I am what I am; I will be what I will be.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Political and Cultural Logic of 'Against the Nation: Thinking Like South Asians'

The collection of essays co-written by Dev Nath Pathak, Ravi Kumar and myself, Against the Nation: Thinking Like South Asians was published by Bloomsbury on 18 July 2019. Our own rationale for the collection is outlined in the following write-up, which we have presented as its introduction.


Authors on Tigers Nest, Bhutan conjuring the idea for the collection. Photo by Shweta Singh

Genesis



Mountains are intriguing and often inspiring places, as are they difficult to reach and to leave. It is perhaps in this context that William Blake had once noted, “great things are done when men and mountains meet.”[i] In that sense, this collection of essays in the present form has much to do with climbing a mountain, and the vistas of possibilities it indicated both metaphorically and in reality.

According to Christian belief, Jesus Christ delivered his ‘Sermon on the Mount’ possibly from Mount of Beatitudes located in present-day northern Israel. It is Jesus’ longest discourse in the New Testament, and contains some of Christianity’s core teachings. Closer to home in the extended neighbourhood we call South Asia, mountains have been equally important in myth, history and matters of faith. In Bhutan, popular belief holds that Guru Padmasambhava, popularly known as Guru Rinpoche visited the country in the 8th century or so, and defeated evil spirits that were harming the people, and essentially ‘cleansed’ Bhutan. To do this, he is believed to have initially flown on the back of a tigress’ to the mountain known as Taktshang Goemba or Tiger’s Nest, and began his quest by subduing a local demon. In mythological terms, this affectively marks the entry of Buddhism into Bhutan, which decisively impacted the social and cultural evolution of the country. In Sri Lanka, popular belief suggests that Arahat Mahinda flew through the air from the general area we now refer to as India with a small delegation of disciples carrying the message of Buddhism from the court of Emperor Asoka, and arrived at the mountain known as Mihintale, close to the ancient Sri Lankan capital, Anuradhapura. Sri Lanka’s history too changed radically in cultural and political terms with the introduction of Buddhism. Hindu mythology constantly refers to Mount Meru as do Jain and Buddhist mythic references. Mount Meru, in all these systems of faith, is believed to be the centre of physical, spiritual and metaphysical universes. And there are abounding narratives of similar significance from various parts of the Himalayas dotting the landscape in India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Tibet and beyond. In all these narratives, embedded deeply in mythology, mountains generate notions of faith, versions of history, the genesis of cultural domains, and above all, the travel of culturally coded ideas.


This is the reason why poets have ruminated on and about mountains in many ways, including an admission of an effortless flow of mind in the face of mountains. If Blake attributed the dawn of grand ideas to mountains, Sachchidananda Vatsyayan Agyeya, the Hindi poet wrote, “as my horse gallops ahead, leaving marks behind; beholding riverine orbiting around the hills and peaks, I move ahead as though yet another thing in the larger picture.” [ii]

Authors on Tigers Nest, Bhutan conjuring the idea for the collection. Photo by Shweta Singh
In this context, perhaps this collection of essays would not have found its genesis if not for a mountain, and more specifically, Tiger’s Nest once sanctified by Guru Rinpoche. In February 2018 (20.02.2018 – 24.02.2018), we had travelled to Thimphu, Bhutan at the invitation of colleagues from Sherubtse College, Royal University of Bhutan to help revise their syllabi in political science and sociology. This exercise was well within the mandate of the South Asian University with its slogan of ‘knowledge without borders,’ and more importantly, squarely embedded within our own ideology pertaining to how South Asia should be seen and experienced. At the end of the training, one of the Bhutanese colleagues, Leki Sangay volunteered to take us to Tiger’s Nest. It was a tough trek for us, unused to the climatic conditions in the area as well as the steep ascent and descent. But, it was done. In the slowness of the trek and the many rest stops and accompanying conversations, preliminary ideas for two books had emerged! One was a reflection on higher education in South Asia, which not only would survey the landscape of formal knowledge production and learning in the region, but would also attempt to theorize on how to explain this landscape and its intrigues. The other was a possible collection of essays we had written at different times that deal with the idea of South Asia. It is this latter idea, which has now become the present volume. We have reworked many lectures we had delivered at different places, restructured academic papers written earlier and essays specifically written for popular outlets as well as notes we had written for ourselves for future reflection, which we have reedited and restructured keeping in mind the politics of ideas we have envisaged for the present volume. 



Academic Knowledge beyond Academia


We fully agree and know well from experience that the circulation of academic writing is limited. But that is in the very nature of the academic enterprise globally. What we usually write is not meant for popular or mass consumption. But as a group of people, we are interested in scholarly knowledge as a form of politics, as a source of power and as a means of social and political transformation, as well. In this context, we have believed for a considerable time such knowledge needs to shed its Ivory Tower sensibility at certain times, and should transgress beyond the limited and limiting ramparts of academia, and enter the broader discursive spaces of the society at large. This does not mean that all academic knowledge could be made available for unrestricted mass consumption. In other words, it does not mean that a journalistic piece and an academic reflection could be forcefully made to read the same. Instead, we believe it to be self-evident that specific elements of knowledge we produce formally must necessarily travel to domains inhabited by enlightened people who may not be academics, but might agree with what we have to say, on the basis of our own politics of knowledge. Or, they might also not agree with us. Nevertheless, we hope such knowledge would form a basis for conversations. However in making this shift, we are also mindful of a potential ‘unbearable lightness’ of things, a populist compromise on depth and breath of an argument or the comprehensive nature of an observation we might have to make. We tend to enlighten our lightness with critical insights, conceptual and theoretical formulations that we hope are more readable, with some help from canons of social sciences in the background. This enlightened lightness, we hope, is not unbearable, overly simplistic, and an undue compromise on the rigor of reasoning. The chapters in the volume are, at the same time, invitations for engagements with larger theoretical-political questions that have historical origins, which continue to affect the contemporary.


In this context, we know that by and large, most discussions on South Asia so far have been limited to policy or conventional academic discourses and have seldom touched the cultural and political domains beyond these. This is one reason why a more inclusive idea of South Asia as an approach to politics or research and way of thinking has not had much success at the popular level beyond academic circles. Kanak Mani Dixit explains this situation in his book, The South Asian Sensibility[iii] when he notes, “it is imperative to think of regionalism as going beyond conference rooms and airport lounges” so that regionalism might ignite “the imagination of the masses rather than only well-meaning elites.”[iv] In our present effort, we hope to join Dixit as well as other predecessors, such as Ashis Nandi, Sugata Bose, Imtiaz Ahmed, Shiv Vishwanathan and so on, in doing precisely this. But as far as we are concerned, this is merely a preliminary step towards making our writing and thinking more accessible not simply among fellow academics with an interest in the region, but more so among enlightened people who may be based in art studios, colleges, schools, corporate offices, stakeholders in the culture industry, publishing houses, diplomatic circles, and so on. Our academic background is not something we are willing to camouflage or shed and cannot see any reason to do. At the same time, we are convinced that very background can more sensibly inform what we are trying to do here, somewhat differently. As a result, many of the essays in this collection are more simply written and relatively shorter than our regular work. That is why we do not shy away from utilizing in these essays poems, creative prose, fiction, and other cultural texts vis-à-vis cinema, theatre, music and so on. When the intention is to drive an argument of academic nature to the wider readership, the submission cannot afford to be bound to what is considered ‘empirical’ in social scientific orthodoxy. In these essays, the empirical and the non-empirical seamlessly coalesce to accomplish a dual hermeneutic goal- explanation and an understanding. Likewise, the art of reasoning and polemic also unfold together without hiccups about the legitimacy of this cocktail. We tend to share a basic disposition with Karl Popper, and we do not concern ourselves too much about the types of sources that inform us. Instead, we invite our readers to falsify us. Through these essays, we understand, and we persuade our readers to see merit of our understanding, if any. Similarly, any profundity in these essays would stem from our keenness to straddle many worlds, primarily, academic and non-academic. 

