Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Debarati Bagchi.
Debarati Bagchi is as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Dehli, and a member of the Max Weber Foundation Transnational Research Group “Poverty and Education in Modern India”. She is currently working on Sylhet Nagri texts and pedagogic practices in colonial Northeast India.
This proposed project intends to track the circulation of printed and handwritten texts in Sylheti-Bengali, written in Sylhet Nāgarī script in late nineteenth-early twentieth century Sylhet and later among the London-based Sylheti diaspora. The Sylhet Nāgarī script was projected to have been devised as a ‘simplified alternative’ of the sanskritised version of Bengali and was chiefly attributed to the ‘illiterate masses of the Muslim population’ including peasants, fishermen, boatmen – people who were ‘not well versed in Bengali literature.’ Its entire pedagogic endeavour was to bridge the gap between the written (lekhya bhasha) and the spoken (kathya bhasha) and thereby meeting one of the preconditions of democratisation of education – the concern for reaching out to a larger mass. The primer of the script differed from the available forms and contents of primers in the school system not only in its lack of secular content but also in addressing the audience. The declared purpose of this primer was to address an adult audience who would be able to read the texts in Sylhet Nāgarī outside the school system. In content, these texts dealt with the ethics and values associated with the local form of Islam where it was not impossible to find the stories of Yusuf Zuleikha along with the stories Radha-Krishna and the nineteenth century concern for the pervasive threat of conversion to Christianity. Besides songs by Pirs and Fakirs, didactic manuals for the followers of Islam, popular stories viz. the war of Karbala, the life story of Hazrat Muhammad or the love story of Yusuf Zuleikha, the texts also occasionally dealt with chronicles of contemporary social events. It was quite a popular pastime among rural households, especially among women who gathered together from neighboring households to read and listen to these texts.
We do not yet have a comprehensive understanding of the social content of readership and the meaning of these texts in their everyday lives. Through the study of these didactic texts, this project aims to explore the nature of ‘alternative’ pedagogic practices prevalent among the poor masses of Sylhet. Instead of probing the origin of the script or analysing the religious-philosophical foundations of the texts, this project would track the circulation of the texts and the politics of standardisation of the script. It attempts to form an understanding of the public sphere that once consumed these texts and develop an understanding of the colonial modern in the formation of a regional identity. The project also seeks to add a postcolonial dimension to the question by trying to address the historical reasons leading to the revival of Sylhet Nāgarī script among the diasporic population in UK.
Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Kaustubh Mani Sengupta.
Kaustubh Mani Sengupta joined the Max Weber Stiftung Transnational Research Group “Poverty and Education in Modern India” after finishing his PhD in 2013. In his current project, he is looking at the ways West Bengal refugees negotiated with the post-colonial situation and the role of education in their lives.
The project studies the role of education and school in the lives of the refugees who settled in West Bengal after the partition of British India in 1947. Most of the early refugees from East Bengal belonged to the upper or middle caste groups–the bhadraloks. They tended to gravitate towards the urban centres, more specifically to Calcutta. An acute housing crisis forced a majority of them to forcibly occupy barracks and empty tracts of lands and to build up squatter colonies there. After securing the basic necessity of life, the members of the colony would look to establish a school, as they regarded education as the utmost important element for the children of refugee population to survive in the alien land. This was a common pattern without any exception – either a particular colony had a school for itself or a few colonies collectively would develop a school. The study explores the possible reasons behind the importance that education had among the refugees – was it their bhadralok baggage that made them invest their capital, labour and time in developing neighbourhood schools; or was educating their children necessary to ensure a job in the foreign land? Also, what were the cultural significances of building up a school in a colony, where did the money come from, who taught in these schools and what were their relations with the government sanctioned education board?
The bhadralok colony-dwellers formed only a section of the refugee population. Among the migrants from East Pakistan, there were poor cultivators, artisans, petty traders and others. They lacked the minimum means necessary for setting up squatter colonies. They took refuge in the government camps. These camps had government-run schools and training centres. The camp population was often transitory in nature as the government tried to rehabilitate the inhabitants somewhere permanently. Did the curricula in these schools and centres take into account the possible temporariness of the population? Often the pupils in these schools were first-generation school-goers – how did the primary education mould their life-cycles, what were the drop-out rates and how important was the vocational training among the downtrodden refugees – these are some of the issues that the project will address.
In brief, the project critically interrogates the role of education in the development of a group of people who were trying to carve out a niche for themselves in a new country. The post-partition period was a critical phase in the biography of the new nation as well. The refugees as well as the government, both were trying to work out a way to move ahead, leaving behind the tumultuous last few years. The broad sets of sources for this study include various government reports, school magazines and commemorative volumes, refugee memoirs and oral narratives.
The International Winter Academy “Inequality, Education and Social Power: Transnational Perspectives” will take place in Berlin, from 16-25 November 2014 and addresses doctoral and postdoctoral researchers from the fields of economics, educational sciences, development studies, history, political science, postcolonial studies, sociology, and area studies.
The Winter Academy will be convened by the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Foundation in cooperation with the Transnational Research Group “Poverty and Education in Modern India”.