We began this session with the screening of a short clip from the movie The Reader (from the video shared below), depicting a dramatic scene wherein former SS guards have been taken to trial over their decision to not unlock the doors of a church that had caught fire, resulting in the deaths of many Jews and others persecuted by the Nazi regime who had remained trapped within. The point of sharing this clip had been to offer students the chance to think a little more about choice or agency, and duty, and about the dividing line between them, if any. When asked to respond to the clip, the students brought in very insightful observations on the roles self interest and indoctrination can have on our actions and choices, the importance of accountability and the conflict between moral conscience and duty. We wrapped up this section by inviting students to read aloud and briefly discuss, in light of the preceding conversation, two quotes by defendants in the Nuremberg Trials.
cccIn the next segment of the session, the students were given the ‘Let Me be Myself’ activity from the Anne Frank tool kit. which they were supposed to first fill out. Once they had finished filling this out, they were divided into breakout rooms to discuss the questions that were given as part of the activity. One of the questions that we discussed had asked them to mark out the element of their identity that they think is most important to them at the moment. This led us to think about how different elements of our identity assume different levels of importance at different moments in our life and how that is constantly evolving—what might be important for me today might hold little or no importance a few years down the line and that is an organic part of how we develop in our sensibilities. The other question that we discussed at some length was about the markers of our identity for which we receive negative feedback. Here, a student asked why is it that people’s feedback should matter to one’s identity because despite what people have to say, you are your own person. To which, we discussed that while there is truth in that, it is only when people are open and accepting of others, with no hostility in the atmosphere, can a person fully and truly express themselves. Otherwise, the fear of judgement would hinder how one chooses to express their identity.
cccThis led us into a larger discussion around the following questions—What is identity? Understanding the fluidity of identity, for which drawing from the activity, they pointed out that most aspects of our identity are fluid and changes with the time and space that we find ourselves in. This brought up a conversation around the difference between gender and sexuality.
cccThereafter, we addressed the place of bias in our perception of people’s identity. Here, we discussed how one’s bias comes in the way of perceiving and responding to people’s identity. Some instances that came up were the way people behave with their domestic helpers at home, the way manual labourers are treated in the country—with distinctive spaces and utilities demarcated for them to physically segregate them from the rest of the people—including utensils, elevators, washrooms. This stems from people’s bias about their occupations where some occupations are thought to be less deserving than others and therefore inferior to them on all social markers. Therefore, they are meted with unequal and discriminatory behaviour.
cccFinally, we discussed how identity is linked to discrimination. To this, students brought up a range of responses of identity based discrimination, which we would then take up in detail in the next session. This concluded into leading them towards their home assignment where each student was to picks an instance of identity based discrimination in Anne Frank’s life and substantiate their examples using the exhibition panels.