Friday, 26 January 2007

Civilization (India)

In the Memeory of Victims of Indian Caste System
by Remigius de Souza

Water droplets
White light
Miracle of spectrum
Turbans and caps
Of different hues
Misplaced identities
In the fragmented civilization
Otherwise one.
* * *
(This composition is dedicated to four Dalits - the untouchables - in the Village Golana, District Khambat, Gujarat, who were chased and shot dead by the high cast Hindus in a broad daylight on the Republic Day, when the country celebrating, only because they refused to do a menial work for them. In Indian society Dalits" [literally - the downdtrodden] still carry the stigma of untouchability though the elite in high places, or the Indian Constitution, may not recognise it.)

Remigius de Souza

Postal Address: 69 - 243 S B Marg Mumbai 400 028 India.

On the Republic Day (India)

by Remigius de Souza

On the Republic Day
Let’s carry on ritually remembering
each other and greet
on occasions, on anniversaries;
let’s carry on to count years,
add on the numbers,
for the delight of managers
of our affairs;
let’s hope for the magic wand
to work miracles by the turn
of the endless night.

If not other than our common
ground to meet,
let me remember the anonymous,
for once at least,
beyond the patriotic floats display
on a Republic Day.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Remigius de Souza
Postal Address: 69, 243. S. B. Marg, Mumabi 400028 India

Monday, 22 January 2007

Prez advises IIT-ians

Prez advises IITians
by Remigius de Souza
- - - - -
President APJ Abdul Kalam, in his inaugural address advised the IITian, “Create low-cost water efficient, electrically efficient dwelling units with proper sanitation and drainage facilities for the needy in urban and rural areas. The cost of a two-room dwelling unit should not exceed Rs 1 lakh.” Event: PanIIT Global Conference, Mumbai. Date: 23 December 2006. (Hindustan Times, 24 Dec. 2006).

Where do we go from here?

The government started the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) – branded elite institutes to serve the corporate sector – with foreign collaboration few decades ago. The IIT students recently had organised protests against the reservations for SCs/STs and OBCs. in education and jobs. Not a surprise!

Since the times of Harappa – Mohenjo-Daro, millions of Indians have been living in two-room dwellings (Basham, A.L. “Wonder that was India”) in cities and villages. Until modern times in India the people exercised their autonomy in decision-making, planning, technology, materials, construction and maintenance of their houses within their means, economy and skills by self-help; obviously they are economical and affordable. They display tremendous variety and diversity, and freshness in its form and language that are culturally relevant, however ancient they may look.

With industrialisation and colonisation the autonomy and initiative of the people is lost. Worst than the mach-maligned caste system in India and the racism world over, the industrial society is broken into numerous divisions of occupations and professions controlled by Agency, which of course do not recognise even personal space, leave aside community. It’s a classless mass society; the underclass is not recognised. This may be an influence of deductive methods of sciences and technologies, which are monopolised by a few for profit and power. Certainly the modern sciences and technologies have devised harder building materials, largest /tallest buildings, which ironically cannot stand the forces of nature.
Modern Technology that failed
Since last sixty years of Independence, with progress and development in India, the institutes of learning and Agency have failed to solve the aggravating problem of the houseless, besides food. There are 100 colleges of architecture, many more institutes of engineering and a few elitist Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). None of them have carried any research or research projects, which form their curriculum, relevant to this growing malady. None of them have tried to impart skills and technologies to the public that remain in the safe custody of the experts, like Holy Scriptures are held by ‘purohits’ – the priests.

Hoewever they failed to design a house, which is equivalent in quality to that of tribal house design, and the and the tribal skills, used by half-naked tribals. None of the experts, specialists, builders, contractors, either in collaboration or individually, have been able to evolve skills and design for a house on a condition that it could last for a designed period of 5 – 10 – 15 or 20 years, which recovers its cost in the due time, and dismantled or recycled, at the end of period without loss of money or materials, without damaging the environment and ecology that is energy-wise, to be built again as desired by a householder like any ethnic vernacular tribal house. None even thought of it.

In the industrialised mass education during 5 to 10 years of professional courses the aspirants are spoon-fed to produce homogenised projects. From K.G. level to university, the formal mass education at any stage fails to liberate the students who are tied to the shackles of status quo; forget about awakening some social responsibility; they are periodically assessed by grading and degrading. They also are groomed to find the answers from the text / scriptures written by other mortals rather than thinking on their own to see the problems and to find answers – to maintain the status quo i.e. to obey an authority.

Educating the educated: Learning from the People

As I write this note, there is news of a “half-animal” (sic) woman of 27 years age and naked, was found near a village in Cambodia. It is believed that she was lost at the age of 8 when she had taken buffalo for grazing in a forest. It is a story of extraordinary intelligence and survival. How could a child survive for 19 years without parents, family, community, society, police, the State ― without Agency ― to protect her? It is easier to survive ― to live sanely ― in a forest away from urban jungle, away from civilised society that are out to kill fellow humans for any reason, on any pretext, or for personal gratification, either directly or by proxy, may it be Singur, Nithari, Kashmir, Mumbai, Tiananmen Square, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran… She doesn’t know any intelligible language, and in the warm climate of Cambodian forest she doesn’t need shelter or clothing, happily in the forest there is plenty of food.

What will happen to the IIT graduates, experts, specialists, the do-gooder elites, even Dr. Kalam, if they are stripped of their certificates and the loads of gadgets and left in the forest? How would they sustain? Perhaps they will succeed in running away. According to Peter Principle, a person is elevated to the highest level of her/his inefficiency. Perhaps it may be worth sending all the learned, particularly the bureaucrat, periodically to grassroots for refresher-courses, irrespective of their age and social-political-economic status. It is high time that the entire education systems needs revamp: read for example, Letters and Numbers plus Things to Make (de Souza, R.), which outlines actions to restructure Indian ecucation system. When we give a talk standing on a platform, as Debhoo Ghosh once told us, we assume standards and don’t see what is below the platform.

Link to "half-woman half-animal" 

Remigius de Souza

Monday, 15 January 2007

Youth Energy

Reforming Education
by Remigius de Souza

(Extracts from Letters and Numbers plus Things to Make)

The change, reformation, restructuring of education has to start from the bottom, because the country's resources and the exchequer pay for it directly or indirectly. Architectural as well as other areas of education are highly subsidised.

Students, during their architectural course, design several projects, dissertations and thesis designs. The worth of this work could be several lakhs of rupees, may be crores. As the system expects it have to be simulation of real architecture, the concept imported from wealthy west. Obviously none of the projects go beyond being paper plans and paper models. None of the projects are ever tested either at site or at workshop. I am not certain if it is ever questioned.

Vital youth energy, five precious years of early adult life and the direct and indirect cost (considered to be about rupees ten lakhs) of making an architect certainly deserves better deal. The only answer presently possible to support the present 'class-room-education' by attaching 'full-scale live models' i.e. by witnessing "materials - construction - services - use - maintenance - aesthetics' of various building types, architecture and planning regularly at site. This should be part of curriculum for all the relevant subjects, for all the five years of present course and should be subjected to regular assessment. The records of these site visit reports should be maintained in the form of monograms for future reference.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Remigius de Souza
(1 - 4 - 1999)

Postal Address: 69-243 S B Marg Mumbai India

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Spring times

Spring times
by Remigius de Souza

In the life of a tree
Springtime comes free

a hundred several times;
in a human life but once,

you may have seen
many a monsoon

but spring time once
that you might live

knowing it is there
or missed forever.

Hold it in your soul
And let it radiate forever.
* * *
Makarsankranti Day: Celebration of the Sun's transit
in the Earth's northern hemisphere. (Mumbai)
Remigius de Souza
Postal Address: 69, 243. S. B. Marg, Mumabi 400028 India

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Politics of Literacy in India

Challenges of 21st Century

Learning to Learn: Squatters' children in Mumbai
 These children prove that learning begins at home! Learning is autonomous function of all the living beings, not only humans. It is bestowed by Mother Nature.

