A College in Search of a “Saga”From Navigating the Labyrinth: Perspectives on India’s Higher Education

 

Prologue

The story of higher education in Bihar is told in terms of decline and decay. It is common knowledge that universities are starved of funds, with more than half the teaching posts in colleges and universities lying vacant and in many cases for more than two decades; laboratories are dysfunctional and libraries are dying. Release of funds to the universities and payment of salary to the teachers make front-page news. One of the main jobs of the universities and the government is to fight hundreds of suits which teachers have been filing in the High Court to sort out their service related matters, including their seniority, length of service, fixation and regular payment of salary, release of pension and other retirement-benefits. Vice-Chancellors are appointed and summarily removed at the sweet will of the Governor who is also the Chancellor of the universities of Bihar. The tension between the Chancellor and the education department of the government has created bizarre  situations like Vice Chancellors being appointed by the Chancellor and their financial powers seized by the government and then the vice chancellors moving to courts for relief.  The news of principles and vice- chancellors being hauled up, dismissed, arrested on various charges does not shock the people of Bihar anymore. All this has forced the students of Bihar to look towards places like Delhi and Bangalore for pursuing their higher education. Students who do not have the wherewithal to go to such places get enrolled in various courses but appear only at the time of examination. People in Bihar seem to be convinced of the futility of college and university education. Lack of basic facilities like electricity and poor quality of school education in most of the towns of Bihar forces teachers to leave their families and children in Patna or a place close by. As a result they do not live in their duty stations or spend less and less time there. Most of them keep visiting politicians or people who matter to get transferred to either Patna or a place near it.

To tell all this in a language of cold statistics of student-enrolment, faculty, allocation of funds, etc. did not seem adequate to me. Moreover, it would reveal little that was new. An analysis of educational policies that successive governments have been following is also long overdue. The role of courts in the matters of higher education in the context of Bihar remains to be examined. Bihar is known for its strong teachers’ movement. It was surprising for me to find no serious study on this issue or on the changing pattern of student politics which is often blamed for the chaos that mars the campuses of Bihar. The link between caste-politics and education has also not been explored. This is distressing, especially in the light of the rise and consolidation of the politics of backward castes and dalits in Bihar.  The observers and students of high education in India have always complained about the lack of documentations and research in this field. It is also true of Bihar.

When I started thinking about the cause of this sorry state of higher education in Bihar, a question arose: Can we describe it using the language of decline! Decline pre-supposes a high point. Was it ever there in Bihar? Or, one can also ask: why and how these institutions of higher learning, colleges and universities were created in the first place? Whose aspirations did they reflect? Why did they start crumbling in a period of two or three decades which is a very small time in the life of an institution? What has been the relationship of these institutions with other social institutions? Who takes the ownership of these institutions?  In other words, what is their life story? Unfortunately for people like me, there is an acute dearth of such stories.

In this desert, Knowledge, Power and Politics a collection of studies of institutions of higher learning in India like, Delhi College, St. Stephen’s College, Presidency College, etc. (edited by Mushirul Hasan) is a rare flower. I found “The College by a river: Patna College” in this collection, which stirred my own memories of the college where I had spent my college years. The poignant tale of the Patna College told with feeling by a man of letters showed me the way (Mukherjee 1998). In the meanwhile, I also read The Distinctive College, a masterly account of  the historical development of three colleges, Antioch, Reed, and Swarthmore situated in a distant land , ie. the United States of America, by Burton Clark (Clark 1970). His theory of “Organizational Saga” developed from his research on these colleges looked very powerful to me. It helps you understand the reason for the durability of an organization as a living being. More often than not, the reasons for the success or failure of a college or an educational institution are sought in their structures or their rational aspects. Clark says that “a needed corrective is more research on the cultural and expressive aspects of organisations, particularly on the belief and sentiments at broad levels of organization.”

“An Organizational saga is a collective understanding of unique accomplishments in a formally established group. The group’s definition of the accomplishment intrinsically historical but embellished through retelling and rewriting links stages of organisational development” (Clark 1972). Clark says that the group adds emotional loading to the story which tells you how certain means lead to certain ends but more than that it also explains why an organisation become a beloved place for a group of people. The Saga, according to Clark is a strong purpose conceived and enunciated by a person or a group. Organisations established at the instance of some higher authority to fulfil some demands, do not develop a saga. He says that even utilitarian organisations may develop a week saga but generally saga takes its own time to evolve. It must have some initiators but there should also be people who would inherit it and make their own affective additions to it.

What I understood after reading Clark was that organisations which are treated as living beings and are beloved to a set of people have a greater chance to survive and endure with the sense of purpose for they were created. Secondly organisations have their own time.  A saga can evolve only over a period of time. This time is also two fold. One is the historical time, which is independent of a particular organisation but there is also an internal time, which may or may not co-relate or coincide with the outside time. This internal time gives the organization its unique rhythm. But to have one’s own rhythm you also need to have individuals who not only invent it but keep practicing it.  Turning my attention to the colleges and universities of Bihar, I felt that there were institutions, which had this seed of saga within them. But it failed to take root. In some cases a weak saga developed. For a saga to develop, it also needs a receptive soil. This soil to me is the outside society. Institutions live and function in relation to them. It is, therefore, very important to understand the relationship between an institution, in our case, a college and society.

It is said that human beings create everything in their own image. Societies also create institutions in their own image. If there is one that does not reflect it, they keep trying to mould it their way. Demands are placed on them and there is a constant pressure on them to respond to these changes which are happening outside, in historical time. They are asked to keep pace with it. It is bound to disturb the internal rhythm of the institution.  With the loss of this rhythm, institutions lose their uniqueness.

I decided to tell the story of two colleges, Patna College and D A V College, Siwan. They are very different from each -other. DAV College is located in a mofussil town of Bihar and Patna College is situated in Patna, a city with a rich history and is the capital of Bihar. The former however is part of my childhood and early youth memories as my father taught here for more than three decades and I spent two of my post-secondary college years in this college.  For my undergraduate studies I joined the Patna College. I could claim that I had seen the good times of these colleges and also seen them, with pain, collapsing. This paper does not claim to give any analytical insights. It merely tries to present their narrative, with an emphasis on their relationship with their surroundings.

I had long conversations with my father, his colleagues, my teachers and old students of the DAV College, Siwan. The characters of this narrative are not fictional.[1] Unfortunately, as I have said above, there is little documentation of the process of the establishment of educational institutions in Bihar. In its absence, it is only the memories, which come to your aid. In many cases, they may not be reliable. This is, therefore, not a historical account of the institutions of higher education in Bihar, nor is it an authentic biography of the two colleges.  It should be read more as a memoir of someone who, for more than three decades was part of the lives of the two colleges and who is now from a distance looking back at them. Using the category of “organizational Saga,” I have tried to see if these colleges have something like a saga or not. What I find is that they failed to develop their saga. Hence the title of the paper.

I gave up trying to visualise what will happen to my college when I am no longer around, not even to hear or lament. Perhaps, late on some not too far August or September night, when the water is high, the college will simply jump into the river. The Ganga will neither pause nor look back; it has seen too much already.

Thus concludes Sujit Mukherji in his affectionate recollection of Patna college, a college where he taught for some years after graduating from it. His association with the college goes even farther as his father had also been a teacher here for more than eight years.  Sujit is no more now. The college continues to lie where he had left it. Ganga has further receded from the Patna College. Does it qualify any longer to be called “A college on the river bank” as Sujit would have liked it to be known? Do memories of the Ganga ever stir its soul?

