Introduction to Decolonisation

Decolonisation in Higher Education

Decolonisation in Higher Education

‘There were these very concerted efforts [in India] to educate people to be able to contribute to the building of an independent nation. And I think that it’s…that kind of vision of the university [that] still exists in some ways, because we have a very strong outreach program. For example, it’s always been very encouraged that the university should go and work outside the university for the common people, for people who may not be able to come to the university — we have many programs which do that kind of thing. There’s a sense of activism, that education is not just about ivory towers, but it’s also about going to the people and…contributing in some way.

–Professor Nilanjana Gupta, Retired, Department of English, Jadavpur University

Vrinda Nayak: 

The concept of decolonizing the curriculum, which emerged from the Rhodes must fall moment in 2015, at the University of South Africa, presented a holistic view of decolonization, which is the dismantling of power structures influenced by colonial legacy. It was about addressing the influence of colonization in the curriculum, as well as structural inequalities at the institution level. In my opinion, a direct translation of this concept to higher education institutions across the world is a challenge, considering the cultural context, varying influence of colonial power on inequality that exists in societies across the world, and how nations have evolved over the time once they were free from colonial rule. I think in countries like the UK, which colonized other countries during the last few centuries, and where the population is predominantly white ethnic, there’s a need to see decolonization in a slightly different way to that of the USA or South Africa. The emphasis here should be on embracing equality in a way that supports the different identities held by the ethnic minority population of multicultural Britain. This should be reflected in implementing the concept of decolonizing the curriculum in decolonizing the higher education structures in the UK higher education institutions. 


Subhajit Naskar: 

There is a there is another important game-changing event that has happened in Africa in 2015/16, where there were a massive student protests that erupted. And that sort of started happening in other pre-colonial countries — you know, those basically got liberated in ‘40s, and ‘50s — which is largely known as Global South. So these student protests that erupted in the university campuses greatly influenced the way university campuses sort of, you know, crafted the curriculum framework one or second, the kind of pedagogical discourses that basically existed. 


Partha Chatterjee: 

As far as higher education is concerned, first of all, decolonization cannot simply mean a return to what existed before colonialism. Because before colonialism, if one thinks of the pre-colonial then the arena of higher education was extremely limited and narrow, it was restricted to a very, very tiny minority of the people who were privileged. And very few people had access to higher education. That is clearly not emanate is restricted by social groups in India, for instance, hugely restricted by caste, by gender, and of course, privilege. That’s clearly not something that would be acceptable today. What happened under colonial rule was the introduction of a system of higher education, which in fact prevailed or which had come to prevail in the countries of Europe, in its period of Enlightenment and modernisation. The idea of the university which was then implanted in countries like India under colonial rule was very largely modelled on the European university, with its divisions into faculties and departments and so on, now, this actually has come to stay in almost every country, which used to be under colonial rule, they have come to stay and the entire system of modern education everywhere is broadly organized in that particular structure. 


Shubranshu Mishra: 

Decolonization is about challenging and dismantling inequalities, but it is also about creating: creating new forms of knowledge forms that are inclusive. It means to examine how knowledge is produced, how it is disseminated, what kind of prisms are used to create knowledge that is seen to be dominant or authentic, who is involved in disseminating that knowledge and who is included and excluded from it. It is about acknowledging and accepting knowledge that is produced by the indigenous by colonized and besieged subjects. It is about addressing the historical amnesia around colonial rule and imperialism and understanding those as informing contemporary politics as well. It is about addressing institutional racism and about resisting neoliberal and capitalist forms of governance in the institution and universities. It is about listening to the experiences of alienation that the marginalized have to share about it is about paying attention to your reading list, about attainment gaps, about promotions, about, you know, governance and classroom experiences. It is also about going beyond Northern epistemologies, and include perspectives from the Global South that are often dismissed as not universal enough or not generalizable enough, not mainstream enough. Decolonization actually is about transforming teaching and learning to see purpose in what Dr. Ambedkar called, ‘an experience that is about to educate, to agitate and to organize’. It is about creating international / transnational solidarities and intersectionality. With the growth in movements like decolonizing the university / decolonizing the curriculum in the UK to Rhodes must fall in South Africa to student protests in JNU and Jamia Millia in India about fee hikes and protecting the citizenship rights of minorities to the Cisco case of caste discrimination in the United States. What these instances tell us is to think about global aspects of race and caste and examine the interlinked ideologies of white supremacy and Brahminical patriarchy. 


