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In Session: Views on Colonialism in South Asia
‘confessions’ of a Student-terrorist: The Schoolboy as a Criminal in Late Colonial India
Monday, March 22, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Illinois State University, United States
Contemporary debates over the crackdown on Indian schools and universities triggered by the politics of saffronization accentuate the perils of state interference into education. These debates recall similar processes of ideological domination from late colonial India. By the 1870s, the pitfalls of colonial education were exposed when significant numbers of Indian school and college students engaged in acts of violence against the British colonial regime. Educational focus shifted to ensure increased state censorship of curriculum to articulate political authority, and the criminalization of student-rebels to suppress sedition.
I unpack a boy student-terrorist’s police ‘confessions’ in 1911 to recover children’s voices documented in unexpected archival traces. The child’s teacher influenced him to join Indian revolutionaries planning to assassinate a British colonial officer. The threat of school-children’s politicization was potent because it highlighted the engagement of the state’s own employee, the schoolteacher, in anticolonial activism. A teacher who deeply influenced his students’ minds and bodies was alarming for the education department and police. Examining this schoolboy’s ‘confession’ statement as a historical document, I explore first, the significance of relationships outside the home that mattered to children and youth, and imparted meanings to their subjectivities. Second, I expose the socio-cultural temptations of masculinist communities, where family control was absent, and the fundamentally gendered dispositions of such intergenerational tutelage. Third, by examining an intense power-struggle between an imprisoned boy, acutely aware of his voice’s power, and a ruthless British police-officer in a coercive interrogation room, I underline children and youth as willful political actors.