We, at Vidya Ashram (www.vidyaashram.org) could not attend the Paris Meeting, but we congratulate Edu-Factory on organizing a successful meeting with such a large participation. We wanted to post here, for reflection in the context/aftermath of the Paris meeting, some thoughts arising out of a “Knowledge Panchayat” held last year at Vidya Ashram, Varanasi. Panchayat denotes people’s councils for deliberating and taking consensual decisions. It is also a public hearing. The principal proposition discussed in this Knowledge Panchayat was that the Walls of the University Must Come Down. This was defined and developed in various ways by those present (see below).
As some of you are aware, Vidya Ashram’s political program is based on the idea of lokavidya (people’s knowledge or knowledge in society). We would like to initiate a global dialog among all those thinking and working towards a new university, asking them to reflect on the relationship of the university to society at large, and of university knowledge to knowledge found outside the university among the ordinary people. We have found Edu-Factory to be a very important place for such discussions. The text of the Varanasi Statement follows. We look forward to reactions and comments.
The first Gyan Panchayat (Knowledge Panchayat) was organized on 29th November 2009, at Vidya Ashram. 23 people participated in this event. These included peasants, artisans, students, NGO workers, People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) activists, social science researchers, engineers, scientists, philosophers and organizers. All were people with change-oriented social standpoints. The proposition was advanced that in the information age, it is necessary that participation, opinions and initiatives of the common people on the question of knowledge, become part of the public realm. If a dialectical, constructive relationship develops between lokavidya (knowledge in society, people’s knowledge) and the world of alternative thoughts and policy proposals, and if the Gyan Panchayat takes the shape of public hearings in the sphere of knowledge, then a world of knowledge free of barriers and divisions can be created.
The principal proposition discussed in this Knowledge Panchayat was that the Walls of the University Must Come Down. This was defined and developed in various ways by those present. Here are some of the comments:
· The large-scale tendency to call people ignorant will not break until the walls of the University fall.
· Just as there are brokers of religion in society, there are brokers of knowledge too. Breaking the University’s walls means breaking their monopoly.
· The ‘Walls of the University’ mean the geographical distance between the home and the college, the economic distance between ordinary students and the University, and the distance between people’s knowledge and Science. The well being of society lies in ending these distances, that is, in bringing down the walls of the university.
· The University has created modes of discourse within which lokavidya-holders are not able to express themselves fully. Breaking the walls of the University means creating such public modes of expression that allow everyone to participate.
· The walls of the University separate the educated from the knowledgeable in such a way that knowledge in society is no longer respected. That is why these walls must come down.
· Knowledge is locked up inside the University and is sold to those who can pay for it. In the informal weaving industry, designers teach students without charging any fees. This presents a new model of education, which stands for equality in society.
· The relationship between Univeristy-folk and society at large has been upside down. The breaking of the University’s walls symbolizes the process of creating a new, positive relationship between the two.
· Several charges have been leveled against the University so far, but this panchayat is the first one to question University-knowledge itself.
· Those inside the University must also be engaged in the discussion on the breaking of its walls.
· The University is the wall. It divides society and it should come down.
· University knowledge must form an active and dynamic relationship with the people. It is this process that will bring down the walls.
· The question is how can people participate in shaping the University? No system can work in the people’s interest without their participation.
· The rising cost of higher education is making the walls of the University ever higher. Without bringing these walls down disparity in education will never end.
· Students being trained in the University and other instituions of higher education are nothing but cogs to be fitted in the machinery of big and multinational firms. The walls of the factory and the walls of the University have merged. Coming down of the University’s walls is an inseparable element of a new revolution.
· The communities of lokavidya-holders must take the initiative to intervene in the world of knowledge in an organized fashion, else this massive source of inequality in society will always remain. It is up to these communities to bring down the walls of the University.
· The Knowledge Panchayat should advance this agenda and develop itself as a public hearing in the world of knowledge.
Sarntha, Varanasi, India