Mukti, Krishnachandrapur High School, and Vivekananda Seba Sangha came together to organize the “Sundarban Agriculture, Education, Handicraft, and Environment Fair 2024”. During this resoundingly successful event, held during 4th – 9th January, Mukti’s founder-president Mr. Sankar Halder had multiple occasions to address the gatherings. His addresses highlighted important points of Mukti’s mission and vision, and we present here the key messages from Mr. Halder’s talks.
In his welcome address at the inauguration of the fair, Mr. Halder extended a warm welcome to the distinguished guests including prominent political figures, administrators, educators, philanthropists, social reformers, and others. He expressed his gratitude towards the organizers, and his appreciation for the students, audience, and stall organizers, emphasizing the collective effort required for the success of such endeavors.
He then delved into the origins of Mukti, saying “In 2003, Mukti embarked on its journey fueled by my humble pocket money. By 2005, it officially earned its registration, marking the inception of an organization dedicated to making a difference. Fast forward to today, Mukti has proudly contributed its services for nearly two decades, spanning various corners of the Sundarbans, from Sagar Block to Basirhat, and extending its impact to other districts of West Bengal, including Medinipur.”
“Mukti stands as a beacon, addressing the quintessential aspects of life – food, clothing, shelter, education, and health. It has become an omnipresent force, not only meeting the immediate needs of individuals but also actively engaging in combating environmental mismanagement.”
He continued “In the radiant glow of education, Mukti envisions a path to freedom, transforming conventional agriculture into realms of organic agriculture. It strives to turn unhealthy environments into bastions of well-being, fostering a shift towards a healthier ecosystem. Mukti’s commitment to environmental stewardship is evident in its endeavors to rectify and prevent mismanagement, ensuring a harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature.”
He concluded his talk with “May the spirit of liberation radiate through Mukti, illuminating the path towards enlightenment and progress. Let freedom prevail over every obstacle, guided by the relentless efforts of our dedicated volunteers. As Mukti tirelessly works towards its goals, may its impact resonate far and wide. In the unwavering pursuit of freedom, I conclude my speech with a heartfelt wish for Mukti to continue its transformative journey, spreading its light to every corner it touches.”
Panel discussion on holistic education
Later, as a panelist in a discussion on the integration of holistic education into the formal education framework, he emphasized the importance of holistic education and posited that such discussions should reach all strata of society. He said “Let me address the importance of having a clear understanding of holistic education, which encompasses both livelihood and life education. It is crucial to counteract the decline we are witnessing. Often, livelihood education takes precedence, while the essence of life education, which distinguishes us from animals, tends to be overlooked. The profound lessons of life, synonymous with our humanity, are teetering on the verge of extinction. Even teachers themselves are critical of the current education system, highlighting the urgent need for collective responsibility to fortify genuine education.”
Highlighting historical attempts to stifle education, particularly by powerful monarchies and affluent classes, he remarked “I want to emphasize the critical need to safeguard education against such forces. It is imperative that teachers conscientiously take responsibility for preserving real education. I am calling for a return to the roots of education by selecting educators who are motivated to impart life lessons.”
He further said “Now, let us question the shifting trends where teachers migrate from rural to urban areas, potentially reducing the number of schools without considering the broader impact on education. I implore educators to choose individuals dedicated to educating people about life’s profound lessons when establishing educational organizations.”
“I want to assert that education extends beyond schools; it involves both teachers and parents. Holistic education emanates from a child’s environment and the people surrounding them. Expressing concern about industrial influence on education, I decry the prevailing commercialization that turns students into industrial products rather than well-rounded individuals. I passionately advocate for holistic education as the antidote to the detrimental effects of industrial civilization on future generations.”
Turning attention to the global perspective on education, he said “Let us consider Finland’s innovative approach, wherein the most talented students are entrusted with primary teaching, challenging prevalent notions. Referring to A. P. J. Abdul Kalam’s statement “Our students are becoming scientists and doctors, but those pursuing Ph.D. are often individuals who have not secured jobs,” I highlight the need for a paradigm shift in evaluating competence.”
Discussing the significance of science education, Mr. Halder said “I acknowledge the importance espoused by Laxman Chandra Mondal, a retired educator from Kharapara High School, while also advocating for an understanding of Vedic civilization’s philosophical aspects. I echo Einstein’s viewpoint on the symbiosis of philosophy and science for societal progress.”
In conclusion, he advocated for embracing humanity’s best, whether it be respect towards one’s own culture or the adoption of the best cultures and practices from around the world. Sankar concluded his impassioned speech by wishing everyone good health, leaving the audience with a call to action for a more comprehensive and enlightened approach to education.
