Thursday, 18 August, 2022

An Althusserian Reading of Teachers’ Incidents

Jainab Tabassum Banu

I have been doomed in shame and despair after reading about the recent shameful and brutalized attacks on teachers in just a gap of a week. The first incident took place in a college at Narail Sadar Upazila where the college principal was forced to wear a garland of shoes in front of people representing the laws and mass. The next incident happened in Ashulia where a teacher was brutally beaten to death by a student. As a teacher, I felt frightened and concerned: frightened because the stamp and garland of shoes may come to any teacher at any time; and concerned about the ideological collapse of the young generation of the country. My concern gets bigger than my fear when I think beyond my professional identity. What will happen to the emerging generation of youngsters who are supposed to be the flag bearers of the country's progress?

Many people have already viewed the events from a minority perspective. Both the victims are from Hindu community which is often called “minors”. Many non-Bangladeshi online portals have already made a religious agenda from the incidents. However, taking the religious identities aside, the deeds are surely the violation of a general code of conduct. My teacher, Pro-Vice Chancellor of ULAB Professor Dr. Shamsad Mortuza has recently addressed this point in his article “In Search of Respect” published in Saturday’s The Daily Star. In my opinion too, the incidents need to be interpreted from an althusserian angle. It is indeed a matter of ineffective ideological interpellation.

From a Marxist point of view, interpellation is a process where we encounter a culture’s values and notions and then internalize them. Louis Althusser states that every society is made of ideological state apparatuses and repressive state apparatuses. Althusser’s main idea is that we all are subjects to different sorts of ideology and social rituals. It is socially acceptable and normal that young people would greet and respect the elders. When the normal is violated, the social and ideological orders collapse.

How the ideologies are interpalleted can now be a matter of discussion. Let me refer to Kader Newaz’s poem in which Emperor Alamgir chided his son for not scrubbing the feet of his teacher with his own hand. In a way, Emperor Alamgir not only elevates the status of a teacher but also passes on the ideology of respecting elders. This is how an ideology is carried forward from one generation to the other. The idea of paying gratitude to elders is acted out when the disciples respond to their guardians positively.

Now on the basis of the last two incidents, we can see that there is a significant communication gap between one generation and the other. As a result, in many cases, we can practically see the loss of the positive values from the behavior of today’s generation. Are parents to be blamed? Partially yes, because the rise of the technological and industrial revolution has prevented the parents from spending more quality time with the children in the latter’s childhood. Children, having no reliable source to share their torments and despair, turn their trustworthiness to the world of the internet and get trapped in various kinds of ideological enterprises. Sometimes, these kids respond automatically, and sometimes, unknowingly. Their thought processes gained motion and lost emotions.

Currently, even toddlers respond to the elderly people, in and out of their family, harshly. Instead of guiding them properly, elders also tend to ignore their “childish” behavior. The matters unseen are the matters unresolved. Consequently, when these toddlers grow up, they repeat these behaviors and keep on disrespecting the elders in one way or the other without even recognizing the fact that they have been disrespectful. This circle goes on and people fall in the maze of automatism. If these kids were given more counseling time in their childhood and were being told the right words and given the right ideology, they would bloom like marigolds.

The matter is presented to the mass as a profession-specific incident though the crux of the problem lies in the very core of ideological interpellation and the lack of it. Still, let’s be specific now and through an althusserian lens, see where the problem is. Both teachers appeared to be dutiful and sincere. They played their role and were honest with their profession. On the other hand, the attackers used their political and social background to commit such crimes. In Narail, the police were present and did nothing. What a fall of the security system of a country! The police force represents a country’s repressive state apparatuses. In such a situation, they were supposed to repress the criminal and take him or them to their legal custody. Unfortunately, nothing happened at the moment.

Also, education itself has become a commodity. Teachers used to be respected as gurus in previous generations. Unfortunately, in the age of consumerism, when students consume education, in many cases, they treat teachers as mere traders. Fortunately, we still see students showing the utmost respect to the teachers. However, in the recent cases, those vindictive students were unable to differentiate between the good and the bad. They did not see teachers in the victims. They saw men who tried to stop them from doing wrong deeds.

It makes me shiver with rage and disgust when I think of the inactiveness of the people who could not do anything to save them. How could a student, a young boy keep on beating a teacher, a respected elder with a stamp in front of a crowd? I feel ashamed of the cowardice of the crowd who also remained sterile. That means, the entire community lacks proper culture of respect and values. It is high time we collectively again cultivated the culture and ideology of respect. Otherwise, the incidents like these two will no longer be profession-specific.


The writer is an Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Premier University, Chattogram