Thursday, December 1, 2011

News from Dr. Asha Mukherjee: Announcing First International Conference of 2012

We wish to share with you news of an upcoming International Conference being organized and hosted by one of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network partners,  the Women's Studies Center at Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan. Dr. Asha Mukherjee, Director of the Center, has informed us that Professor Amartya Sen is expected to inaugurate the Conference and Professor Martha Nussbaum has agreed to deliver the keynote address. Entitled "Women's Creativity and Social Concern" this gathering will be held on January 5-7, 2012. For more information, please see the Conference's theme note below:

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" International Conference: Women Creativity and Social Concern
Ashramkanya Amita Sen: 100th birth anniversary Celebration) 
 5-7 Jan. 2012 (Tentative)
Women’s Studies Centre, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan
In a life span of eighty years, Rabindranath Tagore wrote two thousand five hundred poems, seven novels, composed eighteen hundred songs and a number of plays, wrote, directed and produced at least four well-known dance dramas (nritya natya/geeti natya). Over the years these dance dramas and songs have become an inalienable part of Bengali culture. As if that was not enough, in his late years, he took to painting and produced almost two thousand paintings, which are believed to be a new initiative in the world of art. A mere enumeration of these creative aspects can hardly do justice to his incredible achievements and the great contributions he made to the civilization. He took to interpretation of Religion, History and Society proposing a new concept of “India”, preaching internationalism when nations like Japan, Germany and Britain were preparing for World war. He not only proposed but also implemented significant programmes in rural reconstruction in pre-independent India. Needless to say, contribution of this magnitude is not possible without a novel foundational attitude arising out of a basic philosophical position. Over time his attitude towards Man and the World changed and so did his philosophy. 
Tagore was also responsible for a revolutionary programme in education, using (mostly) his own resources, which was fundamentally different from the usual form and style of education under colonial regime. Even today, it is felt that his educational programme gives us a new insight into the very concept of education. In particular his concerns for women and society are well known.  The women characters in his literary writings ranged from a house-maid to a princess, from an unfortunate mother to a woman deceived by an idea of false revolution and development propagated by a man.  Chitranganda, heir to a royal family convinced herself that to be worthy of the throne she should be like a man and thereby imposed a false identity upon herself. But more paradoxical was her own attempt to be worthy of Arjuna’s love by transforming the body of a beautiful woman.  Finally, she discovers that her journey was actually a journey from one false identity to another – all imposed, directly or indirectly, by the world of man.  Another character Chandalika, living in the periphery as an untouchable, meets a Buddhist monk who tells her that she is as human as he is.  She discovers her humanity; but also develops desire for the monk and compels her mother to use black magic to get him. However, she finds out the extreme pain the monk is going through and rediscovers her humanity, not in desire, but in renunciation!
As we have said, Tagore was not only a poet, a novelist, a composer and a painter, he was a social activist too. For all his ideas to flourish, he needed a place. And he knew that the cities could not anchor it.  So, came the revolutionary idea of Santiniketan – a place which would be different from the urban myth of capitalist development ushered in by the industrial revolution and absentee landlords investing their money in cities like Kolkata which ultimately acts against the real development of humanity.
In Santiniketan, he involved a host of women who were so eager to participate and enjoy the new forms – of song, dance, plays, painting, nature, social relationship and everything Tagore thought necessary for human development. It was not only learning a few tricks but re-creating characters depicted in his plays and dance-dramas. The women of ashram and ashramkanyas achieved exceptional feats in staging the dance dramas and creating unique styles in singing. In fact, Tagore put a heavy demand on our women. In 1936, he was hoping for a new beginning of civilization and strongly believed that women’s role is absolutely essential. He expected that women would get rid of their conservative attitude, open their heart, sharpen their intelligence and invest all their resources in the pursuit of knowledge and experience.  In his opinion, uncritical conservative attitude is against the creative spirit. He was unequivocal in claiming that if the women wish to participate in this transition, they will have to rise above the age-old inertia and all sorts of imaginary fear to make themselves worthy of the new beginning of civilization.
At his insistence women of the ashram not only actively participated in all the activities of ashram but also enrolled themselves in different courses in Kala-Bhavan, Sangit-Bhavana and many of them excelled in their pursuits.  Kiranbala Devi, wife of Kshitimohun Sen enrolled in Kala-Bhavana and being invited by Nandalal Bose, actually did a sculpture on the wall of Shyamali. Nandalal’s wife, Sudhira Devi, initiated creation of a style of ornaments mostly using natural ingredients – different flowers, leaves etc. Others like Gouri Bhanja, Jamuna Devi created a style of alpana, batik and other forms using indigenous style. In the process these indigenous forms were raised to the level of art. This creative spirit was continuously translated into a programme of social development through the programme of Rural Reconstruction Tagore started in Sriniketan.
It is this program in which Ashramkanya Smt. Amita Sen participated actively throughout her life. When she was two and a half years old she had drawn Tagore’s attention so much that he wrote a song on her activities and since then she remained an integral part of Santiniketan Ashram. Her whole life can be seen as dedication to humanity and “development” in Tagorean sense. She was an integral part of Tagore’s experiments and she carried the mission forward as long as she was alive. She was the editor of a handwritten magazine “Gurupalli” when she was a student and later of Sreyasi - the feminist magazine started in early nineties. She was the lead dancer in a number of productions in Santiniketan and Kolkata. She was Sampadika (Secretary) of Ashmrik Sangha and became a member of Visva-Bharati Court for two terms. She was trained in lathi khela, chura khela and Judo. As a woman she never felt any inhibition and made contribution in every aspect of life- dance, literature, writing, social and cultural activities and provided personal care to the sick, old and needy.  Her house was a home to many, especially to those who came from outside.  Through her collection of essays and memoirs Anando Sarbo Kaaje,  Santiniketane Ashramkanya, Chole Jay Din and Shirish Bakul Amer Mukul, we find the rich cultural history of Santiniketan interwoven into life stories and interesting incidents. It is well-known that three santhal villages on the west of Santiniketan were part of the Santiniketan Society. Amita had very intimate relation with the villagers and would always stand by them in their need.  She truly believed that ‘serving humanity is the true service’. The conference would be dedicated to her memory to celebrate her 100th birth anniversary.

