Seeds of authoritarianism planted at home

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COMMENT | I've been thinking about how parents are different from authoritarian figures, in various forms of official representation, and how authoritarians often draw their role as commander-in-chief parallel to being good parents.

I was once asked to show up for a disciplinary hearing for "misconduct" when I was a student in Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM). My alleged crime? Organising student protests against rigged campus elections.

In that hearing, which lasted about two hours, I was confronted by four faculty officials, the dean among them. In that amount of time, which consisted of non-stop nagging about my misplaced desire for a true democracy, I distinctly remember the countless times they referred to themselves as my "second parents", the parents that could, should, and would "look after me" while my real parents are not around in school to police my behaviour.

I remember feeling so disgusted by the comparison. How dare these people claim such a responsibility that they nowhere near ever provided, not to mention the way they talked to me like a five-year-old child.

Every time I tried to speak, they would interrupt just to tell me how wrong I was for going against a corrupt establishment because if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have been there to get an education.

They even asked me if I was against Umno. Before I could answer that, I was interrupted again and asked how I could be against the hands that fed me.

My "crime" was so serious I was considered "derhaka" (disobedient), like how a child would be disobedient to his or her parents.

I was expected to give thanks (for a god-given right, for god's sake), not to "create trouble". It was like being expected to thank your would-be murderer for not killing you, because apparently your right to live is under someone else's purview, not your own.

All five years in UiTM, I had to put up with the vice chancellor calling himself "ayahanda" (father), and whose threats towards students who were critical and calling for student autonomy always made us fear for our status in the university.

That horrendous hearing was literally a hearing for me, with only them talking and with none of them even listening to what I had to say. It was just me getting my ears burned from all the authoritarian mumbo-jumbo.

But one question remains with me to this day, what makes being a parent so akin to being authoritarian, so much so that nobody questions the limits or boundaries of parental authority? And when authoritarians literally call themselves our parents and say they are acting in our best interests "like how parents would", why do we accept this so unconditionally...

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