‘Can the subaltern speak?’
Decolonising Education and International Development Event launched by staff and students at UCL’s Centre for Education and International Development (CEID)
Dr Laila Kadiwal from CEID opened the event with this famous postcolonial question ‘Can the subaltern speak?’. In answer, she shared the words of her Dalit academic-activist friend, Mahitosh, who is the first Dalit lecturer/professor of English literature in India, who responded: ‘They can, but their voice remains under represented even in the Subaltern Studies literature’. Laila also told us that she grew up in a rural conflict-affected periphery of postcolonial India. Albina remembers her words that were powerful for her in both their openness and boldness: “I’m here because the East India Company and the Queen Victoria were there. Of course, my class privileges also made it possible for me to be here”. In this very statement, she highlighted the continuing colonial legacies in the present through the university setting, and its intersections with issues of class. Coloniality continues to echo in our society, and particularly in the education field which needs to work to transform and not to reproduce social inequalities.
Stories both personal and impressive came from other participants too – professors, students and activists interested in researching the colonial entanglements underpinning the field of education and development joined this online event from a range of global locations. Professors Elaine Unterhalter and Moses Oketch – co-directors of the Centre for Education and International Development at UCL – shared their perspectives on the significance of decolonising the field of education and even the centre itself, inviting us on a brave journey to start questioning and naming colonial logics and uneven power dynamics in the field. We particularly felt brave being a part of the discussion cafe as it is a direct rejection of the ‘status quo.’ It felt eye opening to intentionally explore the meanings and history of discourses and practices that have been deemed universal, which are in fact are a reflection of Eurocentric norms at the expense of the voice and cultures of former colonised populations.