Friday, May 9, 2014

Who will teach the teachers?

In Madurai, where the old generation prides itself as being conservative and upholding Tamil traditions while the young generation nods in silent disagreement, the theater of the absurd is playing out. The Hindu reports that administration of a private school barred some students from writing their final exams and dismissed them from the school because they allegedly went to a mall after school hours in their school uniforms and thus, by some depth-defying leap of logic, brought 'disrepute' to the school.

Where do I even begin? On the one hand, we have the Leftist media attacking the Sri Ram Sene for moral policing (I am not defending them) and then we have this case of moral policing, entirely ignored by the so-called mainstream media except The Hindu, probably because Tamil Nadu has a 'secular' government and Madurai is not in Delhi. Constitutionally, there is no bar on students visiting a mall in any kind of clothing, especially not if it does not 'cause moral outrage' (a poorly-worded law, like so many in India). In this case, the students were not even skipping class, this was during their free time. The only justification given is that some principal or school administrator somewhere thinks that the right place for children is in school or at home, just as the right place for a woman is in the kitchen. It does not matter that, as equal citizens, students have a right to roam freely without causing public inconvenience, especially if they are doing it in their free time. All that matters is that some hallowed reputation of the school was somehow tarnished and that is reason enough to make students and their parents run from pillar to post and finally to the High Court bench.

Before I get to the school administration, I should comment on the HC itself, which has agreed to 'look into' the matter. India's over-burdened judiciary could use fewer cases; already it does not get through with the serious ones. The MP from Madurai allegedly spent a record amount of black money and expended massive muscle power to win his election. And yet, the Madurai bench of the HC considers the case of a school administrator's moral outrage at students visiting a mall in school uniform as deserving of its time. Much time it has indeed! And this even after students and their parents apologized (for doing nothing wrong, of course). Without any law to back the administration, what stopped the honorable HC from issuing a one-line order against them and shelving the matter?

Now, on the school administration and those who support it. Let me put it bluntly - they are equivalent to the Taliban. Both live in another age and cannot reconcile with the fact that this generation thinks and lives differently. Both believe that force and coercion are justified means of imposing their moral views on those who are powerless to oppose them. Both act against the law of their land - and with impunity. And both do not see any merit in due process: after all, the school administration did not call the students and their parents to discuss the issue, they just decided to hang them right away. The administration has a right to hold a private view that malls are immoral but they cannot impose it on their students.

Globalization has fundamentally changed the way young Indians perceive the world and they do not see prosperity as a cheap obsession of the burgeois but as something worth striving towards. A mall represents that - prosperity. There is nothing wrong in aiming to be prosperous. What the school administration and much of that generation cannot seem to digest is that their way of life, how they perceived the world, has been rejected by this generation. Every generation after all, chooses its own morals. But did the administrators try to sit back and think about how their students think so differently from them? Did they try to see how their assumptions, their morals, no longer hold water even in their own city? No, that would involve subjecting oneself to due process - does the Taliban or Boko Haram ever sit back to think that young girls would like to go to school?

And what to students get in return for all this moral harassment? They get a third-rate education that places India somewhere near the bottom of International standardized tests. They get an education through which students in Class 5 cannot read passages from an English textbook from Class 2. Of course, because these standardized tests involving dividing 4 by 2 are not in keeping with 'Indian sensibilities,' we don't have to worry about them. We can all just bury our heads behind the curtain of our high morality and punish those who peep through. No wonder then that the school believes that students going to a mall hurts their reputation far more than how their students perform in exams and in life after that.

With the withdrawal of ISAF from Afghanistan, there is a fear that the Taliban will rise and once again erode freedoms that Afghans have come to cherish. But in India, we need not fear any Taliban invasion in Kashmir or elsewhere. The Taliban is already here and they run a private school in Madurai.

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