The objective of the proposed conference is to discuss various aspects of women's creativity, participation in social life, Tagore’s school and the role of women and Tagore’s views on Development and provide participants a platform to critically examine these ideas and their relevance today as well as to provide with the tools and skills required for understanding and mainstreaming gender. The conference intends to focus on social construction of gender in the Indian context by analyzing the various institutions such as education, household, community, market, and the state and to help to evolve perspectives on development and strategies to counter the inter-linked forces of caste, class and patriarchy. It will also examine the impact of mainstream development and globalization processes on women, particularly from the marginalized sections in our society. Tagore realized from his own experience of the villagers’ attitudes and their social behavior that strength can be generated only in a self-reliant village society developing its own locus of power and its own momentum of growth and charity would not lead to the empowerment of people and thus, education is necessary.

Tentative Sessions:

Inauguration: Professor Amartya Sen

Remembering Smt. Amita Sen: Opening with special plenary lecture by Professor Martha Nussbaum

Tagore on Women's Creativity

Women and Nature

Tagore’s School and Role of Women

Women and Development

Women and other Social Concerns

Tentative List of Participants:

1.      Professor Martha Nussbaum
2.      Professor Amartya Sen
3.      Professor Nabanita DebSen
4.      Professor Jashodhara Bagchi,
5.      Professor Malini Bhattacharya
6.      Professor Supriya Choudhury, Jadavpur University
7.      Professor Shefali Moitra, Formerly of Jadavpur University
8.      Professor Tanika Sarkar, JNU
9.      Professor Tista Bagchi, Delhi University
10.   Professor Uma Dasgupta, ISI, Kolkata
11.   Professor Sutapa Bhattacharya, Formerly of Visva-Bharati
12.   Professor Roop Rekha Varma, Former VC, Lucknow University
13.   Professor Rakesh Chandra, Director, WS. Lucknow University
14.   Professor Somendranath Bandhyopadhyay, Formerly of Visva-Bharati
15.   Professor Alpana Roy, Visva-Bharati
16.   Professor Santa Bhattacharyya, Formerly of Visva-Bharati
17.   Sri Somsankar Dasgupta, Santiniketan
18.   Smt. Subhra Tagore, Formerly of Visva-Bharati
19.   Sri Supriyo Tagore, Formerly of Visva-Bharati
20.   Smt. Antara Sen, Pratichi Trust
21.   Smt. Ratnamala Roy, Santiniketan
22.   Smt. Kaberi Sen, Santiniketan
23.   Sri Nitai Basu, Santiniketan
24.   Dr. Santa Bhanu Sen, Santiniketan
25.   Sri Shiv Sen, Vidyasagar College, Suri
26.   Smt. Mira Roy, Santiniketan
27.   Sri Nilanjan Banerjee, Rabindra Bhavana, Visva-Bharati
28.   Sri Aurobindo Nandi, Pratichi Trust
29.   Dr. Mallanath Mukherjee, Santiniketan
30.   Smt. Sumana Roy, Formerly of Visva-Bharati
31.    Sri Amit Sen, Santiniketan
32.    Sri Aurobindo Roy, Santiniketan
33.   Smt. Piyali Sen, Santiniketan
34.   Sri Subir Banerjee, Santiniketan"