Conversations for Change – Kavita Panjabi

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Kavita Panjabi teaches Comparative Literature and Women’s Studies at Jadavpur University. She received her Ph.D degree in Comparative Literature from Cornell University, and has been a recipient of the Mellon Fellowship, USA; the Sephis Post-doctoral Fellowship, the Netherlands; and the South Asia Writing Fellowship of the Social Science Research Council, New York. She was part of the three member team that visited Gujarat in 2002 and wrote The Next Generation: In the Wake of the Genocide – A Report on the Impact of the Gujarat Pogrom on Children and the Young.

Kavita Panjabi, head of the Comparative Literature department, Jadavpur University, author and peace activist, facilitated the first of a series of talks on Peace Studies and the school curriculum.

End July – a time for exams in most schools and open house in some, the afternoon session was attended by a small group of 15 teachers from across six schools. Loreto Dharamtalla, Loreto Sealdah, Birla High School, St Josephs, Modern High School and Saifee Hall.

The discussion over Peace Studies becoming a mandatory part of the school curriculum, has been on for a while now. Some senior educationists have been rallying and making slow but steady progress to bring about the change at the policy level. At PeaceWorks we are looking at what we can do today, within the existing curriculum. How can we get creative? How can we use the art period—the value education period—the history period—the literature period—how can we engage the students using the syllabus and using topical issues—engage them in a manner that leads them to think—to question issues of social concern.

Kavita shared her experiences at the university and set the tone for the interaction. She talked about literacy versus education—empowerment versus liberation. She spoke at length about Social Censorship and the importance of working around it—and about dealing with critical issues such as questions of identity.

The group also discussed what each school is doing to expose the students to a world beyond their own and to contribute towards social change.
All the teachers, towards the end of the session, were of the unanimous opinion that a lot needs to be done. Not an easy task, given the fact that completion of prescribed syllabus has to be the foremost priority.

Mrs Pal of St Josephs was particularly inspiring. Teaching computers to Class XI boys she has successfully built a relationship with her students that encourages them to turn the computer class into a platform of debate and discussion—along with completing the syllabus! The session ended with Kavita suggesting regular inter school meetings for exchange of ideas and action plans—a suggestion that was received with great enthusiasm.

Report by Monidipa Mondal