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Bringing Development And Equality Through SDGs


There has been tremendous progress in the field of social sciences in the past 100 years or so. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with their focus on sustainability, equality and unity, for the first time, forefronted social science concerns as leading the development of the world. The indiscriminate use of technical solutions for the economic growth without adequately considering psychological, social and cultural elements of human organisations and systems had glaringly resulted in short-term gains, but grim losses for the world jeopardising the future. It is this realisation that has resulted in the attention given to inequality as a central concern in the SGDs; the realisation that human systems and organisations, which are in the proper domain of Social Sciences, have to transform towards ensuring universal well-being, and merely scientific and technical solutions are inadequate. Social Sciences are assuming a greater leadership role both because of the burgeoning services sector, and also because of the growing recognition for the need for Sustainable Development and Social Justice.

Across the world, Social Science education has been considered less important than education in physical science and technology. For instance, national ranking systems still don’t include books published by reputed houses in the criteria for assessment for excellence comparable to patents in physical sciences. Since the knowledge in Social Sciences grows through analytical texts, to rule out published books as an important output shows basic gaps in understanding the nature of Social Sciences in education policy.

Amidst all these concern, debates, intervention and progress in Social Science, the role Prof. S. Parasuraman, who worked as director of Tata Instituteof Social Sciences, has been incredible. With over 25 years of experience as a teacher, trainer, activist, administrator and development worker, Prof. Parasuraman enjoyed working in the challenging social, political and physical environments. He has always liked to be part of a larger team and has the rare ability to work in a multicultural and multi-disciplinary team. It was pioneering efforts made by scholars like Prof. Parasuraman that had placed Social Science education on par with Physical Sciences recognising that scholarship and education in the former was vital for a developing nation. Arising from these noble aspirations, TISS under his leadership also had another unique character to stand with the poor and the marginalised. Indeed, it is this very intuitive and compassionate character of the Institute that is of great relevance to the current inter-connected world of today, as recognised by the SDGs in their focus on poverty.

The vision of TISS under the guidance of Prof. Parasuraman got the tag of an institution of excellence in higher education that continually responded to changing social realities through the development and application of knowledge, towards creating a people centered, ecologically sustainable and just society that promotes and protects dignity, equality, social justice and human rights for all.

Though TISS has been considered as a prestigious place for education and research on interdisciplinary areas of Social Sciences in the country and in the Asian region, but it grew further under the Prof. Parasuraman leadership. From an Institute that had around 300 students in 2004; TISS now has around 5000 students spreading across four campuses — Mumbai, Tuljapur, Hyderabad and Guwahati — offering over 50 postgraduate programs from its 20 schools and 45 centres. It has retained its quality of excellence as an institution of higher education in Social Sciences; and is placed at the top of all universities accredited by the NAAC (3.89 out of 4.00) in the country right now. TISS’s earliest courses related to Social Work as well as Human Resources and Labour Studies remain the best not only in the country and but in Asia, and have diversified. Many of TISS Courses that have pioneered new areas of Social Sciences education have been replicated across the country.

Besides taking the institution to a new academic height, Prof Parasuraman has the credit of establishing and nurturing institutions. He is also acknowledged for his efforts of facilitating capacity-building on rights-based approach to development. Contributing to team building, conflict resolution, professional and personal development of staff at all levels in the organisation have been some of the qualities he has been cherished for. He has also served the institution by managing complex programmes spreading across large regions.

Prof. Parasuraman has held several positions during his long and illustrious career that included the most prestigious and important responsibility of being Director (Vice-Chancellor), Tata Institute of Social Sciences since 2004. He was senior advisor to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, UNESCAP, Bangkok, Thailand (responsible for auditing all specialized UN organisations have been programming development work in rights framework in countries in Asia region). He was entrusted with the responsibility of Asia Regional Policy Director, Action Aid International, Asia Regional Office, Bangkok, Thailand (January 2001- June 2004). Prof Parasuraman was the team leader of the Secretariat and Senior Advisor to the Commission, World Commission on Dams (Employee of World Bank and IUCN: September 1998 – December 2000). Programme Director, Oxfam GB, India Programme, New Delhi (October 1995- December 1997), Professor and Head of Unit for Rural Studies, TISS (1993-1998), TISS, Reader in Social Sciences, TISS, (1987-1992), visiting Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Studies (ISS, The Hague) and lecturer, Unit for Child and Youth Research, TISS have been some of the important responsibilities that he borne with utmost sincerity and dexterity.

Prof Parasuraman took over in the year 2004, when the TISS undertook a fundamental review of its own identity and relevance, the dire and unrecognized need for a critical social science education in the country came to its notice to foster human rights and development professionals, to provide guidance to policy, and support and empower local communities. At this time, the Institute was already contending with many of the elements of Sustainable Development and Social Justice; and foresaw the larger, more expansive role that Social Sciences would assume in the future. A detailed benchmarking of TISS’ current work against the perspectives and goals of the SGDs show that TISS’ subsequent development is in close synergy to the perspectives of sustainable development and human rights that has informed the goals.

Professor S Parasuraman with Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness Dalai Lama

While taking of the responsibility of TISS, Prof Parasuraman encouraged research in different area but water and energy resources – options assessment and decision-making processes, Public Policy and Governance, Higher Education Administration, Development Debate, Involuntary resettlement of people, Globalisation and Governance, Social exclusion, Understanding and addressing agrarian distress, Agriculture and Nutrition, Corporate Social Responsibility as an instrument of Inclusive Growth, Youth for Social and Economic Transformation of Rural and Tribal Areas have been the area of his research interest. He is credited to have done a lot in these areas.

The institute all through its history stood with the poor and the marginalized class of the society. The entire TISS community believes in learning from the inner wisdom of people and communities, even as they contribute their professional knowledge and competence in return. Prof Parasuraman played an important role to realise such values. Perhaps this is the reason that the Institute’s work has been so effective in its work over its history. TISS has grown organically and systemically from this principle of commitment to stand with the poor through the following generic steps to address the need on the ground through participatory and dialogic methods with local communities / key groups and stakeholders; integration of the learning in the classroom as well as generation of new and relevant courses; analysis and advocacy to address underlying causes; and generative dialogues and partnerships with diverse stakeholders to share learning and evolve systemic solutions: government, corporate, media, civil society and people’s movements.

The Institute’s commitment under the leadership of Prof Parasuraman to remain rooted to ground realities is through four key thrust areas: critical pedagogy is grounded in practice; field action projects that reach out the most vulnerable and marginalised populations of the nation, the invisibilised and the silenced; evidence-based policy advocacy particularly related to social security, basic entitlements and human rights; and commitment to building partnerships and dialogic platforms that include diverse stakeholders and responsibility holders: local self-governments, peoples’ groups and networks, young people as catalysts for civil society action to address poverty and vulnerabilities, the State and Union Governments, Business and Industry. Embedded in its curriculum is a special, often invisible, lesson that weaves compassion in students, teachers and partners for disadvantaged peoples in a fast moving world in the pursuit of wealth. Over the years the quiet perseverance of TISS graduates working at gut wrenching social issues in key government and corporate organisations as well as civil society and communities have resulted in critical contributions to the nation’s development and social justice.

Prof. Parasuraman has over 50 publications in the form of articles in international and national journals, books and research reports. He was awarded the Bharat Shreshta Acharya Award 2012 by MIT, Pune, Maharashtra.

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