Decolonizing India: Colonialism a teacher away?

Teacher Helping Kids --- Image by © Michael Prince/Corbis

By Sumana Nandi

Couple of weeks back, I received a message on Facebook from Miss Mary Francis- my class teacher in Standard III and IV. The message read:

“Sumana, I’m very sorry for hurting you. Please forgive me if I’ve been very bad to you. May be in trying to be very sincere I was a bit harsh. Sorry a hundred times.”

For a minute, I went numb. Gradually, I pieced the emotions apart. On one hand, I was filled with empathetic remorse of how Miss Mary Francis may have felt while writing this message, and on the other, the ghosts of being the “rotten potato” about fifteen years from today came gushing to my mind like the roaring waves dashing against each other in a tumultuous ocean.

Thumbnail_Indian-teachers-yearn-to-focus-more-on-skill-and-personality-development-for-their-studentsThe feeling of using a pen after using pencils for years is an altogether different experience. Alas! My handwriting did not meet the cursive writing standards of Miss Francis. Coupled with this, the usual naughty kid I was, I loved to colour my fingers and the palm of my hand with royal blue ink which would match perfectly with my royal blue skirt, white shirt and blue tie.

So I wrote with pencil until I reached Standard V- which then meant being the junior most in the Senior Section.

In my school, it was the norm to have four rows of pairs sitting in a bright classroom with four big windows with a view of coconut trees and parrots flying in the horizon by the river Ganga.In order to discipline a child in school, our teachers would spank on the palm of the hand or on the calves with the end of a wooden ruler or make the child sit right under the nose of the teacher.

The sudden jolt I got after reading Miss Mary Francis’s message was at the second last line. I now re-read the message, not as a ten-year old but as a Scholar Activist specializing in education surrounded with many colleagues and friends who are teachers/professors/academics/educationist and those aspiring to be one. I mentally circled the word “sincere” with a red pen. Sincere to whom I ponder?

Is it sincerity to the job as a teacher in a convent school – which believes that female students should wear skirts below the knee, not sit with legs wide apart (like a man), need to learn to sew so as to put the missing button on the husband’s shirt and other Victorian values and virtues usually expected of a girl? Are sincere teachers just a tool in maintaining the status quo of patriarchy in the name of discipline? Are sincere teachers, mostly schooled in similar conditions have come to believe this is the manner in which a child needs to put straight in a line?

Miss Mary Francis’s apologies and regrets melt my heart and make me believe that most teachers probably are made to put-up-a-face. A face3c3e6b22-beda-45f8-9625-56471edc1fde to the uphold the merciless, exploitative, oppressive and violent colonial system by colonising the minds of little robots (all in name of education and making better human beings) who would follow suit as they grow up. Teachers in many cases are compelled to do this in the fear of losing the job which sometimes is the only source of income.

Most teachers claim they promote independent critical thought but end the sentence with “Do as I say.” Towards the end of Standard IV, I had come to realise this. Definitely, not as much articulated as I am writing this piece; but the fact that, one needs to please the teacher if one doesn’t want to be penalised. This means, one says “yes” to everything one’s teacher, or the one’s superior in the power structure says. Even if one doesn’t agree to few or anything the teachers utters, one says “I agree”.

Thereby, the actual independent and creative mind of the child from the early years of his/her life is killed slowly in a subtly violent manner. The thought process is disturbed and moulded intothe way in which the system wants the child to think.

This produces homogenized people with uniform minds who then become slaves to the colonial and neocolonial system.
The worse being the neocolonial, because in this system, it is no longer the British, French, Portuguese and the Dutch masters but we have own very own Indian, Pakistani, Bangaldeshi, Srilankan and Japanese masters who actually controlled by remotes from Europe and America!

The killing of human beings psychologically doesn’t count as violence in the mainstream. It is only when terrorists bring out AK-47s, pistols and rifles it is “violence”.
The society then observes one-minute silence to mourn the death of their countrymen and countrywomen while continuing to massacre their own children every single moment. This epistemological violence which the society perpetuates is completely supported and financed by this exploitative Colonial/Neocolonial system ensures that all individuals are alienated from their own selves- their own consciousness- their own principles and only become cog in the wheel running after the salary they get for their labour, which again is meagre in comparison to the potential of the individual! admission

Probably India is an independent country politically, but our education system and the teachers who uphold such a system are not independent- they still put garland and incense sticks beneath the benevolent Lord Macaulay for showing us the light to get educated and civilized! The children are also taught to unquestioningly worship those Heroes and a couple of Sheroes (because anyway most of the Memsahabs were knitting in Shmila most of their time in India before 1947).

I can vouch that Miss Mary Francis was not only a sincere teacher within the classroom but also outside. She ensured that her students always carry the school bag weighing 15kilograms (hanging like a stone on the child’s shoulders) and not give it to their guardians or the rickshaw pullers or drivers who came to pick them up after school.

Thank you Miss Mary Francis for continuing to teach me till today by urging me to realize it is humane to apologize to someone half your age and that one is not always right! Thank you.

(All the names used in this article are fictional, there is no resemblance to any person living or dead. If any such resemblances arise, it is purely coincidental.)