So simple! So unbelievable! You must be joking!

IN THE EARLY 1950s it could have been possible to achieve hundred per cent literacy in India in about five years. It was possible if some serious thought was given to the indigenous ways of learning of the people. We were forty crores then. At the turn of the 20th century about 40% i.e. about 40 crores persons are said to be illiterate. About 70% people live in villages. This is statistics of averages even if reliable. There are places where illiteracy is close to 100 percent; with perhaps a couple of percents are literate in the age group below ten years.

The statistics, however, do not show how many children attend, or do not attend, the schools regularly, and how many opt to dropout at various levels of schooling. Why do people keep away from the schooling even to this date when their survival is at stake? Yet the question remains how literacy is practiced/ utilised by all the sections of people – whether marginally literate or literate or educated – in the urban and rural areas? This leads to another question: how literacy becomes a crucial ‘need’, in what situations, for the illiterate?

By now we must be aware that mere election propaganda for the parliaments, assemblies, district or village panchayats, being connected to political power, is not an enough motivation to be literate. Even an annual Union Budget, being connected to economic power, is not a sufficient reason to be literate. To be MP or MLA, or even a Sarpanch of village panchayat, for an illiterate person is solely circumstantial. (We remember the late Phoolan Devi with reverence.)

Development begins with people, not PMs

‘BY BEING LITERATE, or rather educated, one gets a job, work, employment to earn livelihood’, is a bet often used by those who give, or sell, education, of course, is a white lie; people are sufficiently informed and disillusioned by now. Hence the crucial question of ‘need’ to motivate the illiterate is to know how literacy is applicable or useful in their ordinary living conditions.

In the industrialized societies the institutionalization works almost in every aspect of personal and the collective life. Even Gandhiji’s concept of ‘Buniyadi Shiksha’ – basic education – was institutionalized for a brief period. Inevitably it was discontinued. ‘Buniyadi shiksha’ is about ‘education’, not ‘literacy’. We are speaking here of ‘literacy’, that is ‘reading and writing the letters and numbers’, the script in any language – vernacular, regional or international.

‘India is a nation of villages and 70% people live in the villages’ is another often-repeated catch phrase that doesn’t go beyond lip service. There may be a genuine desire by the managers of the country’s affairs to take the nation to rank with the developed industrialized nations. And they seem to be in great hurry. Are they working for the 100 plus crore people or the ‘economy’?

Unfortunately for the last five decades the development or prosperity isn’t visible at the people’s level, whether it is literacy or poverty line, deaths by malnutrition or starvation or diseases by land-water-air pollution. They have been ceaselessly talking of percentages. It doesn’t elevate people to earn livelihood with dignity. The people, though helpless and silent, are intelligent to understand the ‘mid-day meal’ at school is a charity offered by the feudal masters, not a dignity.

Creativity: to create problems to create solutions to create…

WHY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN KEEPING AWAY from the institutionalized formal schooling even to this date? Without mincing words, it is because the prevalent education isn’t relevant and/or the system is not appropriate for their sustenance.

Homo sapiens have a powerful weapon of language over other hominids and species. As script and writing were discovered with rise of civilization, the powerful classes or castes monopolised them and kept ‘the other’ – their subjects away; perhaps they promised them the physical and spiritual protection in the return of the exploits.

Over the centuries this majority, which still persists and is increasing, had known that the scriptures and the script have not been essential for the survival in real life in real world. Perhaps that is why Gautama Buddha, the rebellion, speaks to people in Prakrit – vernacular!

Those who go through the British-made western-style education become alienated from the people and society, from real life, and embrace ‘virtual reality’ of market, money and media. The people inevitably turn into a mass society, and subsequently face identity crisis.

Fortunately none of the ethnic and tribal communities and their members suffers from identity crisis. They are acutely aware of its irrelevance in their real life, and therefore cannot afford it, and opt to drop out.

The identity of Britain and the British is “East India Company” – the international Baniya – the traders. The East India Company baptized the elite India with trade and replaced clergy by traders who are invisible rulers.

It is not a discovery that a language or a script is ‘virtual reality’. With the development of science and technology more and more languages and scripts are emerging, such as, binary. This pushes the society to further fragmentation and chaos, and the powerful move to further alienation. Thanks to the progress of Electronic Technology/ Information Technology in leaps and bounds that perhaps a million odd persons are now marginally computer-literates. The brighter ones end up in silicon valleys to slave for the likes of Gates.

An annual Union Budget, may use Hindi language, but even the educated may not be able to comprehend its means, meanings and ends, or how economic language changes political equations, or who shall hijack its benefits by hook or crook. Then they need the modern-day gurus to interpret the scriptures of the country’s budget. Such monopolisation of languages leads the experts to alienation from the real world, and pushes the ‘other’ members of the society to oblivion. Can anyone take a word of the rulers at its face value? The same could be said of all the fields of specialisation and expertise; they remain exclusive but not universal.

Literacy indigenous way

WHILE WRITING REQUIRES MOTOR ABILITY, reading is visual function of the brain, and language and script are cultural inventions. The scientists continue to read the human body. Describing our ability to read, Stanislas Dehaene, a cognitive neuroscientist, says that ‘the architecture of our brain is limited by strong genetic constraints though it retains fringe flexibility. … The primate visual system evolved to do a different job that was that was similar to allow it to be “recycled” into reading machine. … Even though we can’t possibly be born with specialised reading circuit, we all end up using exactly the same part of the brain.’

He speculates, ‘when we learn to read, we convert the network of neurons whose initial role was object recognition into specialized word-recognition system. The brain had neither the ability nor the need to create such a region from scratch. Our brain did not evolve reading. (See: Stanislas Dehaene, ‘Natural born readers’, New Scientist, July 5, 2003, pp 30-33). Many neuroscientists share the hope that the new understanding of brain will throw light on children’s educational difficulties, in maths as well as reading. They, however, must see before long that the advanced societies and the education progressively exist in ‘vertual reality’ divorced from nature.

To implement literacy all that a language needs is a script. Is it difficult to learn any script for persons who weave baskets or clothe, shape the pottery or build their own abode? Is it difficult to learn any script for a tribal woman who inscribes rangoli, alpana, kolam on a cow dung-washed floor, or paints fertility goddess on a mud wall? It is not that the illiterate have no language and no ‘script’; they do have them from the proto-historic times. Their language and script or signs are comprehensible to all the members of the community and are accepted means of communications.

Traditionally the people have been learning the life-supporting skills, crafts, and trades by sharing, experiencing and participatory process. This has been going on for thousands of years, even long before Homo sapiens domesticated plants and animals.

It is high time the ‘managers’ learn from the people rather than the West in the matters at home. There is a simple alternative to the ‘official’ system to implement literacy programme in India by indigenous way.

Ji-jutsu action is best weapon for the poor

BY THE SAME AGE-OLD INDIGENOUS WAY, any 3, 4 or 5 percent literate persons, kids or adults, from a village, or a neighbouring one, can teach the letters and numbers to entire village in five years. Children are the best teachers as they have better access to the woman folks and the aged. A thankless job!

Learning literacy, of course, should be in the people’s dialect or vernacular, the mother tongue. A language with script establishes its identity as well as that of its community, and self-respect. The language then comes out of obscurity. The learned and the educated then start respecting the language that has a script. It becomes a politically strategic action.

Not long ago there has been reconstitution of Indian states on the basis of language. Not long ago Konkani language received recognition from the Government. Its three dialects, Malvani, Gomantaki and Karvari followed Devanagari, Roman and Kannada scripts for number of years.

