[Reader-list] the Act of leisure

iram at sarai.net iram at sarai.net
Fri Dec 10 00:02:29 IST 2004

Dear all,
The last couple of postings throw an interesting insight on monitoring at
school. Regimentation and control in the name of discipline in educational
institutions are much discussed/ debated issues. And each one of us would
have a story of to share. Stories of being late/ not having done the home
work/ of copying and cheating/ and also of retribution/ punishment/
control and discipline.

All of us go through a process of internalising concepts of discipline/
rules/ regulation. The figure of the ‘monitor’ for me, in school emerges
as an important player in this dialogue between the school establishment
and the student community. I went to an all boys’ school in Udaipur, where
confrontation between the teaching staff and rowdy teenage boys was the
norm. For every class there would be ‘monitor’ who would ‘mind’ the
students/peers in the absence of the teacher/ authority. Anyone breaking
the rule/ talking/ whispering/ reading anything that was not assigned,
would be liable for punishment.  I remember standing outside the classroom
with my face to the wall many times for reading comics in the math class. 
It is not surprising that the colloquial hindi term  `class lagna’ is
synonymous with punishment.

 It was prestigious to be a monitor/ prefect.  And it was usually the
class topper who was assigned the `responsibility’. We often called these
people teacher’s pets/ poodles etc. In the senior classes, emerged the
figure of the `class representative’, whose duties were essentially the
same as those of the monitor but the term representative had more
democratic implications.

Then of course, there was the figure of the class rebel, some times also
the hero- who everyone would look up to.  I am still trying to figure out
the place of this figure in adult life if we take the school as a
`representation’ of society.

In my school- going experience, two things acquired importance, time and
space. The monitoring was done for a particular period/ time and in a
particular class/ playground/ library etc.  The ‘monitor’ became the
control through which access to mobility/ site /space was restricted and

The figure of the class monitor haunted my childhood and teenage
experience.  And strangely it was my first encounter with Chandrabhan, * a
security guard who brought back similar feelings of anger/ frustration/
and helplessness.  He is a security guard in Ishwar Nagar, a gated colony
off Mathura Road in New Delhi. I first met him when I had gone to meet the
president of the Residents’ Welfare Association of Ishwar Nagar. 
Chandrabhan was brusque- to the point of being rude. He stands outside the
inner gate of Ishwar nagar and his job is to verify every visitor/ guest
who enters the colony, with the resident concerned. He also allows the
dhobi/ presswala/ sabziwala inside the premises of the colony at fixed
times. I was a `problem case’ because I had come without an appointment/
by a cycle-rickshaw, with no identity card/ nor a cell phone.

The similarity between the class monitor and the security guard struck me
then, as I waited for my verification to be complete.

The monitor/ security guard/ watchman/ attendant/ gatekeeper is of the
same socio- economic class, which he surveils. So, he is also required to
keep a check on the sabziwala, dhobi, salesman etc. Thus, regulating the
control and access to a space. Here, the ‘terms of entry’, become an
important filter to maintain control especially in the case of gated
colonies and sites of leisure like malls, cinema halls, parks, community
centres etc. The element of time also plays a significant role in
supervising access.

Going back to the school, here, time becomes an intensely contested
element. Failure to arrive in time for the school assembly result in
punishments. Similarly penalties are awarded to those who are not able to
complete their assignments on time, the students are not evaluated on
their understanding of the subject but on their ability to answer
questions correctly within a time frame.  And all discussions on the issue
are shut because young people must have `self discipline’ and it is the
future of the nation/ world/ humanity that is at stake.

Similarly, there is a time for shops/ colonies/ residential areas to be
open for public interface and again ‘time’ is invoked to restrict access.
It would be quite interesting to explore the relationship of control,
access and surveillance through the concept of time. How time is mapped in
the sociology of spaces like school/ community centre?  What is the
relationship between time and power? Why time becomes an important tool in
regulating access? Who determines the limits of timings of access and why?
And how the language of law is invoked through this complex interweaving
of time, regulation, access and control?

Looking forward to more responses.

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