In the official website dedicated to its institutions, Visva-Bharati describes Patha Bhavana, a school providing elementary and secondary education, as its "bedrock". Set up in 1901 as the Asram Vidyalaya, it was supposed to embody the core of the educational philosophy that Rabindranath Tagore espoused, bringing students closer to their natural surroundings and nurturing a close bond between the teachers and the taught. That those ideals have long turned into a travesty became apparent when news broke that Punita Mistri, a 10-year-old student of that institution, was made to lick her urine on July 7 by the hostel warden as punishment for wetting her bed. Even as her parents managed to take their traumatised child away and the rest of the country reacted with shock and outrage, the university went on the defensive, confirming the perception that the rot went much deeper than any single act of malice and negligence would signify.
Adding insult to the injury, the heinous act provoked no remorse in either Uma Poddar, the warden of that particular hostel, or the university authorities. While the former went on to justify the efficacy of her act as a "traditional cure for bed-wetting", the vice-chancellor of the university and physicist Sushanta Dutta Gupta focused on drawing a hairline's distinction between 'asking' and 'forcing' the girl to commit the act, all the while defending the obscurantist approach. The police, for its part, took two days to arrest Ms Poddar; when it did, she was booked not under the clauses of the Juvenile Justice Act but for wrongful detention and negligent and malignant acts likely to spread infection, all bailable sections under the Indian Penal Code that allowed her to immediately walk free. Hearing the case against Ms Poddar, and against the parents' of the girl who were booked for trespassing, the Bolpur court pointed out the obvious leniency that was being shown to the warden.
That Visva-Bharati has long ceased to play any pioneering role in its approach to education is obvious. In failing to protect Tagore's Nobel medallion from a heist, it bared its apathy towards its most prized legacy and its ineptitude in preserving even the most iconic of possessions.. That more abstract notions like the well-being and safe-keeping of little children entrusted to it, and their healthy nurturing and education, would become a casualty is in keeping with that sense of decline. The university's website proudly proclaims that the significance of Tagore's educational ideal, which considered learning to be more than the written word, is still not appreciated by his countrymen. Nowhere does that seem to be truer than within the university's campus. The office of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is the university's chancellor, has sought a report on the incident. It would take more than a probe and report though to save the institution from gradual irrelevance and decrepitude.