How does higher education reinforce particular views about what is a valid way of knowing and being?

Riadh Ghemmour 

Before I speak about decolonization in a general sense, I’d like to share a personal story here. So I grew up in Algeria, I consider myself as an indigenous Kabyle. I was born in Algeria, and I studied in Algeria. And I always thought that Western norms are universal. And it’s something that you need to fit in, and to be part of this world. But obviously, this is the result and the implications of the consequences of colonization, be it direct or indirect. And here I speak about decolonization of the mind. So my mind has been colonized. However, when I came to the UK back in 2017, I started my MSc in educational research, and then later on, I started my PhD, and I came across this concept of decolonization, which was mind blowing through the book of Linda Tuhiwai Smith titled Decolonizing Methodologies. And she speaks about the indigenous struggle. And I related to that, I related to that, but nobody spoke about decolonization or indigenous struggle during my school years or university years, or even in my MSc. So for me, it was mind blowing. And it was a revolution and a process of decolonizing the mind. And it’s been very empowering. And it was a process of learning as well, a lot of things that I’ve taken for granted, especially when it comes to seeing this world from a purely Western Eurocentric perspective. So decolonization for me is a lifelong process that is filled with a lot of tensions, complexities and messiness, and I think it’s absolutely fine because we are complex human beings, and we embody different aspects in terms of identity, racialized identity, sexuality, gender, and so on. And I think decolonization is a process of disrupting the Eurocentric lens and decentring, the Eurocentric lens to make space for other voices and historically, marginalized perspectives to shape the world we live in today. decolonization can offer plenty of opportunities, personally, decolonization gave me the opportunity to reconnect with my indigenous identity in terms of language, culture, land, and so on. But also it helps us to unpack systems of oppression, but also how this knowledge that we understand and teach and learn and try to unpack comes from. So this is very important because decolonization expands this knowledge, and considers other ways of knowing and being. And at the same time, decolonization can be a process of healing and reclaiming for specially those who has been historically marginalized. 


How can decolonisation help educators prepare learners to make good decisions when tackling the challenges of the future?

Aveen Hameed 

We are educating the next generation of leaders, the next generation of decision makers, and we want to empower them with the knowledge and information so that they can make decisions that you know, that are inclusive, that acknowledge inequality that acknowledge the barriers that some people face. The world has a lot of problems that we need to face, climate change, poverty, inequality, social justice, and those issues are only going to become more prevalent as the population growth as we as we face climate change. And it’s really important that we start to talk about them now, and we start to educate the next generation of decision makers so that they have the tools and the knowledge to, you know, to address these issues. Part of colonial legacy was some of the environmental damage and social damage that was done at the time, you know, of colonial presence, for example, there are mines that are still causing environmental damage, even though they’ve been dormant for decades in some parts of the world. And I think moving forward, we have to address those issues, and fix these problems for people because it’s just not fair that some people have to live with this legacy that wasn’t created by them, and, you know, and wasn’t created for their benefit. So it will enable people from those countries to take on the decision making, they’ll feel empowered, and hopefully they’ll make the right decisions for their country. 


How did colonisers leave behind a legacy that is still present in our education systems and structures today?

