The convocation in Visva- Bharati, Santiniketan was held on 25 May in the presence of Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina Wazed. The latter was present for the inauguration of Bangladesh Bhavan within the Visva-Bharati campus to mark a new chapter in the 47-year-old Indo-Bangladesh relationship.
Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his daughter Sheikh Hasina have always been trusted neighbours of India. This cordiality is essential for a country like India that shares a 1,500 km border with Bangladesh.
The two Prime Ministers pledged to fight the common scourge of poverty of masses plaguing both countries. Visva-Bharati has now three international research and study centres – all belonging to different Asian countries.
These are China Bhavan, Nippon Bhavan and Bangladesh Bhavan. These centres have made Rabindranath Tagore’s dream come true as he always desired to see Visva-Bharati become a confluence of divergent shades of culture, philosophy, social thought, education, values and tradition.
He always insisted on the mutual sharing of cultures, values 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 living there. Their dedication, commitment and punctuality were worth emulating.
But colonial rule in India was one of the biggest threats to all-round emancipation and freedom of colonized Indians. Colonisation had compelled Indians to resort to begging and clamour for charity instead of developing a self-reliant and selfresilient approach to life.
The bondage of the human mind was to Tagore a more lethal danger than the imprisonment of nations. Thus, he always stressed to ensure freedom of the human mind and become worthy enough to run the nation in the wake of independence instead of constant sloganshouting to earn independence.
Never did he wish to ask foreign rulers to provide charity to run Visva-Bharati; the institution always managed with the financial support Tagore and his well-wishers could cobble together.
In this way, Visva-Bharati provides a classic example of a Swadeshi cooperative venture that took no support from the British rules. 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 around the world.
The birth of Bangladesh is significant in the history for struggle of the sovereignty of the mother tongue. This principal demand of the Bangladesh Liberation War against Pakistani troops became synonymous with the demand to gain independence of East Pakistan from the tutelage of the West situated more than 2000 km away.
When war broke out, the Urdu-speaking community in then East Pakistan made up hardly 5 per cent of the population. But going diametrically against the desire of Bengalis, 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 struggle to create a nation on the basis of the demand to have Bangla as the only official language was well established. The peoples’ war began to gain more and more support and the Rabindra Sangeet ‘Ammar Sonar Bangla Aami Tomaye Bhalobashi….’ that later became the national anthem of Bangladesh began to resonate with people.
Tagore inked the National Anthems of India and Bangladesh and the establishment of Bangladesh Bhavan in his ‘Abode of Peace ‘ is a befitting tribute to his memory. During the Liberation War, the Pakistani regime banned the broadcast of Rabindra Sangeet and Tagore’s literary works through official media.
It was due to the support of the Indian Government that a makeshift radio station was set up in then Calcutta to air the news of the Liberation War and play Rabindra Sangeet to arouse patriotism. Many people from Calcutta and different parts of West Bengal would regularly visit the border to hand over emergency relief materials like dry food, medicines etc.
There was a growing feeling in 1970-71 that the two Bengals would soon be reunited and the other Bengal would 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 Noakhali riot in 1946 and partition of India in 1947 had to lead humiliating lives in India.
Many of them hailed from respectable and wellto- do families in erstwhile Purba Banga and had to come away empty-handed. Many lived in refugee camps, railway station yards and even footpaths, shanties and slums. The gift of partition proved too much for Bengalis and within just two decades the Congress Party was driven out of power in West Bengal.
The birth of the United Front (UF) in 1967 was largely possible due to the Refugee Movement in West Bengal. The birth of Bangladesh for the protection of linguistic rights became possible. This was a new experience in the history of 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 freedom.
Thus, the presence of the two Prime Ministers on the occasion of the recent convocation in Visva-Bharati was indeed historic. Bangladesh Bhavan will surely prove to be a symbol of the wonderful Indo-Bangladesh bilateral relationship. Visva-Bharati was established on 23 December 1921. In 1951, it was elevated from a college to a university.
The personal admiration of Jawaharlal Nehru for Tagore provoked him to make the institution a Central University. Many Ashramites believe the death knell of Visva-Bharati was sounded by this decision. The institution began to be encaged in ‘rules and regulations’ robbing it of its uniqueness in the way it imparted education, knowledge and learning.
After Tagore, no significant academic achievement could be made by this University barring in the spheres of music and different streams of performing arts. Santiniketan is still no more than a relatively modern village hamlet compared to other Central Universities.
The quality of basic amenities and infrastructure is poor. It remains a question whether this unresolved problem remains due to the financial crunch or financial mismanagement. It is not a matter of little shame that the replica of the coveted Nobel Prize awarded to Tagore in 1913 was stolen from the university in 2004.
The university is poised to celebrate its centenary in a couple of years, which will coincide with the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence. The establishment of Bangladesh Bhavan at this historic juncture will be a critical milestone in the India-Bangladesh bilateral relationship.
The writer is on the Sociology faculty of Maulana Azad College, Kolkata.