Mahatma Gandhi and his thoughts continue to attract and inspire people across the world, but the situation is different in the TM Bhagalpur University in Bihar. The number of students enrolling in the post graduate department of Gandhian thought has witnessed a sharp decline in the past few years as students are sceptical of the job opportunities available after this course. This department, which is the first of its kind in the country, is now fighting for survival due to official apathy in the past few years.
Prof Vijay Kumar, head of the Gandhian thought department said that it is a fact that enrolment has declined. “This year 18 students have enrolled in the first semester of the current academic session (2019-20),” he told NewsClick.
“We have 8 students in the 4th semester, who had appeared in the final examination and are awaiting results, 3 students in 3rd semester, 32 in second semester and 18 in the first semester of the post graduate course in Gandhian thought. Many of those enrolled in first semester, in fact, left the course midway,” he added.
According to him, there are 75 seats in each semester for the two-year-long course. But the number of students enrolled is less than one fourth.
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An official of the department, on condition of anonymity, told NewsClick that the declining number of enrolment began since 2012-13. He said, “Earlier, the number of students enrolled for the course was not like now.”
“This year in mid-May, when only 7 students had enrolled in the course, the university authorities threatened to discontinue the programme this session unless enrolment is in double digits. As a result, the department was forced to extend the deadlines for admission which resulted in the enrolment of a few more students,” the official added.
Talking about ways to improve the popularity of the course on Gandhian thought, Kumar said, “If the government wants, the department can be developed as a centre to help implement schemes related with Gandhian thought in the country. It would strengthen the constructive programmes and also help in skill development of the students, for better employment opportunities. Such change would surely attract more students towards the course.”
“At present, most of the student who joined the course did so in a bid to stay in the hostel after completion of post graduation in other subject, or those who failed to get admission in any other subject. Only a very few actually want to study it,” he further said.
Prof Permanand Singh, former head of the department, who retired earlier this year, frankly admitted that after the department was established in 1980, the situation has deteriorated year after year. “But condition is really bad now. Students are not ready to join the course as it has no link with job or self employment. Over the years, the course has been made philosophy centric, contrary to Gandhi’s focus on self reliance,” he told NewsClick.
He said that Gandhian thought is based on the idea of ‘My life is my message’, however, the course offered is more ritualistic rather than creating any opportunity for livelihood. He said, “Gandhi was an economist, his brand of economy is need of the country but we had ignored it.”
Fund Crunch and Govt Apathy
Kumar expressed unhappiness over discontinuation of a few programmes which used to provide exposure to the students. He said, “Earlier, students were sent on field visits to the rural areas and it was mandatory to stay in the villages in order to learn the problems of people and to participate in voluntary labour. But both practices have been discontinued due to resource crunch.”
According to him, the university, in 2004 had sent a proposal to the state government for introducing Gandhian thought at the undergraduate level in five colleges. He said, “But so far, nothing has been done on that aspect. Undergraduate course will help to encourage students to study the subject at postgraduate level.”
The department's official website states, "The objective of the department is to propagate Gandhian ideas and to make the new generation aware of Gandhi and his ideas.”
Kumar said that he had also suggested to start a distance course on Gandhian thought to popularise the course and the subject for people from other fields.
Since the department was started, about 1,600 students have passed out from the department. Except a selected few who have found jobs, most of the students have been forced to either opt for self-employment or are still unemployed as the government has failed to generate jobs for them.
“Even a school teacher’s job is a dream for us because the state government has not decided to recruit pass outs from Gandhian thought in over 300 basic schools started by Gandhi hinself.” Sanjay Kumar, who has a post graduate degree on Gandhian thought, said.
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Sanjay said that over a decade ago, then state government had announced to give weightage to students of Gandhian thought department in the recruitment drive of teachers for 391 basic schools. But nothing has happened till date, the government appears to have forgotten its promise to provide an opportunity.
These schools were set up by Gandhi in Champaran district in 1939 to impart basic education to boys and girls in rural areas. They were also meant to provide vocational training in spinning, carpentry, farming, weaving and leatherwork so that people could live with self-respect and dignity.
Take the case of Ajit Kumar Thakur, in his late 40s, another post graduate in Gandhian thought, who has been forced to do a barber’s job to earn livelihood after he failed to get any suitable job. “My post graduate degree in Gandhian thought proved useless when it came to arranging any job for me,” he said.
Previously, the association of unemployed Gandhian Thought post graduate degree holders had staged protests in Bhagalpur and Patna demanding the government to create job opportunities for them, however, to no avail.
The Bhagalpur university was the first in the country to establish a post-graduate department of Gandhian Thought in 1980.