All of us have also intervened and commented on matters of importance to us in public forums beyond our academic work at different times in our individual careers. In that sense, the present effort as a method is not new to us. What is new is that we have collated some of our recent writings and lectures so far presented in disparate places into a single collection. In these essays, we have opted to explore South Asia through music, film, violence, pedagogy, travel, art, myth, and ideas more clearly located in the messy and often indefinable domains such as culture. That is, we have pushed the conventional ways in which ideas of regionalism is studied in our universities in disciplines that vary from sociology and social anthropology at one end, to international relations and political science at the other end. We are sure our colleagues in more established departments of sociology or universities more generally would be horrified at this approach, and would pose that perennial question often posed to irreverent practitioners within the discipline: This is not sociology! How is your work sociological? For them, our answer is a simple counter question: why is this not sociological? After all, we are dealing with society, politics, art, culture and so on in the extended area we call South Asia. These are products of human interaction, which essentially make them relevant to sociological inquiry. The fact that some domains of knowledge become ‘sociological’ such as caste, class and gender in the case of South Asia, and other domains such as art, music and film somehow have to be studied beyond sociology makes no intellectual sense to us. It is a reflection of the intellectual regression of the region’s formal sociological enterprise. Besides, we are amply sociological in another sense. These essays are deeply informed by sociological and anthropological canons, as are they by many other disciplinary sources. In many instances, this reality comes through in these essays, but we seldom waste our energy on, what might well be a conservative-obsessive-disciplinary disorder. 

Politics of Knowledge

Everything we have presented is informed by our research, thinking as well as our sense of ‘politics’ broadly defined. We take it as axiomatic that in an effort like this, the clinical objectivity of sociology as well as the empiricist rationale of social research needs self-conscious reassessment. It is not that we would insist myth is considered empirical fact or that a figment of imagination be considered grounded theory. However, in this intervention, our readings, our thinking, our formal research as well as what we see, hear and smell as individuals in our travels and quotidian existence would also inform what we have to say. History as much as present day politics inform our ideas. We do not fear utopias, and instead embrace them at a time dreams are in short supply and might be considered hallucinations. In other words, biography as well as research and a particular kind of idealism have pushed us in the direction we have taken. These essays are testimonial to the larger intellectual objective of bursting the ‘safe’ territory of academia open for much needed risk-taking, a kind of out-of-box thinking. While the worshippers at the altars in the established Ivory Towers may deem something hazardous about what we have done, we consider it essentially an ideal act to be performed, frequently and feverishly, in social science literature. In short, one must be truly angry with issues, genuinely in love with things, passionately affected by matters, and yet writing about them as cogently as possible. Is this not what Bertrand Russell envisaged to be the hallmarks of good writing? No, we have not achieved it in fulsome. We don't have sufficient arrogance to present this book as an ideal instance of the kind Russell celebrated. But the essays in this book might often remind one of a Russell’s ridicule about the problem of writing in sociology. He says that sociologists might write like the following:

Human beings are completely exempt from undesirable behaviour-patterns only when certain prerequisites, not satisfied except in a small percentage of actual cases, have, through some fortuitous concourse of favourable circumstances, whether congenital or environmental, chanced to combine in producing an individual in whom many factors deviate from the norm in a socially advantageous manner. Let us see if we can translate this sentence into English.[v]

This whole humbug can be simply put, without a care for political correctness, as Russell does in the following observation: 

All men are scoundrels, or at any rate almost all. The men who are not must have had unusual luck, both in their birth and in their upbringing[vi]

At times, through acrimonious polemic laced with instance-based reasoning, the essays in this book call a scoundrel a scoundrel, and at times lets loose the rawness of energy, emotion and intellect. 

Why ‘Against the Nation’?

The title we have given this collection, Against the Nation: Thinking Like South Asians might also lead to some anxiety in the general climate of fearing ‘others’ and populist sentiments of ‘anti nationalism’ and being ‘unpatriotic’ that have become a part of the political landscape in South Asia. Any criticism of any nation is instantly, and cheaply, dubbed anti-national or unpatriotic. It may range from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the sacred to the mundane, and from the important to the banal. For example, if one says one word against the imposed practice of standing up for the national anthem before a cinema begins in a theatre, it may be considered anti-national. Likewise, if there is a critical idea about the state of development in the development of state, it may be thought of as anathema in developmentalist societies. These are extremely superficial notions that call for the submission of citizens’ will, people’s thinking, and electoral subjugation. Our approach to nations in South Asia solicits a more nuanced treatment of patriotism without falling prey to what Tagore warned us in the heydays of cultural-political nationalism. As one of the most erudite poets and thinkers of modern South Asia, Rabindranath Tagore[vii] tried to show through metaphors that modern political nationalism warrants us to belong to the unison produced by a mechanical and coercive power loom, whereas culturally there has been an idea of belonging to the hum and rhythm of a handloom. 

In our writing, we seek to restore this sense of belonging, to the region and its nations in tune with the handloom. A more organic version of belonging, which does not prevent a critical comprehension of the problematic politics of belonging, is pivotal in our scheme. The gloss, erasure, and finesse produced by the power loom of nations could be detrimental to the organic evolution of people’s belonging. In short, they give rise to a variety of identity politics foreclosing the possibility of dreaming and enacting those dreams beyond boundaries. While we appreciate the sentiments in favour of a landmass described in poetry and music of a nation, we are wary of the divisive lines deepened by them too. While we may love to hum our individual national anthems, we are anxious of the Machiavellianism behind the impositions engineered by state apparatuses. Though there is no denial of the significance of national flags in the popular conscience, one cannot dismiss the hegemonic emergence and impositions of the same too. The region of South Asia has been witness to the politics about national flags, acquiring all sizes and spectacular manifestations. 

Being aware of all this does not mean a cancellation of the nation, the state, and the reality of state apparatuses. There is a discomfort that we encounter while looking at the contemporary politics being almost exclusively defined within the frame of a nation. ‘Nation’ appears to us in myriad forms in this politics. However, our perturbation emanates out of the uncritical, blind and violent employment of the term called nation. In contemporary times, it makes much sense to be aware of Tagore’s idea that “nationalism is the training of a whole people for a narrow ideal; and when it gets hold of their minds it is sure to lead them to moral degeneracy and intellectual blindness.”[viii] He attributes violence, massacre and conflict to the ‘Nation.’ We are also aware of debates on the nation grounded in the context of anti-colonial struggles and how it is being debated in light of globalisation debate and the rise of transnational capital. It is the vast body of work around the nation and nationalism that informs our discomfort with it when we posit it vis-à-vis the idea of the region. This is what has led to our discomfort in looking at South Asia as a region defined primarily through the prism and framework of nation states. South Asia is much more than the simplistic relationships between nations. It is rather about connections across people over time. In this sense, we have not attempted to divide our essays among the nation states in the region. That is, we do not count nations in order to be South Asian. Instead, as we think like South Asians, our ideas usher in nations as well as stories from them when they make sense in relation to what we have to say.