Indigenous way of learning literacy is bound to be different and away from the established ‘official’ ways of institutionalized schooling. The possible course may appear this way:

  • A language may adopt a script, preferably a regional one, as Indian scripts are phonetically compatible;
  • Ideally the language must be the mother tongue, people’s own dialect or vernacular language;
  • The words and sentences would follow their own practice and describe their habitat – names of plants, birds, and animals, things they do and appliances they use for food, work and leisure;
  • As it advances it should document their legends, myths, folklore, folk stories, folk songs, folk theater, plays and games, and their unwritten ancient laws;
  • As far as possible the learning should keep away from the textbooks prescribed in the mass schooling, most of which is alien. They should evolve their own curriculum;
  • They may start learning to write on earth, floor, use pigments or powders made from vegetables or soils… They also should not accept any conditional assistance from any person/s or governmental or nongovernmental organizations.

Routinely the bureaucrats, the experts, the educationist etc. will think of building schools, print books, decide curriculum, appoint teachers, prepare rolls of attendance, budgets, ‘Operation Black-Board’, talk big things in the parliament… They have no formula to reward such a programme of ‘literacy-indigenous-way’. If by any chance, some monetary incentive is provided, then a major part shall be sucked away by the channel itself – the intermediaries such as administration, establishments, and institutions on its way to the people. One should not be surprised if there happens a ‘slate-and-pencil’ scam like fodder scam and leather scam.
What then is their incentive? Modern theories of economics, leftist or rightist, have no formula to reward such a way of learning literacy. They cannot assess such work just as they have failed to assess value of farming and farm products as they do in case of industrial products, or the wealth of people’s knowledge. How could they, who look down upon them as second-class citizens, Dasyus, service class, ever even appreciate such concept or work?

PEOPLE’S RIGHT REWARD, perhaps, is that they can read and write their own language, and about their lives. It is larger than any award any establishment or the State can confer upon them. Their reward is they create a powerful political strategy in Ju-jitsu action. Is this why Kabir vehemently proclaims that he is illiterate?

~ ~ ~ ~

Remigius de Souza

(Published in Janata weekly, Mumbai)

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Letters and Numbers, plus ‘Things to Make'

Letters and Numbers, plus ‘Things to Make'
Restructuring (Indian) Education

by Remigius de Souza


THE FORMAL EDUCATION IN INDIA HAS FAILED TO REACH THE INDIAN MAINSTREAM because it is not formed, nor designed for the people. There are now a billion people in India. The majority is illiterate, but not necessarily uneducated. A few are educated but many of them may be ignorant. The tribal belongs to the Fourth World India, having high culture, but not comprehended by others. These three worlds in India, somewhere sometimes are at cross-purposes with each other. Although the powerful may force others someday to accept their ways through the "formal education", the gulf between them seems to widen perpetually. There are millions below the "poverty line".

This paper veraciously uses 'eligibility for architectural course' as a reference point, as a case study. It is because architecture is considered to be "the expression of time, place and people". It is almost a holy affirmation of the discipline. Besides being a most expensive commodity, it is also an agglomeration of many skills, trades, vocations, applied sciences, industry and large number of unskilled labourers, both. It is the most complex among the disciplines of humanities. It is also because it stands in the middle of "farming" (agriculture) and the "spaceship" and "missile" programs. In India it hangs midway, like "Trishanku"* neither on ground nor in the paradise of utopia promised by "Vishwamitra"* of modern technology. There are millions of house-less people in India. Ironically some of them work on building projects.

The Council of Architecture (CA) in 1998 initiated workshops in different cities in India on "Restructuring Architectural Education for 21st Century. Recently All India Council for Technical Education" (AICTE), through an advertisement, called for papers for ideas from Indian Nationals on "How to Instil Quality in Technical Education (a Practical Approach" in a national competition. Declining standards in education is a common cry to be heard these days. It is almost fashionable to complain. But who is ready to take revolutionary step if need be? Is it the Legislation, the Bureaucracy or the People? Within its limited space the paper moves between general and particular areas of field of education.

The Missing Third Element of Learning

It is known that infants from early stage start instinctively to develop their motor abilities. That is a natural process. The children however receive schooling from the first standard, or even prior to it, which begin with letters and numbers and continue to do so happily ever after. What is missing in the primary and secondary schooling and onwards is the third element of learning, that is, Making Things That Work. This lacuna has not only eclipsed the architectural education, but entire education, therefore, life at large. It has caused tremendous joblessness, exploitation and marginalisation of many, alienation of the educated, loss of creativity and loss of respect for the manual labour, therefore, for the fellow human beings, in the nation of a billion people.

This is so in spite of humankind has made millions of objects over past fifty thousand years or more, outside the present style of education prevailing in India. This education is only capable of letters and numbers, and perhaps collaborations to borrow development from the west.

Work, leisure, education and health are four broad aspects functioning of life of man, animal or plant. Fixed borders neither confined to compartments does separate these. In the natural process they flow into each other or overlap. Institutionalised mass education, fitted into compartments of division of labour is the by-product of industrialisation. It not only brought assault on skills, knowledge, traditions and cultures of people, but also tends to create monoculture. It is, also, not without causing the heartburn to the creative and the spontaneous. By and by education has also fallen prey to consumerism. Architectural education is not an exception to this trend.

While thinking about restructuring education (general or architectural) one tends to think within the prevailing frame or system or mind-set. Institutionalisation is so powerful, that it is spreading and taking charge of every area of public or private or personal life, particularly in the mass type industrial society. Hence, institutional overtake of education. It happens when there is lack of creativity and of leisure in an individual and the society. We are, of course, aware that this education is not universal, and a large section of Indian society yet remains outside its dragnet.

Status of Architectural course and Eligibility Criteria

Presently the architectural education seems to be a classroom activity, intellectual pursuit and abstract discipline on paper. Yet for lay people architecture may still be a decorative art. The boom in the real estate market (in big cities) generated money and power, therefore, glamour to the field of architectural profession. Building industry, it is rumour, alleged to be one of the major channels of parallel economy. It is power and money, and not the poverty, which generate corruption, parallel economy and pollution - environmental or economic. Poverty and the holes in the sky are but refuse from power, money and machine, whether at global or local level.

When architectural education was tied up with prerequisite of physics, chemistry and mathematics (PCM) at Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) level for admission, perhaps nobody studied the horoscope of architectural (and general education) in India then. Perhaps this was conceived then to raise the status of architecture to that of engineering courses as technology. (I am told by unconfirmed sources that this was to facilitate higher grants for the course.)

PCM requisite for admission made the course of architecture a monopolised area, an exclusive area, like engineering etc. Some of the left over candidates from admission to engineering and medicine joined architecture as second option. Architecture, however, in its primeval form as hut in vernacular architecture has been household action of millions of people. It is like making one's own bread or meal beginning from sowing seed in the farm or yard of the house. Now by the Architects Act 1972, "the term 'architect' is enshrined in law. Fortunately the word 'architecture' has no legal protection (Jonathan Hill, 'Occupying Architecture', Routledge, 1998, p.6). Now architect, who is 'trained' in the classroom and 'works' in the office, takes over, e.g. to design housing for masses
(Mass housing) across the country in "modern idiom" for what they are groomed. This is how the institutionalising works. No wonder Latur (Maharashtra State) experienced social and cultural quake following natural earthquake. Housing, there, remains to be tested by time. Certainly the modern city of Kobe (Japan) must have used superior technology in the land of perpetual earthquake than at Latur prior to its collapse there in the last earthquake.

We wonder that at least in the age of democracy, whatever it is, the budding architects may learn the relevance subjects and theories are related, experienced and examined on site; that they may realise that architecture requires not only spatial imagination but also social imagination; that it has dimension of anthropology in the domain of bio-regions.

Thanks to the 50 to 70% strength of ladies in the classroom of some of the colleges of architecture, that now "architecture" will be a household word and add to the cultural dimension of the urban society.

Policy-makers may some day take note that the creative ability in architecture, or any discipline, dose not depend solely on science stream or marks obtained in PCM or HSCE. "Talent is extremely difficult to diagnose. It can not be tested by examination (Allsopp, 1977, p.83). Though everyone possesses creative ability, but there should be identifying it in the candidate and nurturing it in the society. Is it not enough to spend ten/twelve years of schooling to nurture and identify talents and creative abilities in a student leading to SSCE and HSCE?

