IN Kashmir, violence is the norm rather than an exception, and therefore it is no surprise that it percolates down to the most minute aspects of our lives. Why then did the recent incident of a teacher at Parraypora slapping a student thirty-one times attract such condemnation and debate? One reason perhaps that may be advanced is that despite violence being routine, we have not yet lost our ability to be shocked. Be that as it may, the incident surprisingly attracted a spirited defense of the teacher in question too, with many jumping to his defense, and in the same vein a badly written article appeared in Kashmir Life titled “Why Jailing a teacher is a tragedy for a society”. The article listed the reasons why punishing the teacher is a tragedy, squarely laying the blame on the victim, and to illustrate his point further adds an autobiographical touch to augment his argument. Besides the obvious fact that the author is a teacher himself, the article is disturbing for several reasons including its tacit approval of moral policing, judging students, and glorifying violence against students.
The article commences with a wild accusation that people who have never been to school are commenting against the teacher. The accusation itself is baseless, as many people including a lot of my acquaintance who went to school, commented on the issue. Besides, does the author personally know everyone who commented on the issue? The bizarreness of the claim aside, the claim is disturbing on another level. It privileges formal education over life experience, and establishes it as a sole arbiter of societal transactions. In other words, the author is claiming that only ‘literate’ people have the right to comment on the issue, and correspondingly illiterate people must stay silent. Not only is this exclusionary, and anti- democratic in tenor, but also terribly elitist. It conveniently ignores the fact that access to school education is not a natural fact, but determined by a host of social factors including class, caste, geography and privilege. Millions are deprived of schooling simply because they can’t afford it. Should we conveniently ignore them, and silence them because they aren’t literate? Are schools the only mediators of knowledge? Ironically, our educational system especially schooling hardly encourages any critical reflection, and relies on an assembly line production system to churn out high school graduates who are ill equipped to intervene and solve the challenges of our society.
The article then highlights the hairstyle of the “vulgar student” who deserved a beating because he did not seek permission from the teacher to enter the classroom. This argument reminded me of an anecdote narrated to me by a friend whose cousin was thrashed by security forces just because he happened to have long hair. I hope the author notices the parallels. The defense sets a dangerous precedent where a person will be judged and treated solely on the basis of his appearance, and caters dangerously close to stereotyping, which is the bane of civilized discourse. Moreover, both the hairstyle and seeking permission defense are premised on the erroneous notion of the teacher being an authority figure in a class, which is seen as a space of subservience. The students and the teacher are seen in an unequal power relation – the teacher being the superior and students his inferiors, and all knowledge transfer being a unilateral one, from teacher to students. Hence, the need to ask permission and maintenance of decorum. Nothing could be further from the teacher. A classroom is a transactional space where the teacher is just one part of the learning equation. True learning happens only with the consent and participation of the students, whose cooperation and goodwill the teacher relies on to share his knowledge. The classroom doesn’t allow hierarchies, instead it is a democratic space rather than an autocratic space.
The impulse to control and exclude stems actually from the doctrine of discipline, which we hold sacrosanct, since we internalize it at school. It is unfortunate that in this day and age the doctrine is still being upheld. First discipline belongs to the army, not to school since the school is not an apparatus of coercion. Second, the anxiety to discipline is actually a byproduct of the impulse to hegemonize and ensure complicity to the norm. Norms are only created to ensure the status quo of power structures, and so dissent or questioning of the norm is penalized. The insistence on ‘decent’ hairstyle and appearance is merely a cover for suppressing the individuality and expression of the student, since it is imperative that the student be unaware of his own power to question and dissent against the establishment. Were a student to realize his expression, it is not a stretch of imagination to conclude that they will question the schism between curriculum and the world, and so the whole system will collapse. History is replete with instances of student power, and perhaps the author might take the trouble of examining Kashmir’s history which has been indelibly marked by ‘truant’ students, who refused to seek permission.
One could go on and on and examine the other claims of the author including his labelling of the student who filmed the incident as ‘vulgar’. The OED defines vulgar as either ‘lacking sophistication’ or ‘asking explicit and offensive reference to sex or bodily functions’. I cannot reconcile the act of recording the beating to either meaning. Conventional wisdom dictates that remaining silent in the face of grave injustice is ‘vulgar’, but perhaps the author believes otherwise. I will conclude this response with an autobiographical account, since the author has relied on his personal experience to justify his position. As a young child, and adolescent both, I was the recipient of harrowing abuse by teachers. In my adolescence, one gentleman slapped me multiple times for requesting half a mark more in a mathematics paper before the whole class, and another lady combined slaps with pulling my hair for glancing into her class while walking in the corridor. As a child, I was constantly threatened with electrocution by the teacher, and had my nose broken when the teacher flung a table at me for a small mistake of misidentifying the time on the clock. It took extensive counselling, and considerable expense to reconcile to the anger and trauma that the incidents left. Neither incident helped me grow, in fact created impediments in my growth as a person. The author would be better advised to introspect, and talk to child psychologists to understand why his ‘half-baked’ defense is the real tragedy in the situation.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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