The British kept the Indians divided for as long as they could. Many authoritarian governments around the world, such as the Trump and the Erdogan regimes, continue to do similarly. They strategically lie, systematically polarize and enjoy the fruits of unfettered authority.
Having an uninformed citizenry is the most dangerous situation for every democracy and institution. But sometimes it so happens that the citizenry is informed, but silent. Such silence is either forced upon the citizenry or is adopted by itself as a matter of convenience. This convenience, I believe, is rooted in our perceived differences.
Although many factions, strong and loose, exist in this institution, as they do in the larger society, factionalism of several kinds are actively pushed by the institutional setup, the most blatant of which is the factionalism between genders. Here at AIL, both hostels are fully fenced and heavily guarded, public manifestation of affection is shamelessly fined, men and women, eat separately and they sit separately in the auditorium, among other things. There is a sense of creeping normality around this, and that too of the worst kind, the kind in which everybody sees everything but very few speak out.
One way in which factionalism is ensured is through favouritism. As no set criteria for deciding who gets to be a ‘prefect’, and by extension a link between the students and the administration, exists in theory, in practice this translates into giving the undemocratic deciding committee a big leeway to cherry-pick the people who are seen as loyalists. Studying this immoral loyalty is tough as vested interests may vary from person to person.
To quote Jason Stanley, the writer of books such as How Propaganda Works and How Fascism Works, “Fascism is a politics of loyalty. It replaces material interests, truth and reality with loyalty and power.”
Beyond the obvious petty politics, factionalism hijacks our conscience as well as our gossips. Perhaps because we’re so surrounded by it, we tend to prefer being a mute spectator when we see a victim of institutional injustice as a ‘them’, as opposed to an ‘us’.
All this is not to imply that the citizens have never been in the same boat. They have been, but the boat has always revealed cracks quickly, slowly letting authoritarianism seep in. The winter of 2017 and the protests against locking us up in pinjaras is an event which is differentially remembered today. The citizens spoke in a multiplicity of voices, which is obviously a flawed strategy against totalitarian structures.
Martin Niemoller, in his post-war confessional poem ‘First they came…’ groups trade unionists with Jews and Communists, thereby highlighting the disdain Nazis had for unions. Trade unions, much like student unions are not based on religion, gender, place of birth or any other arbitrary criteria, but rather on the idea of representing workers or students on issues they commonly face. The absence of a union, coupled with an inadequate redressal mechanism, leads to an unequal power structure designed to ensure conformity.
A major catalyst for the functioning of this structure is infantilization, and cameras carefully fixed in every corner act as a visible reminder. Under such operation, the institution takes the form of a self-designated saviour, exercising its will through fines, parents and admit cards held hostage.
What is written here is of course nothing new. Political scientists and sociologists have been studying authoritarian structures for ages. Hence, the only purpose this article seeks to serve is to provide a perspective on how the above-mentioned system must be viewed and critiqued, while giving a chance to its citizens to introspect. And once we’re done introspecting, we must act.