We take the nation as a given in this region and beyond. We have not dispensed with our individual citizenship or passports. And we see no reason to do so. But we do believe that the days of pilgrims and travellers like Hiuen Tsang or Fa Hian who traversed the region relatively freely without too many restrictions based in ‘national’ origins is perhaps a much better ideal. We also believe that a vast and far more interesting world of possibilities await us if we can think beyond the limits of the state and the nation, and transgress into an area that is broader, more open, more replete with ideas, and certainly more exciting in general. This is what many of the pilgrims did before the dawn of the official modernity in South Asia. After all, they were the ones who concretized the idea of sacred geography, connecting the dots from Anuradhapura to Varanasi, Kandy to Kochi, Peshawar to Patiala, Kathmandu to Calicut, and Kabul to Calcutta. People moved across the boundaries as small traders, sellers, artisans and craftsmen. And if one can join Ashis Nandi[ix], mercenaries have been more successful in crossing boundaries, even though for the wrong reasons. The socio-cultural underworld of South Asia is therefore more successful in showing us the way forward. But beyond this underworld, there were missionaries and intellectually hungry wanderers who paved the way. Who cannot forget Anagarika Dharmapala in this regard who came from Sri Lanka in the latter part of the 19th century to re-establish what he considered was the lost Buddhism in India and also to champion his idea of a ‘united Buddhist world.’ And among many others, Rahul Sankrityayan was renowned for crossing boundaries in various guises, as a monk or as a ready-to-be converted mind or as an eternally keen traveller, a ghumakkad, willing to witness the world. 

And that is South Asia. That is the sum of the spirit in South Asia, which conditions our way of thinking like South Asians. 

What we have written is an invitation to experience that possibility.

- Ravi Kumar, Dev Nath Pathak and Sasanka Perera

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Notes 

[i]. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/william_blake_145040

[ii]. Sachchidananda Vatsyayan Agyeya: http://kavitakosh.org/kk/%E0%A4%AA%E0%A4%B9%E0%A4%BE%E0%A4%A1%E0%A4%BC%E0%A5%80_%E0%A4%AF%E0%A4%BE%E0%A4%A4%E0%A5%8D%E0%A4%B0%E0%A4%BE_/_%E0%A4%85%E0%A4%9C%E0%A5%8D%E0%A4%9E%E0%A5%87%E0%A4%AF (Accessed on 14 December, 2018). Translated from Hindi by Dev Nath Pathak.

[iii]. Dixit, Kanak Mani (2012) The Southasian Sensibility: A Himal Reader, Sage Publications: New Delhi

[iv]. Kanak Mani Dixit, ‘Introduction’, pp. xiv-xv. In, Kanak Mani Dixit ed., The South Asian Sensibility. New Delhi: Sage, 2012.

[v]. Russell, Bertrand. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. Edited by Robert E. Egner and Lester E. Denonn With an introduction by John G. Slater, London and New York: Routledge, 2009

[vi]. Ibid.: 35

[vii]. Rabindranath Tagore. Nationalism. Penguin: London and Delhi, 2017. [viii]. Tagore, Rabindranath. The Complete Works of Rabindranath Tagore. General Press: Delhi, 2017.

[ix]. Ashish Nandi. ‘The Idea of South Asia: A Personal Note on the Post-Bandung Blues.’ Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 6:4, p. 541-545, 2007.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Bogey-Man of Area Studies: Reading South Asia in Contemporary Times

(Guest lecture delivered at Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies, University of Heidelberg on 6th February 2019 organized by the South Asia Institute and Professorship of Global Art History at University of Heidelberg)

Good evening. Thank you for being here at a time your semester is almost over. 

What I have to say today were initially penned by myself and my colleague, Dev Nath Pathak under the title, ‘In Defence of ‘Area Studies’ in South Asia.’ This was in response to a specific cluster of experiences in our immediate academic circumstances in the recent past. That essay will be included in a collection of essays co-written by him, myself and another colleague, Ravi Kumar. We have called this collection, Against the State: Thinking Like South Asians. That academic-polemical exercise is a more emphatic elaboration of what I have to say today. 


Also, my words are a self-critical reflection deeply rooted in our personal as well as collective intellectual histories and experiences, which at times would not adhere to conventional academic practice. This is simply an explanation, but not an apology. 

All anthropologists are also expected to be good storytellers. So let me begin with two real life stories from the recent past that would place what I have to say in context. Or, they would be a kind of problematic from which I can outline what we would prefer to see as a ‘kind of area studies’ in our own contexts, and in relation to our intellectual politics. But we have never had any reasons to call what we do ‘area studies,’ and also do not see any need to do so. But without a doubt, our focus is South Asia, and it extends beyond the nation. 

When the book, Sociology and Social Anthropology in South Asia: Histories and Practices edited by Ravi Kumar, Dev Nath Pathak and myself began its circulation in October 2018, a colleague in a passing reference in what may be called ‘corridor talk’ dismissed the book as a work in ‘area studies.’ 


Similarly, in 2017, when the Board of Studies of the Faculty of Social Sciences at South Asian University strongly suggested that MPhil and PhD research at the Faculty must have a strong South Asian approach, a colleague from the International Relations Department warned me in private that ‘we must be careful, so that we do not succumb to the area studies model.’ 

What our Board of Studies -- which decides on pedagogic issues with regard to our courses and research proposals of graduate students -- meant however was that Mphil and PhD research as well as teaching programs in the Departments of Sociology and International Relations should ideally move away from being restricted to research within a specific national location. Instead, we were advised to explore how the region might be implicated in the thematics of research and teaching, be that migration, violence, nationalism, caste, ethnicity, visual cultures, relations between states, issues of security, human rights and so on. 

In these kinds of rhetorical statements, what was flippantly thrown around, as ‘area studies’ is seen as a demon that was somehow slain by a group of unnamed academic superheroes in what appears to be an epic battle some time in the recent, but somewhat hazy and undefined past. This assumption does not seem that different from Heracles’ slaying of Geryon in Greek mythology. 


And that demon or bogeyman, it seems must somehow remain entombed in its unmarked coffin. However, invariably many of us partake in one or other version of ‘area studies’ in what we do. Seemingly, the ghost of the entombed area studies demon possesses everyone in so called postcolonial South Asia. One can see a variety of area studies at work in the work of a sociologist working on caste relations in India, and within India, in Punjab or Uttar Pradesh, or Haryana, or even in the famous ‘village’ of the doyen of Indian sociologists, M. N. Srinivas, namely Rampura. Similarly, Srinivas’ counterpart in Sri Lanka, Gananath Obeyesekere initially came to be known as the person who had ‘studied’ the village, Medagama in Sri Lanka’s central hills. 

