Promotion of Higher Education: West Bengal to get Four New Universities
By Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee, Associate Professor & Head Post Graduate Dept of English Dum Dum Motijheel College & Guest Faculty RBU Bilingual Columnist in National Dailies and Nationally awarded Trilingual poet.
Barack Obama once said : “Higher education cannot be luxury reserved for a privileged few. It is an economic necessity for every family and every family should be able to afford it.” With this aim the West Bengal Government since its coming to power has been promoting higher education for the general people and also for the minority and the underprivileged ones. One of the hallmarks of higher education and democracy is the ability to converse with people with whom we disagree. Since the inception of the Government in West Bengal under the leadership of the Trinamul Congress development and extension of higher education have become the main trends to communicate with people of all levels.
A number of steps have been taken for the promotion of higher education particularly in the interests of the marginalised and the people belonging to the minority sections of the population. For instance, the setting up several universities, including one for women, in less developed regions, will certainly go a long way to empower the disadvantaged sections and minority population of the state. The recent the announcement of the Higher Education Minister Partha Chatterjee regarding the four new universities for four districts in North Bengal which was long neglected in the Left Front regime will cheer up the people in Murshidabad, South Dinajpur, Alipurduar and Darjeeling.
The three districts Darjeeling, Alipurduar and South Dinajpur had no universities so far. There was a long time demand for full-fledged universities in Darjeeling and North Bengal where the majority of the population is marginalised – either belonging to the minority or of tribal origin. And that demand has now been fulfilled. Murshidabad with 80 lakhs of population strength had only a regional centre of the Aligarh Muslim University which offers only a very limited number of academic programmes. Very naturally there was a long-felt need for a full-fledged university in Murshidabad. Academician, poet-editor and cultural activist Faruque Ahamed has had a crucial role in spearheading a movement to fulfil this need. He had led a group of social activists in appealing to the former Left Government constantly since 2007 for setting up universities in Churulia and Murshidabad and other neglected areas of the state. But nothing much was done during the Left Front regime.
However, the Mamata Banerjee government has far surpassed the former pseudo-communist government of the state in the care and concern shown for the really disadvantaged sections of the people of West Bengal. Since the inception of the Mamata Banerjee Government in 2011, the promotion of higher education started in full swing. Partha Chatterjee, Higher Education Minister of the State, with a nod from the Chief Minister noted for her commitment to the promotion of Higher Education, has rightly said that in West Bengal wonderful achievements of her Government include the setting up of eleven State universities and the NAAC accreditation of 92 colleges.
In addition to that the announcement came that four new universities would be set up for promoting higher education. They will be new gems in the crown of Mamata Banerjee whose concern and care for higher education is known to all. Only recently she has increased the superannuation age to 62 for the professors of the college and the higher institutions will be benefited by their experience and service.
The way she is promoting Kanyashree Prakalpa and won for it the global recognition shows how female education is being promoted for bringing the doubly marginalized women to the prospective arena of higher education. A female student who will be admitted to college for undergraduate studies will get scholarship for pursuing higher studies. This is indeed a glorious chapter for the female education when the BJP government could not make their ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojna scheme successful in the BJP ruled states.
A nation’s greatness is reflected in the approach taken towards its minorities, said Mahatma Gandhi in one of his discourses. It is heartening that West Bengal Government with inspiration and planning from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee since the very day she came to power, is taking projects and making plans for the promotion of the minority people and the marginalised people of the distant districts including the tribal people of the hills. For long one decade and more, people in Murshidabad waited for the dreams to have come true. That Murshidabad with 80 lakhs of people living and majority of them belonging to the Muslim minority is going to get its first full-fledged University reflects the care and concern of the West Bengal Government led by Trinamul Congress for promoting higher education and it specially shows how deeply the Chief Minister of the State is committed to the welfare of the minority Muslims and the deprived people of North Bengal including the people of the hills.