New Formula
(10) plus (2+5) for Architectural Course: Not (10+2) plus (5)

"Had you started the study of architecture after the 10th (SSCE) what would you have missed? What would you have gained?" I have been asking this question to the fresh graduates for a decade. Summarily the response, has been, "Missed nothing. The gains: I would have started early and come to the grip of the discipline early." They had lost most sensitive years of their early life in cramming information and ready answers supplied by the books.

Until the education turned into mass schooling the start had always been early, whether in arts, crafts, trades, vocations...through the guilds or family traditions. The education was supported by the experience. The gains have been many, particularly in acquiring and testing life-supporting skills and developing perceptions at an early age. The issue of "child labour" is irrelevant here.

Presently in the privileged class of society, a 12th standard student has knowledge (!) of architecture and planning accessed through 'Internet', 'chat-room', 'web surfing', whenever needed, though not by experiencing, and of course, 'Tajmahal' etc, travel and multimedia are there. Will IT improve the quality of education of architecture? Will introduction of one more subject ‘appreciation of architecture’ (at SSC or HSC levels (10+2) help to identify talents?

Some academicians have started propaganda to make the course of architecture of four years duration instead of 5 years. When there is increasing complexity in life and society, such an idea will only lead to self-denial. It may result in bringing out a super-draftsman rather than an architect, compelling student take further formal education, perhaps under the pretext of specialisation. Besides increasing the burden on exchequer and the infrastructure, it will only increase the stress on the student.

On the contrary the increasing complexity needs more periods of time and contact with ground reality for its comprehension. Is it possible to start the architectural education early? Is it possible to start after the 10th (SSCE)? It will thereby increase the course to seven years, i.e. 2 plus 5, where the first two years will be multidisciplinary preparatory year for the aspirant who plunges into the discipline of architecture. It will eliminate first year of the present five-year course.

Open up New Streams

Although SSC and HSC have, as many as 70 subjects, each, there is great demand for, or rather supply of 'Arts, Science and Commerce' streams. This is so not only in the urban areas but also in the rural areas where mainly the agrarian society dwells. It is as if whole cultural ethos of modern India is contained in this holy trinity: Arts-Science-Commerce! These are dominant stars in the horoscope of Indian education, irrespective of their potential in imparting the life supporting skills and securing employment or self-employment in the market of demand and supply.

It is high time to divert this traffic from Arts-Science-Commerce to other disciplines by creating new streams at SSC, HSC and graduate levels. To do this it is necessary to change the mind set. In India the higher education, even though highly subsidised, has remained with certain section of the society, and has been denied to a large majority. It is so since ancient times. "Ekalavya"* is classic example of victimisation by the monopoly. The so-called Arabic numerals in the west were originated in India and were adapted there sometime in the 9th century. But a large number of people in India remained illiterate. Literacy was associated with learning Vedas. In the modern times even this literacy, which was denied to ‘masses’, has not been achieved in spite of slogans, such as, 'education for all' on paper. In the coming times will it be a case of 'computer literacy? It is anybody's guess.

Some of the Possible "New" Streams


Almost half the population of the country needs this stream. This has been ignored by the institutions. The work and the job opportunities in private and public sector and higher education opportunities are aplenty. If the system is appropriately designed it will certainly motivate women, whether illiterate or literate or educated. In fact 'Home Science' will be most effective instrument to bring literacy, not vice versa, to bring literacy to whole country in a shortest possible time, if appropriately designed. It means that the age is no bar for education. It is then; another slogan "30% reservation for women" may actually materialise. Neglect of 50 % population is the legacy of "Manu", which continues...


Considering the proportion of the land and vocation of the majority people across the country, this stream namely "Farming" should have been on the priority of the country's educational policy, program and practice. By now we have known that the wand of science and industrialisation has not worked magic in the country. But unfortunately the large section of the society is treated in practice as second class citizens.
"Farming", as stream of education, should broadly include Agriculture, Aquaculture and Horticulture, and Agro-forestry leading to serve many areas of life of people and land (and waters). If bamboo alone has more than thousand uses, how many fields the FARMING should offer! Ironically most technical course through ITIs, Polytechnics, Engineering colleges, IITs etc lead to industry; so also the scientists and Pundits in education can only think of farming none other than mechanisation. Agro-technology or so-called agro-industries are only a small fraction of FARMING SECTOR. But our politicians, educationists, scientists, policymakers are there to serve science and technology, even if irrelevant, rather than the people.


Creative arts are thus called only to differentiate from the other so-called "Arts" stream. This stream would comprise of Visual and Performing Arts, Architecture being one of them. The 2-year (11th and 12th) course should qualify students for job, as well as further education. It should lead to graduation of different disciplines in different time spans. The graduation time span could be 2, 3, 4, or 5 years according to the intensity of the course. Some of them: pottery, sculpture, painting, dance, music, drama, cinema, television, product design, applied arts, etc. and architecture.

The two-year stream of Creative Arts will not teach merely architecture, but will be a multi-disciplinary course in visual and performing arts. Hence there is no need of conducting such a course leading to HSCE in any college of architecture. This will largely help in de-monopolising architecture from the architects. It will also help architects to be user-oriented or people-oriented.

Architecture as Humanities

Architecture is most complex among the disciplines of humanities by virtue of people living in it, not merely with it. Work of architecture, may it be good, bad, popular, award winning, mundane, regional, vernacular, or western-post-modern, etc. is, however, an expression of time, place and people (whether they are slaves or master - physically or ideologically). Architecture is history written in concrete form.

By calling it humanities, one need not be apprehensive about loss of scientific way or technology or engineering aspect of architecture. Humanities or any other discipline need not be devoid of science for (physical, mental and spiritual) health of man, product or place {Land or Water). Architecture is beyond the building systems and building products supplied by the industry. We are slowly coming to realise that some of the industrially produced building materials are hazardous to (physical} health. It is now being slowly revealed the injuries caused by technology to the environment, ecology and energy and therefore Life.

Myth 0f Science Education

The present 12 years of "class-room, black-board oriented" education, may it be PCM or any other subject, is a major stumbling block in the way of creative thinking and action. Students tend to seek formulae, ready answers, dogma, and authority. The process of unlearning undesirable part of 12-year grooming is a hard task for many students of architecture as creativity is the essence of the discipline. Some may never even get over it for lifetime. Between zero to five to eighteen years of age is the period of rapid growth of brain and to nurture creativity. The present trend in formal education is far too questionable in this regard.

Many advocate 'science' and 'scientific way' for the Indian society. Rightly so in principle; but it is far from practice. Indeed pure sciences are the foundation of modern technology. Hence, so much emphasis on PCM! The present situation, however, is far from satisfactory. J. V. Naralikar laments that there decline of pure sciences in India and the future is bleak ('No Fizz and Spark: Decline of Science Education in India', The Times of India, 6.5.1999). At the same time one must note that without humanities the society will be lame. There is basic difference in science and humanities. Science requires explanation; humanities require understanding (Gombrich). The discipline of architecture does not belong to pure sciences. Therefore it can not function in the premise of laboratory, nor by deductive method. Science however is intrinsic with any discipline; that is how, that is where, it should be. Water is needed for survival, not H2O. Otherwise separating science from the rest will result only in the loss of sensitivity; Matter without Soul.

Now 'economics' has been added as a compulsory subject for the SSC examination in Maharashtra. By this way, who could guarantee prosperity of India in science and wealth (money)? How desperate are the policy-makers indeed! Perhaps what calls for urgent attention are the subjects of Hygiene and Civic Sense in the face of growing population and swelling cities of India?