Frances Martin and Fatima Pirbhai-Illich 

During the spread of colonialism across the world, land became a white possession. In the service of the home European nations, for the settler nations of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States of America, as they moved to independence, land and ownership, land, ownership and property, as white possessions, became translated into nationhood, and citizenship as white possessions. That is, the nation was created according to the image of those in power, and that is the white settler Europeans, and legally only those who are in possession of land have a right to vote, and therefore the right to count as full citizens. This has continued into contemporary times through the use of binary categorizations of citizen, immigrant, us, them, superior, inferior, included, excluded, and so on. We therefore believe that there are no decolonized spaces; all are caught up in the colonial matrix. So if we bring that to education, we argue that sites of education, including classrooms, are also white possessions. And they’re organized in such a way to maintain those unequal power relations, to keep schools, universities, classrooms, curricula and methods of instruction, culturally white — i.e., Euro-Western. And power, by its very definition, is derived from the ability of people or groups in society to impose through coercion. And the imposition of white Euro-Western colonial ways of doing education is achieved both explicitly through rules that govern behaviour through timetables that govern lessons, and implicitly through, for example, methods of instruction, teacher-student relationships, the hidden curriculum, and so on. In a recent conversation that we had with a scholar from the Global South, internal colonization was mentioned. They spoke about how even when independence was achieved, decolonization of the mind did not automatically follow. So new governments continue to colonize the local populations and through colonial structures, and the ways of being inherited by these countries continue to be perpetuated. They stated, ‘After the British left, they left exactly the systems as they were and handed them directly to the Africans, totally unchanged. So the only thing that changed was the skin tone of the people who went in; every other thing remains exactly the same: the way the hierarchies, the oppressive ways, the access was limited to certain people. So what has happened is that our own people are our own colonizers. And I don’t know whether that is better or worse, because these are the people you trust. It’s not being oppressed, as you know, something from outside.’ The focus of our work therefore is on decolonizing the mind and along with it, raising an awareness of how it might be possible to develop other forms of education and research relationships that are not coercive or oppressive. 


Samir Saha: 

Besides equity, and inclusiveness, and breaking up the gender barrier, I think it is more important that a dialogue-based approach is taken in teaching learning process. These days, the criteria for measuring learning has become how much one absorbs to do — the criteria of doing. So, these criteria of ‘doing things’ comes better from dialogue, dialogue between teacher and the student, dialogue between teachers, dialogue between students: these are becoming lace day by day. So I think for decolonization, more dialogue-based approach to teaching and learning should welcome. 


Shubranshu Mishra: 

Just like the society, the university and classroom are hierarchical, too. There is a lack of competitive power in staff meetings in the classroom. Staff, particularly women of colour, are expected to work twice as hard, are often overlooked and undervalued. And students coming from privileged backgrounds expect their core and traditional modules to be taught by white members of staff. So all of this needs to be addressed in a true decolonial movement in the university. And having said that, the classroom is an unequal space for students as well — particularly those who come from marginalized experiences. So it becomes a challenge for the instructor to create the classroom as a safe space as a brave space. And here I borrow the concept of ‘principled classroom’ that is put forward by Building the Antiracist Classroom, which is a collective of women of colour academics in the United Kingdom. And what it requires is to have open discussions in the classroom that centre experiences of students who come from marginalized backgrounds. It also means to reassess privilege and understand the benefits that people draw from that privilege, even if they are not actively participating in you know, acquiring that privilege. But this is something very natural, and it means to reassess, you know, those identity positions. So it means to have these open conversations and to respect people’s choices and privacy when they share the experiences of alienation and marginalization. And I think including these inclusive sources, inclusive pedagogic techniques in the classroom truly is important for decolonizing the classroom. 


Partha Chatterjee: 

