The misguided students?

Of Streets & Classrooms

By Proloy Bagchi

It appears from what the newspapers say or what the media shows that the entire country has become secular in mindset and that all participating individuals in demonstrations and rallies against the Citizens Amendment Act would go all out to uphold their secular beliefs against all odds. They would not flinch from taking recourse to even violence if it ever came to that.
If all this were true there would be all the reasons to be happy. A secular mindset is always welcome as it shuns prejudices and hatred for other communities as is normally witnessed. It is a liberal and harmonious way of life that promotes efforts to try and understand the opposing antithetical views.
Diversity of views is welcomed and each is allowed to coexist along with the contrarian and prevailing majoritarian view. Basically, it is a tolerant society that has a place for every way of looking at things in a society. It also has to have the majority with a very large heart that has the capacity to accommodate various opposing viewpoints without any rancour or bitterness or heartburn.
This would be an ideal society but unfortunately it just does not exist anywhere. Human beings being what they are, live through their lives with all the emotions of love and hate, likes and dislikes and all their biases and sense of fairness. Hence, if someone were to scratch a secular person, he/she would find underneath the thin veneer of secularism all the ills of prejudices and hatred for other compatriots.
Many of those who are taking part in the rallies and demonstrations against the CAA and/or NCR are therefore not secular in the true sense of the word as they are unwilling to appreciate the contrarian point of view. A secular individual would argue it out rather than be violent and use force to bring home his opinion.
The ongoing agitations against the Citizenship laws have mobilised massive crowds. Worse, various places of learning have seen violent students and others destroy public and private property. Unfortunately, many of the students have been mobilised by various political parties through their subaltern units in the universities or colleges or other places of learning that exist in the shape of students’ unions. Each union toes the political line of its master causing confrontation with the opposing union.
The places of learning have thus become kind of war zones as exemplified by what happened at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Students came for the “fight” wearing masks and wielding lathis. They too were certainly not secular. In fact they came for a “war” against those who happened to hold opposing views.
Students should not be out on the streets, they should be in the classrooms. They should be kept out of various societal controversies where political parties of various shades push their agenda. Politicisation of an issue only divides the nation – more so the student community. Such divisive actions need to be avoided.
Similar sentiments were given expression to by the cricketing icon, Sunil Gavaskar recently while delivering the Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial Lecture. Hinting that it was not for students to take sides in the current agitations against the controversial citizenship laws, Gavaskar said, “The country is in turmoil. Some of our youngsters are out on the streets when they should be in their classrooms. Some of them are ending up in hospitals for being out on the streets”.
He went on to say, “We as a nation can go higher only when we are all together, when each one of us has to be simply Indian, first and foremost. That is what the game (Cricket) taught us….We win when we pull together as one” Gavaskar’s advice to the students was that they should go back to the classrooms. That is their main duty. Pithily, he observed, “They have gone to the university to study, so please study”.
There can be various and even differing views on the matter but one has to consider the facts that the parents of the students have spent their hard earned money to send them to colleges and universities. Even the State expends large sums of money to provide for their education. They just cannot avoid their responsibility in this regard. No society would ever like them to abstain from the classroom and fight on the streets against the arms of the law or vice versa.
Most of us have gone through this stage of our lives and have now come to realise that all that orchestrated recalcitrance and anger against the established authority were futile and were of no use in building a good future for any of us. In no way such conduct could be considered as doing a good turn to the parents who, inflicting great pain on themselves, spend their last bit to have their wards properly educated.
It is politicisation of campuses that is at the bottom of this problem. Students’ unions have become nothing but political arms of various political parties holding varied ideological views, distracting students from their basic reason of being in educational campuses. I recall the pre-Independence days in Gwalior, where the college used to have a union of students. It used to be guided union with a faculty member guiding it. The union generally would deal with affairs relating to students’ welfare, their extra-curricular activities, sporting events and so on.
The union never indulged in politics and, since it was a princely State, organisations like Students’ Federation of India were kept out of the campus. Yet the College produced politicians like Atal Behari Vajpayee, who not only was a great debater and a fiery speaker he also collaborated with the member of the family of the same ruling feudal to form a political party and later rose to become the country’s prime minister.
Politicians are a bane for the campuses. They try and mould the young minds to suit their conveniences. They vitiate the environment causing antipathies, dividing the student community. Howsoever people might say that the campuses are breeding grounds for future politicians, none could objectively say so. The students are misguided and misdirected only to form the bulk for political parties, lending them weight insofar as numbers are concerned and, worse they are used only as their foot soldiers.
Arvind Subramanian, former Chief Economic Advisor and currently teaching at Harvard University writes from the US about the anguish caused to him as he saw the images of Indian educational institutions in turmoil streamed across the globe. Quoting a protagonist from a Mira Nair film he asks “Aren’t these our children who need to be protected from ourselves, from our instincts to hate and harm? These young, our college students, need to be nurtured, educated and equipped to build the wealth and the future that we want for our country”.
Surely, students are our human capital which needs to be nursed and cared for. Instead of dissipating their energies in futile fissiparous warfare they need to be encouraged to build an economically strong nation making the country proud.—INFA