The Challenge

The crux of the issue by beginning the foundation course of Creative Arts and other streams i.e. Home Science, Farming etc. at higher secondary level is to create freedom for the people by creating appropriate changes at the elementary and secondary levels. It is matter of policy and practice, both. It is to include the element of learning: To Make Things That Work, in equal proportion to the present formula of letters and numbers. This should be made compulsory in all regions, irrespective of urban or rural, city or village. This will compel parents and teachers to give right attention to their wards and pupils and to the growth of their talents. This will remove present irrelevance of education felt, but never expressed loudly, by the Indian mainstream. This will positively bring down the 'drop out rate' from the schools. There is no lack of personnel to join the schools to take over to teach "How To Make Things That Work", to join the regiment of present stock of teachers who give letters and numbers. Indeed there are millions, men and women, who know and can teach how to make things that work, may be they are called illiterate. And there are millions of useful things to make. They shall add, also, another missing element, contemplation, particularly in the mechanised civil society, which no Goodman or gurus could impart, in spite of hundreds of books, audio-video tapes sold in the market place of education and entertainment.

Needless to say the teachers and the flourishing business of coaching classes will have to sharpen their tools of trade! Parents will have to find precious leisure time to contemplate upon parenting!

No one so far has given serious thought to illiteracy and the high rate of school dropouts. Nor one has found any viable answer. Neither the Gandhians have taken further Gandhiji's concept of 'Basic Education'. The "Mid-Day Meal" to allure the children for schooling is an insult and humiliation to the dignity of fellow human being. The children are more sensitive to the fact that their kin at home are hungry. This has originated out of aping western formula of charity. Many Christian Missionary Organisations are running schools in the rural and tribal areas, having several acres of land. They are supposed to have been doing wonderful work in education. But they do not have farming on their agenda in their schools.
'To Make Things That Work'

Add to the curriculum, "To Make Things That Work" and the dropout number of students will go down.

The advocates of 'free market' and 'liberalisation' have curiously kept away from the field of education, of course, except for marketing higher education, not without their vested interest. "Operation Black Board", "Navodaya Vidyalaya", "Free and Compulsory Education”: where are these slogans heading? Neither have we heard that auctions at Sotheby's, or distribution of ‘RIBA Gold Medals' or Nobel Prizes have inspired anybody to go for the disciplines of creative arts or sciences. Creativity and ambition, either in arts or sciences do not go together. Ambition is a premise of politicians. "Creative Arts", however, is a misnomer, because the very foundation of arts and sciences is creativity. The young are subjected to politics of education through allurements of merits through examinations, marks, and degrees, keeping them away from creativity and independent thinking.

Restructuring architectural education is not possible by any piecemeal solutions, such as, reducing the course of 5 years to 4 years, which will only result in endless adjustments and re-adjustments of rules and regulations and bureaucratic tangles. It can neither be done by remaining in the "ghetto" by isolating "architectural education" from the "general education'. It is also not possible to improve it by monopolising and compartmentalising it.

Architecture in its wider context as habitat planning influences and modifies built environment, consumes energy and manipulates ecology, not only the Third Ecology but also the ecology of the biotic and abiotic nature. Architecture as building is one of the major consumers of the world's resources. In India though there are hundreds of colleges and polytechnics of architecture and engineering, the problem of mere shelter has not been resolved. There are increasing number of the house-less, the displaced and those below poverty line. It is not enough to satisfy one's ego by pointing to the percentages. Could policies, theories and skills work on a common platform?

Albert Spears, Hitler's state architect and the minister of industries in war time, pleaded "innocent", saying that he did not know the poison gas was being used in the gas chambers to kill the Jews. After the life-term in prison, walking through the streets of Berlin, he realised, he said, that among all his work as architect, only the vent pipes for street drains were worth calling a good design. In the face of collapsing environment-ecology-energy, where millions are facing slow death, how long, how many architects all over the world shall continue to say, "I am innocent", in the age of Information Technology?

Reforming Education

The change, reformation, restructuring of education has to start from the bottom, because the country's resources and the exchequer pay for it directly or indirectly. Architectural as well as other areas of education are highly subsidised.

Students, during their architectural course, design several projects, dissertations and thesis designs. The worth of this work could be several lakhs of rupees, may be crores. As the system expects it have to be simulation of real architecture, the concept imported from wealthy west. Obviously none of the projects go beyond being paper plans and paper models. None of the projects are ever tested either at site or at workshop. I am not certain if it is ever questioned.

Vital youth energy, five precious years of early adult life and the direct and indirect cost (considered to be about rupees ten lakhs) of making an architect certainly deserves better deal. The only answer presently possible to support the present 'class-room-education' by attaching 'full-scale live models' i.e. by witnessing "materials - construction - services - use - maintenance - aesthetics' of various building types, architecture and planning regularly at site. This should be part of curriculum for all the relevant subjects, for all the five years of present course and should be subjected to regular assessment. The records of these site visit reports should be maintained in the form of monograms for future reference.

A major shortfall of present outcome is the lack of realisation, on the part of the students of human aspect of localisation of architecture. In the words of John C. Jones, they produce 'homogenised' stock of designs. Looking at the diversity, long traditions of building, architecture and planning and the rich skills in arts, crafts and technologies of India, architectural education should be supported by inclusion of the master-craftsmen and the master-builders in the faculty (with status at par with architects and other professional in the faculty); and with appropriate facilities to include in the curriculum "to make things that work".

Reformation in education has to start from the bottom, to include all the citizens without age bar, and from the top by changing the mind set of the policy makers and pundits. Education has to be liberated by respecting the bio-diversity. To begin with, from primary / elementary to the higher levels the education must include that missing element " to make things that work" to the letters and numbers, for all aspirants, including those aspiring for degrees, masters, doctorates, irrespective of their age, sex, caste, and class. It should be mandatory in higher complexity in higher education in any discipline. The scholarship should be supported by field test, not merely libraries and laboratories; for the arts and sciences alike. The merits and talents then will come to the surface. Could CA, UGC, NCERT, AICTE, universities and other educational institutions initiate change to liberate education!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

© Remigius de Souza 1999-2007
1 - 4 - 1999

ARCHETYPES, 69/243 S. B. Marg Mumbai 400028 India

* The characters from the Puranas
* The characters from the Puranas

Farming: Politics of Education in India

Farming and the Politics of Education in India
Challenges of 21st Century
by Remigius de Souza

Paddy Farming in Konkan
There are hundreds of functions in paddy farming spread over a year.

“Blessed are those who sow and do not reap.
…wrapped in the mantle of oblivion
— their destiny’s offering unuttered to the end.”

– Avrahn Ben Yitzank [1] (Israel)

THERE IS A BACKLOG OF SIX LAKHS “FARMING” SCHOOLS for more than 600 million people in about six lakhs villages in India. This could have been a top priority five decades back during Nehru’s era when we were 400 million people. And there would have been neither the school dropouts nor the numbers would have increased. Now we are 1100 million people.

Farming, here, means agriculture, aquaculture and horticulture/ forestry, and all their related fields including law and marketing. The curriculum, of course, should be appropriate to the regions – coastal, hills, wetlands, plains, deserts forests – and their biodiversity, the people and their skills, cultures and languages, besides literacy and biotechnology. It must necessarily be field-based, not merely “back-board-books-based” in a classroom. Now in the changing times this is an urgent need.

Instead we are still chewing the same old bitter almond/ bone of “literacy” for more than fifty years; by now two generations have passed. Indeed we are not learning from our mistakes while blindly imitating the West. We can learn the lessons in the people.

It is said, there are about 400 million people still illiterate. May be another 400 millions are marginally illiterate. They both are far from the “recognised” formal education. Leave aside the 100 million or more marginalized and the displaced that end up in the slums in cities and towns; 300 millions who are below “poverty line”; and those who suffer diseases, malnutrition, die by starvation, and commit suicides. In the modern changing times their survival [2] and life [3] is at stake.

By the direct proportion to places and people in rural India (and the migrants in urban areas), the managers of country’s affairs should have started farming schools, colleges and universities, by the rule of majority then, and now.
As the count goes, the anticipated six lakhs schools should lead to sixty thousand colleges and six thousand universities spread over entire country for higher education in farming disciplines to enhance people’s farming skills, knowledge understanding and practices. To supplement these, the Farming Training Institutes (FTIs) similar to Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and polytechnics should be started for the adults and the school dropouts.

