Sunday, February 7, 2016

Professor Mukherjee, upper caste Indian elites, and academic erasure



Professor Mukherjee, the head of a department and advisor to student groups when I was once a student, lived a life full of privilege, in the deeply held belief that he was intellectually and culturally superior and therefore, should rightfully command respect from his students.

Professor Mukherjee was a special breed of Professors, Professors that came from well-to-do upper caste, upper class Bengali families in Kolkata to the small town.Many of these Professors came from Bengali Zamindari families and they ensured that the town knew of their Zamindari lineage.

Professor Mukherjee's sense of superiority was embedded in his long-ingrained sense of Brahminical privilege, mixed in with a sense of ownership of high culture.

In the faith that he was the chosen one, that his was the job of protecting the aesthetic aspirations of the academy, Professor Mukherjee made sure that he performed the task of extracting respect from his students.

His studied seriousness formed the face of his performance as the high priest of culture.

His command for respect was doubled when he met lower caste students, students he believed had no right of being in the hallowed institution he served.

These students needed to be integrated into society, into the norms of civility. By chiding them, by subtly pointing out their caste status, Mukherjee made sure he put them in their place.

As an admirer of finer things in life, classical music, poetry, dance, all things classical, Professor Mukherjee self-appointed himself as the gatekeeper of high culture.

He made sure that he educated the lower caste students about the high culture of India. This education was mostly in the form of public commentaries directed at the lack of culture amond the lower castes.

His job was often one of differentiating between high and low culture on campus, serving as the moral police for art and culture, the judge of aesthetic refinement.

Those in the lower caste, the low cultured ones that did not know Tagore or were unfamiliar with Malhar, he made his special duty to civilize them.

Especially so, because they didn't deserve to be at the hallowed institution of the intellectuals. Especially so, because they needed the civilizing mission.

In his interactions with the lower caste, he made sure he extracted respect.

His job was one of reminding them how lucky they were.

His job was to call on them publicly so he could put them in their place, make them aware of how out-of-place they were.

In his interactions, he would often call on lower caste students for not demonstrating respect, reminding them how important it was to respect the norms of civility.


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