Area studies also find expression in the work of many scholars in International Relations, and Political Science too. It is in that context they might talk of Nehruvian foreign policy or India’s relations with Pakistan and so on. In a fundamental sense, the idea of ‘area’ and the deeper logic of ‘area studies’ are intact in most, if not all studies, which would however claim, if the need arises, to have entombed the demon in the unmarked coffin, as it were. 

But that ghost is truly more powerful than the seemingly rationally configured intellectual reality many of us comfortably adhere to. Following this self-proclaimed distancing from area studies, in our teaching roles, we often brutally advise our young scholars not to engage with it. Similarly, we may reject academic papers in the ‘rigorously’ quality-controlled journals based on our collective fear of area studies. But the demon plays tricks in our minds like all self-respecting demons from any mythological world ought to do, and often sits in the corners of our academic practices where no broomstick of any South Asian Harry Potter can ever reach. 

This is particularly so when our academic training does not allow many of us to practice reflexivity in any real sense, even though we speak highly of it in classes and in our quotidian rhetoric. 

Who’s Area Studies? 

What appears from our colleagues’ rhetorical and negative judgements referred to earlier is that our recent emphasis on South Asia as an idea, a place of interest and a framework for research is very easily thrown into this unmarked coffin, and equally as easily subsumed in what appears to be the monolith of area studies of the past. But at no point, no one is curious enough to work out what all this means in our own context for us politically, experientially and intellectually. 

Are area studies as a concept so easy to fathom, and equally as easy to condemn? And in any case, why would our interests in South Asia as a framework for research that supersedes the boundaries of nation states as well as disciplinary borders of sociology be so easily equated with area studies, as it was commonly understood on the basis of conventional intellectual histories? 

Are the past interests in area studies and our own the same? Is a focus on South Asia, which we have never called area studies in our own conception, such a terrible thing anyway? 

The intention of my presentation today is not to offer conclusive or defensive answers as such. Instead, my interest is to reflect on these polemics and academic politics linked to the older idea of area studies on one hand, and secondly to think of how to explore South Asia from the perspective of the work undertaken recently by a group of colleagues in South Asian University, of which I am a part. 

But then, if what we have been seeking to build under the mandate of South Asian University as well as within our own intellectual interests is seen by some people as ‘area studies,’ so be it. 

Older Understandings of Area Studies 

In any event, what exactly is the bogeyman or demon known as area studies which everyone seems to enjoy beating? At a basic level and as an approach, area studies can be understood as a multidisciplinary approach in social sciences with a focus on areas defined either by geography or culture, including language, literature, performance and various written as well as unwritten traditions. Seen in this basic sense, everything from African Studies to South Asian studies or Francophone studies could be examples of area studies. 


Let us not hesitate to say that a renowned scholar such as Sheldon Pollock is also an area studies scholar in the ultimate analysis given his focus on Sanskrit, and what may be broadly called Indic studies. There need not be any qualms about it, as long as it delivers to the terrain of scholarship something relatively unfamiliar up to that time. As we know well, many domains of scholarship today are saturated with the reproduction of the known, the familiar, the comfortable, and finally the politically correct and the rhetorical. 

Speaking in a historical sense, European colonial expansion from the 18th century onwards, straddled with the thirst for the kind of knowledge, which had a market in the imperial capitals prompted by post-enlightenment disciplinary expansions, marks the initial genesis of area studies. That is, area studies came about as part of the need for colonial rulers and their sponsors to ‘know’ about the places, peoples, and cultures across which the uncivil thrust of their ‘civilizing’ missions were let loose. This clearly had to do with interests in domination with regard political power, commerce, cultural transformation as well as faith. 

We can’t deny the sinister objectives in the backdrop of these early endeavours of area studies that ranged from classifying and controlling the Biblical ‘benighted heathen’ to romancing with the ‘pristine exotica’. After all, Louis Dumont’s Homo Equalis needed a counterpart, Homo Hierarchicus for official as well as intellectual purposes. 

In this sense, if anthropology of the 19th century was the handmaiden of colonialism, area studies was the favourite child of the expanding empires. What Edward Said later critiqued as ‘orientalism’ at least in part emerged from this colonial politico-commercial approach to global exploitation that also led to the initial emergence of area studies. This global reality evolved in much the same way in colonial South Asia as well. 

The second genesis of area studies is located in the relations of global political power in the aftermath of the First and Second World Wars. The division of the world into convenient areas of study, which includes South Asia, occurred soon after the end of the Second World War and the clear emergence of the United States as a superpower. In this context, it became imperative that the world was more clearly dissected, studied and situated which went beyond the older areas of study made necessary as a result of colonial expansion. 

More specifically, this required the production of knowledge on areas of the world about which American policy makers knew very little.[1] This was not a simple intellectual curiosity. More importantly, it was a political imperative that also fed into schemes of global security, intelligence and politics of carving out spheres of influence in the emerging Cold War. It is in this context that the interest in the idea and category of ‘South Asia’ made political sense to the United States’ Department of State. 

In these larger intersections of meanings, politics and sensibilities, the study of specific world areas including South Asia expanded rapidly in the US university systems with the establishment of centres of expertise with funding allocated via the National Defence Education Act of 1958.[2] This also shows the security prerogative in understanding these kinds of global areas as specific political ‘curiosities,’ rather than cultural areas or interconnected social systems through which ideas, memories, histories, objects and people flowed over a considerably long historical period. 

Clearly, seen in this sense, knowledge was an established cognate of sustainable power, for which there was rivalry in the then bi-polar world. Such knowledge was necessary not merely as a matter of intellectual curiosity, but also as an important basis for the projection of power. And particularly in the context of the Cold War, US military and political planners found it necessary to know more about societies and countries in world regions, including the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and also South Asia. 

In fact, the word South Asia itself was initially coined by the US State Department[3] in the context of these global power dynamics. The Cold War-related interests in area studies was also seen in Europe in addition to the continuities from the colonial experience. It is in these general circumstances, various centres of study focused on specific world regions were established in universities in the US, France, UK and later in courtiers like Japan, China and even India. 

Area studies of this kind were replete with contradictions, which varied from the often-problematic designation of specific areas to the political ambitions of such studies. For instance, the term South Asia itself can be a problematic terminology when its official geographic mass is juxtaposed with its cultural territory. Taken in this sense, Myanmar would have been a far more sensible component of South Asia culturally, than Afghanistan. But historically, the relationships with present-day Afghanistan were crucial as even an obvious but often forgotten fact such as Buddhism’s cultural reach into that region prior to Islamization is taken into account. The matter gets even more complicated when we ask ourselves, why Maldives is in the official fold of South Asia, and Tibet is not? This is despite the fact there is a live and throbbing religio-cultrual proximity, spanning the past and the present, though in the midst of considerable political upheavals. 

In any event, area studies conventionally understood in the way I have briefly outlined have been critiqued for their internal contradictions in approach and attitude over a considerable period of time. These criticisms have come both from the areas that were studied as well as from the more enlightened elements within the Euro-American academic zone itself from where areas studied emerged in the first place. 

Perhaps the best known critique of the area studies approach is Edward Said’s seminal book, Orientalism published initially in 1978, which offered a nuanced deconstruction of the ways in which the so called ‘orient’ was constructed in the Euro-American imagination and perception. 