India is almost unique in terms of the number of major languages, which are usually known as the regional languages — at least 10 or 12 major languages with millions of speakers, each of them having a substantial print literature, in a standardized form, in which you have textbooks and school education and college education, and an entire field of publishing, and literally activities 10 or 12 different languages. Now, this is a particularly rich field. When one thinks of the question of higher education, it’s a complex field, because one of the legacies of the colonial universities was the use of English as the principal language of higher education. Now, over the 20th century, most regions of India and most universities have introduced education in the regional languages. So, in fact, most universal states or at least most of the states of India, you will probably find there are more students who study in the regional language rather than in English. And yet, not just the prestige, but, in fact, the sheer practical importance of the English language as the principal language of higher education continues to this day. And this has, I mean, the one fundamental intellectual reason for this is of course, the need that is felt to connect with a global institutional world of science and social science. So, that cannot be abandoned. As a result, what has happened is the differences in prestige n these two levels — between higher education and English on the one hand, and teaching and study in the regional languages — this difference in  social importance has had a very peculiar effect – and, in my view, damaging effect — of essentially bifurcating the world of education into these two sectors, the more important work, certainly, almost all serious research in the social sciences in India is in fact carried out in English and publications in English, publications in English-language journals, and the need in fact to project one’s research results in the global world. All of this makes the use of English important — but what is very much lacking is the transmission of the knowledge that is produced in the English language to the other sector, where education is in the regional languages. There is not just a lag; there is often a complete separation between these two worlds. And this, it seems to me, is one of the major problems. And if one calls it ‘decolonization’, ‘the need to further decolonize’, I would not object at all. What really needs to be done is a much more active bilingualism in higher education. This unfortunately is not practiced at all. Active bilingualism in which researchers / teachers would operate as fluently in English as well as one or more regional languages, so that even if the language is different, the content need not necessarily be so totally separated. This, it seems to me, is a particularly important item that needs to be put into the agenda. 


Vrinda Nayak: 

Many educators are not fully aware of the concept of decolonizing the curriculum as applied to the subjects they teach. Senior leaders in universities need to prioritize creating safe spaces for discussing or debating the importance of decolonization as part of addressing social injustice in their institutions. It’s also important to encourage staff and students to work in collaboration. To explore this theme and embedded within the curriculum. We need to hear the voices of those who belong to marginalized communities, particularly ethnic minority students, while creating interventions and activities in our model content, and teaching practices for them to develop a sense of belonging and create an inclusive environment. To achieve this, a change in higher education culture is required. And this is not an easy task. As it needs constant support from the institution, and engagement with the learning community as a whole. 



Melissa Percival: 

I think universities are very double-edged institutions, because they are institutions of power. And they are historically, very Eurocentric, Anglocentric, male dominated, perhaps skewed towards older people, rather than young, younger scholars, faculty, perhaps versus students; they’re places of hierarchy. And I think unless we acknowledge the structures within those institutions, we can’t claim to be genuinely curious and genuinely exploratory about our learning and our teaching. So I think it’s a question of realizing that all our comments, all our argument, evaluation, all our research comes from a certain starting point. And that might be a starting point of privilege, it might be a starting point of just not seeing what the questions are. And so I think that the potential for decolonizing is really exciting, if we can actually embrace it — and if we’re willing to do the hard work, of confronting our own prejudices, and helping others around us to, to confront that, too. 


‘Decolonial approaches tend to seek a wider range of views and encourage more careful communication. I feel that these sorts of methods are typically more stimulating, compassionate, and fulfilling – and better geared towards fostering patience and personal responsibility!’

Dr Caitlin Kight, University of Exeter


How do we give power to the powerless?

Samir Saha 

If we want to have proper decolonization, the power has to be moved to the students with the dialogue with curriculum framing with administration partial, so, that way…it has to be disciplined I mean, this participatory role of students has to be disciplined for a decolonized, proper growth-oriented atmosphere. This is one thing. Regarding the laboratory work or other things, we have the technological or particularly we have the interdisciplinary schools, there, it is imperative that more hands-on work be done by students. We can understand that this is a situation which at present time with the advent of IT-oriented companies and facilities, I mean, what a computer can do. That was completely unknown in past but the control of the computer also must be in the hands of the, the who is running the mission. A time has come when a situation can arise, when machines can colonize the human beings, it has become like that, with the advent of artificial intelligence. A question has arisen: will machines rule men? So, we have to understand that that should not be allowed. So, the power should always be with the less powerful (means marginalized). And that way, decolonization can be very meaningful and change the ideas, etc. 


How can using the ‘decolonisation’ buzzword obscure other important activities that need to take place to support social justice?

