Some months back a boy in his early twenties entered into my academic office to give me photo-copy of a paper. He seemed to be a little bit frightened or maybe it was my optical illusion. After all, it was extremely cold in Allahabad and all had reasons to shiver, particularly the underfed. I asked his name – it was A** Prajapati. Further questioning led to the following information: He was enrolled in Mahendra *** Degree College located not far from the city of Allahabad – the college owned by an ex-Bidhayak (MLA of UP). He did not go to college and that was neither necessary nor desirable – the teachers had asked to buy books which the students did. The teachers told them to take the relevant pages detached from the book and use those in examination hall on the fixed dates. The teachers also gave them questions. The contact hours ended there. The teachers became invigilators facilitating copying. In case of abrupt arrival of external invigilators, the invigilating internal teachers cautioned the students enjoying ‘copy-right’. If still then some stupid student got caught, he would be imposed money penalty……I am not mentioning the name of the University.
Before leaving my room, the boy said, ‘Sir, hamara gariv parivar – four sisters, my mother & me, father not in any job….’
My breathing virtually got stopped. Shocking?I am a natural wandered. One early morning while I was standing on one platform of Allahabad railway station, I needed a pen to write something which I did not have. After some minutes I got it from a boy of late 20s. Asking what he was he replied he was engaged as a porter on the railway station and that he was a Graduate from a University not far from Allahabad! There is nothing wrong in working as a porter for it is labour-income. The wrong might lie in civil society approach to look down upon the porter irrespective of education.
In case you thought I wrote a piece in an exception (studies in social sciences are always micro; macro cannot be observed), let me tell you my agony as a teacher in Bihar-UP (BUP). A few years back I was working or trying to work, as a serious teacher at the PG-level in a Central University in Bihar. Many of the students in my class, often following my surprise, told me they never went to any Degree College. And now they were studying at PG-level. I was also not made a member of the admission committee – I thought it was my honour not to be in any job of a dignified clerk. But my surprise haunted me – I continued to ask post-graduates in Allahabad working with me, ‘How come?’ I failed to get any answer.
Today it was the end of it – partially in a micro-frame. But my question remains: how could these teachers get appointed all of who teach ‘copy-right’!
By the way, I forgot to mention, it was not linguistic problem – the students enjoyed ‘copy- right’ in Hindi only.
But all were not shocking/dark. In 2012 I had been working and living with the Masters’ level students of Bihar, students from being in Bihar and studying in one University (under Government of India) in Bihar. You know, Bihar is alleged at the bottom of the ladder among all the states in India, at least thought and ranked so, since last quarter century. I, however, feel comfortable to work with these students, I believe, who are willing to learn and given positive chance, can convert the willingness into ability.
Take one episode. Believe it or not, the students of the Centre for Development Studies of the University after dinner at 9:00 night while we were in field survey in the district of Nalanda, worked with me discussing and finalizing their schedules, each one having different theme of study, up to 12:45 morning (that is the next day). It happened because of them – their willingness to learn and share. While on journey, at around 7:00 evening one of the students told me, ‘Sir, Aap hamlogoko chorke mat jaiye’. I understood their pain, as I knew, and he told, ‘Baneerjee Sir achanak chale gaye’. They did not know that I had been in touch with ‘Banerjee Sir’ who wrote to me ‘These students have never been exposed to ‘teaching’ and hence see if you can do something’. I know it is optimistic for me, as education is a collective responsibility in a given institutional (European) frame. But I have decided, if not institutionally obstructed, to try my best to do something for the students in the ‘bottommost’ state of India.
[The writer is Professor of Economics at G.B.Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. First published by Peoples Voice.]