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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 25 New Delhi June 9, 2018

Bangladesh Bhavan in Visva-Bharati

Sunday 10 June 2018

by Samit Kar

The recent Convocation in Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan was held on May 25 in the presence of Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina Wajed. The latter was present on the occasion of the inauguration of the Bangladesh Bhavan within the Visva-Bharati campus to mark the beginning of a new chapter in the glorious annals of 47 years of Indo-Bangladesh relationship. Bangla-desh, under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his daughter, Sheikh Hasina, had always been the most trusted neighbour of India. This cordiality is essential for a country like India sharing more than 1500 km stretch of common border. The two Prime Ministers in this historic moment pledged to fight the common scourge —the endemic poverty of the masses plaguing both the countries.

Visva-Bharati has now three International Research and Study Centres—all belonging to different countries of Oriental Culture. These are: China Bhavan, Nippon Bhavan and Bangladesh Bhavan. This has made Gurudev Rabindranath’s dream come true as he always desired to see Visva-Bharati become a wonderful confluence of divergent shades of Culture, Philosophy, Social Thought, Education, Value and Tradition. He consistently insisted on the mutual sharing of the Culture, Value and Ethos of the countries of Asia and showed strong resistance to blind imitation of the Occident. He did hail certain attributes of the West and people inhabiting there. Their dedication, commitment, punctuality are some of the matters worth emulating. But he did feel that the colonial rule in India was one of the biggest threats to the all-round emancipation and freedom of the mind of the colonised Indians.

Colonisation had compelled the Indians to resort to begging and clamour for charity instead of developing a self-reliant and self- resilient approach to life. The bondage of the human mind to Rabindranath was a more lethal danger than the imprisonment of mankind struggling for the freedom of the Motherland. Thus, he always stressed to ensure freedom of the human mind so that the citizens become worthy enough to run the nation in the wake of independence instead of constant slogan- shouting to earn independence from the British Government. Never did he wish to ask the foreign rule to provide charity to run the Visva-Bharati and the institution always struggled to run with whatever little financial support Gurudev and his well-wishers could garner. In this way, Visva-Bharati provides a classic example of Swadeshi and co-operative venture without taking any financial support from the colonial government in India.

The birth of Bangladesh by virtue of a long- drawn, fierce freedom movement under the stewardship of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Awami League is an unforgettable saga of struggle in the history of freedom movements across the world. The birth of Bangladesh is more significant in the history of struggle for attainment of sovereignty of the Mother Tongue —Bangla Bhasha: Moder Garab Moder Asha. Aa Mori Bangla Bhasha.... The principal demand of the Bangladesh Liberation War against the fascist Pakistani troops became synonymous with the demand to gain independence of East Pakistan from the tutelage of West Pakistan situated no less than 2000 km away. When the War broke out, the Urdu-speaking community in then East Pakistan was hardly five per cent of the population of the country. But going diametrically against the desire of the countrymen the West Pakistani administration imposed Urdu as the official language. The Liberation War began to gain massive popular support and by the end of 1970, it became clear that the freedom of a New Nation to be won on the basis of the demand to have Bangla as the only official language was certainly on the anvil. The People’s War began to gain more and more popular support and the Rabindra Sangeet— ‘Amar Sonar Bangla Aami Tomaye Bhalobashi....’ that later became the National Anthem of Bangladesh—proved to be the ‘Swadhinata Mantra’ to the Bangladeshis. Tagore was instrumental to ink the National Anthems of India and Bangladesh and the establishment of Bangladesh Bhavan in his ‘Abode of Peace’, that is, Santiniketan is, no doubt, a befitting tribute to his glowing memory.

During the Liberation War the Pakistani regime banned the broadcast of Rabindra Sangeet and Tagore’s literary works through the official media. It was due to the support of the Indian Government, a make-shift Radio Station could be set up in then Calcutta to air the news of the Liberation War in order to uphold the spirit of the freedom movement and play the Rabindra Sangeet-turned-Swadhinata Mantra to arouse patriotism among the Bengalis in both parts of Bengal. Many people from then Calcutta and different parts of West Bengal used to regularly visit the border of East Pakistan to hand over emergency relief materials like dry food, medicines etc. There was a growing feeling in 1970-71 that the two Bengals will soon be reunited and the other Bengal will become an integral part of India. Many Hindu Bengalis, who were earlier forced to leave their homeland and migrate to West Bengal in the aftermath of the Noakhali riot in 1946 and partition of India in 1947 had to lead a very humiliating life in India. Many of them hailed from respectable and well-to-do families in earstwhile Purba Banga and had to flee from their homeland literally empty-handed. Many settled in refugee camps, railway station yards and some even spent their life on footpath, shanties and filthy slums. The gift of partition of India proved too much to the Bengalis and within a gap of only two decades the Congress Party was driven out from power in West Bengal for nearly five decades. The birth of the United Front (UF) in 1967 was largely possible due to the refugee movement in West Bengal.

The birth of Bangladesh as a new nation on the issue of protection of the lingual demand was possible. This was a new experience in the history of the world’s freedom movements. The name and contribution of Rabindranath became inseparable from the freedom of Bangladesh in 1971. The moment the nation attained freedom, Rabindra Sangeet began to be broadcast through Bangladesh Radio as an expression of the people’s voice of freedom. Thus, the presence of the two Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh on the occasion of the recent Convocation in Visva-Bharati was indeed historic, unforgettable and much sought after at a place where Gurudev worked and toiled so hard always with a missionary zeal in his heart and mind. The Bangladesh Bhavan will surely work miles ahead and will prove to be a symbol of the wonderful Indo-Bangladesh bilateral relationship.

Visva-Bharati was established on December 23, 1921. It was a Public Control University located in Santiniketan in Birbhum district of West Bengal. It was founded by Rabindranath Tagore who called it Visva-Bharati which means the communication of the world with India. In 1951 it became a University from the status of a College. The personal admiration of Jawaharlal Nehru for Rabindranath goaded him to give his nod to make this institution a Central University. Many Ashramites believe, the death-knell of Visva-Bharati was sounded by this decision. Since then, the institution began to be encaged in ‘an iron cage of rules and regulations’ robbing Visva-Bharati’s age-old culture and uniqueness regarding the ways of imparting education, knowledge and learning. This could be understood from the fact that since the days of Tagore, no significant academic achievement could be made by this University barring the spheres of music, songs and different streams of performing arts. But beyond these departments, there are scores of academic departments as in a Central University.

Santiniketan is still no more than a relatively modern village hamlet. Compared to other Cental Universities, the quality of basic amenities and infrastructure is poor. It remains a question whether this unresolved problem persists due to financial crunch or financial mismanagement by the inept University Administration. It is not a matter of little shame that the replica of the coveted Nobel Prize awarded to Gurudev in 1913 was stolen from the University in 2004. Visva-Bharati is poised to celebrate its cente-nary year in a couple of years coinciding with the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s liberation. The establishment of Bangladesh Bhavan at this historic social juncture will defintely remain one of the most critical milestones in the inspiring sagar of Indo-Bangladesh bilateral relationship. Let 100 flowers blossom in its illuminating path ahead.

The author is in the Sociology faculty in the Maulana Azad College in Kolkata. Sheikh Munibur Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh, was an alumnus of this college.

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