Jerri Daboo 

I think when we are looking at this idea of decolonization, alongside questions of diversity, equality, inclusion exclusion, it’s really important that we take into account that decolonization has become quite a buzzword or a buzz idea of something that everybody needs to be doing. And if we do this, then that means that we’ve sort of sorted out all these issues relating to diversity, anti-racism, and so on. But it’s important that we really understand all of these things together. So that if we think that decolonization is meaning, I will, I’ll look at my reading lists, and I’ll ensure that there are writers from non-Western countries on it, then that’s fine, then we’re done, then that’s actually not helping at all, and thinking about the structures that we really need to take into account when looking at these issues of diversity and equality. And sometimes I think decolonization can can mask those other issues, because there’s other things are much harder to deal with. Because they require really deep, honest conversations amongst staff and students about what can we really do to change these systems? So I think we need to consider these structural inequalities, and how do we deal with those — and decolonization becomes part of those conversations and strategies that we need to develop. But it’s not an end means in itself in isolation. So certainly, we do need to look at this, we need to look at the ways that we think, at the ways that we talk about things, about what we are teaching; not just what we are teaching the how we teach. So this isn’t even just about the subjects or about the texts or the theories, it’s also we need to look at things like assessments is really important, because why is the essay become the dominant form? And who is that privileging in certain ways? Are there other forms of assessment that are maybe more accessible in in different kinds of ways. So I think all of these areas are important, and that we don’t get distracted, as I said, by just the focus on decolonization, but need to look at all of these other areas alongside that, and hopefully, the decolonization discussion will prompt into those other areas. But I think we need to really face some of those uncomfortable conversations as well. 


‘Unless you recognise your privilege, there can be no way in which there can be an egalitarian society.’

Professor Maroona Murmu, Department of History, Jadavpur University

Nilanjana Gupta: 

Even today, 75 years after independence, we’re still struggling with what are the goals of education? Who is, you know, who is this education for? What do we want from this education? We still have to really struggle with these things, because of this rupture that happened, which was completely transformative. So I think that, you know, it was the thing about colonization is that it was such a disjuncture that took place, which is why it has such a long impact, as well. We can’t talk of just, you know, getting rid of the imperialists, and we can’t get into a system where we think that just getting rid of the political structure can actually change the impact of, or transform, get rid of the impact of colonization. So that’s a big struggle, I think, for every person, in every section, in every way, in our kind of situation. 


Riadh Ghemmour: 

So I would say one of the biggest barriers of decolonization comes from leadership. decolonization requires a collective commitment where everybody needs to be on board to make this process happen, and to make decolonization happen. And sometimes leadership is not on board because they don’t understand decolonization, or they are not willing to give up on power to make room for decolonial practices within higher education and beyond. An example that I can cite is that I’ve been doing a lot of decolonial work within the University of Exeter and beyond. And it’s very common that a lot of people when they come to spaces, to speak about decolonization there, they tend not to listen, and to expand their understanding, knowledge, and experiences from a decolonial perspective, of course, so the resistance and the defensiveness happens quite a lot in my experience. I think we need to feel uncomfortable, and we need to feel challenged, I would say, when we speak about decolonization, because we need to start from this point. It’s the point of departure in order to create a socially just world. 


Subhajit Naskar: 

The social reform agenda, since it was abandoned the society, the unequal framework that existed in society, remained and remained largely and which is why the gap between haves and have nots have widened over the years — even after seven, six and seven decades, it hasn’t changed much. So, and the university campuses or the discussions in the education of the higher education sectors have started reflecting the way sort of colonial the post-colonial framework existed in the political discussions. So the campuses which was thought to be a very, very egalitarian project never realized its potential truly, and which is why the campuses, Indian campuses, or the Indian universities and the higher education sector, never been able to or largely ignored the kind of experiences of the students and teachers of the most vulnerable sections and the most marginalized castes, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, the Dalit and the Adivasis 


Nicola Thomas and Ian Cook: 