This may not be easy task, not as easy as election campaigns or evacuating the villagers for the so-called development projects. It also cannot be a regimental application of a formula. The policymakers, legislation, administration and educationists etc. have to work hard, reach out to people and places. It demands decentralisation and rigorous fieldwork.

Perhaps for them, the ruling minority, it may be lucrative, glamorous and/or easier to build mega-dams and to fly spaceships than to implement literacy and relevant education the indigenous-way for the agrarian society – fisher folks, the tribal, peasants, landless labourers, and the people of the twelve traditional vocations – in rural India. Perhaps they think that the legislations, such as compulsory primary school education with mid-day meals, free housing, food for work, or some agrarian reforms etc are good enough to bring welfare to the people.

WHY THEN THE MAJORITY IS STILL LANGUISHING WITHOUT EDUCATION, in this modern age? The “trickle-down-education”, it seems, is synonymous to “trickle-down-economy” and “trickle-down corruption”[4]! Or perhaps the major hindrance is that once the farming education from primary level is started it becomes an “official recognition” of the “people’s skills” of this unorganised sector; soon they would turn into an organised sector like industrial workers. After all, the (past) colonial masters, their colonial and post-colonial subjects – the products of British-made education – have groomed the politics of education for past two centuries.

Education is a basic need and everyone’s fundamental right. Even the animals and plants in their own kingdoms don’t fail. Development, in the true sense, is a “bottom-up” process, not the way it is today – “top-down” – coming down from the power centres. Land–waters–forests are the lifelines of India’s agrarian society.

The (existing) formal education from primary schools upwards, particularly in the rural areas, should diversify their streams to farming education. They should prepare the students for the “brown-collar” vocations to practice at their homestead rather than “white-collar” or “blue-collar occupations, which are already saturated and are facing unemployment and lay-offs.

The urban euphoria of arts-science-commerce is spreading in the rural areas. These streams lead to higher education in engineering, medicine, law, accountancy, management, ET/IT and their branches for those who can afford or have merits. Biotechnology is the recent buzzword on the campuses.

The hybrid seeds with chemical fertilisers and insecticides were introduced in the market in the mid-20th century. For ages the Indian farmers had been practicing organic farming, which boosted biodiversity. By the time farmers realised that because of this new biotechnology the soil had lost its vitality, potency, besides other ill-effect, it was too late. Many indigenous pest-resisting seeds were already lost. The frogs disappeared from the paddy fields. It has been ecological disaster. Ironically the West is now demanding organically grown food grains and fruits, with certification.

Biotechnology in its present new avatar that comes from the corporate world may prove to be a tsunami for the Indian farmers after the wave of hybrid seeds. From GM seeds to eugenics, it is shrouded in controversies, including ethical, moral, and ecological issues, which nobody can resolve with absolute authority. And the scientist will not come to agreement on these issues. Now it is reported that butterflies and bees are vanishing from the GM plant Crops (see: Down To Earth, Issue 30April 2005, New Delhi). The only authority could be the farmers who work on the field, if they are equipped.

DEMYSTIFY BIOTECHNOLOGY FIRST! It started with domestication of plants and animals some 10000 to 7000 years ago. India, in that era, was one of the few centres across the globe. Then the agricultural revolution started. The scientists are still speculating how the domestication was done. It is said that because of her rich biodiversity India still has some wild varieties. A word goes around that many herbs are being sold, stolen or smuggled out. This is fallout of inequity and lack of education.

Since the rise of civilization the tribal and farmers have faced several assaults by invaders and rulers. Yet they maintained ecological balance, until the British Raj came, until Swaraj came. Now they are without say in their own matters!

Traditional farming involves many levels of biotechnology, whether food or medicine; it is a part of farming. With the right to access to farming education, as basic infrastructure, and having known the ground realities, the farmers would excel in evolving appropriate ecological biotechnology than the urbanites and the corporations that monopolise it.

There is neither a “global village” nor the Indian village is its part. It is a misnomer. There is only a “Corporate Global Village” which looks down on the Indian farmer as a “vast untapped market” to be exploited to plough back its investments on the scientists, research and products. It is greed and perversion than altruism.

Someone in the West has numbered a thousand uses of bamboo. Unfortunately there is no documentation of the farmers’ skills of all the regions. Such a record may run into a million, and several volumes of thousand page each; India’s Intellectual Property Rights.

It is vital that before bringing any strategy, policy, project or law in force, the government must assess its fallout, how it will affect all the sections of the society, land and waters, not only the privileged class, and prepare appropriate instruments to rehabilitate them.

Farming education obviously should aim at preservation, restoration, recovery, management of land, waters, forest, biodiversity and people’s traditional skills. This should be entrusted in the hands of the local people as equal partners and custodians. This is our precious capital that can’t be squandered or ignored by impulsive actions or decisions. The posterity will never spare us. There is no finality (with them); there is no authority (with us). The bubble of development bursts every time we continue with this dichotomy: “they” and “we”.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1 Quote from “Silence Artist” (book review) Poetry Review Vol 39 No3 Autumn 2003 UK.
2 Survival: To live sanely (as defined by J. Krishnamurti)
3 Life simply means be alive.
4 Late Barrister Nath Pai, MP was on the enquiry commission to investigate corruption. He once told us about one of the findings, that the corruption starts at the top. The author has never seen the report.

(This paper was published in Janata weekly, Mumbai.)

Remigius de Souza

Monday, 8 January 2007

Missed target of 9/11

Mile-high Tower by FLW

Missed target of 9/11
by Remigius de Souza

FLW’s mile - high ego
Casts its shadow —
A missed target of 9/11:
Where do the pigeons dwell?

Note: Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect,considered as one of the form-givers of the 20th century modern architecture,who had designed a mile high tower that was happily never executed.
(Image: Mile-high Tower by FLW | Source: Internet)
Poem ©Remigius de Souza

Friday, 5 January 2007


Housing: Shetre as BasicNeed
The Challenges of 21st Century
by Remigius de Souza

"Foxes have their holes, and birds of the air have nests,
but the son of man has no place to lay his head."
- New Testament: Luke 9.58, Mathew 8.20

MODERN URBAN CONCEPT of housing is that of a finished product and a marketable commodity. In that, the orientation of thought process on the issue of housing goes beyond the man's basic need of shelter, i.e. architecture as art form, as a result of material affluence enjoyed by the privileged class of the society. An object of art, being aesthetic experience, could be a lucrative investment avenue, if the risk is accepted on a condition of lobbying the markets through media.

Perhaps there was a time when art had gone beyond psychological need of self-expression and had reached a higher level of spirituality, like that of Tyagaraja in music, Kabir, Tukaram in poetry... and in the thousands of Indian temples helping to build up and hold the community, not only the guilds of artisans and Sthapatis, while 20th Century's contribution to culture is, by its fine specialised division of labour , all possible commercialism of art in every possible medium. Housing has resulted to a matter of mass production by taking away the autonomy of the householder. Housing by people has been a process: planning, management in materials - labour -construction, maintenance, expansion and rebuilding; through participation of family and community.

The three 'conventional' basic needs of man are food, clothing and shelter. The modern western and the westernised societies, however, have a long list of basic needs, as they advance in technologies of increasing wealth and increasingly creating waste... We have witnessed in the Indian tradition that even the three basic needs being elevated from the body level to the divinity by the higher spiritual beings to have achieved amazing forms: hunger to fasting which could baffle medical practitioners; clothing to complete naked body or perhaps a single loin-cloth for all seasons; and a tree as a shelter at Bodhi Gaya for the Buddha or a rock in the seas at Kanyakumari for Swami Vivekanand.

During the Kumbha at Varanasi and Haridwar one witnesses thousand of ascetics who are actually naked. And in the forests the tribal continues to live in the half-naked state. The culture has accepted them without taboo. Both the instances must have certainly boosted the Indian economy in the second half of 20th century by easing the burden on the exchequer in the distribution of resources for the welfare services and 'common good'. We wonder if any economist has ever worked the statistics of these phenomena!

