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Tagore's Vision of Rural Economic Upwliftment
Anshuman Paul, Senior Editor – Special Projects, Daily Indian Media; Professor of Marketing & Branding, IIPM    01/01/2011 12:46:39 AM

     Low benches and table surrounding the huge trees and the lush green campus of Visva-Bharti will definitely convey that Tagore's vision in an education system which was not limited in the four-walls of classrooms. But not many knew that this great visionary and literary giant understood the importance of rural economic up-liftment for an independent India and paid-heed a lot to creating a source of employment for rural economy. For instance he conducted several melas (fairs) to provide a flat-form for the villagers of Shantiniketan and it's adjacent area, to sale their cultivated & manufactured products. The India Economic Review tries to trace this economic footprint of Tagore in Santiniketan and discuss the rural economic connect of Tagore. Such connection is echoed, when Tagore comments, "If we could free even one village from the shackles of helplessness & ignorance, an ideal for the whole India would be established. Let a few village be rebuilt in this way." He have religiously worked for rural reconstruction in the surroundings villages of his Santiniketan school in rural southern Bengal and the work of rural economic reconstruction was a pioneer endeavour to redeem the neglected village. Bucked up with such noble mission in 1922, he established rural reconstruction institute — Sriniketan within one year of setting up of Visva-Bharti.
Not many would imagine but the urge to do something for rural people came to Tagore when he was just 29 years old and was living in his family's agricultural estates in East Bengal. As an estate manager he viewed the local denizens from an economic philosopher rather than like a time-honoured Zamindars of those days. Based on such humanist ground, he developed the first key-stone of his welfare-economics model which he later implemented in Santiniketan. The need of his economic development was based on creating a market that will bring all the villagers together and he did this through several melas (fairs). Like two of his dearest students Moitri Devi and Suchitra Mitra who later became renowned author & singer respectively, have written about the contribution of melas like Poush Mela, Nandon mela and Sriniketan mela in bringing villages together and connecting them to the rest of the world. Tagore christened these meals as the way to see all side of villages.
     In ‘The Modern Review of The History and Ideals of Sriniketan’, he states two objectives — first to educate the villager in self-reliance and to bring back to the villages; secondly to implement the concept of ‘life in its completeness’ with ‘music and readings ‘ and financial independence. His efforts was to implement this concept in two or three villages completely. “Tagore wanted to develop these limited villages completely- it’s essential strength would be a co-operative society,” echoes Nilangan Banergee, Special Officer, Rabindra Bhavan. Community life and co-operation — Visva-Bharati still sustains that through Visva–Bharati Co-operative Bank ltd. But we will discuss such co-operative concept in later part of the article, let us start with Tagore's first organized step towards rural-reconstruction — Sriniketan. Set up in the era of British dominance — Institute of Rural re-construction in Sriniketan reflects that as a pragmatist he knew that there was not a lot he can do through his meager resources. But he was determined to make at least a beginning with the work even with a very small step. As, renowned author and a student of Visva-Bharti during Tagore's days Mahaseta Devi mentions how his rural reconstruction started from setting up cottage industry and everything -starting from bed-sheet to trash bin used in Santiniketan ashram was produced in these cottage industries of surrounding villages.
      Tagore sought to bridge the gap between city and village through the Sriniketan experiment of combining science and tradition. The traditional handicraft was made more durable by giving the touch of science and these artisans formed a single group to promote their product with the exporters. Modern economist will coin it as 'cartel'. Tagore wanted to do a widely reconstruction in limited villages but lack of fund was always an issue. Forming of cartel enabled villagers to earn their own money and they where educated to the art of savings. He personally identified young educated volunteers who willingly dedicated themselves to living and working in the villages and yet was never hungry for publicity. Such holistic economic re-construction model Tagore mentioned in ‘Palli Prakriti’, where he also mentions that rural-economy should not be based on charity. Echoes, Nripendranath Bandyopadhyya — Member, State Planning Board, Government of West Bengal who have been an active student, lecturer and have been involve with enormous re-construction work in Santiniketan; “Charity was something that Tagore hated and his concept rural-reconstruction was based on self-reliance.”