On the role of women in social development
On the culminating day of the fair, Sankar had an opportunity to speak at the showcase of the Livelihood projects of Mukti. Reflecting on the fruition of dreams conceived several years ago for livelihood generation projects, he marveled at the transformation wherein once voiceless rural women, harboring grief and pain within themselves, are now finding numerous creative expressions, such as through the art of acting.
“It is truly inspiring to witness the issues that once occupied my thoughts now taking center stage through the performances of our Self-Help Group (SHG) women. In the powerful expressions of song, dance, and drama, these women become representatives of the collective inner struggles of countless others. This artistic language of protest serves as a poignant voice, transforming personal pain into a source of strength and resilience. It is a reminder that within us lies the power to amplify the unheard, challenge injustices, and contribute to a broader movement for change, fueled by faith in the transformative capacity of art and the enduring strength of collective unity.”
In his discourse, he illuminated the essence of marginalized people. “Ladies and gentlemen, you have likely come across the term “marginalized people.” But have you ever stopped to ponder the essence of the word “marginal”? It is a powerful descriptor for those individuals who, for various reasons, find themselves on the outskirts of society. These are the ones who, by the workings of society itself, have been pushed to the margins, left without a recognized place. When we speak of marginalized people, we are delving into the lives of those who endure systemic exclusion, standing on the fringes and grappling with the profound challenges that accompany such isolation. It is a term that encapsulates the struggle and resilience of individuals who, despite being pushed aside, continue to navigate a world that often fails to recognize their worth.”
Sankar emphasized that the SHG model crafted by Mukti emerges as a refuge of hope, empowering these marginalized women toward self-reliance. “Within each group of ten members, a leader is selected, giving rise to empowered leaders among thousands. What’s truly noteworthy is the witnessed evolution, where women who previously sought help from local leaders during disasters are now actively compiling lists of affected individuals. This signifies a profound shift towards women’s freedom and empowerment, showcasing the impactful strides made within the community.”
Sankar spoke of his vision of women ascending from SHG group leaders to regional heads, irrespective of their political affiliations. With the core objective of enabling women to comprehend their rights, actively participate in governance, and contribute to regional development, Mukti aspires to foster more women leaders from within marginalized communities.
Mr. Halder stressed the urgent need for “leaders who, doubling as health workers, move through villages, providing advice, protesting the oppression of women, and resolving community issues. Going beyond these roles, I stress the importance of breaking the monopoly of men over the provision of necessities like food, clothing, shelter, education, and health. The power for empowerment should be in the hands of those entitled to these essentials. Therefore, I urge women to take up the responsibility for societal development on an equal footing with men.”
“Let me directly address the fact that all women associated with Mukti are referred to as “Mukti Sathi.” This designation underscores that our commitment to social service goes beyond mere speeches and donations. It includes personal contributions to our families and neighbors in times of need. It is a reminder that each one of us, as a “Mukti Sathi,” plays a pivotal role in extending a helping hand within our communities.”
Regarding the design of the Mukti Community Development Fund (MCDF), Sankar clarified that “it goes beyond a typical micro-credit or loan project. It serves as a protective barrier against the exploitative practices of moneylenders, reminiscent of a time when exorbitant interest rates ensnared the vulnerable. The MCDF model, on the other hand, provides a loan with minimal interest, enabling women to repay and ultimately own the dividends earned by its members. It is a distinct approach, aiming not just for financial assistance but for genuine empowerment.”
Mukti places trust in its SHG members to vigilantly manage funds, safeguarding against misappropriation, with a collective goal of reshaping the economic landscape for authentic empowerment.
Sankar concluded his speech with “Concluding my speech, I want to reiterate Mukti’s steadfast vision for women’s empowerment. Picture a world where women not only understand their economic rights but also serve as sources of inspiration for future generations. Imagine women actively engaging as social workers, contributing to the betterment of society. Envision a future where education acts as a powerful force, bringing illumination to every aspect of life. In this vision, women bask in the radiant glow of good health, embodying the holistic empowerment that Mukti tirelessly strives to achieve.”
The founder-president’s talks captured and highlighted important aspects of Mukti’s ethos. Starting from his very own personal perspective of how Mukti started humbly but with a heartfelt drive behind it, he went on to describe Mukti’s multifaceted work and philosophical underpinnings. These came out through topics such as holistic education for the creation of well-rounded and humane individuals, and an egalitarian view of a just and fair society where everyone, irrespective of gender and other designations, is entitled to dignity, opportunities and fulfillment.