'Begging Bowl' belongs to a Sanyasin on 'Sarva Sanga Parityag' - giving up total worldly life. We have heard of Buddha's 'Bowl' and the 'Grail' of Jesus Christ. In the ancient Indian cultures we have seen 'Yaksis' carrying bowls that are known to provide food abundantly to the needy, particularly in the times of famine and draught. 'Manimekhalai', a legend in the Tamil literary form , appeared in the hall of the hungry and destitute with inexhaustible bowl in her hand. Now a days we hear the begging bowl' expression used by some benevolent non-government organisations [NGOs], whatever it may mean. We consider this as an influence of millennia old cultural heritage, with, of course, 20th century variation, of encashment on financial charities by the way of income-tax concessions. Some may even claim this to be a modification of Lard Krishna's advice of 'Yajna, Dana and Tapa' - sacrifice, charity and penance - in Gita, to suit market economy, an offshoot of prophecy of Adam Smith. I is an added feather in the cap of modern development viz. commercialisation or monetisation of altruism.

Considering food as basic need, the national indicators say that there are 237.7 million persons [1987-88] or 29.9 per cent of total population living below the ‘Poverty Line’. (Poverty Line: expenditure required for daily calorie intake of 2,400 and 2,100 per person in the rural and urban areas respectively. The expenditure is officially estimated at Rs. 181.50 and 209.50 per capita per month in the rural and urban areas respectively at 1991-92-price level.) The annual private consumption of food is Rs. 2,271 per capita in 1990-91 [at 1992-93 price level]. In other words the entire nation is below the Poverty Line and thus is entitled to enjoy the status as a developing country or a Third World Country. This is a magic of Numbers and Words [definitions]. This is a most lucrative situation for the First World India within India, to profit from. Obviously the First World India of Industrial Society is drawing advantages out of the very existence of the people below the Poverty Line for profiteering in the international ‘community of man’; and to maintain a status quo to keep the development ‘wealth orientated’ and not ‘people oriented’.

Are people below the “Poverty Line” any indicator to the shortage of housing?

The housing need of the nation is estimated somewhere about 32.85 million units [1985] in urban and rural areas. In Mumbai 4.12 mn. [1990] out of 9.19 mn. [1991] live in the slums. In the four metropolitan cities of Mumbai, Calcutta, Delhi and Chennai, about 13.82 mn. people live in the slums. During 1981-91, the population of Mumbai and the two adjoining cities of Thane and Kalyan have grown up by 20.2, 157.1, and 645.4 per cent respectively. Slums are on the increase not only in the cities but also in medium and small towns. Ironically a large number of skilled and unskilled worker in the construction industry of housing and civil engineering works live in the slums.
Without going in to statistical data, one can realise the enormity of lack of housing, even if one takes a walk in any town and looks around. It is enough to take a walk in any town and look around. It is enough to take a look out
of a window of an automobile or railway going across the country along any urban centre. The squatters, slums, pavement dwellers are not only to be found in the cities but appear even at small towns. They are mushrooming in the place of the trees even on the slopes of Western Ghats, close to the hill station of Khandala in Maharashtra State.

‘Shelter’ must be understood.

With the smell of monsoon the honeybees migrate to dry and safe areas. Come winter and the birds from Siberia migrate to Nal Sarovar [ Nal Lake] in Gujarat State. Come summer and the cowherds of Saurashtra migrate to Satpura Ranges with thousands of their cattle and sheep. On the full moon day of Coconut Festival, the fisher folks of West Coat of India worship the sea and their boats and then move them in the Arabian Sea. Seasons, pastures, sea, hill, boats, sheep, cattle… are shelters. Shelter is an experience. It is not an isolated object, not a compartment merely made of floor, walls and roof. Neither it could be isolated from survival. The modern westernised urban elite lives off the land and off the house. Such people often need discourses on patriotism. They read word-numbers. They can hardly read the soil and those – people, birds, animals, insects, plants - who live with soil.

The constitution, the proclamation by the Supreme Court, host of well-intentioned laws, appeals by the concerned – VIPs and the institutions alike – all indicate that shelter, as a basic need is everybody’s right. But the situation of want, lack scarcity of housing has reached a monumental dimension. So also our self-deception about progress and development. While the nation with steady rise in GNP from Rs. 260 in 1950-51 to Rs. 7,155 in 1991-92 per capita [at 1992-93 market price] is marching towards progress and development, towards 21st Century, the land is ceremoniously deforested, hills being bulldozed, air polluted and water… Water?

‘Growth’ is a key word, alike the password to the legendary Alibaba’s Cave, to the modern day progress and development. Hence there is growth in the housing shortage. Evidently there are other areas of growth; GNP, per capita income, industry, commerce, scams, terrorism, violence, inflation...

And in a very imperceptible way, now, the hunger, malnutrition, starvation, [and also death by starvation] are growing. The effects of war, epidemic, earthquake, floods and riots are visible because of their impact. It is not the same with hunger and starvation. These are neither seen, searched, nor attended to, unless someone does report, as this is not written in the code of conduct of progress and development.

Lack of housing and food are not fully perceived. The statistics fail to convey these maladies, mainly because the housing and hunger are very personal experiences. A homogeneous and cohesive community, could only perceive these not by a mass type society, the industrial society. These can neither be fully perceived with help of numbers, nor by any organisation, as these are faceless entities devoid of any sensitivity.

Researches, seminars, workshops, conferences, deliberations by the experts, volumes of reports... are taking place at city, state, national, international levels in India and elsewhere. Monumental funds and programmes are raised. Housing and housing ‘design idea’ competitions are floated for cheap, economical, affordable, replicable housing models by the professionals, policymakers, administrators, funding agencies, state ... by strictly excluding the people who need housing. Yet the end to scarcity and want in supply of housing seem to be nowhere in the sight.

Creativity of the advanced and the progressive seem to be too feeble in spite of all the expertise, scholarship, propaganda, campaigns, such as, “The International Year of the Shelter for the Homeless” etc.; and in spite of the existence of hundreds of colleges, polytechnics, and the ‘Indian Institute of Technology’s [IITs], engineering, planning and architecture in the country; and of course, the foreign collaborations.

To reduce or to remove the housing shortage some advocate alternative technology, non-conventional building materials, training programmes for the skilled workers, public participation [Public Participation meaning ‘we decide, you - the public – follow.] and self-help. Some invent machines and technologies. Some advocate replicable models for mass production etceteras. Indeed the housing has many dimensions beyond the floor – walls – roof.

Why then is there the shortage of housing?

Population, shortage of resources, scarcity [!] of land, development [or lack of it!] are said to be some of the reasons. The less known reasons, however, are monopolising the resources in the hands of the few through the centralised powers; the economic disparity between the First World India and the Third World [and the Fourth World India of the tribal], resulting out of imposition of values by the former on the later through legislation, planning, administration, formal education and administration; the inequity that affects the price of manual labour, farm-forest-aqua products; and the resulting degradation of human energy. In the subcontinent, the Neolithic Age and the Post-Industrial Age exist side by side. The experts do not see beyond their eyelids.

Shelter and hunger are very personal experiences. Man is a dynamic entity and not and passive object. And individual and his community both have autonomy in the shelter and hunger. And they are equipped to meet these needs. Why not if a bird, a bee, an ant, are equipped to do that? The privileged few, the intelligentsia, the rulers take too much upon themselves to provide housing for the “others” – human beings – which is not their domain. They look for answers elsewhere, outside themselves, while the root cause is within them which have pushed people to the brink. Any model of replication, distribution and consumption, which is processed with external aids, is a direct intervention in their autonomy. Providing housing [and also food] symbolises the intervention by the powerful as a by-product of the mass exploitation of the weaker sections.