The challenge of decolonial thinking is that there’s a lot of unlearning. And a lot of recognizing of privilege of position of the ways in which marginalization of people has occurred and kind of the legacies of past decisions, which you know, our ancestors might have made kind of how that reverberates today and how that affects our in positions now. So, but lots of us students, and indeed, Ian and I, are on a journey of learning to recognize these things in ourselves and gaining greater insight. Or people may have got huge experience of of marginalization and they have a more than aware of the effects of colonialism and racism in their lives. So people come into the class and it’s a challenging space: decolonizing discussions, antiracist discussions, discussions about colonial violence is very risky for people involved, depending on what position they’re in. So, we’re really conscious in our, in our module teaching that we need to kind of think through how to hold this conversations safely. But also how to ensure that we do have difficult conversations and that we enable us to feel that we’ve got the tools to have those conversations about personal identity about recognizing privilege about recognizing how we might inadvertently have harmed someone without meaning to because of that privilege, or enabling someone who has experienced a does experience marginalization to feel that they are safe in this space. And in the context of a country which doesn’t really talk about empire and really doesn’t want to talk about racism, we don’t have a lot of widespread community understandings of how to have these conversations. That’s quite a new conversation for us to have. So, we really look for ways in which we can kind of help us all appreciate the processes of racialization and how we can think about how what those processes, what affects those processes result. 


Frances and Fatima Pirbhai-Illich: 

One of the things that I’ve struggled with is how to engage with that mainstream population in critical conversations around the concepts of interconnectedness, interrelatedness and interdependence with humans more than humans and materiality — and also how to engage in difficult generative and collaborative conversations with the mainstream population, in order to become aware of, and to let go of, some of the privileges that they’re invested in maintaining. So basically, it’s to actually walk the talk, not just talk the talk. And it’s very easy to intellectualize this decolonizing information and theories, but more commitment is needed to undo and repair the harms. The other challenge we felt was where people jump into act without necessarily understanding what they’re doing, or without having engaged deeply in the process of unsettling their own entanglement with and complicity in coloniality. And associated with this is that there is no quick fix to any form of decolonizing. It’s necessarily, because of the complexities involved, a long-term and possibly multi-generational project. 

‘In the best of cases, of course, the students begin to get to know other kinds of students, which is one of the great things about a public university — that students from different backgrounds can actually meet, as equals. And they can actually begin to know and understand other identities and communities.’

–Professor Nilanjana Gupta, Retired, Department of English, Jadavpur University 


How do ignorance and fear prevent decolonisation? 

Caitlin Kight 

The biggest barrier that I’ve seen to decolonization is ignorance, both in the sense of people not having heard of decolonization and therefore not understanding what it is or why we should undertake it, or even how we might pursue it, but also in the sense of people having a mistaken understanding of what it even is, and therefore thinking that it has already been accomplished, or that it’s unnecessary or inappropriate. 

Whatever its exact shape, this ignorance can lead to another barrier: anger. I’ve heard many people expressed frustration that they have to spend time and effort thinking about and undertaking decolonization activities. Unfortunately, it is true that in education, many teachers are not given sufficient time to develop or redevelop their curriculum. However, I think it’s all too easy to be lazy in our interactions with others. It does actually take time, if we want to listen to people, to pause and think about what they’ve said, and then take the extra time to read their body language, and so on. I’ve certainly caught myself rushing into and through encounters, rather than giving each person the time that they deserve as a fellow human being. 

I don’t think that we need any more time or energy for decolonization than we need for interacting with others in an empathetic way. However, it is different. And so we need to learn new habits. And perhaps learning those new habits requires us to face some things that we don’t like about ourselves, our privilege, for example, or our understanding that we’ve previously been less compassionate than we might like to admit. 

A final barrier to decolonization is fear. When people are angry about the colonization, I think much of that anger comes from fear. People are worried about losing their privilege, whether they recognize it as such, or even use that term to describe it. But fear can also have a positive origin. People are afraid of getting things wrong. They don’t want to embarrass themselves or get in trouble. But even more than that, they don’t want to hurt others. 

