Monday, December 1, 2008

Vidya Ashram National Meeting (Nov 17) Report

Report of Vidya Ashram National Meeting
17 November, 2008 , Sarnath

This is a brief report of the National Meeting of Vidya Ashram held on the Ashram premises at Sarnath on 17th Nov. 2008. Following were present--- Dr. J.K. Suresh, Dr. Abhijit Mitra, Dr. Naresh Sharma, Mohan Rao, Dr. Girish Sahasrabudhey, Dr. K. K.Surendran, Vijay Jawandhia, Avinash Jha, Vinish Gupta, Karuna, Dr. Chitra Sahasrabudhey, Sunil Sahasrabudhey, Jagdish Singh Yadav, Praval Kumar Singh, Dilip Kumar, Laxman Prasad, Santosh Kumar Sanvigya, Vinod Kumar Chaube, Md. Aleem, Pradeep Kumar Gond and Babloo Kumar.

This was an important yearly meeting which looked at the programs and the processes underway and deliberated over the nature of Ashram's engagement with the world of knowledge and change for equality and justice in society. A new brochure of Vidya Ashram was released on this occasion (it is designed by Shilpi and Amit).

First Session: Lokavidya
The first session was chaired by Surendran.

It started with reports from Bhaichara Vidyalaya, Lokavidya Satsang, Gyan Mukti Manch and Chintan Dhaba, presented by the program conveners, namely, Dilip Kumar, Laxman Prasad, Santosh Kumar and Krishna Kumar, respectively. The campus management including the kitchen and vegetable cultivation was presented by Pradeep Kumar. Chitraji placed the whole program in perspective.

There was wide ranging and in-depth discussion on the idea and practice of Bhaichara Vidyalaya, which spilled over into a discussion on lokavidya and the promise that lokavidya holds for an egalitarian transformation of the society. Sunil explained the path traversed by the Ashram from the discussions on Lokavidya Academy or a New Academy in the last National Meeting in Nov. 2007 to the organization of the Lokavidya Panchayat a day before on 16th Nov. 2008. A struggling dialogue with several members of the Ashram on conceptualising Lokavidya Academy for more than 6 months had led to the idea of Lokavidya Panchyat, notionally the place from where lokavidya and the people possessing lokavidya could assert in a new mode. What form such a Panchayat should take remains a challenge. A blog was started in May 2008 by Amit Basole and Dr. K.K. Surendran argued for an event in the name of Lokavidya Panchayat.

There was some discussion on the Lokavidya Panchayat held on 16th in which all the members of this National Meeting were present. A 200 strong panchayat from 11 AM to 5 PM in the premises of the Ashram had a number of farmers, artisans, social workers and leaders express their views on how their knowledge needs to find ways of asserting its presence and dynamic character. Hours of deliberations had concluded with a resolution to take the panchayat process forward and build it as a place of organisation and activity of people's knowledge. On this occasion the Hindi book Lokavidya was published in the series Gyan Ki Rajniti Pustakmala. All the participants of this National Meeting found in the panchayat a refreshing breeze and a promise of a new kind. They felt that this could provide the broad framework and context in which the programs of the Ashram could be located.

There was considerable discussion on issues related to lokavidya and strengths of lokavidya in which almost all the members participated actively. At the end Sunil made an appeal for reflection on the nature of promise held by lokavidya, lack of further clarity and creative understanding on which, could seriously hamper the development of the Ashram. He profusely acknowledged the contribution and support by members to build the Ashram and sought a stepping up in the realm of reflection. He also observed that the commitments made by members in the last year's meeting about continuing financial contributions were being honored. However the explorations to be made for mobilization of finances by more open methods did not take place. The difficulties and dilemmas involved in basing the Ashram entirely on individual's voluntary contributions seemed to have no steady solution.

Second Session : University and Converging Technologies
This session was chaired by Abhijit .

This was about Ashram's engagement with the dominant in the world of knowledge, namely, the university and the frontline technologies. Discussion on the changing university was started by Avinash Jha. For over a year he had had a dialogue with C.N. Krishnan from Anna University on the question of the university in transition and the possible relationship that could develop between it and lokavidya and FOSS which was now expected to culminate in the conference on Emerging Organization of Knowledge and the Future of Universities on 19-20 Dec. 2008 at Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi in this year's Congress of Indian Social Science Academy. Vidya Ashram is collaborating with AU-KBC Center of Electronics, Anna University for the organization of this conference.

The three aspects of this conference, namely, dynamics in the world of knowledge, the university and FOSS with related issues of corporatization, social justice and science research were the subject of discussion. Most members contributed to the discussion. Girish made a point about the idea of education itself disappearing under the impact of the recent developments including those in the sphere of education. The corporatization of higher education turned both education and the educated into commodities whose form and content was ever changing according to the dictates of the market. Suresh elaborated on how the content and organization of research were assuming new forms with corporations in the lead. Naresh talked about a Nai Taleem workshop by Andhra University which deliberated over the inclusion of artisanal knowledge in education. All three have agreed to send write-ups on their ideas to Vidya Ashram by 10th Dec. 2008. These ideas can then be taken to the conference on 19-20 Dec. in New Delhi.

Converging Technologies
The meeting next deliberated on the Converging Technologies( NBIC-nano, bio, info, cogno or BANG- bit, atom, neuron, gene). The participants were aware of this trend and the claims being put forward by convergence theorists. What was debated was whether a critical socio-philosophical engagement with this trend could help to effectively engage with the frontline developments in the field of science and technology. Although the wiki provides introduction to all these areas, it was felt that it should be more useful to have short introductory notes with links prepared by some of us. So it was decided that (i) Girish will prepare a note on Nano-technology, (ii) Suresh on Info.Tech., (iii) Abhijit on Bio-tech. and (iv) Avinash on Cognitive science. All these people will send their notes to Surendran by Jan 15, 2009. It is expected that some of us or many of us will find time to look at Converging Technologies to be able to develop a research program. This may be in the direction of developing an Indian response/view on the content, goals, promise, impact etc. of Converging Technologies.

In the End
Suresh proposed that meetings be held in South ( Bangalore, Hyderabad...) at shorter intervals which should also facilitate greater participation. It was decided that first such meeting will be arranged in Hyderabad before March end 2009. It will be coordinated by Naresh and Suresh. In addition to what may be decided as the subject of the discussion, this meeting will have before it the follow-up of (i) the 'Knowledge and University' conference in Jamia Milia Islamia and (ii) elements of a possible research program on Converging Technologies. If some work gets done on Krishnarajulu's proposal of dialogue with local political parties from a lokavidya angle, then it will also be before this meeting for deliberations.

Prepared at Vidya Ashram
Sarnath, Varanasi, 22 Nov., 2008

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