Going beyond charity he wanted to make the rural economy independent and for that he knew only paying heed to cottage-industry was not enough. To uplift the rural economy he knew that the role of agriculture cannot be denied and to sustain rural economy, expertise in agriculture was vital. Tagore’s study of ‘Other Agricultural countries’ had shown Tagore that land in those countries was made to yield twice or thrice the harvest by the use of science. Such knowledge he later experimented in Sriniketan by introducing the latest techniques of Western science to improve cultivation and agricultural production. He was so keen to adopt this latest technique of agriculture that in 1906 he sent his son Rathindranath along with two other students from Santiniketan to the University of Illionis at Urbana in USA to study agriculture and dairy farming so that they could bring back scientific methods of agriculture to the Indian village. Nehru would forever be considered as one of the pioneer in implementing the co-operative concept in free Indian economy but very few actually knows that Tagore started such scheme much before independence. The Sriniketan scheme was to organize the villages so that they could supply all their needs on a cooperative basis. Tagore believed that the villagers, when trained in self-reliance, could establish and maintain their own schools and granaries, banks and co-operative stores and such collaboration will tantamount to bring unity among the villagers. That was very much required as in the pr-Independence era, the cast & community system divided the society resulting even in 'untouchable' rules for the lower community people. Tagore insisted that Indians must unite themselves to provide nation-building services.
     The goal of self-reliance was the basic premise in Tagore's scheme of rural-economic reconstruction and it was apparently distinguished from the nationalist and economic thinking of those days where he rejected the Nationalist movement on swadeshi and swaraj. “Rather he chose the path of 'constructive swadeshi' where he wanted to make the villagers economically more independent. His logic was before you abandon foreign goods, you should be eligible enough to make your own goods. And if one analyzes his activities to implement such concept one would realize that he was talking more about today's 'Welfare Economist' rather than following the political movement of those days,” affirms Nilangan Banergee. Welfare economics is based on microeconomic techniques that evaluates economic well-being and as Banergee points out he wanted to actually improve the one or two villages rather than just talking about a radical change that the then political parties (read Indian National Congress) used to speak about. This is also echoed in the letters that Tagore wrote to Rathindranath in way back in 1910. Any welfare economist would agree to the fact that economic efficiency can be achieved not only by income distribution but also by social welfare and this literary giant argued that working for a 'national programme' was useless as long as its clamorous for political grievances rather than thinking of social-welfare.
The Noble laureate's remedy to implement such social-welfare was by identifying young volunteers who would co-operate with the villagers to start the work of constructing roads, schools, water reservoirs and also to create a 'new objective' to village life. “His vision of a complete economic development is something which was very rare on those days and even though in just two villages but successfully these villagers where blessed to be touched by Tagore. Then there where volunteers who carried on these works after Tagore's death,” adds Prof. Udaya Narayana Singh, Tagore Professor, Visva-Bharati. We have mentioned about such volunteers earlier in this article but two such great volunteers that Tagore enlisted was his son and son-in-law Nagendranath Ganguli. And it was the effort of these educated buoyant group of volunteers that Sriniketan's economic rural-economic reconstruction work proliferated from just two villages to twenty-two villages.
During the time frame of 1937-1941, the period which comprises the end of his life, this great visionary was becoming discouraged about the state of India, especially with normal burden of economic problems like hunger, poverty and unemployment and he was more disturbed with such problems beings supplemented by politically organized incitement to communal violence between Hindus and Muslims. And his extrapolation was right as six years after his death this country achieved freedom but with freedom also came the widespread killings that took place during partition. In a letter written to his intimate friend Leonard Elmhirst in December 1939, where he has mentioned about the conversion of village economy into hunger, disease and exploitation. In fact, Elmhirst knew the economic concept of Tagore as this British philanthropist and agricultural economist had closely worked with him on rural reconstruction in India and till today Elmhirst Institue Santiniketan have been running child welfare centre in several villages in Santiniketan. Renowned economist and Nobel Laureate — Amrtya Sen, has commented that Tagore wanted to free villages from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance and this is where his economic vision matched with Elmhirst.
This philosopher and educationist sought to balance his passion for India's freedom struggle with his vision of economic freedom and the accelerating socioeconomic decline of Bengal, propelled him to implement such concept in rural Bengal. His views pertaining to eco-ethical human living and sustainable rural development, as scattered in various works throughout his life and we made an attempt to assemble them to bring out his economic vision. Always positive and oriented towards action, his economic vision was based on creating a source or employment by forming co-operative societies. In exchanges with Einstein, Tagore had commented “The progress of our soul is like a perfect poem. It has an infinite idea which once realized makes all movements full of meaning of joy.” Such movements full of meaning and joy he wanted to spread among rural India also and just not limited only to urban India. 

(The views expressed in the write-up are personal and do not re?ect the official policy or position of the organization.)


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