As the academic session in Kashmir starts after a six month lockdown, Professor Muzaffar Karim provides a perspective on the challenges faced by multiple parties within an education system that treats those entrusted with imparting knowledge as expendable.
Finally, the session starts after a lockdown of six months. Every university in Kashmir and every college holds meetings discussing how to overcome the loss and how to streamline the academics. Classwork is discussed, workload distributed, seminars charted. The teachers are enthused and ready to do their job when suddenly we get a call from the higher authorities summoning us for election duty. In an instant, the whole academic enterprise becomes secondary and teachers are uprooted from their lecture halls and forced to do clerical work. One can imagine the plight of slaves; engrossed in their routine life on one hand and coerced into harvesting crops in an alien environment against their will, on the other. In one moment you are unraveling the mysteries of the universe and in another you are at the mercy of bureaucracy – Kafka’s stories become tangible. Teachers become expendable. They are ordered to lock lecture halls, stop teaching, keep students waiting, and force research scholars to dawdle in absolute futility.
New vocabulary is spun around you – officer, duty, sahab, afsar – and you find yourself entangled in the dark web of bureaucracy. Etymologically the word ‘officer’ means holding office in French and Latin but that is not how the word functions here. Our usage is intrinsically associated with the military and the police. Years of militarization and colonization have strengthened this usage to such an extent that whenever the word is uttered, it is used in the form of authority or power. The Kashmiri word ‘afsar’ is a proof of this. The absurdity arises when the word is used in educational setups and you are made to feel a part of some battalion and not an academic institution. When our elders pray for us, they usually say – khodai banavyinei afsar, thez kursi denei (May God make you an officer, may He bestow you with a high chair in authority). These prayers are symptomatic of the fact that we have suffered so terribly at the hands of authority and bureaucracy that the only possible escape is to become one. Thus starts the lifelong struggle of lower and middle classes to educate their children even if that means sacrificing everything. Our parents never realized that this brand of education is the biggest trap.
Our parents believed in education as people did in the American Dream. They believed that it would redeem them through their children. That one day they would become educated, respectable, rich and prosperous, completely unaware that a simple call from a bureaucratic office can shatter it all! The dream is shattered by other means as well – cricket players, movie superstars and illiterate politicians who earn the lifelong salary of a teacher in one year or even a day (if someone has a knack for match-fixing, friendship with big producers or a stomach for some scam). Ironically, capitalism is the only economic system that promoted ‘mass education’ as it requires an educated workforce to deal with its industrial setup. Casteist or feudal setups always restricted education to a privileged few while denying it to the masses. Education emerges not only as a trap but as a strong ideology in the present scenario; while the affluent classes and bureaucracy run the show, education largely remains a game. Kaun Banega Crorepati for example is an outcome of such a scenario. Recently, we had our own Kashmiri version of it. A show in which a person’s education is commodified to produce entertainment, proving that laboring (through a game) of one class will always be a game (of labor) for another class.
The image of the teacher that has been imprinted in the collective consciousness of the Kashmiri people through the tumultuous 90s is that they are someone who is comfortably absorbed in their chair, talk incessantly and do absolutely nothing. The scene has definitely changed with the present young faculty, but the 90s generation (of teachers) does not want the changed scene to be visible as they still run the show. So, in high profile meetings and bureaucracy, we are the people with an enormous amount of leisure at our disposal and could easily be uprooted from our workplaces any day, anytime. We are the expendables!
PS: The fetishized sentence “It’s a part of your duty” is supposed to deliver us of all the humiliation and pain but mind it, this is the sentence that has always been used to justify harassment as well as colonization.