In a sense, post-colonial studies can be seen as a kind of a response to these issues of power and perception in the studies of the ‘other’ that emanated from the discourses of knowledge production in Europe and North America. Interestingly, Said discussed the perpetuity of orientalism in the latter part of his book, and underlined university education, course curricula, teaching practices, research and training as the areas in which orientalising practices could be seen. In a way, he was right since most university content maintained the framework of area studies in real terms, despite the overt and often rhetorical fight against the phantom, the ghost in the coffin. 

Our Approach to Politics of Knowing South Asia 

The issue however is this: can our present interest in South Asia in a completely different temporal moment and in radically transformed social and political circumstances be so flippantly subsumed within these complicated and hegemonic histories of pre-existing area studies? Would we wilfully entangle ourselves in such an approach given its less than desirable political and cultural baggage? 

But, we recognize that South Asia as a term, emanated from the area studies discourse of the post-Second Wold War period. We also see that a focus on South Asia necessarily means an emphasis on a world region in geographic as well as socio-cultural and political terms. This makes it a kind of area studies for sure. 

But does that, by itself mean that we need to become prisoners of earlier understandings of area studies? In the Preface to the volume, Sociology and Social Anthropology in South Asia: Histories and Practices (Orient Black Swan, 2018), Ravi Kumar, Dev Nath Pathak and myself clearly emphasize our “passion and an ideological commitment to the idea of South Asia” borne out of a very specific set of experiences as well as what we consider the “academic necessity” of focusing across South Asia in teaching and research.[4]

However, our version of exploring South Asia, or if one insists -- area studies -- is self-consciously exorcised of the ramifications of colonialism, neo-colonialism, the expansionist and self-centred logic of nation states, and power relations of hegemonic socio-cultural practices usually enacted across borders. We also tend to provide a kind of contemporariness with inherent complexity to our endeavours, though this also may sit uncomfortably with the conventional understanding of area studies. 

It is specifically in the realm of the contemporary that we bring in issues of civilization and history, culture and politics, literature and poetry, visuality and performance, biography and memory and so on and so forth into what we do. 

And no, this does not lead to any sense of repackaged exotic or bizarre museum materials that an area studies scholar of the colonial period or soon after would have lusted for. 

We consciously seek to let it be the kind of ‘area studies’ that differ from the older versions of that genre. Instead of being part of the archaeology of knowledge that area studies once upon a time performed for their masters, rulers, colonizers and rivalling power blocks, our version of ‘area studies’ unravels that archaeology, and shows its pitfalls. In this process, the objective is to dismantle that archaeology of knowledge, and prevent any possibility of neo-orientalism in contemporary scholarship. And in that spirit, we tend to evaluate the history and practices pertaining to our own areas of study, in sociology and social anthropology, too. 

To state it more clearly, instead of being driven by the power and hegemonic considerations of area studies as outlined earlier, our emphasis on South Asia as an ‘area’ is motivated by our position that “South Asia might be understood beyond the more predictable cartographic understandings of the region” by focusing on its cultural terrains, travel histories, folklore, popular politics and so on.[5] Ours, is “an intellectual position unabashedly in favour of a nuanced understanding of history as well as how culture works in the region over time and at specific moments.”[6]

We also find it extremely problematic to be imprisoned within the notions of ‘nation’ and nationality in terms of research, thinking and theorizing as well as in understanding things like cultural flows and the circulation of ideas. These difficulties have become more pronounced and their contradictions more apparent in our classrooms, where there are ‘representatives’ from all the ‘nations’ in South Asia bringing with them the political baggage they were socialized with. And much of this political socialization is based on an idiom of mutual hostility. This is the kind of socio-political reality that Ashish Nandy has referred to as ‘garrison states’ in South Asia where most states prefer to define themselves, “not by what they are, but by what they are not.”[7] According to him, “Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal try desperately not to be India” while Bangladesh “has taken up the more onerous responsibility of avoiding being both India and Pakistan.”[8] Our students often carry these burdens. 

In these contexts, we have found it necessary to transcend these imposed parochial borders informed by the limited imagination of the nation. We are not calling for the dismantling of nationhood or nationality. Instead, we are suggesting that it might be intellectually useful to explore what lies beyond as much as what lies within the nation. This is particularly so at the present time in South Asia when the idea of the nation has become a divisive tool of populist and violent politics within national borders as well as in relations with other nations. Unfortunately, research and thinking also tend to be subsumed, conceived and conducted within these same confines as if it is an absolute pre-condition for intellectual activity as well as cultural life. 

By its very nature, it should be self-evident that this kind of approach cannot be restricted to either a single discipline or to a single country. It has to transgress disciplinary borders within social sciences and humanities as well as the borders of nation states. 

This is precisely what we have attempted in other works, opening new avenues towards understanding South Asia. For example, our attempt to initiate a discourse along the line of performative politics in South Asia sought to put together themes running across the region. In Culture and Politics in South Asia: Perforamative Communication, Dev Nath Pathak and I have underlined that performance and politics are intricately related in South Asia, as elsewhere in the world. The collapse of power and culture is not peculiar to the United States or the former empire; it is also a crucial realization in the political domain of our own region. To say so, we adopted a framework of themes of regional significance instead of areas, such as nation states. 

Likewise, our scheme of discussion did not settle down with a haphazard and helplessly formulated conglomeration of nation states collectively called South Asia. We do not count India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, the way a SAARC meeting would do, in order to fulfil the quorum. The appearance of the names of these nation states is only due to sheer lack of alternative intellectual traditions and nomenclature. Just by naming these nationalities or nations, or by using the words, South Asia, we do not subscribe to the vulgar simplicity of post-World War Two area studies or the way to understand our circumstances through the reductionist geo-political semantics suggested by SAARC. 

To be more precise, our quest for ‘another’ South Asia, is thoroughly determined by the themes of discussion, which brings in even those parts of the world which may not have anything to do with the contemporary cartographic entity called South Asia. In all the deliberations on South Asia, we pack the region together, with such looseness that it transcends the preoccupation with the idea of area in particular and the narrow logic of conventional area studies in general. This approach is evident in the book, Another South Asia! in which we critically depart from the overly simplistic yardsticks of conventional area studies. 

In our forthcoming book, Against the Nation: Thinking Like South Asians (2019) we have attempted to take our approach of reading South Asia culturally to interested people beyond academia as well. Sugata Bose at Harvard University notes that our approach has “rescued the idea of South Asia from its statist straitjacket and infused it with new and rich cultural meaning”. Similarly, Faisal Devji at University of Oxford notes this is the “first serious attempt to move beyond an artificial and policy-driven definition of South Asia.” He sees what we have tried to do as a matter of “analyzing the many ways in which the region has assumed an autonomous cultural, intellectual, political and economic reality” through which reading the region has been offered “a strategic and historical weight that points toward a new kind of future for its peoples.” 

But as we have already noted, many colleagues “perhaps due to their lack of enlightenment and lapses in imagination” may consider our approach “rhetoric or propaganda.”[9] While we have not called our approach ‘area studies,’ we have no hostility in others calling it as such, as long as its contemporary manifestations and its rupture from the area studies of the past is clearly understood. 

