Day 30: Rabbit Hole

23/04/2020

Day 30: Rabbit Hole

In the afternoon, a link to Krishna Kumar’s opinion piece came in. I trust him to offer a radically different perspective on issues at hand. In ‘The Village is Still Relevant’ he writes that the villages have a right to flourish as habitations with their own distinctive future. In his characteristically perceptive way he refers to the images of migrant workers walking the highways for their homes hundreds of kilometres away.  It strikes a humane tone even as he reflects on the policy trajectory in this country.  I felt that he accords significant value (and perhaps agency) to academics who studied and theorised about modernisation in India and location of villages within them. He reasons that –

Modernisation was a dominant paradigm of social theory that saw nothing wrong in the growth of vast slums in mega-cities and depletion of working-age people in villages. Some social scientists did not mind declaring that the village as we had known it in Indian history was on its way to extinction. They argued that agriculture, the main resource of livelihood in the countryside, was no longer profitable enough to attract the young. And handicrafts too were destined to die, they said, as craftsmen and women cannot survive without state support. Only pockets of support survived the powerful wave of market-oriented economic reforms.

I have often felt that with the dominance of economics, social sciences research of any other variety had ceased to matter as long as decision making was concerned in India. Weren’t we already sold to the idea of industrial centers and urban agglomerations as the powerhouses of economic growth? The article is thought provoking in the way that it brings back the village in sharp contrast, asserting dignity and importance in the national narrative. I couldn’t agree more. 

I am reminded of another common omission that researchers tend to make – the village is positioned as opposed to the metropolis. There is also the town- the in-between agglomeration, where a lot many have found stable lives. These places are of course rife with their own challenges. But people seemed to have stopped half way in their march from the villages to the cities. The question that also needs to be asked is about policy- people dynamics. Is it only that that policy shaped people’s lives and outcomes? Is it unidirectional? This framing would mean that we assume no choice or agency exercised by people themselves. Do some of them move just to go check out the city, gain from higher wages there and experience a different lifestyle? The young man across our farm in Ajangaon chose to be a security guard in Wardha, a town, over farming his 5 acre plot! 

What do I read next, I thought and moved to New Yorker to an article by a law professor at Harvard, on her online teaching experience. These experiences need a level of adjustment with online teaching environments and reconciliation with expectations with teaching that both professors and students have. A professor of Public Finance I know, is struggling with online classes as he doesn’t find it engaging enough because he cannot see his students sitting and responding to him in real life.

Back here, Indian universities have gone quiet, especially the central universities. I am interested in knowing about the men and women whose hostels I would run past during my evening runs in Bangalore University’s campus. Where have they gone? What is the status of their courses?  

Encouraged by Krishna Kumar’s writing, I reconsidered my decision to not offer an online course at GenWise. I went back to the document and started again. I heard Prof Yashpal’s words, ‘The main job of education is to make students capable of wondering about things’ and that ‘You open the mind by posing good questions.’. Now, I do have a version of course to send across to the team.

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