To be truly educated is a tough call. But even tougher is to define education or an educated person. The convenient answer is to say that someone who has a degree from an educational institution is an educated person. This is clearly unsatisfactory, as unsatisfactory as saying that anyone who can sign his name is literate or anyone who can count is numerate. The education minister of West Bengal who is also an actor on stage, Bratya Basu, has opened up this very thorny issue by saying that a university degree is no licence to call a person educated. He mentioned in this context the name of Rabindranath Tagore, who, as is well known, had no degree and disapproved of the academic institutions of his time. Mr Basu could have named any number of persons to make his point. It is an old chestnut. As Mr Basu should know, everyone who appears on stage is not an actor and there are any number of people who have never appeared on stage or screen but are acting all the time ó think of politicians. In spite of the apparent innocence of Mr Basuís comments, the context gives his statement an ominous edge that cannot be ignored. Nor can his motives be assumed to be above board.
Mr Basuís words were uttered in defence of one Arabul Islam who, in the recent past as the president of the governing body of a college, misbehaved in the staff-room and gesticulated in such a manner that his arm hit a jug which then hit a lady teacherís chin, thus hurting her. These facts are not in dispute. Mr Islam is a Trinamul Congress activist with a not very edifying reputation. He also has no known educational qualifications. Questions have been raised about Mr Islamís presence in the governing body ó that too as president ó when he does not have a degree. Mr Basuís comments and his reference to Tagore were both made in this context. Mr Islam made it to the governing body of the college on the basis of his political clout. It will not be unfair to conclude that Mr Basu ó perhaps at the behest of his partyís leader ó is defending Mr Islam because the latter is useful in political terms, especially in muscle power, during electioneering.
Mr Basuís placing of Mr Islam and Tagore together because they both lack degrees is a verbal sleight of hand that is a disgrace to an education minister. Tagore may not have had academic qualifications but anyone with a modicum of familiarity with his writings knows how learned and educated he actually was. There is nothing in Mr Islamís record to suggest that he is remotely erudite. A degree is neither necessary nor sufficient for a person to be described as educated. There are other indicators of education. Misbehaviour in a professional space and drawing of risible parallels are not among these indicators. In fact, both provide strong grounds for suspicion regarding the education and culture of the person committing the solecisms.