The emerging issue is the orientation – the thought process – of the concerned and those who intervene in the housing action. It may be educative to understand and learn where the roots of their orientation lie, when looking for answers to the housing shortage and to meet the perpetual need ever since the man made his first shelter on earth. During the course of development of civilisations what made housing to be replaced by man? It is high time to learn that the means do not justify the goals. The seeds of goals are very much present in the means.

Isn’t the scarcity of housing a residue – a by-product of global cancer the society suffers from? And isn’t the city –as a physical expression of the modern civilisation – a Black Hole which devours the resources of the earth – a symbol of centralised power?

Restore the resources of the earth to the houseless, and the landless and human energy will work wonders without the intervention of the external aids – the external agencies.

[Note: This paper is one of the series on housing. It, however, is not linked in a serial form. Writing on technical subjects as an outcome of present situation of specialisation does not offer holistic. So the papers are based on relativity proposition; otherwise space-time, matter-energy are basic to house form. The central topic of these papers is an investigation of housing – the third skin of man – in our time. Spatial form of these papers interweaves or overlaps through multiple dimensions of the issue, which moves through subjective - objective modes. Man is not an object here. Space here is not three sides but presence of man in the cosmic space. Time is a memory of the Past; as Future it is speculation; the Present - NOW has no dimension. Matter is condensed energy: while energy here is not economic and its clan, or to put it other way, because these are dissipation of energy resulting in Entropy. These considerations may seem metaphysical dreaming. But it may be worth an attempt to discover a morphological form one may appropriately call a “re-search paper” in the present situation. Even if the effort proved to be ‘research parody’ in the true sense.]

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Remigius de Souza
Postal Address: 69, 243. S. B. Marg, Mumabi 400028 India

[This paper was published in JANATA, Vol.53, No. 12, May 10, 1998.]

Community Participation

Community Participation: Paddy farming in Konkan | Image by Pooja Rani

‘ZOLE’ IS A WORD FOR ‘COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION' in local Marathi dialect, just across the creek from Mumbai on the mainland of coastal district Riagad: So near yet so far!

Community participation at its tail end is there in the mega city, evident from the public festivals of Lord Ganesha. B. G. Tilak started the public festival to reinforce the Independence Movement. The citizens managed it by community participation. Even after the political independence, they celebrated it with the same zest for some time. Now it has turned into ‘commercial participation’ with sponsorships coming from trading houses of consumer goods etc. No more Bhajan* – Keertan*, no more Zimma – Fugadi*, instead the audio music packages of devotional / pop songs blast on the public address system.

After the independence, the governments, which took over the rule from the British, ignored the millennia-old tradition of community participation. Independence Day – 15th August 1947 – was indeed a memorable occasion. I was then in the primary school at my native village. The government distributed packets of sweets on that day to us, all the school-going children. The ‘other’ children outside did not get any. Tilak was no more. Gopal Krisha Gokhale, who fought for free primary education for all, was no more.

Gandhiji, the Father of the Nation, may not have heard of this evil discrimination, a petty event. He was struggling somewhere; and the fractured communities had turned to ‘communal’ riots. We hear that in the backyard of Mumbai there are children affected by malnutrition; even die, while the governments plan ‘mid-day meals’ for the schoolchildren. One is silently corrupting the mind like cancer; the other comes with a bang. Which one is the worst than the other?

Few elites and the learned have picked up an imported idea of ‘public participation’ in recent times. There are volumes written about it, yet it remains at lip service, or “I decide, you follow” idea. If people of certain class have lost their roots due to colonization, and in the wave of modernization, it is no wonder.

But there are people who have lost their roots because of persecution, displacement, development, marginalization, deforestation, conversions, exploitation and oppression. One computer displaces 100 persons. One TV set colonizes a thousand persons. These assaults have left them dazzled, stunned; they cannot even cry. If an earthquake, or a cyclone or tsunami destroys everything – life and property, the survived ones can at least cry, and help each other.

Otherwise, after the politically induced Ganesha Public Festival, the next on the agenda could have been ‘Water and Sanitation’ or ‘Hygiene and Civic sense’ festivals through community participation, for not only the mega-cities, but also the towns and villages. Indeed, we Indians love festivals. Even some god could have been associated with it. Moreover the industrial and commercial houses and corporate sector could have had contributed the lion’s share; perhaps that could have had washed away, or absolved them of, some of their sins of polluting the natural, social, political and economic environment of the country.

The traditional community participation touches almost all aspects, may it be education, farming, house building, water management, local fairs and festivals, and much more, of individual and the collective living wherever a community still does exist. For example, Warlis at Dahanu taluka in the backyard of Mumbai, we noticed, build indigenous dams / weirs of stones collected from the riverbed, tied and held with bamboos, bullies and vines, at the end of every monsoon. Warli paintings are famous among the elite of Mumbai; hardly anyone mentions about their dams! Some time back we had another revealing experience in Tamilanadu.

With ten of my students, I was attending the second Congress of Traditional Sciences and Technologies of India (1995) at Chennai. We took some time off to look into the backyard of the city. We visited Kanchipuram, a historical city, a seat of Sri Shankaracharya and famous for silk sarees. We went around the neighbourhoods, temple complexes and silk saree shops, and spoke to people. The following day we visited one of the villages that produce silk sarees, about ten kilometers away. We remained there from dawn to dusk.

It is a small hamlet of families belonging to one of the castes in the village. They receive silk yarn from the cooperative societies at Kanchipuram. Every member of the family works in various operations in the production of the sarees. Even the children work; it’s not ‘child labour’; it is education by ‘experiential learning’, which many of the elite often miss. The operations such as sizing, where quick working is necessary, 10 or more people from other families come to help. Sometime two weavers work on one loom. They use simple bamboo and wooden tools other than loom. One or many, they work with amazing coordination through all operations, marginally literate as they may be. They were working through the day combined with other household activities.

Some of them have farms, but they do not produce silk. It comes from outside. If they learn the skills, they too could produce it as others do. They are paid rupees five hundred for each saree. (Perhaps, it may have increased now!) What is the ecological–environmental–energy cost and ‘currency-cost’ of this produce compared to industrial product? We leave it to the experts. To witness such actions helps to define ‘community’ better than by dictionary or discourse.

I obviously remember my primary school days when I learnt spinning and weaving for three years under ‘basic education’, and practiced in spare time: now no more. The cotton was brought from outside as it doesn’t grow in Konkan. The spinning and weaving education was soon discontinued. Academic bureaucrats failed to see there were other local venues for basic education other than Khadi, which they blindly followed. In any case, what is the role of the British-made formal education to disintegrate ‘community’? What will be the avatar of ‘Panchayati Raj’ in the 21st century?

The essence, the first and the foremost, of this community participation is ‘sharing of the work, place and space’. The most vital, though silent, element is ‘decentralization of power’. Would it be palatable to the hierarchies / bureaucracies? It also is a ground for collective decision and collective creativity. The industrial societies ruled by capitalist economy may not even know it. Their members face the crisis of individuality and identity. Some of them, however, have been campaigning and fighting for 30/40, or even less, working hours a week, of course, within the social-economic-political structure they follow. But those who are compelled to work for more than 80 hours a week, either in the first world or third-world, may not be ready to share it with their fellow citizens; they may prefer hoarding it! Even IT industry, though its trait is fast – faster – fastest work-speed, is not an exception. More the speed, more are the working hours!

The events mentioned above are out of the millions that are taking place daily across the country. We do not know how long it will last. Because we, while aping the so-called advanced societies, are out to destroy, by whatever means – legal, religious, political, or developmental or any other – the ‘community’ and ‘community participation’: A World Heritage for Conservation.

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* Bhajan: devotional songs mostly composed by the saints, performed individually or collectively, with or without musical instruments.
* Keertan: discourse with devotional songs and commentaries on religious / social issues before a congregation.
* Zimma, Fugadi: women folk dances combined with folk songs; people believe Lord Ganesha loves them.

(This article was published in Janata, vol. 64 no. 4, March 5, 2006, Mumbai.)

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© Remigius de Souza. All Rights Reserved