I have also known Patna College for more than three decades. In 1981 I had joined this college as an undergraduate student. Hope was still in the air. Clutching that ray of hope, like thousands before me, I had come to Patna College from a small town of Bihar called Siwan. Patna College and Science College used to be the ultimate destinations for youth wishing to pursue education in liberal arts or sciences. Allahabad University was another attraction, but mainly for those who aspired to go to the Indian Administrative Services. Banaras Hindu University was another possibility for a good undergraduate experience. Dilli was still some distance away. Bangalore was nowhere on the horizon of “higher” or “technical” education.

Sujit Mukherji would not have thought of writing these pensive words then. He could still recall his association with the Patna College in a futuristic vein. Writing about his teacher Kalimuddin Ahmad who taught English and was a critic in Urdu, he says: “Kalim Saheb narrowly escaped being taught by my father, but Kalim Saheb’s children – at least Azhar and Farida- did not escape me. In between, my next elder brother Subhas and I (and several in-laws, like my wife) partook of the feast of being taught by Kalim Saheb. I shall therefore have no hesitation in turning over my children, should the opportunity arise to the tutelage of Azhar and Farida. This is one way I can requite a fraction of what I owe to Kalim saheb.”

It was to take take another decade and half for Sujit to visualize his beloved college committing suicide. Or was it his wish? Perhaps he did not want his college to be forced to endure the ignominy he witnessed it suffering. The fate of his college, however different it might be from other colleges, was to be decided by human beings. Mostly by those who did not carry with them the feel of the parampara (tradition) of the institution to which he felt existentially bound. Politicians, bureaucrats, vice-chancellors, principals, even teachers, who have never been part of the journey that shapes a dream into an institution, take over and the dream starts falling apart.

I try to visualize institutions as organic beings. Rooted in the soil that nurtures and sustains them, their life depends on its quality. Apart from the soil, the ecology they are part of also impacts not only their growth but their very survival. They have been seen by many as rational organizations created through a charter, supposedly to respond to some social or national need and governed by some objective set of rules and regulations. I would like to treat them as emotional beings which exist in a universe of relationships drawing life from them and in return energizing them.

Patna College lived a full life because there was a happy and thriving Science College and a robust Patna Medical college flanking it. You had to traverse some distance on the Ashok Rajpath to reach the Bihar National College (B N College) which was never the first choice of the students but which did have an academic air about it. There was a culture of give and take between these colleges and institutions. Students of the Patna College could go to the annual Saraswati Puja festival organised by the Medical College students which included inter-college drama, debate and music competitions, an opportunity students of different colleges looked forward to eagerly. Friendships across disciplines and institutions were formed and sustained.

Patna College did have supportive companions like the Khuda Bakh Oriental public Library and the Anugrah Narayan Sinha Institute of Social Studies (A. N. Sinha Institute). They were living institutions; you could get “expensive” journals there. But these are two names people from outside Bihar are familiar with. One must mention that the Gai Ghat Putsakalaya or small Mohalla libraries which even small temples used to run, allowed some of my friends like Nasiruddin to read Premchand and Amar Chitra Katha comics. The British Library was where “elites” were supposed to go but Patna felt proud to house it.  Deepak Goswami, its librarian, was a Bangla poet himself. While you could get only British publications in the library, Deepak in his own modest way turned it into a kind of literary and cultural centre where writers of Hindi and Urdu could converge. Not very far from the British library was the Sinha Library which was still a reference point for curious scholars. You had to cross only one street to reach Patna Museum on the back of which was the famous Kashi Prasad Jaiswal Research Institute where the rare Buddhist texts In Pali brought to India from Tibet by Rahul Sankrityayan are stored. Bihar Rashtrabhasha Parishad was yet another institution established and nurtured by the great writer and editor Shiv Pujan Sahai which published books in Hindi in all areas of knowledge. It did not work with a regional, Bihar centric vision but became a platform for the best in Hindi.

Patna had a vibrant intellectual and cultural life.  Stalwarts of the world of music and dance   from all over India made it a point to not miss the annual Durga Puja musical soirees. It would be difficult for a Patna boy or girl born or raised after the eighties to even imagine the crazy all night music and dance extravaganza on the narrow streets of the Langar Toli and Govind Mitra Road which were thronged by people, old and young, men and women, Hindus and Muslims, sitting, standing, awake all night, on the Ashtamies, Navamies and Dashamies to experience the wonders that Birju Maharaj or Sitara Devi or Bismilla Khan wove for them. You talk to them, who are still around and they’ll share with you their fond memories of these Puja nights. It was remarkable that unlike cities like Delhi where classical and popular spaces are clearly divided and rarely meet, in Patna classical was part of the street culture.

An active and thriving cine- society through which the Patna youth remained connected to the best of non-Bollywood Indian and world cinema regularly ran its shows at the Indian Medical Association hall. Regular cinema halls still had slots for “artcinema.” You could go for the morning or noon shows on Sundays to watch Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen , Ritwik Ghatak, Shyam Benegal,Adoor Gopalakrishnan or M.S.Sathyu.

Students of Patna College or other colleges of the university were familiar with cultural groups like Chetna Samiti and theatre groups like Kala Sangam, Anagat, or Patna IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) which used to recruit actors from the campus. Patna Theatre was largely amateur but worked in a professional manner. It was sustained by the students of different colleges of Patna. There were groups producing and performing Bangla and English plays regularly. Narendra Nath Pandey, a teacher of Physics at the B N College was the driving force behind Anagat and Shankar Ashish Dutt of the Patna College and Muniba Sami of the Patna Women’s College were part of the small but active English theatre world.  A single theatre group could produce three to four full length plays a year which is unthinkable now. Mid seventies witnessed the emergence of street theatre in Patna and college campuses turned into open theatre spaces. I have seen students who started as curious onlookers turning into active and passionate theatre activists. Some of the finest actors and ablest directors have emerged from these open spaces.

I have talked at length about the cultural life of Patna, which in my view served both as a source of nourishment as well as a protective ozone layer for the collegiate life. There was a live and healthy interaction between city life and the campus. Well being of the college life depended to a large degree on how the city was doing. It worked both ways. The city felt proud to be the house of the college and the college could claim its place in the life of the city.

Patna, though not a metro, could still claim that it possessed a cosmopolitan mind. The tumultuous sixties introduced it to the world wide youth unrest and made it part of the great Vietnam solidarity movement. At the same time, through poets like Moloy Rai Chaudhary and Rajkamal Chaudhary it developed a kinship with the beat generation which was making waves and shaking the established aesthetic citadels in America under the leadership of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Karouac. Mukti Prasang, a long poem in Hindi by Rajakamal and Zakhm in Bangla by Moloy Rai Chaudhary are Indian equivalents of the legendary Howl by Allen Ginsberg.

The India Coffee House had not made way for a shopping complex and you could walk into it to have a glimpse of legendary writers like Nagarjuna or Phanishwar Nath Renu.  Patna made experimentations in styles, literary or cultural, and it was yet decades away from being turned into a cultural colony or satellite of Dilli. Its ambitions and benchmarks, in all spheres, were truly global.

Rajkamal Chaudhary, like Nagarajuna could write with ease in Maithili and Hindi. Medium of instruction was still Hindi but the desire to learn languages other than Hindi, mainly English, was very much there. You did not need Rapidex English speaking course or guidebooks to learn English. The leisurely pace of the English class rooms introduced you to the beauty of the language and kindled a desire to master it. It was not a superficial, utilitarian relationship with the language. One toiled to make it one’s own.  One can recall that all secondary schools in Bihar since the colonial times had to be English schools. That is how we get to see names like the Victoria Memorial High English School or Sarraf High English School. One should also remember that the Khadi boli Hindi which we now assume to be the mother tongue of all Biharis was a very new language. For a Maithili or Bhojpuri speaker it was still a school language which had to be acquired and learnt.

