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Avik Ghosh: A Life Devoted to Developing Communication Technologies for Social Change

As a founding member of the Centre for Development of Instructional Technology, Avik Ghosh engaged in developing technologies for social change in his lifetime. He breathed his last on April 13.

Avik Ghosh, son of the late Dr K.K. Ghosh of Calcutta, died peacefully in his sleep early in the morning on April 13, 2021 at his home on the banks of the Ganges near Rishikesh.

The youngest of five brothers, Avik was the only one, after schooling at St. Xavier’s, to move to Delhi at a young age for his studies at St. Stephen’s College. As for many of his generation, his five years in residence there were to have an immeasurable impact on him for the rest of his life, and the friendships he formed remained steadfast over almost six decades, with many of his closest friends and their families also forming strong bonds with his wife Akhila, and their sons.

He studied at the Delhi School of Economics during its heyday as an institution for research and teaching in left-wing economic theory and history, and was taught by, among others, Amartya Sen and Joan Robinson. Strongly influenced by the Keynsian, Marxist, and Naxalite atmosphere of his student circles, he remained committed to the cause of egalitarian social justice throughout his life.

Following his M.A, after a brief period as a producer with All India Radio’s youth section—during which he formed lasting ties of mutual respect with a number of artists, writers, and musicians who would go on to reach some prominence—he was one of the founding members of the Centre for the Development of Instructional Technology (CENDIT).

Established in 1972 by a group of like-minded idealists in Delhi, Avik Ghosh, Akhila Iyer (later Ghosh), Anil Srivastava, Rajive Jain, Joya Roy, Himadri (Jackie) Dhanda, Robert Tyabji, and Narendra Rana, CENDIT went on to be one of the prominent NGOs engaged in developing technologies for social change.

It also collaborated over the course of its existence with some of the most prominent organisations and figures of the Indian Left, including among others Aruna and Bunker Roy (SWRC, Tilonia), Vinod Raina (BGVS and Eklavya, Bhopal), Kamla Bhasin and Sushma Kapur, and provided training to a generation of young documentary filmmakers in India, as well as visiting scholars and activists from many other parts of the world.

The films produced by CENDIT remain documents of fundamental importance for the history of rural India and social change during the 1970s and 1980s.

Run in some respects like a hippy commune, CENDIT was also quite literally the home for Avik and Akhila Ghosh and their first son, and both their sons spent their early years immersed in a welter of cables, television tubes, video cameras, and other sundry electronics within the airconditioned basement of CENDIT’s office in Soami Nagar in Delhi.

On field trips to rural areas across northern India, they travelled alongside, on top of, and sometimes under such equipment in one of the many rugged Mahindra vehicles CENDIT used that changed with (for the young boys) exciting frequency, with a supporting cast for their young lives provided in large part by CENDIT’s staff and technicians.

CENDIT’s work, and Avik’s central role in it, is remembered with affection and respect by many across India and beyond, even 15 years after it finally shut its doors, and over 30 years after Avik left CENDIT to work in the adult education sector in many capacities with the Government of India (initially with the National Institute of Adult Education), and as a consultant for a number of international NGOs, including UNICEF, the World Bank, and latterly the Observer Research Foundation.

Going slowly into retirement in Rishikesh with the beginning of the new millennium, Avik chronicled his three decades of experience in Communication Technology and Human Development: Recent Experiences in the Indian Social Sector, published by SAGE in 2006. Praised for providing ‘a rare picture of India’s development paradigm’ with a view from the grassroots, this book will remain a useful resource for the history of India’s social sector in the decades before liberalisation.

Avik Ghosh spent his last years peacefully in retirement in Rishikesh, enjoying his morning walks by the Ganges and catching up slowly on his reading of history and literature, not least the works of Tagore in Bengali. He is mourned by his widow Akhila, his sons and daughters-in-law Rishab and Virginia (San Francisco), and Shami and Manini (Toronto), his brother Kishore (London), and many nephews and nieces around the world.

Shami Ghosh is Avik Ghosh’s son. He is based in Toronto, Canada.