Social Education is both a very old and a very new concept in India. In various traditional forms, Social Education has been an integral part of our cultural stream throughout the centuries but in its present form of more or less organized adult education, it is quite recent. It started as a movement for “training in literacy” which was found not only inadequate but also ineffective as a technique of approach. Its scope was widened to include a certain amount of general know ledge, bearing on health and civic problems etc., and it put on the mantle of “adult education”. Experience, however, showed that even this was not enough and that the problem of “education” of the adults was not merely the problem of adding to their knowledge or giving them the tools of learning—important as they are—but of enriching and raising the whole standard of their life and thought. Just as the personality of the individual is not to be equated with his mind, so his education (and that of the community) must impinge on all aspects of life, increasing his efficiency, quickening his understanding and deepening his emotional appreciation. I would not say that this concept of “Social Education” as it is now called, has passed into the currency of common practice but it is finding increasing recognition, at least in theory, on the part of educationists and even some educational administrators. The scope of Social Education today is taken to include literacy, general knowledge pertaining to the country and the world in which the adult is living, understanding of the simple laws of health and their application, training in civics, practice of simple crafts and development of cultural and recreational activities in the community. It is mainly the last item with which we are concerned in this paper.
I have just said that this broader and more comprehensive concept of Social Education is finding general recognition. This is true but not entirely. There arc some quarters and highly placed persons who arc neither enthusiastic nor convinced about the place of cultural and recreational activities—of which art forms an important and integral part in the Social Education of the community. I have heard it seriously argued that, when the country is faced with so many pressing problems of economic, industrial, technical and social significance, it is unnecessary extravagance to spend money on music and art activities, on maintaining Bhajan Mandalis or drama troupes to tour villages. Concentrate on the essentials and do not dissipate energy or resources on the fringes. This raises the whole issue of what are “essentials” and what are “fringes”. Does man live by bread alone? Will our 5-Year Plans or any other approach to national reconstruction be wisely designed if they concentrated on food and housing and the removal of poverty and let education and culture, art and music go, at least temporarily or partially, into the cold storage? If they fed the body but let the mind and the emotions starve and did nothing to open up channels of artistic self-expression? Or, to put it with greater fairness to the conscientious objectors, they take the stand that we might concentrate for 10 or 15 years on the practical essentials and then turn culture-ward and add an airy “Art-Storey” to the ‘solid’ edifice of national life? All that I can say is that nations are not built, and should not be built, that way. Even after giving due allowance to the usual argument about “priorities”, we must realise that a National Plan must be a balanced plan which would give due place to the claims of the “body” as well as the “spirit”. If several generations are deprived of the joy and the release which the practice and appreciation of art bring in their train, it would be scant satisfaction for them to be told that they will have “all this and heaven too”. The argument of “sacrifice for the sake of posterity” can be pressed too far. If you want to get the best out of people in the way of work for national reconstruction and also if you want the people to get the best out of life for themselves, you should not plan to postpone the dividends to a very remote future. This may not sound very “idealistic” but it is a reasonable, psychological approach.
So much for a justification of the place of Art in Social Education. What are we doing about it? Frankly, so far as I know, not a great deal or at least our approach is not comprehensive enough. We have developed, in many Social Education and Community Centres, in Community Projects and N.E.S. Blocks certain “recreational” programmes which attract large audiences. I do regard them as a part of Art Education in the widest sense of the word; because enjoyment and appreciation of art forms also educate the personality. They are good so far as they go but it is not enough that professional drama or music groups should tour about in the villages. What we should aim at is to release the creative impulses in the people themselves, so that they will not be content with being passive spectators but will take part actively in creating art forms of their own. They may also help to resolve some of the tensions from which people suffer.
In fact, it is not only a question of creating new forms but of reviving and revitalizing many of the traditional forms and using them in the context of the contemporary situation. We still have in many parts of the country, a largo variety of folk dances, the fascinating art of the “story teller” who could vividly recreate through word and gesture the events and romances of past history—I wonder how many of us have even heard the name of the greatest of modem story tellers, Mir Baqir Ali “Dastango” of Delhi—the Kathas, both sacred and profane, the Kawwalis and Mushairas and Kavi Sammelans. We have the intriguing art of “puppetry” which is again coming into its own not only in our country but in other parts of the world, in which inanimate figures become the vital interpreters of human feelings and emotions, human tragedies and comedies. If these art forms are revived and not only men and women in villages but also those in towns utilize them as channels for the joyous release of their impulses, they can enrich their life at comparatively little cost. Moreover, their intellectual significance can be considerably enhanced if intelligent and socially conscious persons, with a literary flair, can make them the media for interpreting new and progressive ideas. I have seen this done in some parts of the country with such effectiveness that I am surprised they are not used more frequently for social and political education also. A beginning has been made in some local communities where imaginative leadership is available and I would like to see this developed more fully.
