Dr. S. Parasuraman has over 25 years of experience as a teacher, trainer, activist, administrator and development worker. He holds a Master’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Poona, Pune and a Ph.D. in Demography from the University of Mumbai, Mumbai. He has also been conferred Doctor of Literature (Honoris Causa) by the Assam University.
He has held key positions in international organisations: as Asia Regional Policy Coordinator, ActionAid Asia; Senior Advisor to the Commission, and Team Leader of the Secretariat; World Commission on Dams; and as Programme Director, Oxfam GB, India Programme. Currently, he is Director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India.
Dr. Parasuraman has been associated with the Narmada Movement from 1987 and was a member of the Indian Prime Minister’s Committee to review the Tehri Hydroelectric Project.
He was awarded the Bharat Shreshta Acharya Award 2012 by MIT, Pune and has over 50 publications in the form of articles in international and national journals, books and research reports.
Dr. Parasuraman shares with Marie Banu the programmes coordinated at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
During your Directorship at TISS you have introduced a number of courses. Can you tell us more about this?
TISS Mumbai is a great opportunity. It is a great place which is autonomous, government funded, and is not subjected to control by neither the government nor any Trust. So, it is up to one’s imagination and ability to see how best you can up position TISS.
It is in that context that I came in as a Director where I was asked to clean up the place. With the participation of the faculty, we started looking at how best we can improve our academic programmes and that is how we got into fundamentally re-structuring the teaching programmes.
We positioned ourselves in terms of schools and centres, with schools having its own disciplinary orientation. We started some inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary programmes and admit around 1000 students for the Masters Programme every year.
With the society favouring medicine, engineering and management, there is a decline in the number of students choosing social sciences. We wanted to make social sciences interesting for children and hence developed a five-year integrated programme whereby children would learn all social sciences in the first year and eventually can get enough credits for two social science disciplines. They also study: mathematics (in the first and second year); how theory developed in biological, chemical, and physical sciences; research methodology; and logic philosophy.
At TISS, we wanted to create young scholars who are very strong theoretically and also analytically—which is what our social science disciplines lack. So, through our integrated programme, children will be good in the subject as well as be good analysts. They will have greater options to move on where they want to go.
We have been offering this course from our three campuses and are also encouraging others to take this curriculum and implement it. The idea is to promote social sciences in a big way.
With the recent amendment to the Companies Act, do you think there would be more career prospects for Social Science professionals in the CSR programmes?
CSR itself is not a big deal actually. There is so much that one can do with the government. When you compare with the amount of money which the Rural Development Ministry spends, CSR is only a small percentage of it. The Government of India spends some 300,000 crores of rupees and the State Government spends almost equally. The social sector is very big and what the corporates have been asked to spend is a very small amount—both public and private sector put together may arrive at some 10,000 crores.
We do not prepare our students for CSR. We prepare them for working with the government and continue working with NGOs. Of course, working with industries, is another option.
One of CSIM Alumnus was the first transgender to complete her Doctorate at TISS. What were the efforts taken to mainstream the third gender?
In 2006 we came out with a new vision document where we said that any form of discrimination in the basis of caste, religion, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation would not be tolerated. Once we took that position, then the community used it in the Supreme Court. They asked: ‘when there are mainstream university users, how can you discriminate?’
Can you tell us about the rural fellowship programme offered by TISS?
We wanted to somehow motivate our graduates to go to rural areas and work in difficult situations. We started with a fellowship from Tata Trust and found funds from various sources. Every year, we offer fellowships to around 30 TISS graduates who work in Kashmir, North East, and even in some Maoists affected areas.
We started a fellowship programme along with UNICEF called ‘Development Facilitators’ where 120 facilitators were created. We were also asked to train Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows, and have trained about 300 young people working in conflict areas.
Can you tell us about any interesting projects that your Social Entrepreneurship students have launched? What is your advise for social entrepreneurs?
There is an enormous opportunity for social entrepreneurs. Poor people are not without resources. The entire sector of micro credit revolves around them. It is not the issue of whether they have access to resources, but how you can make these resources create wealth for the poor people themselves.
This is the reason why we started the Masters Programme in Social Entrepreneurship. We even have a specialization in the Masters Programme in Social Work which is ‘Innovations in Entrepreneurship and Livelihoods’.
Social Entrepreneurship is the only programme where we do not offer campus placement. The students are supposed to develop a social venture proposal which is evaluated. Eventually, they get a seed capital to start their enterprise.
Some of our students have launched innovative ventures—like reaching dental care to rural people, and creating bio gas out of waste. We have an agreement with DBS bank wherein they fund innovative projects.
Being part of several disaster management committees and researches, do you think that India competent to handle future disasters?
India is competent to handle anything and have enormous capacity. But, whether we are willing to be competitive and are wanting to manage is a big issue. We had handled Cyclone Thane very well. It all depends on what we want to do with ourselves. Wherever we have the political and administrative willingness, we do it well.