Learning languages was an essential prerequisite for a school or college goer and was not resented. It was only the advent of the politics of Ram Manohar Lohia in the sixties and Karpuri Thakur who, after taking over as the chief minister of Bihar declared that it was not necessary to pass in English in the matriculation examinations. The students passing their matriculation examination without English were popularly known as members of the “Karpuri Division.” Kedar Nath Pandey, general Secretary of the Bihar secondary Teachers’ association, himself a teacher of Hindi, has this to say about this move, “ Karpuri Thakur , by removing English from the secondary education derailed it ( ANGREZI KO MADHYAMIK SHIKSHA SE HATAA KAR USE PATARI  SE UTAR DIYA).” A teacher of longstanding and headmaster of many schools, Pandeyji says that students used to go to schools mainly for two subjects, English and Mathematics. Once the compulsion to learn English was gone, attendance in schools fell sharply. It adversely affected the ethos of the classroom.  Karpuri Thakur claimed that the children of Dhanuks and Kurmis failed because of English. Pandeyji says that it was true to a large extent. English was a constraint, not only for students for the Backward classes but for the upper caste people as well.  Ram Dhari Singh “Dinkar,” a legendary poet from Bihar, reminiscing about his student days writes that had he been allowed to have Hindi as  the medium of instruction, he would have grown much faster. Pandeyji agrees but feels that Karpuri Thakur found an easy, rather lazy solution by removing English altogether as a requirement. He says that in popular imagination, modern education has somehow remained entwined with English.

Teachers were generally polyglots. It was not unusual to find a Nalin Vilochan Sharma in Hindi who could claim equal mastery over Sanskrit and English or a Kalimuddin Ahmed who was a professor of English but practiced criticism in Urdu. Teachers well versed in at least three languages were not a rare sight on the campus. Students felt pride in the fact that they were being taught by people whose writings were essential reference points for classes in Delhi University or Calcutta University.  Teachers were recognized as scholars in other parts as well. Nalin Vilochan Sharma was a respected voice in the literary world. It was he who drew the attention of the reading public towards a new literary event, publication of Maila Anchal by  Phanishwar Nath Renu, a trend setter in Hindi fiction writing. 

Interdisciplinarity was yet to enter the lexicon of college education. Not unusual was, however, to see the teachers and students of literature or sciences crowding the lectures of Historian Professor Ram Sharan Sharma who was very strict about not moving beyond the ancient period even in his popular lectures. Similarly we could notice our teachers and friends from the departments of History, Political Science or Sociology enjoying literary evenings on the campus and outside.  Apart from Professor Ram Sharan Sharma, you had scholars like Syed Hasan Askari and Professor R N Nandi in the department of History who despite failing eyesight continued to write. (It is an irony of sorts that the last of this lot, a bright young historian Papiya Ghosh was murdered at her Patna home a few years ago) But then there were also teachers like R. K. Sinha or Kapil Muni Tiwari in the department of English who did not write much but were scholars par excellence and revered teachers. For people like Ram Sharan Sharma scholarship was not an individualistic pursuit. I have heard stories from my teachers , of how Professor Sharma used to check the  log-in register  of the department library and confront his colleagues if their names were found missing .

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when all this started to wane. What we know for sure is that Patna and its college started dying together. The mid-eighties saw the end of the Puja festivities. British Library closed its shop in the late nineties. A. N. Sinha Institute library could not make new addition to its stock of books. The government started denying aid to the A N Sinha Institute and for years together its affairs were conducted from the state government secretariat as it did not have a regular director. Kala Sangam, pioneer in the modern theatre movement slowed down down, IPTA declined dramatically. Amateur groups started finding it difficult to get young actors. They did come but with a limited aim to use it a training platform to gain entry into the world of fledgling but expanding television serials.  Theatre was not their passion. Those who came to Patna after the eighties were not even aware of an entity called the Cine Society. The light was going out and it seemed impossible to postpone the end anymore.

Sujit has described the changes in the internal academic life of the college which led to its down fall. Separation of postgraduate studies from the undergraduate studies proved to be disastrous. College started being treated as subsidiary to the post graduate departments. The hierarchy created by this separation put the faculty of the colleges on a lower pedestal. The Post Graduate Departments were the intellectual gurus and all the college had to do was to follow their diktat. Academic life started shrinking in the college and Patna College was not an exception in this regard. Older teachers were retiring and there were no fresh appointments in their place. There were few people left to carry forward the story of Patna College.

Along with this shrinking of academic life, not only at Patna College but elsewhere too, there was also the revival and assertion of old identities that educational institutions were supposed to moderate or neutralize. Such identities were reinforced through hostels and lodges, which were clearly divided in the name of castes. There was a cluster of hostels in the Saidpur area. They were traditionally demarcated as Rajput or Bhumihar hostels. It was impossible for somebody outside the fold of a particular caste to set foot in the hostel which was taken as designated for it. Similarly, the “famous” Patel Chhatravaas was the abode of students from the “backward classes.” It was situated outside Saidpur campus. The “seniors” took care that their “people” did not go astray. Once admitted to the university they were promptly initiated into their caste “associations.”  It is impossible for a resident of the localities around Ashok Rajpath to erase the memory of the Saraswati puja procession taken out by the boarders of Patel Chhatrawaas which had less to do with their devotion to the goddess of Vidya (Knowledge) and more to demonstrate the might of their caste. The air trembled with fear when the processionists hit the road adorned with hockey sticks and “fuse” -mercury tubes. The “professional” colleges were also not free of these influences.

There were also selfless caste workers. I was told by a senior friend who is now teaching at the Patna College that he was once offered notes by a “senior” caste fellow after he found out from his “sources” that this brilliant boy from his caste had fallen ill and had to miss a good number of classes. He took the trouble of arranging “notes” for him to save his “division.” This selfless deed created a lifelong bonding between the two. The do gooder went on to become a  senior bank officer but maintains a directory of his students from his caste. This is a multipurpose directory and used by his community across the world on different occasions to diverse ends.

The above description seems to contradict what André Béteille says about the role of universities in a society like ours, “….the universities were among the first open and secular institutions in a society that was governed largely by the rules of kinship, caste and religion. In that sense they were islands of modernity in a world bound largely by tradition. Right until the time of independence, the universities were few and far between. Their influence did not reach very far or penetrate very deeply into a society that was steeped in poverty, illiteracy and inequality. But the influence, no matter how restricted, was progressive, both intellectually and institutionally, and this progressive influence appeared to be spreading gradually, though very slowly.” (Béteille 2007). It appears that these “islands of modernity” were also not left untouched by “the rules of kinship and caste.” Majority of the students joining Patna College or even Science College came from villages where living is organized along caste lines. It would not be wrong to say that it is simplistic to see everything in education through the lens of caste but the perpetual tension between caste and the modernizing mission of education defines the character of educational enterprise in India. Bihar is no exception.

If we leave colleges like the Patna College which were largely the result of the efforts of the colonial government, with some help from “native gentlemen,” other colleges were essentially community initiatives, community to be described strictly in terms of caste. In this manner was created the Bhumihar-Brahmin College (1899) in Muzaffarpur, another major urban centre of Bihar. It was renamed as the Langat Singh College (L.S.College) after its founder Langat Singh in 1949-50. Bhumihars established another Science College (renamed later as Mahesh Prasad Sinha Science   College after Mahesh Prasad Sinha, a stalwart of Bhumihars) and Rajputs opened their own Rameshwar Prasad Singh College (RPS College) in Muzaffarpur. Brahmins established the Tirhut Mahavidyalaya which, after the assassination of Lalit Narayan Mishra, considered to be a leader of the Brahmins, was named after him as Lalit Narayan Tirhut College (L.N.T.College). In 1968 “backwards” opened their own college called the Ram Manohar Lohia College (R.M.L.S.College).

