Why a study circle?

First Meeting of the Study Circle  First Meeting of the Study Circle. Colombo


This blog is a space for members of the study circle to splash around in mutiny. The study circle project is that of Beyond Borders. This inaugural blog post is a brief description of how we came up with this idea.

Essentially the study circle is a talk shop – a space for young people to chat about issues relating to the ethnic conflict. A lot of people accuse the civil society or the ‘NGOs’ of being mostly talk shops arranging for meetings and conferences at the Taj and Hilton where they chat with mostly like minded people come up with reports and recommendations. Well, we are explicitly saying, whether you like the word or not, that this is a talk shop because whether it’s between ‘like minded’ people (I think this phrase is misleading. Can there be ever ‘like minded people’? A phrase that is to me inherently antagonistic to the idea of diversity) or not so like minded people, we think there are not enough talk shops especially for young peopel. At a difficult time like this where even the mentioning of the word ‘peace’ (aiyo the word again!!) is considered to be unpatriotic, we need to continue the dialogue and talking and hence this project. Acutely aware of the ‘politically apathetic’ tag that is hung around young people’s neck this initiative wishes to say that is not so.

The term ‘study circle’ stuck me when I was reflecting on what I had read in Mark Whittaker’s anthropological biography of Sivaram (Taraki – the revolutionary Tamil journalist as Whittaker calls him. The book is called ‘Learning politics from Sivaram’) a book I had read almost a year back. I was stuck by the culture of intellectualism that had a vibrant existence at that time quite independent from the (university academic led) formal circles of intellectualism (I promise to come back to this issue later in a different post. Either on my blog or on the present one.) People like Sivaram benefited from such spaces or had created one of their own. One of those that he had created with his friends was the Batticaloa Readers Circle (In Tamil ‘Mattacalappu vacakar vattam’. They were apparently inspired by the ‘Chennai vacakar vattam’.) It was originally a literary gathering of sorts but of course literature has everything to do with politics and hence it was a good space for political reflections among various things. In fact during that time it was people who were engaged in literary work who were real stalwarts of an independent culture of intellectualism. The study circle was established somewhere in the early 80s and continued for a long time well into the 90s (Whittaker speaks of meeting the readers circle people in 1997). It became a formal organisation with a constitution and by laws. As per the by laws Sivaram was asked to quit later for joining one of the Tamil militant movements. I doubt of its existence now.

Now this I thought something our generation has very little time for and interest in. Talking is considered a waste of time by many of young people (Sorry if I sound very condescending. That’s not what I am aiming at.) Even those political types are averse to it. ‘We need action’ is the buzz word. Plus of course the culture of violence negates the setting up or sustainable existence of such spaces. Any independent culture of intellectualism has to be a threat to power and hence the Chinthanaya, the Vanni types, JVP, NMAT or the Douggie types will never like something that is independently intellectual.

We thought we will start one and give it a trial hence the study circle. The Batticaloa Readers circle was for sometime open to the public – they had public debates- but they had to drop this when it became too dangerous to debate in public. It became a gathering of people in the 10s and 20s or even less. Ours is also not a public debate – it’s a gathering of ‘chosen’ members – 25 of them registered as members, with a varying number participating at each meeting. We do get some funding but very little for the study circle itself. The study circle is part of a larger project other aspects for which most of our funds are directed to. It’s independent in its agenda setting. There have been some good discussions so far and not so great ones. We are limited in time. Can’t go on till 10 or 12 in the night as the Batticaloa study circle was able to possibly in the early 80s. Unlike them unfortunately we don’t meet at people’s houses. We still need formal venues. Our study circle definitely does not have a formal setting though it has some of its ‘bad airs’ but I hope it will get a lot more informal and free typish. I also hope it generates more talking from more people and it creates a sustained interest amongst its participants.

Members of the study circle, let’s rain in mutiny.



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