There is again the specific problem of art teaching for the people, as part of their social education. What we should do is to provide opportunities for adults wherever possible—in centres of Social Education—to learn drawing, painting, music, Rangoli or other forms of art work that may be locally popular. One can never be sure where talent will reveal itself. I had once an opportunity to organise a “Peoples’ College” in a State where I was in charge of education and all that we did by way of Art Education was to provide a room, some materials and the services of a part-time teacher who came thrice a week to help interested adults to try their band at art work. It was a revealing and rewarding experience for, I found that many came quite spontaneously and took advantage of the opportunity provided without any special propaganda. As this was a town, some of them were educated adults, some were students (who had done a little of art in their schools or colleges) but many were adults for whom art had been a sealed book. A few of them revealed some artistic promise but that was not the most important feature of the experiment. What really mattered was the fact that it gave them joy and a sense of achievement, the feeling that they could do some thing worthwhile in a field in which they had never tried their hand before.
Perhaps it might be helpful to give some concrete examples of what is being attempted in connection with schemes of community development. In a recent conference of Directors of Training Centres of Social Education Organisers and Block Development Officers, held under the auspices of the C.P.A., this question of training in arts, crafts; drama and music came up for discussion and it was agreed that these officers should be given some elementary training in these fields. Those who worked in rural communities felt that such training will not only provide avenues of self-expression for these officers but also help in the social, aesthetic and cultural development of the people and in the revival of folk art. They will be able to take an intelligent interest in the revival of art in community life and help in organising classes in Art (and Crafts) with the help of local teachers and other gifted persons. In a few places, the experiment has been tried and the results have been encouraging. In an N.E.S. Block in the District of Gurgaon, for instance, children as well as adults attended classes in painting, sketching and clay-modelling, and there was evidence of a certain new art conscious ness, if not “artistic ferment” in the village—for instance, murals had become quite popular. This promotion of a “climate of cultural awareness” in the whole community must be regarded as a supreme objective of adult education. At Nilokheri Training Centre, practical work and demonstrations are carried on in painting, clay modelling, leather designs, murals, mask making etc. It is necessary to appreciate the fact that in the case of these adults, there should not be any rigid boundary walls between arts and crafts-in fact, art work should flow over into their crafts, giving them a better sense of design and harmony and elevating the standards of their taste and judgment. Where the starting point is some traditional form, like mural painting, they should gradually learn to reject the rather hideous paintings, which sometimes disfigure the walls of their houses and aim at more artistic results. I might draw attention in this connection to a scheme of Art Scholarships instituted by the Government of India under which selected young artists were sent out to villages for a few months, not only to study rural life and the art expressions of the people but also to paint murals on houses and frescoes in schools. Such contacts between good artists and the people can have a welcome and elevating effect on the people. It may give a new “decoration drive” to villages which are often artistically drab and depressingly dull today. There is no reason likewise, why the “craze” for Art exhibitions should be confined only to the capitals and big cities and why these should not also be taken to rural areas. I do not remember having read any where that “a thing of beauty is a joy for ever” only for the sophisticated urban people and not for the simple village folk. Another experiment which might interest you is the Seminar that the Government of India proposes to organise next month, in co-operation with the Bihar Academy of Dance, Drama and Music on play-writing, drama technique, stage decoration and folk drama with special reference to the needs and problems of rural areas. I might also usefully invite your attention to the Report of a Seminar held under the auspices of UNESCO in September 1954 at Tokyo on “Arts and Crafts in General Education and Community Life” which studied some of the issues connected with this problem in detail. This Report is listed in UNESCO documentation as “UNESCO/CUA/66” and if any of the participants are keen to study it they should either badger UNESCO’s Department of Cultural Activities or the Seminar Director, Shri D.P. Roy Chowdhury (Principal, Government School of Arts and Crafts, Madras) for copies. I might quote from it the following remarks which seem to confirm with the authority of specialists, the view that I have taken as a substantially ignorant layman:
“With regard to popular adult education through the arts and crafts, in Asian countries a great deal of general Art Education takes place in relation to traditional festivals and religious ceremonies. The kind of more consciously-based education through visual aids, lectures, exhibitions, arts and crafts classes is an innovation and to be found mostly in urban centres. There is a marked trend towards the organisation of activities of this nature in connection with youth movements and community centre movements. In this domain, as in the schools and colleges, the great need is for increased resources, more exhibitions, films, slides and teaching aids; more art galleries and museums, since such as exist are to be found only in the large urban centres; and the extension of projects for mobile museum exhibits.”