Seen in this sense, we can steadfastly defend our kind of area studies borne out of our politics, our experiences, our intellectual needs and our pedagogic agendas. And we would also promote this way of seeing our circumstances in our work and in our institutions. This is because our efforts are clearly borne out of our experiences and needs, and not anchored to others’ experiences, expectations or anxieties embedded in histories and politics exterior to our own. But it is not a dogmatic and unchanging position as an all-encompassing ultimate truth. 

People are welcome to experiment with it or not; they can adopt it or not; they can engage with it or not. But we will continue to engage with it until we see a more sensible alternative. 

Thank you for your time. 

End Notes

[1]. Arjun Guneratne and Anita Weiss, eds., 2014. Pathways to Power: The Domestic Politics of South Asia. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield; pp. 4. 

[2]. Arjun Guneratne and Anita Weiss, eds., 2014. Pathways to Power: The Domestic Politics of South Asia. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield; pp. 4. 

[3]. Arjun Guneratne and Anita Weiss, eds., 2014. Pathways to Power: The Domestic Politics of South Asia. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield; pp. 4. 

[4]. Ravi Kumar, Dev Nath Pathak and Sasanka Perera eds., Sociology and Social Anthropology in South Asia: Histories and Practices; pp. xvii-xxi (Orient Black Swan, 2018). 

[5]. Ravi Kumar, Dev Nath Pathak and Sasanka Perera eds., Sociology and Social Anthropology in South Asia: Histories and Practices; pp. xvii-xxi (Orient Black Swan, 2018).

[6]. Ravi Kumar, Dev Nath Pathak and Sasanka Perera eds., Sociology and Social Anthropology in South Asia: Histories and Practices; pp. xvii-xxi (Orient Black Swan, 2018). 

[7]. Ashish Nandy, 2005. ‘The Idea of South Asia: A Personal Note on Post-Bandung Blues.’ In, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 541. 

[8]. Ashish Nandy, 2005. ‘The Idea of South Asia: A Personal Note on Post-Bandung Blues.’ In, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 541. 

[9]. Ravi Kumar, Dev Nath Pathak and Sasanka Perera eds., Sociology and Social Anthropology in South Asia: Histories and Practices; pp. xvii-xxi (Orient Black Swan, 2018). 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ අධ්‍යාපනය පිලිබඳ සරල අදහස් කිහිපයක්

(ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ අධ්‍යාපනය පිළිබඳව සංඛ රඹුක්වැල්ල සමග පැවැත්වූ සම්මුඛ සාකච්චාව)

(Cartoon from: http://uteachers.blogspot.in/2012/07/cartoons-on-education-under-attack.html)
සංඛ රඹුක්වැල්ල:
අධ්‍යාපනය, කියන කාරණය ඔබේ විශය පථ
යට අනූව නිර්වචනය කරන්නේ කවරාකාරයෙන් ද?

සසංක පෙරේරා:
මගේ විශ්වාසය නම් අධ්‍යාපනය කියන කාරණය ආකාර කීපයකින් තේරුම් ගතයුතු බවයි. 

එක මට්ටමකින්, අධ්‍යාපනය ලබා ගැනීම කියන්නේ සාක්‍ෂරත්යවය ප්‍රගුණ කිරීම. ඉස්කෝලවලදී හෝ ගෙදරදී ලියන්න කියවන්න ඉගෙන ගැනීම තමයි මෙයින් අදහස් වෙන්නේ. තවත් මට්ටමකදී මේකට සූක්‍ෂම තාක්‍ෂණික දැනුම ලබා ගැනීම ඇතුලත් වෙනවා. වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාව හෝ ඉන්ජිනේරු ශිල්පය සරසවිවලින් ලබාගැනීම හෝ යම් ලෙසකින් ප්‍රායෝගිකව වෟත්තීයමය තත්ත්ව තුළදී යොදා ගන්න පුළුවන් භාෂාවක් ඉගෙන ගැනීම මේ ලෙසින් තේරුම් ගන්න පුළුවන්. 

කලකට ඉහතදී හුදෙක් ඥානය සඳහාම යම් අධ්‍යාපනයක් ඇතැම් අය ලබා ගත්තා. දර්ශනය, දේශපාලන විද්‍යාව ආදී දේ අතීතයේදී ඉගැන්වූයේ මේ පරමාර්ථය ඇතිවයි. හැබැයි දැන් කාලේ බොහෝ විට මේ විෂයන් මෙන්ම තවත් බොහෝ විෂයන් ප්‍රායෝගික තාක්‍ෂණික දැනුම හෝ වඩාත් පුළුල් වූ ඥානයක් ද ලබා නොදෙන නොවැදගත් හා යල්පැන ගිය දේ බවට පත්වෙලා. 

හැබැයි  ඕනෑම සමාජයක පුලූල් අධ්‍යාපනයක විශය දැනුමට අමතරව පුරවැසිකම, සමාජ  තත්ත්ව කියවීමට හැකි විශ්ලේෂණීය දැනුම, නිර්මාණනීයත්වය අගය කිරීම ආදී හැකියාවන් ද අනිවාර්යයෙන් ඇතුලත් විය යුතුයි. එසේ නැති අධ්‍යාපනයක් කවදාවත් සාර්ථක අධ්‍යාපනයක් හැටියට දකින්න බැහැ.

සංඛ රඹුක්වැල්ල:
එකී නිර්වචනය ලංකාවේ අධ්‍යාපනයට ආදේශ කළොත් ?

සසංක පෙරේරා:
ලංකාවේ වෛද්‍ය විද්‍යාව, පරිඝණක වේදය හා ඉන්ජිනේරු ශිල්පය වැනි බොහෝ විෂයන් ඒවාට අදාල මූලික තාක්‍ෂණික දැනුම ලබා දෙන බවයි පේන්නේ. ඒ නිසා තමයි මෙවන් විශයන් ප්‍රගුණ කරණ උදවියට ලොව බොහෝ තැන්වල රැකියා අවස්ථා විවර වන්නේ. ඒත් මේ දැනුම වුනත් ලැබෙන්නේ ඒවාට අනිවාර්යයෙන් ඇතුලත් විය යුතු දාර්ශනික, ආචාරධර්මීය හා දේශපාලනික දැනුම නොමැතිවයි. ඒවා යොමු වී ඇත්තේ හුදෙක් වෙළඳපොළට තාක්‍ෂණික නිපුණත්වයක් ඇති ශ්‍රමිකයින් බිහි කිරීමට පමණයි. නමුත් මානව ශාස්ත්‍ර (humanities) හා සාමාජීය  විද්‍යාවන් (social sciences) වැනි විශයන්ගෙන් මේ වෘත්තීයමය නිපුණතාවයවත් ලැබෙන්නේ නැහැ. ඉතාමත් සරලව ගත්තොත්, ලංකාවේ ඇතැම් තාක්‍ෂණික හා වෘත්තීය අධ්‍යාපන පර්ශද හැර, අන් සියළුම අධ්‍යාපනික ක්ෂේත්‍ර  තත්කාලීන දේශීය හෝ ගෝලීය අවශ්‍යතාවලට සරිලන ලෙස විකාශනය වී නැහැ.

සංඛ රඹුක්වැල්ල:
අධ්‍යාපනය එහෙමත් නැත්නම් දැනුම ලබාගැනීම අර්බුධයක් කරා පරිවර්තනය වෙන්න පුළුවන් ද ?