Did the opening of these colleges reflect the educational aspiration of various caste groups? One is not very sure how to define it. What it did was very interesting. It made the use of unfair means in examinations competitive. Students belonging to the Bhumihar community would fill their examination forms from the MPS College and Rajput students would appear from their own RPS College. It was largely a norm to get oneself admitted to a college which had a good academic reputation but appear as examinee from a college of one’s own caste. The examination results, therefore, could not be treated as the true measure of the real academic strength of the student.

Exceptions though, there were, in Bihar. Patna College was of course one such till the seventies or early eighties. But it belonged to a different category, as explained earlier. It was largely a state led initiative. It is true that Bihar cannot boast of a Banaras Hindu University (popularly known as BHU). But there were different versions of Madan Mohan Malaviya (founder of the BHU)   here and there who could not find place in the grand nationalist narrative but remain part of the local hoistories. In 1883 a philanthropist called Roy Bahadur Tej Narayan founded in Bhagalpur, what is one of the oldest colleges of Bihar, originally known as the Tej Narayan Jubilee College and later in 1959 renamed Tej Narayan Banaili College (TNB College) after receiving an endowment from the Banaili estate, “B” replacing “J” in the name of the college to acknowledge this generosity. It did not draw its strength or legitimacy from any particular caste group. It had on its teaching staff scholars from all over India. You could find a Jawaharlal Wakhloo, a Kashmiri, Neel Mani Acharya,a Bengali and Ram Swaroop Singh, from western Uttar Pradesh, considered to be the pioneer of Biology studies in Bihar. They brought with them diverse kinds of educational and cultural experiences. They were competent teachers and good scholars but did not display any scholarly ambition.  There was rarely any teacher wanting to go for Ph.D.  But to their students they were sincere teachers and unconcerned with the caste affiliation of their colleagues or students. My father remembers his teachers as vociferous readers who remained immersed in the world of books. Despite facing much rough weather TNB College, Bhagalpur could still hold itself together. Does this have to do with its founding cultural principle? The fact that its genesis was not in any caste or regional aspiration?

Another such example is the Dayanand Anglo Vedic (DAV) College, Siwan.  The name suggests that it was an initiative of the Arya Samaj, a powerful religio-cultural movement. But the people of Siwan do not associate it with any sectoral movement. It was known as the baby of Darhi baba, as Bidyanath Prasad was popularly known. Baidyanath Prasad, a Sunar( Goldsmith)  by caste was a local leader of the Arya Samaj but was primarily a teacher. He was the headmaster of the Victoria Memorial High English School (VMHE School) in Siwan in the 1920s. He was earlier the headmaster of the Victoria Memorial Middle School. When it became difficult to accommodate the increasing number of students in the existing building, he erected huts in the Central Maidan of the town which is now known as Gandhi Maidan. Later, he acquired fifty Bighas of land for the school.  But here again the caste realities intervened.

Siwan is known for its physical proximity to Jiradei, home to Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first president of independent India. He belonged to the kayastha community. As did Brijkishore Prasad, another powerful congress leader. Kayasthas were a powerful presence in Siwan. One also needs to remember that Bengalis dominated nearly every field in Bihar. Bihar had been till 1911, a part of Bengal and Bengalis were ahead of people from other states in almost all areas of life, education being the most prominent. Kayasthas were the next most educated community. It gave them additional leverage in social manoeuvring. They started interfering in the affairs of the VMHE School and Darhi baba had to withdraw from the school.

Institution builder that he was, Darhi baba did not sit still. He immediately founded the Dayanand AngloVaidic (DAV) Middle school and immediately after that the DAV High School for boys and Arya Kanya Uccha Vidyalaya for girls. Siwan was a small town and Darhi baba had keen eyes and sharp ears. Arya Samaj was not particularly kind to the Muslims but Darhi baba did not let himself be a prisoner of this religio-political ideology. Ajmat Ali, now 89, remembers his childhood days.  A student of class eight, he fell seriously ill. Darhi baba came visiting to inquire about his health. Ajamt was surprised as he was not a student of Darhi baba’s school.  He gave him medicine as he also practiced Homeopathy. This was the beginning of a life-long bonding between the two.  This was not an exception, says Ajmat Ali, “Anwar Husain, one year senior to me, came from an extremely poor family. Darhi baba ensured free-ship for him and helped him continue with his studies.”

After spending nearly a decade stabilizing the newly established schools, Darhi baba started working towards a college in Siwan. Establishing a college was no small task then. Siwan was primarily a town of traders. After Banias, Muslims were the largest group in siwan. Darhi baba mobilised the Banias, Brahmins and Muslims and formed a governing body consisting of representatives from these communities. The local Arya Partinidhi Sabha showed no interest in it. His long association with educational activity and social reform in Siwan won Darhi baba the support of all the communities and he managed to secure some land and a pond for the college. Later he also convinced the local municipality to give to the college the factory land of Khuddi Mian which had to be closed for non-payment of taxes, to recover which it was to be auctioned by the Municipal authorities. It needs to be noted that in the following years there was hardly any addition of resources to what was mobilized in the very first phase of the establishment of the college. This fact needs to be kept in mind as it tells us a lot about the relationship of the institution with the community.

The DAV Collge was founded in 1941. Darhi baba, true to his principles, went out hunting and brought Dr. Jhamman Lal Sharma who was a D. Sc. as the first principal.  It was a rare academic achievement for those times, especially for a small town like Siwan. Darhi baba managed to attract people with good academic credentials to his college. However, Dr. Sharma had to leave very soon. He was made to leave by Darhi baba to make way for his blue eyed boy Banke Bihari Mishra (Known as Banke Babu), is the opinion of some old students. There are anecdotes involving Banke Bihari mishra and Darhi baba but unfortunately this author could not find any written record by the founder Darhi baba which could have thrown light on his vision of the college.

Darhi Baba  kept track of intelligent students. He took under his wings poor, needy and intelligent students. This is how he gave shelter to Banke Bihari Mishra, a rebel Brahmin boy, who was thrown out of his caste by the Brahmins for having shared food with “harijans.” He remained the eternal patron of Banke Babu who after abandoning his engineering college went to study history with support from Darhi baba.  Banke Babu was made the headmaster of the DAV middle school .According to Mahendra Prasad, a first batch student of the collge, the DAV College was created for Banke babu only. Banke Babu was not the founding principal though.

Banke babu, a historian of repute, who went on to become the head of the department of History of the University of Delhi remained the principal of the college for more than three decades. Intermittently he kept going on leave to serve other universities and institutions in India and abroad.  Munishwarananad Giri, a Sanskrit scholar kept working as the officiating principal in his absence. Banke babu, a scholar in his own right, does not come across as an academic visionary. He emerges as a disciplinarian in all the accounts of his students and teachers who served under him. Giriji, in sharp contrast is lovingly remembered as an administrator who had great regards for his colleagues and who never tried to impose himself on them.

