There was once a city called ‘The City of Ideas’. It was known far and wide for its culture of questioning, debating, discussing, disagreeing, arguing and naturally, generating more and more ideas in the process. It was a city filled with numerous schools, colleges, Universities and Institutions of learning. People from all over the world vied to earn themselves the chance of visiting this city, studying here and staying here.
This thriving culture of dissent made a section of the population utterly uncomfortable. It could-not tolerate this threat to the structure of the society, which the ancients had so carefully designed. The painstakingly formulated rules and regulations that should govern society had to be followed to the hilt, otherwise only chaos would ensue. They watched this atmosphere of free exchange of ideas with horror. However, they did-not sit still. They started building up their strength right at the core, at the organizational level. With sheer discipline they soon built up a huge organization that had its presence right from the ground level, in schools, colleges and Universities, till the top, in the political echelons.
Finally, they became the rulers of the land. All opposition had been completely crushed. They were now not only ruling the city but also the minds and hearts of the majority of the city dwellers. However, there was still a section of the society that was causing mischief. They were the rebels and the dissenters who had the courage to think, critique and question the status-quo. They were refusing to surrender their inalienable right to their minds. All kinds of methods were used to make them fall in line. These dissenters were acting cleverly and carrying out all their activities within the confines of the law of the land. They could not be made to break the rules and laws. But how did it matter? Rules and laws could definitely be changed, to break them. It was done swiftly. With great alacrity. The dissenters were silenced by putting them behind bars, by questioning their claims of being ‘loyal’ and ‘dutiful’ citizens of the nation, by changing the definition of the term ‘patriotism’ overnight and by shifting the goalposts so often that no one could be sure of anything any longer. This strategy worked wonders on the majority, the large group of conformists, who now started worshipping the rulers. But this group of dissenters refused to be sidelined, ignored or silenced so easily. Something had to be done to eradicate the entire phenomenon from the root itself. Something had to be done so that the irritant breed of dissenters completely vanishes from the city, and no new dissenter is ever born in the city.
The final decision was taken and implemented. The death warrant for the culture of dissent, of debates, of disagreements, and of arguments, was signed. The destruction was now complete. This time the attack did-not target the branches, but the entire tree was uprooted. And how was it done? This entire culture of dissent had its birthplace in the system of open and free education that the ‘City of Ideas’ encouraged. It was a system where students were not only prodded to think, to question and to critique but were aggressively forced to do so. The culture of critical thinking was fiercely implemented. This culture, thus, became the natural strike point for the new rulers. They brought in a completely new policy, which ensured that it became impossible for students to get admission into the Institutions of learning. It was all of course completely justified, as the teachers in these hallowed institutions could not be expected to overburden themselves and consequently compromise on the quality of guidance they were providing to their under-studies. Thus, it was decreed that they be allowed only to take in a particular number of under-studies. This number of-course was not based on any logic or rationale or for that matter, any scientific study conducted by experts, but on whims and fancies of the rulers. And so, it was fixed to be so low that for years together, no student could think of taking up research in these institutions. Of-course it did-not matter that the teachers and the students alike, were appalled. They knew it was the death sentence for their respective communities and their cultures, which would now become totally extinct. But this was only a minor irritant, was it not? The larger goal had been successfully accomplished. The status-quo would now be preserved for generations to come. No-one could now rise to question the carefully designed structure of society. No-one could now even dream of being a dissenter. The era of conformists would now last for ages together, till such time that the original culture of the ‘City of ideas’ is completely struck off, even from the world of memories.
Nivedita Dwivedi is pursuing MA in Elementary Education from Tata Institute of Social Sciences.