සසංක පෙරේරා:
අපේ රටේ අධ්‍යාපනය දැනටමත් අර්බුදයක්  වී හමාරයි. දැන් කල යුත්තේ ඒ අර්බුදයේ පැහැදිලි ස්වරූප හඳුනාගැනීමත්, ඉන් ගොඩ එන ක්‍රම සොයා ගැනීමත් තමයි.

සංඛ රඹුක්වැල්ල:
වර්තමාන ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ පවුල් සංස්ථාව, ආගමික සංස්ථාව, දේශපාලන සංස්ථාව වගේම අධ්‍යාපන සංස්ථාවත් පවතින්නේ අර්බුදයක. මේ අර්බුදය ඔබ දකින්නේ සංස්ථාවන් කිහිපයක එකතුවෙන් නිර්මාණය වුණ අර්බුදයක් විදිහටද එහෙමත් නැත්නම් අධ්‍යාපන සංස්ථාවේ පමණක් හටගත්තා වූ අර්බුධයක් විදිහට ද?

සසංක පෙරේරා:
පුලුල් වශයෙන් ගත්තොත්,  අපේ රට පවතින්නේ අර්බුදකාරි තත්ත්වයක. පැහැදිලි දේශපාලනික හෝ ආර්ථිකමය දිශානතියක් දකින්න නොලැබෙන රටක, ඒ රටේ පවතින රාජ්‍ය ආයතන හෝ ඔබ සඳහන් කරණ ආකාරයේ සමාජීය සංස්ථා මේ අර්බුදවලින් බේරී සිටී යැයි හිතන්න අමාරුයි. 

නමුත් අපි මේවා කලවම් කරගත යුතු නැහැ. උදාහරණනයක් විදියට, පවුල වැනි සංස්ථාවල තත්කාලීන විපර්යාස ඇති වී තිබුනත්, මා ඒවා දකින්නේ අර්බුද හැටියට නොවේ. උදාහරණයක් හැටියට, ඇමරිකාවේ වැඩිවියට පත් දරුවෙකුට තම පවුලෙන් හා දෙමාපියන්ගෙන් යම් ගැටළුවකදී ලබාගත හැකි උදව් උපකාරවලට වඩා වැඩි යමක් අපේ රටේදී මෙන්ම මේ කලාපයේ අන් රටවලදීද සාමාන්‍යයෙන් බලාපොරොත්තු වෙන්න පුළුවන්. අනෙක් අතට, දේශපාලනය හෝ ආගම සංස්ථාවන් හැටියට ගත්තහම අද පවතින බොහෝ ප්‍රශ්න අපේ සමාජයේ අධ්‍යාපනයේ ගුනාත්මක බව හා එහි අඩංගු විය යුතු පුරවැසිකම පිළිබඳ විඥානය පහත වැටීමත් එක්ක සිදු වී ඇති බවයි මගේ විශ්වාසය.

සංඛ රඹුක්වැල්ල:
වර්තමානයේ ලංකාවේ කතා කරන සුලබ මාතෘකාවක් තමයි, සයිටම් ප්‍රශ්නය. මේ ගැටලුව ඔබ දකින්නේ කොහොමද ?

සසංක පෙරේරා:
උසස් අධ්‍යාපනය නිමක් නැතුව පෞද්ගලීකරණය කිරීම ගැන මගේ කැමැත්තක් නැහැ. මෙයින් කියන්නේ මේ ක්ෂේත්‍රයට පෞද්ගලික ව්‍යවසාය කිසි සේත්  නොපැමිණිය යුතුය යන්න නොවේ. ඒත් සයිටම් වැනි කිසිම ප්‍රමිතියක් නැති අධ්‍යාපන කඩ ලාභය සඳහා පමණක්ම හැම හන්දියක ඇරීම බුද්ධිමත් දෙයක් නොවේ. 

සීමා රහිතව හා ප්‍රමිතියකින් තොර  පුද්ගලික අංශයේ උසස් අධ්‍යාපනය පිළිබඳ  ඕනෑ තරම් උදාහරණ ඉන්දියාවෙන් හා බංගලිදේශයෙන් ලබා ගන්න පුළුවන්. නමුත් අපේ දේශපාලකයින් හෝ අධ්‍යාපන නිලධාරීන් මේවායින් පාඩම් ඉගෙන ගන්න බවක් පේන්න නැහැ. 

සංඛ රඹුක්වැල්ල:
අධ්‍යාපනය පෞද්ගලික අංශයට බාර දීම ද වඩාත්ම යෝග්‍ය රාජ්‍ය විශ්වවිද්‍යාල පද්ධතිය දියුණු කිරීම ද ?

සසංක පෙරේරා:
උසස් අධ්‍යාපනය පුද්ගලික අංශයට බාර දීමේ එකම අරමුණ වෙළඳ ලාභය පමණක් නම්, එයින් සිදුවන්නේ මුදල් වියදම් කිරීමට හැකියාවක් නැති උදවියට බරපතල අසාධාරණයක් වීමයි.  ප්‍රාතමික, ද්විතීයික හා උසස් අධ්‍යාපනය සුදුසුකම් ඇති සියලූ දෙනාගේම අයිතියක් විය යුතුයි. නමුත් තාක්‍ෂණික විෂයන් හා යම් දුරකට විද්‍යා විෂයන් හැර, අපේ විශ්වවිද්‍යාලවල තියෙන සමාජීය විද්‍යා හා මානව ශාස්ත්‍ර  වැනි විශයන් බොහෝ දුරට කිසිම පිළිගත හැකි ගෝලීය ප්‍රමිතයකට යටත් නොවූ යල්පැන ගිය මහා ජංජාලයක්. ඉතින් මේ වගේ වැඩකට නැති උසස් අධ්‍යාපනයක් රජයෙන්වත් පුද්ගලින අංශයෙන් වත් පවත්වාගෙන යා යුතු නැති බවයි මගේ විශ්වාශය. 

සංඛ රඹුක්වැල්ල:
ශ්‍රී ලංකාව තුළ රාජ්‍ය විශ්වවිද්‍යාල පද්ධතියෙන් වසරකට උපාධිධාරීන් තිස් දහසකට ආසන්න ප්‍රමාණයක් පිට වෙනවා. නමුත් දේශපාලනික සබුද්ධිමත්භාවය අතින් ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයා සෑහෙන්න දුර්වලයි කියලා චෝදනාවක් තියෙනවා. මේ කාරණය ඔබ දකින්නේ කොහොමද ?

සසංක පෙරේරා:
මගේ විශ්වාසය නම්, අද දවසේ විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ඥාන සම්පාදනයේ හෝ බුද්ධිමත් විවේඡනයේ කේන්ද්‍රස්ථාන හැටියට දකින්න බැරි බවයි. මා කලින් විස්තර කළ විදියට එක්කෝ මේවා තාක්‍ෂණික හෝ වෘත්තීයමය පහුණුව ලබාදෙන තැන්. නැතිනම්, ඒවා මෙලොවටත් එලොවටත් වැඩක් නැති අසම්පූර්ණ හා යල්පැනගිය දැනුම ලබාදෙන තැත්. එවැනි තැන්වලින් සමාජයට දේශපාලනික සබුද්ධිමත් බවක් ලබා දෙයි කියලා හිතන්න අමාරුයි.

