By Sandhra Sur:
In 1938, a document titled Guidelines for the Teaching History in Secondary Schools was circulated all through Germany–which was, of course, under Nazi rule at the time. It contains a sentence that succinctly sums up the essence of Nazi education policy:
“The course of history must not appear to our young people as a chronicle that strings events together indiscriminately, but as in a play, only the important events, those which have a major impact on life should be portrayed.” (Emphasis added)
The University of Delhi’s decision to omit sections concerning the Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar riots from the English Journalism paper, along with mentions of queerness in Hindu mythology from the “Interrogating Queerness” one carries distinct echoes of fascist ideology.
It’s far from original of me to compare our current regime with that of Hitler. Yet, I think it is important to draw these parallels. I feel that the full extent and danger of the current government’s attitudes towards higher education are often left unacknowledged.
Now, what does the erasure of “uncomfortable” events and identities from a curriculum actually mean? Let’s start with the Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar riots. If everyone knows that they happened, is it really that big of a deal if they are taken out a syllabus?
The answer, as you might have guessed, is a resounding “yes.”
There is a phrase in Latin called “damnatio memoriae”, which translates to “condemnation of memory.” In the days of the Roman Empire, individuals were punished by destroying all traces of them from the city—public records, portraits, anything that makes the individual a recognizable citizen. They were damned from memory, erased.
The University of Delhi conceding to the removal of Gujarat and Muzzaffarnagar riots from the curriculum is an act of “damnatio memoriae”. Educational institutes play a humongous role in determining what is remembered by a country. It is therefore extremely disturbing that we have one of the largest public universities in the country being party to the process of rewriting history to align with the narratives of the current regime.
Removing traces of queerness from Hindu mythology is another form of “damnatio memoriae”, albeit a different one. How does one erase that which was barely visible to begin with?
As queer people, we are used to being unseen and unrecognized by the state. That changed ever so slightly for the more privileged members of the community when the criminalization of homosexuality was abolished from Section 377.
At 11:30am, on the morning of September 6, 2018, it was declared that our existence wasn’t illegal. Justice DY Charndrachud had said “Members of the LGBT community are entitled to the benefit of equal citizenship, without discrimination, and to the equal protection of law.” Legally, we were recognized as citizens.
Of course, the 377 judgement is just an infinitesimally small step towards queer liberation in India. But undeniably it marked some movement in the right direction. Queer individuals finally felt seen.
That of course, did not last for long. The Transgender Persons, (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 was has been passed in parliament. It is a gross act of policing trans bodies and existence, to say the least. The denial of queerness in the mythology, and by extension cultural history serves as a cherry on top, and it sends a loud and clear message: “you are not welcome.”
The ruling party is in the process of sculpting a “New India.” What inconvenient events and identities will have to be chiselled away to create an image of perfection? Will we ever to recover that which has been damned from public memory?