The West Bengal government deserves all praise for this decision. However, one must acknowledge the efforts of social activists and academicians like Faruque Ahamed who constantly endeavored to form public opinion and demanded the full-fledged university for Murshidabad which has the largest Muslim population in the state. After a long struggle Murshidanbad finally got its first University. Since the party came to power in the state, the various welfare projects have been undertaken for the minorities and now special attention is being given for the promotion of higher education.
Aligarh Muslim University has a centre in Murshidabad but this cannot fully satisfy the need for higher education, as mentioned earlier. There are some colleges and engineering colleges but no full-fledged university. In general the setting up of universities promotes cultural ambiance of a high standard and autonomy in preservation of culture and heritage. The new university in Murshidabad will not only promote minority education but it will also serve the broader purpose of providing higher education for all sections of the people of West Bengal.
At a time when the minority is in fear all over India, in West Bengal too the BJP-RSS activists are trying to demolish the edifice of secularism by even rewriting history, the West Bengal Government along with all secular minded people from all over India have been giving strong resistance to the fundamentalists. Trinamul Supremo and West Bengal CM always fights tooth and nail against the fundamental Hindutva policies of the BJP government – their focus being on the lynching of beef-eaters.
Even on the Christians attacks have been constantly organised all over the country and the intellectuals who protested against all these communal policies have been harassed and killed against which Mamata Banerjee has always been vocal. She finally came out to work for the cause of minority education. There are many other projects already undertaken but the recent announcement of setting up a university at Murshidabad is the new feather in her crown. It shows how deeply she is committed to the welfare of the minority people.
Two years ago November 26, 2015 in a rally organised at Sahid Minar Kolkata, where the Chief Minister promised development projects for the minorities in presence of the Minority leader Siddiqulla Choudhary, Faruque Ahmed, Editor and renowned social activist cum publisher of Udar Akash: A Research Journal gave a timely suggestion for setting up a University in the heritage district of Murshidabad which has the highest Muslim population. “Obviously it would fetch more Muslim support”, he said.
Mr. Faruque Ahamed also gave a special issue of “Udar Akash” to the honourable CM for projecting the need for a modern secular India in the presence the Mayor of Kolkata and Minister Shovan Chattopadhyay. He said ; ”We submitted on Dec 17, 2015 a memorandum to the Chief Minister for establishing a full-fledged university in Murshidabad and after a good many social movements and talk shows and columns written in newspapers and journals by our activists with the Udar Akash group in the vanguard, finally our mission has been successful and we thankfully acknowledge the great milestone that the Chief Minister has laid for the promotion of Higher Education in the state for the minority in particular and people in general.” The memorandum given to Mamata Banerjee on Dec 17, 2015 was signed by Dr. Madhu Mitra, Dr. Indradeep Ghosh WBCUPA leaders and Faruque Ahamed, editor-publisher and Assistant Director DODL, Kalyani University, who along with other social activists has been trying to organise social movement for setting of universities in Murshidabad and Churulia since 2007.
The Left Front government did not do much for realization of the long awaited demand for the university. Murshidabad had to depend on a regional centre of Aligarh Muslim University. After 2011 when the Left Front was ousted from power in the state the fight for the cause of minority welfare got a booster. The proposal for the University of Churulia was sanctioned after the Trinamul Government came to power. The new proposals for the universities in four districts will brighten up the picture of Higher education more and of course will improve the general scenario of higher education in the state. Now only the Sunderbans area remains to be covered with a university umbrella. In the near future that too will come under consideration as social movements are being organised and Faruque Ahamed is hopeful of such a glorious day when the Sunderbans too will be covered in the higher education promotion scheme.
These were decades-old demands and finally dreams have come true and the long struggle of social activists like Faruque Ahamed and others has finally become successful. He on behalf of all thanked and expressed gratefulness for the West Bengal Government and the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the historic decision for promoting Higher education in such a grand way. ‘It is a recognition of our long struggle and demand’ said an elated Faruque Ahamed.
*Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee is the Associate Professor and Head Post Graduate Dept of English and a regular bilingual columnist for many national dailies and a nationally recognised multilingual poet.