Darhi baba lobbied hard to get affiliation for the courses run by the college from the Patna University which was then the only university for the entire region of Bihar and Orissa. In the colonial times it was not permissible to open colleges beyond district towns. DAV College and R K College in Madhubani had defied this norm and were therefore denied affiliation by the Patna University to run undergraduate courses for nearly a decade.   In the mid-fifties the college was allowed to start undergraduate courses in science. It was also the time for expansion of higher education in Bihar. Shyam Nandan Sahay was the first Vice Chancellor of the Bihar University which was carved out from the Patna University in 1952, but with its headquarters at Patna. He said that it was high time that conditionalities regarding opening and maintenance of a college made mandatory by the colonial masters were done away with. He said that he would strive to open colleges in all the villages of Bihar. Things did take the route suggested by Sinha in the following decades. Colleges, in a one or two room buildings became a normal site in Bihar. They held promise of jobs for hundreds of unemployed post graduates who paid hefty sums to the managers of these colleges be appointed as lecturers. The promise was that the government would absorb all of them. The government remained a mute spectator to this farce. It led to mushrooming of third rate colleges all over Bihar. Colleges like the DAV College had barely stabilized after securing constituent status than they got surrounded by these spurious colleges.

Fifties can still be treated as an age of innocence for higher education. The government and the political class were not particularly interested in colleges. But from the early years of the sixties, with Krishna Kant Singh, a Bhumihar leader of the Congress Party  taking over as the State Minister of Education, caste as a political mobilizing force started asserting itself in the field of education. Bhumihars took to education with great zeal and now it was their turn to replace Kayasthas from the position of dominance in the field of education. It is difficult to resist the temptation of sharing with you an anecdote related to Krishna Kant Singh which is etched in the memory of nearly all I met and talked who were young then. In the districts, the officer responsible for educational administration was known as the District Education Officer -DEO. At one particular point of time, there were seventeen Bhumihar serving as DEOs in the districts of Bihar. Total number of the districts was eighteen.  When this issue was raised in the assembly, he is said to have defiantly replied that he could not appoint eighteen Bhumihars as DEOs as he could not find the eighteenth qualified Bhumihar. Most of the colleges in Bihar fell victim to KK Singh’s brand of politics. Darhi baba kept resisting and the college had to pay for this. It was made to starve.

Appointments to the teaching and non-teaching posts were the sole prerogative of the governing bodies of the colleges and merit was not always the most important criterion for them. Satyendra Prasad Singh, chief minister of Bihar in the early sixties, tried to halt this trend when he constituted   the University Service Commission (USC) to make selections for the teaching posts for all the colleges in Bihar centrally. The fortunes of the commission, however, kept fluctuating with successive governments dissolving and reconstituting it from time to time. Governments have not been very sure about a policy for the appointment of teachers. There also came a time when all demonstrators, basically laboratory technicians, were promoted as lecturers automatically once they secured a post graduate degree. Departments of sciences got filled with such promoted teachers. It did a great disservice to the studies of sciences across colleges and universities in Bihar. The issue of appointment of teachers and their service conditions requires a deeper probe.

The USC opened ways for teachers like my father to come back to Bihar, his homeland. He had to leave Bihar as the chances of getting a job in a college were rather dim with governing bodies-GBs having extra-academic criteria for selections to patronize their own caste-men left little space for people like him with no contacts whatsoever. With the establishment of the USC the power of the GBs over selection was taken away from them and chances of right kind of people getting teaching jobs brightened.  University Service commission had members from an academic background and did not suffer from political interference. The commission did the selections and assigned colleges to the selected teachers depending on the vacancies in there.

My father was asked to join the DAV College, Siwan.  This was 1962. He had come from Silchar College of Assam which was a very respectable college of the Cachhar region. He was shaken by the shabby appearance of the structure which claimed to be the DAV College.  Buildings were in bad shape and salaries were infrequent. The only redeeming feature of this college was its neutrality in regard to caste. Talking to Anil Kumar, my Physics teacher at the DAV College, I gathered that this was one of the factors which encouraged him to join the DAV College in 1977, that had attained the status of a Constituent College in 1975. The fact that only Brahmins occupied the chair of the principal for nearly five decades encouraged some to call it a Brahmin College but it could not stick.   Even today, no caste label can be put over it.

Political scene became turbulent in the sixties. With the rise of anti-Congress forces emerged leaders like Mahamaya Prasad who were rabble rousers and who saw colleges as recruitment grounds for their parties. Asking students to leave classes, go on strike and then demand relaxation in examinations became the hallmark of all oppositional politics.  Teaching was turning irrelevant. 1967 saw the emergence of a new version of left politics which drew inspiration from the armed rebellion in a village of Bengal called Naxalbari. The Naxal movement impacted the campus in a very peculiar manner. Idealistic youth were drawn to it and many brilliant students left colleges and universities to join this movement. Pursuing academic career, either as a student or a teacher was denounced as careerism. Left organizations did form their own students’ organizations but their aim was to recruit cadre for the party.

Kedar Pandey, taking over as the chief minister in 1972 tried to stem the rot. One of his initiatives was to stop the use of unfair means in the examinations. The matriculation results crashed. Parents and students who had got used to this culture resented this move. It became such a grave threat that Pandey had to be removed from his post. The relationship between this resentment and the student movement of the early seventies against the Congress government of the state and centre which chose Jai Prakash Narayan (Popularly known as JP) as its leader remains to be probed. We also need to study the impact of the JP agitation on the academic life in Bihar. Jaiprakash Narayan (JP), a veteran of the Indian freedom struggle chose the strategies of anti-colonial movement. Again students were asked to boycott examinations and withdraw from the campus. Students did stop attending classes but also sat at the examinations as the Congress government, in desperation, had allowed the use of unfair means to combat JP’s move. After JP agitation the Pro and Anti-reservation stir made colleges and university its theatre. It is very interesting to note that the post-colonial political movements, be they socialist or communist, have again and again used the same strategy of campus boycott which was used by Gandhi in his anti-colonial struggle and criticized by his friend and admirer Tagore. The relationship of the political class with the campus has been extremely utilitarian.

The service condition of the college and university teachers became better after they fought a long and bitter struggle with the government in the late sixties and early seventies.  I remember my father spending nearly a month in the jails of Bihar in 1971. The uncertainty regarding salary and other security eased. But the teachers’ movement always acted in a trade- union mode. It demanded takeover of all types of colleges, absorption of all types of teachers and a time bound promotion policy for them without any qualifier. My father recalls his conversation with Ajamat Ali, a leader of the teachers’ movement in which he told my father that their job to make demands for teachers, it was the task of the government to enforce duty on them.

The teachers’ movement of Bihar was once considered to be strongest in India. It struggled and forced the governments to make the service condition of the college and university teachers dignified.   It, however, never discussed any academic issue in its entire course. It always acted like a political party or a trade union, eager to increase its membership and bargaining power and therefore did not mind the entry of teachers in the system though backdoor, using money and political connections. Genuine, honest teachers were lost in this crowd. They thus lost   esteem in eyes of the people who saw dubious characters entering the profession in hordes.  Regular appointments to the teaching posts became infrequent and then stopped altogether in the early eighties and it stagnated the campus life further.

Anil Kumar, who to us was Anil Babu, had not come through the university service Commission route. He was a VC appointee in DAV College. Vice Chancellors had the power to appoint teachers at temporary positions. Though he, like some others was absorbed as a regular, permanent lecturer in 1981, successive governments have refused to recognize their first date of joining, thereby adversely affecting seniority and pay. He has moved to the court to get things right. But this constant battle has not diminished his youthful desire and hope to to able to do something for his students and college which had struck me as a student when I participated in the Einstein  Centenary  Celebrations  organized by him at the DAV College. He was the second   person with a Ph.D. to join as lecturer in the history of the DAV College.  He had studied Physics in the Bihar University and was a CSIR fellow. His teacher Professor B. N. Roy had encouraged him to go for research.

