, clothing and shelter. When this happens there will be nothing to attract the cupidity of the foreign manufacturer. Hence there will be no international jealousies leading to global wars.

Thus the development of cooperative institutions on right lines can lead to national independence and through that to internatioal peace. These ideas were expressed through the prophetic sayings of Gandhi. And L.K. Elmhurst, the true lieutenant of Tagore in his social actions, said in his famous book Poet and The Ploughman: “We decided to offer major and minor projects for each student to work on and to try and establish cooperation among the local farmers in buying, selling and for credit.” One can easily understand how Tagore declined to accept ‘the politics of begging’ in all of his activities. ‘Self-reliance’ is the true essence of his educational thoughts and this idea he spread in all his endeavours.

Basically a poet and a seer, the multifaceted genius Rabindranath was indeed an idealist, but not an idle dreamer. His deep understanding of rural problems and efforts for village uplif-ment have not lost their relevance even today.

The author, a social activist, is an adult education and literacy worker.