සංඛ රඹුක්වැල්ල:
දැනුම බලය වේ, කියන කාරණය යතාර්තයක් විදිහට දකින්න තව කොච්චර කාලයක් ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයා බලාසිටිය යුතුද ?

සසංක පෙරේරා:
යම් ආකාරයේ දැනුම් පද්ධති අපේ රටේ  දැනටමත් බලය පිළිබඳ මෙවලම් බවට පත්වී හමාරයි. නමුත් මෙය සිද්දවී ඇත්තේ නිශේධනීය ආකාරයකටයි. අපේ රටේ සරසවිවලින් ලබාගත්ත දැනුම නිසාම ඔවුන් ලබාගෙන ඇති තානාන්තර හරහා විශේෂයෙන්ම රජයේ වෛද්‍යවරු බලය පිළිබඳ පෙළහැර පෑම මේකට එක් උදාහරණයක්. වෛද්‍යවරු වෟත්තීය අයිතීන් සඳහා සටන් නොකළ යුතුය යන්න මෙහි අදහස නොවේ. නමුත් එසේ බලය ක්‍රියාත්මක විය යුත්තේ සමාජයට හින්සනීය අයුරකින් නොවේ. 

නමුත් ‘දැනුම බලය වේ’ යන අදහස මතු වූයේ මෙවැනි තත්ත්ව යටතේ නොවේ. එයින් අදහස් වූයේ දැනුම හා එයින් ලබන ඥානය නිසා පුද්ගලයින්ට ලෝකයම විවර වන බවයි. බලය ලෙසින් පිලිගැනුනේ මේ ඥානමය විවරවීම හා එතුලින් ගොඩ නැගෙන අනන්ත බලයයි. නමුත් වර්තමානයේ අපේ සරසවිවලින් එවන් බලයක් ගොඩනගන බව හෝ ඒ පිළිබඳ අදහසක්වත් ගොඩ නගන බව මට පේන්නේ නැහැ. සරසවි තුළම වුවත් දුරාවලිගත බලය ගොඩනැගෙන්නේ දැනුම මත නොවේ. එය ගොඩ නැගෙන්නේ පටු දේශපාලනික සුදුසුකම් මතයි.

සංඛ රඹුක්වැල්ල:
ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ විශ්ව විද්‍යාලයක මහාචාර්යවරයෙකු සේම විදේශ විශ්ව විද්‍යාලයට මහාචාර්යවරයෙකු ලෙස සේවය කිරීමේදී ඔබ හඳුනාගත් පැහැදිලි වෙනස්කම් මොනවද ?

සසංක පෙරේරා:
අපේ රටේ හා ලොව ඇතැම් තැන්වල ඇති විශ්වවිද්‍යාල අතර ඇති වෙනස්කම් දකින්න විදේශගතවීමම අවශ්‍ය නෑ. තත්කාලීනව ලොව හැමතැනම විශ්වවිද්‍යාලවල දැනුම් නිශ්පාදනය පිලිබඳ කඩාවැටීමක් දකින්න පුළුවන්. ඒ එක්කම පුලූල් අධ්‍යාපනයකට වඩා වෟත්තීයමය හෝ තාක්‍ෂණික අධ්‍යාපනයකට වැඩි තැනක් ලැබී තිබෙනවා. මේ අධ්‍යාපනය ඍජුවම වෙළඳපොළ සමග එක්වී ඇති නිසායි. ලංකාවේ වගේම දකුනු ආසියාවේ අන් රටවලත් මේ කඩාවැටීම හා විපර්යාසසය වඩාත් දරුණුයි. 

අපේ රටේ මම දකින ප්‍රධානම ගැටළුව නම්, මේ තත්ත්වය පුලූල් කථාබහකට ලක් වී නොතිබීමයි. මේ කතිකාව අරබන්න සුදුසුම තැන් තමයි සරසවි. නමුත් ඒවායේ ඉන්න ගුරුවරුන් මේ ගැටළුවේ කේන්ද්‍රීය වගඋත්තරකරුවන් වී ඇති සන්දර්භයක එවැනි කතිකාවක් ඇතිවෙයි කියලා හිතන්න අමාරුයි.

සංඛ රඹුක්වැල්ල:
අධ්‍යාපනික අර්බුධයෙන් ගැලවෙන්න වගේම යහපත්, බුද්ධිමත් ප්‍රජාවක් නිර්මාණය කරන්න ඔබට තියෙන යෝජනා මොනවාද මහාචාර්යතුමනී?

සසංක පෙරේරා:
මේවා කියන එක ලේසියි කරනවාට වැඩිය. අඩුම තරමින් අපේ සමස්ථ අධ්‍යාපන පද්ධතියේ අනේක අර්බුධ අපි පැහැදිලිවම තේරුම් ගත යුතුයි. යම් යම් වාර්තා තිබුනට, බුද්ධිමතුන් අතලොස්සක් මේ ගැන කතා කරලා තිබුනට,  මේ ප්‍රශ්නය සමස්ථයක් විදියට අපි තාමත් විධිමත්ව තේරුම් අරන් නැහැ. 

එක් අතකින් මං හිතන්නේ අපේ විශ්වවිද්‍යාල බොහෝමයක් වෙළඳපොළට ශ්‍රමිකයින් බිහිකරන තාක්‍ෂණික ආයතන බවට පත්කළ යුතුයි. හැමෝම බොහෝම සාධාරණීයව ඉල්ලන්නේ රස්සානේ. රස්සාවල්වලට ශ්‍රමිකයන් පුහුණුකළ හැක්කේ මේ වගේ තාක්‍ෂණික ආයතනවලටයි. මූලික උසස් අධ්‍යාපනයක් ලබාදිය යුත්තතේ ඒ සඳහාම වෙන්වූ කොලීජිවලින් (undergraduate education). 

විශ්වවිද්‍යාල වෙන් විය යුත්තේ  ඕනෑම විශය ක්ෂේත්‍රයක් ගැඹුරින් හැදෑරීමට හා ඒ පිළිබඳ පර්යේෂණ කිරීමටයි. අපේ තියෙන්නේ මේ සියල්ල ඔහේ කලවම් කර ගත්ත පද්ධතියක්. 

නමුත් මේ කුමන මට්ටමකින් අපි සමාජයට අධ්‍යාපනය ලබා දුන්නත්, විචාරශීලී වන්නටත්, චිත්තවේගයට වඩා බුද්ධිය ආශ්‍රයෙන් හිතන්නට හා තීරණ ගන්නටත්, වෘත්තීය අවශ්‍යතාවලට අමතරව කලාව හා නිර්මාණශීලී බව අගය කරන්නත් හැකි අධ්‍යාපනයක් තමයි රටකට අවශ්‍ය. 

නමුත් අපේ අවාසනාවට, මෙවැනි තීරණ ගැනීමට හැකියාවක් තියෙන නායකයන් මෑත කාලයේ අපේ රටේ බිහිවෙලා නෑ.

(මේ සම්මුඛ සාකච්චාව පෙබරවාරි 18 දින දරන රාවය  පුවත්පත්‍රයේ පළවීය. ඊට මෙතනින් පිවිසිය හැක)