Research and Ph.D.s were never popular with the teachers in Bihar. In fact, those opting for it were mocked by the general teaching community. My father recounts his students days at the TNB College where one of the teachers went to Germany for his Ph. D. and was derided by his colleagues for having brought a suitcase full of books back with him. He was also not allowed space to install his equipments and instruments he had brought along. He was mocked, harassed and finally he decided to move back to Germany. Educational journey of a college teacher ended once he joined his job. Moreover, there was no incentive for it.  Things had, however, changed from my father’s days. Anil Babu had seen seven or eight of his teachers going to England on state-fellowship. They used to get some sustenance allowance along with their full salary. It is difficult to explain as to when and why this practice stopped. Anil Babu remembers these teachers bubbling with excitement and energy to do something new upon their return, which started diminishing as they could not find students willing to pursue research with them. “A teacher is as good as his students,” he says and laments that he himself could not get research students after his return from France and the USA. Some lecturers did come to him just after his return but they never came back once they discovered that research involved real, hard work. “Now, at the fag end of my teaching career, two students have come to me whom I have sent to the Inter-University Accelerator centre at Delhi for training. I also would join them at some point to learn some practical physics” he said smiling wryly.

Despite this lack of educational culture, Anil Babu cherishes the memories of his days spent at a mofussil place like the DAV College. He was welcomed into their fold by his senior teachers and did not feel the need to look for his caste fellows. He found his colleagues sincere and dedicated to their students. Lack of electricity or other facilities did not form excuses for not working or missing practicals. He still remembers his daily four hour dark room work without fans or light, working with candles, preparing spectrum with the help of sodium flame.

Teachers did have different political views and affiliations but there were no adversarial groups based on these. Anil Babu recalls his contest with R S   Pandey, a Communist Party man for the post of the president of the college teachers’ association, “I defeated Pandeyji, but our relations remained as cordial as before. Teachers avoided participating in the election campaigns of political parties. The Member of Parliament from Siwan was a Jan Sangh (later BJP) man but no teacher ideologically close to the party ever canvassed for him. Teachers did not want or allow extraneous factors pollute or dent their identity as teachers.”

Siwan had life. It was small, did not have basic civic amenities, but it still felt connected to the world outside. College teachers, doctors, lawyers still sent their children to the local, common schools.  It did have an educated class, its own elite, comprising lawyers, doctors, schools and college teachers. Their associations and friendships cut across ideological and professional affiliations. They used to meet formally and informally. My father, a botany teacher, of broad left leaning and a Nehruvian, had Mahendra Prasad, a senior RSS functionary and headmaster of a high school, as one of his close friends.  It was not an exception. I remember the friendship of Mahendra Prasad with Faizul Hasan, a school teacher. Siwan had a sizable Muslim population but as said earlier, it remained untouched by the sentiments of the Hindu-Muslim divide. My father had taken  a house in Sheikh Mohalla, a Muslim locality  when he came to Siwan. Our first landlord was Hashim Saheb, a genial gentleman, headmaster of the Islamia High School.  My elder brother studied there. My father says that he chose it because it was supposed to be the best school in Siwan. I went to a more “upmarket” DAV High School. Hashim Saheb became very upset when he discovered this.

Things started changing in 1977-78 with the announcement of 27% reservation in the educational institutes for students from “Backward” communities. The “Forward” caste students and teachers felt threatened and started boycotting classes. The government wanted classes to be held at any cost. The violence with which the “forwards” reacted to this move of affirmative action in the field of education created bitterness in the “backward” students and teachers. The rift between the two communities has been growing since then.  Anil Babu remembers his student days when there was hardly any presence of students from the depressed classes or women, except in the humanities on the campus. That the teachers, even from the left, never questioned the naturalness of this state, baffles him. This political move, however, was not backed by any effort to augment the resources in the colleges. No addition to the infrastructure of the colleges was made. Increase in the numbers of students was never matched with additional funds for laboratory or library.

The teacher was the only resource. “But he was the one who kept getting setback after setback in successive generations” rues Anil Babu. The political classes felt that teachers were demeaning themselves by demanding raise in their pay scales. They were treated with respect but were not supposed to be given enough to live respectfully. Anil Babu does not remember a government or an education secretary who did not reopen the files of the pay fixation of the teachers. Teachers have always lived in a perpetual state of uncertainty regarding their pay scales, increments, their parity with colleagues in other universities, their seniority, pension. This permanence of anxiety in the teaching community killed all possibilities of academic aspiration in them. From the first day of joining to the day of retirement, the teacher had to fight a battle at every step, from pay fixation to securing increments to ensuring that pension is fixed and released on time. For the teachers, courts of law have now become a place more frequented than the class rooms.

“We have been forced to this condition,” says Bharat Prasad, a teacher of Economics, a colleague of Anil Babu in the DAV College who has now developed an expertise in these mundane matters. “There are nearly 10,000 cases pending in the courts, all filed by teachers pleading that the government be asked to honor the directives of the courts. These are cases against the government for its contempt of the Court orders” he explains. I am talking to him in his rented house which throws me back to my childhood days when we, children of a college teacher, lived crammed in a small two room house. There is an electric bulb hanging on the head of Bharat Prasad spreading a sickly light in the room. He has taken a connection from a generator for a bulb and a fan as electricity supply is not dependable. In places like Siwan you still have an L for “Lalten” (Lantern) in the children’s alphabet-books. Voltage keeps fluctuating. He sits there, his vest rolled up his chest, already wet with sweat, sifting though his papers to explain to me the intricacies of the legal issues he is dealing with. I can count the blades of the ceiling fan.

“Towns like Siwan are devoid of oxygen,” says Anil Babu. It takes courage to live in these places as you suffocate from the absence of any cultural air. I recall my days at the DAV College when societies like Rajendra Parishad and Sahitya Sabha (literary Society) were very active. Birth day celebration of the poet Tulsidas used be a month long affair with all schools, including the Islamia High School, organizing debates, speech, essay and recitation competitions. Kavi Sammelans were also an integral part of the month long event. The DAV School used to host annual Kavi Sammelans. Mushairas were an annual feature organised at the initiative of the Urdu Department of the DAV College. It was, therefore an opportunity for the town people to come to the school and college space.

The Wheeler book-stall at Siwan railway station was an attraction for a growing child like me, as beginning of the month meant arrival of a new lot of pocketbooks from Gyan Bharati.  I used to rush to the book-stall and newspaper stand for the new numbers of the children’s magazines, Nandan, Parag, Champak and Chanda Mama on the first day of the month. My father had friends like Achyut Ghosh, a practicing Homeopath who had a rich collection of Bangla books, neatly kept. My father used to take great care in keeping them in shape so as keep the flow of the books on. Kanaihya Lal Pustakalaya was a storehouse of old and new books. We have read our first Sharat Chandra and Premchand from that library only. Gradually these centres shrivelled. I got my first lessons in modern rationality through the “adventures” of Khattar Kaka, the protagonist of the brilliant satires by Harimohan Jha in Maithili, read to us by my father.

“There is no promise left in these towns now, be it Siwan or Chhapra or Muzaffarpur,” feels Anil Babu. There is no electricity and life looks dark and gloomy here. New people do not want to live in these places. They keep their families in Patna and commute daily from Patna to their work place. They work here but do not belong, either to the town or college. You would hardly find a woman teacher here. “Nearly 25-30 had joined the colleges in Siwan and Chapra in 1996 but now all of them have moved to either Patna or places close by” Anil Babu informs.

