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Decolonizing India: Colonialism a teacher away?

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

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Savitribai Phule: The Pioneer Of The Women Education In India

Savitribai Phule fought for women’s education from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as a mission of her life

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Savitribai Phule along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women's rights in India during the British Rule. Wikimedia Commons
Savitribai Phule along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women's rights in India during the British Rule. Wikimedia Commons
  • Savitribai Phule was the first female teacher of the first women’s school in India
  • Savitribai Phule is regarded as a crucial asset in the social reform movement in Maharashtra
  • Savitribai Phule started her own school for girls education in Pune in 1848

Savitribai Phule is India’s first Modern feminist and a well-known social reformer who along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule played a vital role in raising the women’s rights in India during the British Rule. She was the first female teacher of the first women’s school in India and also considered as the pioneer of modern Marathi poetry. In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.

Savitribai Phule was born on 3 January 1831 in Naigaon, Maharashtra, British India. She was married to 12-year-old Jyotirao Phule at the age of nine. Savitribai Phule is regarded as a crucial asset in the social reform movement in Maharashtra.

Battling for women education

Savitribai Phule fought for women’s education from the cultural patterns of the male-dominated society as a mission of her life. She worked towards tackling some of the then major social issues like women’s liberation, removal of untouchability and widow remarriages. Due to her efforts for women empowerment in the society, Savitribai Phule used to be followed by orthodox men and was abused by them in obscene language. People would target her with rotten eggs, cow dung, tomatoes, stones but she ignored all that, just to reach her school. After suffering so much, she once decided to give up but her husband, Jyotiba Phule came in full support for her. Jyotiba Phule encouraged his wife to continue with her cause.

Also Read: 15 Amazing Facts About The Revolutionary Bhagat Singh

But still, both husband and wife faced fierce resistance from the orthodox elements of society. Savitribai Phule got herself admitted to a training school and came out with flying colours with another Muslim lady, Fatima Sheikh. After that, she started her own school for girls education in Pune in 1848. Although, the response Savitribai Phule got was not that much uplifting but she was determined by what she was doing.

In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes. Wikimedia Commons
In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes. Wikimedia Commons

With the passage of time, people started to accept them and hence both husband and wife were able to open 5 more schools in the year 1848 itself. Taking a note of Savitribai Phule’s hard work, British government honoured her for her educational work. Jyotiba and Savitribai were also opposed to idol worship. For their work, both husband and wife were socially isolated and were attacked by the people whom they questioned.

The next big step that she took was to take a stand for widows. In those days, if a man used to die of old age or some sickness and the girls they had married were left, widows. The windows were treated like an unwanted piece of dump in the society. Widow’s head was shaved and they were not allowed to use any cosmetics that may make them look beautiful. Such a condition of widows moved Savitribai Phule and her husband. Thus, they went on for a protest to stop barbers from shaving the heads of widows.

Also Read: 10 Facts You Need To Know About Homi Bhabha

Here are some of the facts related to the life of Savitribai Phule and her husband, Jyotirao Phule during there struggling for various social causes.

  1. In 1897, Savitribai Phule with the full support of her son, Yashwantrao Gupta, opened a clinic to treat those affected by the pandemic of the bubonic plague when it appeared in the area around Nallasopara. As per records, she used to feed two thousand children every day during the time of the epidemic.
  2. Two books of her poems were published posthumously, Kavya Phule (1934) and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar (1982). Savitribai Phule wrote many poems against discrimination and advised to get educated. Being a poet and a philosopher and wrote on the importance of education and knowledge and removal of caste discrimination.
  3. In 2015, the University of Pune was renamed as Savitribai Phule Pune University to her honour deeds.
  4. Savitribai Phule died on 10 March 1897 while serving a plague patient.
  5. Google India Celebrate her Birthday January 3, 2017, with Doodle.
  6. Savitribai Phule was herself a victim of child marriage as she was married to Jyotirao Phule when she was only 12 years old.
  7. Savitribai Phule opened ‘Infanticide prohibition house’ care centre for pregnant rape victims and helped them to deliver their babies. She put up boards on streets about the “Delivery Home” for women, who were forced for their pregnancy. The delivery home was called “Balhatya  Pratibandhak Griha”.
  8. Savitribai Phule worked towards abolishing the caste-based and gender-based discrimination in the Indian society.
  9. In 1852, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule were felicitated by the government for their commendable efforts in the field of education and other social causes.
  10. After her marriage, Savitribai Phule enrolled herself in a training centre at Ms Farar’s Institution at Ahmednagar and in Ms Mitchell’s school in Pune.

Also Read: 10 Must-Know Facts About Subhas Chandra Bose

In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.Wikimedia Commons
In 1852, Savitribai Phule opened a school for Untouchable girls which were a great challenge to take at that time.Wikimedia Commons

Savitribai Phule fought against all forms of social inequalities for any section of the society. They even moved by the plight of untouchables in the society. As untouchables were not allowed to take out water from the wells, meant for the upper caste. So, Savitribai Phule and Jyotiba Phule started their own reservoir of water for the untouchables in the vicinity of their house.