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How India’s Education System Is Eerily Similar To Orwell’s Totalitarian State In “1984”

By Nithin Anil:

Published over 60 years ago, George Orwell’s “1984” still resonates a strong warning of a coming dystopia that may enslave humanity as we know it, barring free thought and action.

Orwell’s writing was a strong text at a critical time in history, when massive authoritarian powers such as Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin had ensnared the world in World War II and also during the dawn of the post­-atomic age.

But how relevant is it in the contemporary world and can a connecting line actually be drawn between the contemporary educational institutions which preach of free thoughts and ideas, and Orwell’s dystopia? 

“1984” is primarily known for its epic quote, “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” which sends shivers down the spines of every citizen of Oceania, the prime focus of the novel. The hegemony in the ideology, that nothing comes above Big Brother, has won over every single mind of the citizens of Oceania.

Today, students and teachers face similar threats of monitor. “The cameras are watching you. The management watches every move you make” they would say. The so called ‘CCTV Policy‘ says that the aid of these cutting-edge technologies are used to assist them to deter crime, keeping order and in the end, ensuring safety for the students; but isn’t that what was promised to the citizens of Oceania as well? Big Brother being the ‘watchful protector’ of its citizens?

Education and democracy are supposed to be an exchange of free thought and ideas where ideas are allowed to fail and try again; an institution of education is thus the meeting place of such ideas. It is through exchange of ideas that one can hope to learn and unlearn anything at all. That, is the ‘ideal version’ of education apparently. However, today, thoughts are monitored by the ‘higher powers’ and none that seems to go against the so-called powers and their actions, will ever be supported and promoted; worse, they are shunned. Thoughts and ideas under constant scrutiny can never constitute the ideal education which the majority of institutions claim that they provide. How different is this from Orwell’s 1984, where every newspaper, every book, and every column is controlled by the party and their ideas and is closely monitored. Where no one, not even a member of the party, is allowed to even bat an eye against the ideas fed by the party. How different is this from a totalitarian agenda?

How different is this from ‘doublethink’? Simply put, ‘doublethink’ is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one’s mind at the same time. Schools and colleges promote the idea of free speech and free thought. The common saying, that the sign of a good student is that he/she is filled with questions, is something that we are familiar with. May be so, but what questions can be asked, are apparently framed and ready. Paulo Frier’s theory of ‘Banking Education‘, wherein students are containers into which educators must put knowledge, framed knowledge, framed questions and framed ideas, appears to be the norm.

Students or employees, for that matter, if found having a friendly chat in the halls of the institution, if found turning their heads back to pass a message, or even if found to wear clothes other than the prescribed uniformed ones by the powers, are deeply scrutinised and threatened to be punished. Are the codes of conduct specified by the institutions an attempt to culturally condition the younger generation or a genuine attempt to instil professionalism? This is a moot point.

Most of all, in the book, Orwell presents a fascist party where anyone who manages to defy the party’s ideologies, is forced to go through a series of systematic and brutal torture in a hope to ‘reeducate’ the said person, to be an example to the rest as a proof of the ‘political correctness’ of the party’s discourse.

Contrast that with the recent events at a prominent university in Bengaluru, where it was initially reported that a student was suspended from college (which was later denied) for writing a public article against regular classes being kept despite the city going through multiple and simultaneous BMTC strikes, and a faculty of another campus of the same University being fired, as he is understood to have stood against tyrannous rules. Very reminiscent of the fate of Winston in 1984.

Orwell’s dystopia appeared then to be a little far-fetched and too imaginative. But if one were to ponder, how far are we from it now? It all starts with a single step; and multiple steps have already been taken towards the totalitarian cause. If you give a wilful consent to this, then is it not a consent to the era of banking education? A consent to the era of sheepism? A consent to 2+2 = 5?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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