After his research stint Anil Babu returned to the DAV College in 1990 to find most of older colleagues retired or on the verge of retirement. No fresh appointments were made for more than a decade and half. Some unfamiliar faces had come. These were lecturers, people from the new mushrooming affiliated colleges. These were insecure positions because they were not sanctioned by the government and, therefore it was not responsible for maintaining them. Using political connections and also money, they got themselves transferred to constituent colleges and slowly entrenched themselves there. It created a peculiar situation as colleges now had teachers who were never selected though a legally tenable process but had imposed themselves on the colleges. Their academic insecurity made them hostile to the pre-existing members. Since their extra-academic loyalties had brought them here, they spent their time consolidating them for they held the promise of even better opportunities. Transfer between colleges of the universities barring Patna University, though permitted, was very rare earlier but in the eighties it became rampant.  Now a good number  of them are heading the departments at the post graduate level in the university elbowing out the really deserving ones. Most of them have never taught classes above the intermediate level which is practically the final stage of school.

The separation of intermediate level (earlier known as Higher secondary) from the colleges was initiated but major colleges like the DAV College were left out of the scheme. “It turned the college teachers into school teachers. Even worse, the government refuses to count the hours spent on these classes.” says Bharat Prasad. It is a crafty way of concealing the work load on the colleges to justify non-sanction of fresh posts to such colleges, he explains. It also puts them on a lower pedestal than colleges like the Patna College, demoralizing the teachers even more.  Is College education finished in Bihar, I wonder. “With all science teachers except those of the Patna University teaching only intermediate classes for years together, what advancement do you expect in the field of knowledge? Staff Training College programmes or refresher programmes are practically dead for more than two decades,” Anil Babu says.

All this made the college a strange place for teachers like Anil Babu.  In 1990 Bihar University, of which the DAV College was a constituent unit, was bifurcated into two universities- Bihar University (renamed as Bheem Rao Ambedkar University in 1992) and Jai Prakash Vishwavidyalay. The college now became part of the freshly created entity called the Jai Prakash University. The university wanted to create its Post graduate Departments. Applications were invited from college teachers. Anil Babu was selected in this process. Rajendra College, Chapra, in absence of sanctioned posts doubled as the PG centre of the new university. Anil babu  moved to Rajendra College, with a hope to get an opportunity to work at the post graduate centre of the university. He did get it but after a while was moved back from the PG department to Rajendra College as people having clout with the Vice Chancellor elbowed him out.

Political class in Bihar, represented by the successive governments, has kept creating an illusion of expansion in the field of college and university education. In the mid-eighties, DAV College was elevated to the level of a Post Graduate College. Post graduate classes were added but no new teaching positions were created. No additional funds for laboratory or library, which were already decaying was sanctioned. Teachers, who never had an occasion to touch a journal of their discipline or who were out of touch with the developments in their knowledge area for decades together were suddenly asked to teach post graduate classes. “I came to Delhi and went to the Jawaharlal Nehru University  to see my nephew who was a research scholar at the centre of life science there. Here students were working with instruments we had seen only in books. And it was the last phase of my career.”, my father recalls. Naturally, the teachers felt diffident when faced with the task of teaching PG classes. Try they did valiantly.

This illusory expansion was not new for higher education in Bihar. Earlier Bihar had witnessed the opening of kagazi colleges (college on paper). Opened by local political leaders catering to the aspirations of different caste groups, operating from a single or double room apartments, they held the promise of jobs for the unemployed youth. They also enrolled students who could appear as private candidates from the regular colleges. Colleges which were deemed to be “easy centre” were chosen. It was a less painful way to get a degree. The owners of these colleges took money from the job-aspirants to give them phony appointments. Thus the parents of these youth could claim that they were “engaged” and demand dowry for them if they were men or treat this “job” as an additional qualification if they were women. Once “engaged,” these teachers had job cut out for them. Now it was their burden to get the college regularized. It became a never ending race or investment as they kept collecting money to pay to the decision makers.  Led to believe that they were lecturers, now it was their duty to turn this fantasy into reality. They did succeed.  In stages, such spurious colleges were taken over by the state. Now the struggle reached a new level where these “teachers” found ways to get into constituent colleges so as to further secure their positions.  Luck did smile on many of them. They were transferred from “non-sanctioned” posts to “sanctioned” posts. From there they moved to the university departments. “Teachers who have never taught an undergraduate class in their life are now heading PG departments. This is the final equalizing blow to the system of higher education in Bihar” sighs Anil Babu.

One of such colleges is the Raja Singh College, Siwan which has now been selected by an agency none less than the University Grants Commission as the coveted  Centre of Potential for Excellence at the expense of the DAV College and whose second  principal rose to become the Vice Chancellor of the  BR Ambedkar  University.  It is a 360 degree turn, finally the bad coin kicking out the good one.

Educational weeds like the Raja Singh College have grown faster and have choked the growth of genuine institutions like the DAV College. In the earlier days, colleges like the Rajendra Collge, Chhapra or Langat Singh College, Muzaffarpur or even a distant college like the TNB College, Bhagalpur used to be reference points for DAV College. Now it was RJS College. Before RJS, Islamia College had come up in Siwan. They were also individual initiatives. It is important to remember the difference between them and people like Darhi baba. Darhi Baba had no extra-academic agenda to pursue through the college. Neither propagation of his Arya samaj ideology, nor patronization of a community.  Not that Darhi baba was an exception. My father tells me the story of the birth of Deoghar College in Deoghar. (Now in Jharkhand) Vinodanand Jha, an active Congressman who later became the Chief Minister of Bihar belonged to the powerful Panda (Brahmin) Community of Deoghar. But he chose Krishna Vallabh Sahaya, a kayastha, as the first principal and gave him complete autonomy. Sahay was man of many parts, an authority on Hindi poetry, master of English literature and an archeologist. Jha used his power to resist attempts by the community or other forces to interfere in the college affairs. On the other hand, Sahaya like Banke Bihari Mishra drew strength from his scholarship and not from his proximity to the chief of the Governing Body. In turn, he chose his teachers on the basis of their academic credentials. The new individual initiatives came from an entirely different universe. Using the shield of communitarian aspirations, it was used to further the political or commercial interest of that particular individual. With the growth of more and more such colleges and the clamor to regularize them to bring them at par with colleges like DAV college, it became difficult for the later to maintain their distinct identity. It was also no longer possible for the town to identify with a single educational entity. The college lost its community and identity as well.

The legacy, however, takes time to die. DAV College has been notorious for conducting fair examinations. DAV College as the centre for examination is a nightmare for examinees. It has created a peculiar situation. Since examinations for the undergraduate are conducted in the college itself, the enrolment in undergraduate classes is very poor. Students choose to get admission in other, “easy” colleges whereas seats in the post graduate course are always full. This is not because of the quality of teaching but the fact that PG examinations are held at other centres and not in the DAV College.

Fair examination or assessment has always been resented by the parents or the society. The scene of hordes of “helpers” outside examination halls and police chasing them has never left me. Ramdhari Singh Dinakar, recalls that when he went to join the Bhagalpur University as Vice Chancellor in 1964, he came across instances of loudspeakers installed outside the examination centres announcing answers for the benefit of the students. It starts from the school level and continues. Attempts by the college, university authorities or the governments to stop it have always been resisted violently by the people. Parents have fought pitched battles on the streets with the police and the administration demanding the right to use unfair means.