A lot of educators I know don’t want to use the wrong language. They don’t want to marginalize or expose someone, to embarrass their students, or generally, to make the situation worse. I hear a lot of people say that they just want to be told what to do, so that they don’t mess things up. They want a checklist, so they can be sure that they have selected the right actions, that they’ve done those actions in the right order, that they haven’t missed anything off the list. I actually take a lot of encouragement from the fact that people feel this fear, because I think that it comes from a place of compassion. And at the end of the day, that’s really what we need most to engage with decolonization effectively. 

How do you engage with educators who are uncertain about the idea of decolonisation?

Vrinda Nayak 

One should recognize that the term decolonizing the curriculum is a highly contested term, and it may not sit comfortably with some learners and educators. Opportunities to express any discontent or opposing views should be provided. The skills that are required to hear and respect differing views while maintaining integrity, and respect for the principles of equality, diversity, and inclusivity should be developed as part of learning in the higher education system. This requires careful consideration of how and where those opportunities for skill development should be provided. Considering the diverse student body in the UK universities, it’s important that we support our students to become global citizens by developing skills and knowledge to identify challenges associated with social injustice in various societies. One way of achieving this is by using a variety of case studies that highlight the challenges associated with social injustice from various nations and societies across the world. Another way is to engage with educational institutions in the Global South, providing opportunities for students from both institutions to discuss and learn about issues that are relevant to their program of study. Considering the technical advances that universities have made in recent years, this is plausible, and it enables students to develop an understanding of different worldviews. However, the challenge here is to fulfil the need for educators going beyond the Eurocentric vision that is currently dominant in our pedagogy, and making a proactive effort to bring the issues that matter to nations and societies in the Global South to the centre of learning. 


‘The curriculum, as it stands today, almost has nothing that is taken from the lives of this indigenous population. Whatever is written in the books, those black and white letters have no relationship to what is very intimate to the lives of this indigenous people. For them, it’s rote learning. How far can rote learning take a person?’

–Professor Maroona Murmu, Department of History, Jadavpur University 

How can privilege influence — and perhaps prevent — decolonial activities?

Maroona Murmu 

I think we need to understand privilege. The family that we’re born into, the sort of loci that you’re born into, the sort of friends that you have. I have, since I work on caste, I know that many of many academics have told me come from the deprived background, those I have been able to interview they told me that the school has been the most trying place, simply because they were bullied by their fellow mates. And I have also had interviews where the interviewee told me that when they had done good in examinations, there was a apprehension in the teacher that this child must have taken unfair means to flourish. So you need to realize the tremendous amount of privilege you are located in. Unless you you’re undertaking that you have done nothing to earn this privilege. You’ve just been born somewhere in a privileged family in a privileged location and privileged to socioeconomic strata, and these have just been given to you on a silver plate. So we need to understand privilege and unless you recognize your privilege, you cannot do away with the inequality that is embedded in society. You first need to realize that what you have is actually because of deprivation of millions and millions of people around who you. Your privilege stands on the exploitation of others, deprivation of others. 


What do you do when students disapprove of the decolonial project?

Aveen Hameed 

Our students come from all aspects of society. And that includes students with right wing views, and students who are unwilling to engage in this conversation, they feel it’s unpatriotic, they feel it’s inappropriate. And they also, they feel that it’s questioning, you know them, rather than questioning history. And that can be really challenging because those students really, A) don’t want to engage but, B) one of the factors that I find quite challenging is they refuse to acknowledge unearned privilege, they refuse to acknowledge that having a British passport gives them advantage. They refuse to acknowledge that living in this country gives them advantage, or even coming to the University of Exeter and gives them advantage in life. And so one of the most challenging aspects of this is actually people…Yes, and it’s what, you know, one of the most challenging aspects of this is actually working with people who just won’t accept that they have privilege or that some of this privilege is as a result of colonial legacy. They like to think that they’ve worked hard for everything that they have, and that privilege doesn’t come into it. So they’re probably the most difficult. So I think changing perception, changing people, people’s minds about engaging with this, but also, I think this idea that it’s unpatriotic, I think it’s really important that learning your past is not unpatriotic; acknowledging past mistakes is not unpatriotic. You know, fixing the legacy that disadvantages people has nothing to do with being unpatriotic. It’s just about being a good person.