Updated: Nov 16, 2021
By now everyone must have seen the viral clip of an educator of Unacademy making blatantly derogatory remarks about tribals in India. While explaining the tradition of “jhum cultivation” or shifting cultivation that was a common practice in the past and is now practiced by a few, he makes ignorant remarks about how “Tribal log jo hote hain humare, dimaag toh hota nahi unke paas koi...” (Our tribal people do not have brains). He goes on to say that tribals do not have land ownership documentation either.
The video has created a lot of furore over our existing education system where educators themselves expose their affiliation to superficial knowledge about the indigenous community. However, the estranged trio of indigenous tribal groups, the Indian education system, and its educators with savior complexes is not a foreign concept. What’s foreign is the source that these educators refer to or rather recite while addressing the indigenous community. A colonial approach that has been naturalized and their stereotypes have been adopted as the identifiers of the community.
The scope of education has reached an extensive audience, but what happens in the classroom paints a different reality of regressive pedagogy. The dynamism of the Indian education sector is inclusive only in theory. It largely purveys to an audience for whom indigenous communities are but a question in an entrance exam that if answered correctly will earn them marks.
The Patronizing Gaze: A Strategy for Convenience
The current controversy regarding Unacademy and its educators epitomizes the aforementioned concerns. Besides educators casually embarking on stereotypes and making shrewd assumptions about the Indigenous community on the online “learning” platform, the obtrusive ignorance of the system is outrageous. Systematic racism in the education sector is sheltered by a callous mentality that operates with a regressive point of view. Belittling the indigenous narrative should not be assumed as an educational strategy for the “ease of understanding” or mainstream “convenience”.
The aforementioned video obliges to the stereotypical and racist narrative that the tribal community is "primitive", uneducated, and foolish. The clip with its aggressive undertone is triggering and the educator’s haphazard comments are outlandish, no doubt, but what’s more distressing is that this insensitive standpoint is being disseminated to an audience of aspirants.
Instead of understanding the root cause of tribal issues and understanding why a majority of
tribals don’t have access to education, racist and bigoted notions are vehemently being sermonized.
The Distorted Perception of Musealization
The musealization of the indigenous community is a harsh reality that unfolds in tandem with the stereotypes. The threat of segregation in a supposedly inclusive or diverse classroom thus becomes imminent. Actively displacing or detaching the indigenous history from its original context just to present them per the whims and fancies of the mainstream is unethical. Learning about or understanding the indigenous community is one thing, but beholding them or their culture through a patronizing gaze rather than treating them as equals, is redundant in the sphere of inclusive education.
This isn't the first time that tutors have been caught exposing their racist views on video. On an earlier occasion too an Unacademy tutor is seen saying that tribals do 'Jhingalala'. The personal twist on the imitation skit is downright embarrassing. What’s even more appalling is the utter tone-deafness of the educator. Intended or not, the retrogressive lens that envisions tribals as specimens of study in isolation, rather than as people with similar potential and calibre is condescending.
Who should be held accountable?
Is an apology supposed to be a Plan B if the educational gamble doesn’t work out?
The business prospect of such "educational" platforms is more concerned with their social image than they are with addressing the dispute or coming to a resolution. Because of this sophisticated outlook, it is not surprising to see companies remove affiliations with the penalized individuals. Instead of genuinely addressing the situation and sensitizing the educators, they assume that mayhem will eventually die down. Even though the educator is to be held responsible for their actions, this in no way implies that the organization is to be let off the hook.
The lack of transparency in the course of action against the penalized sets the aggrieved community in the grey zone. It doesn’t guarantee that similar situations will not occur in the future, nor does it promise a permanent change in the individual’s tainted outlook on the community.
Then why should the indigenous community bear the brunt of this anticipation and be in a constant state of apprehension? Had the resurfaced video never received viral traction, would these parties even bother to post an apology? Even if it were for formality- just to brush things under the carpet.
It should be understood that an apology doesn’t always harmonize with accountability. Accountability is an act of conscience, while an apology is often reflexive and situational. Empty apologies cannot sway a community that has been disregarded and offended time and again. Instead of reciting a bunch of words that rhyme but don’t align with the future course of action, the company should take responsibility for sensitizing their educators by dismantling the preconceived notions based on discrimination. They should closely inspect the curriculum being taught, the knowledge being imparted, and analyze and correct their pedagogy to be more than just "inclusive".
About the author: Monica N. Lugun belongs to the Munda tribe of Jharkhand. She is a history graduate with a knack for storytelling and public speaking. At the moment she is collecting and retelling folklores on her podcast: My Dainty Memoir.