“Society seems to be confused about the meaning of education,” Surendra  Prasad, who taught us English in the college,  reflects, “It is investing a lot more in education now but is not very clear about its substance. Or, perhaps I am wrong. It knows what is to be expected from where. Moreover, quality was never an issue even for the teachers’ unions. We fought for everything but quality. Curriculum reforms never entered the lexicon of teachers’ movement. What are we despairing for then?”

“Since degrees are the prerogative of these state approved institutions and they still hold some prestige, parents enrol their wards there. But they also know that colleges do not have anything substantial to offer other than the degrees, they prefer to be safe with the students joining useful coaching centres” Surendra Babu says. Young boys and girls still come to him to learn English. “It is becoming more and more difficult to teach language now. Undergraduate students cannot form a meaningful sentence even in Hindi.” there is tinge of sadness in his voice. I remember him gently teaching me, a young higher-secondary student then, that directness in poetry is not always a virtue.     It was becoming impossible for colleges to keep pace with the expectations of the market and the parents. Markets were impatient. As economy outside changed new types of jobs appeared on the scene and the universities or colleges were caught unawares. New disciplines were forged to save departments. Something called Functional English became the mainstay for the English departments. But for Functional English there were faster options. Coaching institutes popped up and surrounded colleges and universities. It is quite ironical that nowadays the walls of Patna university colleges are full of advertisements of institutes which offer crash courses in English. Learning in a collegiate way had something leisurely about it. Colleges started suffocating. That they are still alive has something to with this strange obsession with the graduate degree. Once the compulsion of a graduate degree goes, colleges would perish in hundreds and there would not be a Sujit Mukherji to write elegy for them.

“Rise of the coaching industry for various professional courses meant further downslide for college education. There are nearly 115 admissions in the department of Physics. Hardly two or three students come. The rest are busy with some more important “technical” or “professional courses,” Anil Babu says. College education is now a “side activity.” The most famous, celebrated academic personality from Bihar is no university don but Anand Kumar, who has been running a successful coaching centre preparing students for admission to the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology). He is feted as a mathematician. Big hoardings greet you when you pass though the road taking you to the Patna airport boldly announcing Patna ko doosra Kota banana hai. (We have to turn Patna into another Kota) Kota is a town in Rajasthan, famous for its coaching centers preparing students for IITs and other professional courses.

I need, however to tell you about the underbelly of the higher education in Bihar. About how a lab-technician-turned-demonstrator of the Science College became the Czar of higher education in Bihar under the Regime of Lalu Prasad in the nineties. How our revered teachers started crawling before him for vice chancellorships or other positions. And they were from all castes. How the teachers movement cracked. The one and half decade long rule of this man ,who enjoyed the power no chancellor would ever dream of, is very crucial to understand the psychological makeover the academic life of Bihar has  undergone. The man who was once a confidante of Lalu Prasad  is now a respected Member of Parliament  from the party Nitish Kumar – the successor of the Lalu regime and the present chief minister of Bihar – belongs to.

The time when I saw my teachers in Patna protracting before this man, was also the period of when my good old DAV College suffered a grievous blow from the flag bearers of the politics of social justice in Bihar. I can never forget the morning of 25 September, 1991. I had come from Patna to Siwan to spend time with my parents. My father left for college in the morning as was his practice for nearly three decades. I started arranging the bookshelf. Suddenly I found my father standing before me, blood dripping from his head.  Kurta drenched in Blood. Did he fall on his way? No! He said, very calmly, he was assaulted by the goons of the Member of Parliament -of the ruling party (Rashtiya Janata Dal) from Siwan. Called out of his department, surrounded by gun totting young men, hit on the head by the butt of a revolver. They could have killed him. They did not want to. They wanted to send a plain message to all the members of the teaching community. To fall in line. To surrender. MP saheb, who was till recently a student of the same college wanted it served on his plate. My father returned home alone. There was no teacher to accompany an injured colleague. He was not the first. One after one three teachers had been assaulted. No reporter had the guts to report it. Silence fell on the college. On the town rather.

The college remained closed for more than a month after this incident. People started speaking in whispers. Divisions appeared. Hindu teachers, Muslim teachers, backward teachers, forward teachers, secular teachers, communal teachers. For the sake for the larger cause of secularism the powerful federation of college and university teachers led by communists decided not to protest. Bihar was known till recently for its powerful teachers’ organisation.  It developed cracks after the advent of the politics of social justice under the leadership of Lalu Prasad Yadav. His party created its own teachers’ units which further weakened the teachers’ unions.

The reign of terror continued. The MP enjoyed having his darbar (court) on the college campus. “I came to college every day, my eyes lowered to the ground, fearing a call from his goons. I was terrified. The reign of terror lasted for more than a decade. Retirement was a great relief.” Surendra babu, one of the most respected and ablest teachers of the college says.

The MP became an educationist. Built new academic blocks from his funds for the college. An auditorium. An indoor stadium. A new administrative block.  A guest house. Established an engineering college in Siwan. Donated generously to all the educational institutions. His imprint is everywhere on the college and the landscape of Siwan.

I am in the college. It wears a forlorn look. I want to see the botanical garden. There are only weeds there. Wild grasses have blocked the path to the practical-block. A sign board of IGNOU (Indira Gandhi University for Open Learning) adorns the central building. It serves as its study centre. Now colleges clamour to get these study centres as it brings them some money and for teachers it means extra money.

The regime in Bihar has changed. The MP is in jail now. This means, however, that there is no benefactor to give money to the DAV College to clear the grass which seems to devour it. My teacher, Surendra Prasad lives near Daha, a small tributary of the river Sarayu. I am sitting with him in the darkening humid evening. The waters of Daha are still, a thick layer of moss covering its blackness. Why do not I feel the stink of this stagnated water, I wonder. My mind wanders to Sujit. He is not there. Patna College still beckons the Ganga. Distracted it flows.

REFERENCE LIST

Béteille, André. 2007. ‘Universities at the Crossroads’. Current Science 92 (4): 441-49.

Clark, Burton R. 1970. The Distinctive College: Antioch, Reeds and Swarthmore. Aldine Publishing Co: Chicago.

Clark, Burton R. 1972. ‘The Organizational Saga in Higher Education’. Administrative Science Quarterly 17 (1): 178-184.

Mukherjee, Sujit. 1998. ‘The College By A River: Patna College’. In Knowledge , Power And Politics: Educational Institutions in India, ed. M. Hasan, 239-57. New Delhi: Roli Books.

[1]           I would like to remember with gratitude Shri  Ajmat Ali ( who is not in this world now), Shri Surendra Singh, Shri Indra Bali shukla, Shri Tripathi Siya Raman, Dr. Kare Prasad Verma ( also passed away in 2012), Shri Ravindra Nath Tripathi, Shri Bharat Prasad and Dr. Anil Kumar, all colleagues of my father and my teachers. Conversations with Shri Mahendraa Kumar and Shri  Kedar Nath Pandey, headmasters of high schools in Siwan were also useful.

  • Navigating the Labyrinth Perspectives on India’s Higher Education
  • Edited by Devesh Kapur Pratap Bhanu Mehta
  • Published by Orient BlackSwan, 2017
  • आखिर उच्च शिक्षा पर केंद्रित किताब छपकर आ गई जिसमें अपूर्वानंद का यह लेख शामिल है. सीवान के डी.ए.वी. कॉलेज और पटना कॉलेज में दिलचस्पी रखनेवालों के लिए मौलिक लेख ब्लॉग पर डाल दिया गया है. थोड़ी संपादकीय तब्दीली के साथ वह किताब में है.
  • https://thewire.in/116752/in-indias-higher-education-surfeit-of-regulation-and-deficit-of-governance/
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