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?