Romanticism of Student Activism!

As the rage over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register for Citizens (NRC) spread across many parts of the country in the last week, few things became apparent. In India, we do not know to protest peacefully. Any protest quickly goes out of control and ends up inflicting colossal damage to public property. Second, parties try their best to tap into the raw energy of the students to further their own cause. In India, many of our campuses are already highly politicised. Campuses are clearly identified with one political front or the other.  And political parties use these as fertile grounds to advance their agenda.

The enduring images of these protests this week, apart from the burning buses are the ones where we saw students participating in big numbers in these protests in big cities. Commentators of the liberal variety have been gleefully talking of the heralding of “New India” when they saw students in the forefront of an agitation in many parts of the country, otherwise normally restricted to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).  To me, this is not a very reassuring sign. As a nation still trying to battle huge problems of poverty, I firmly believe that the youth have got better things to do apart from taking part in political street battles.

A rebellious streak usually runs among all, in the college student age. And along with that naiveté too! And we all have been through this. An opportunity to bunk arduous classes, meet like-minded groups & carry out endless animated discussions, create posters, carry placards, burn candle lights, shout anti-establishment slogans and participate in symbolic processions has a ring of romanticism around it. And going further, taking selfies & groupies, posting on Instagram & other social media accounts and watching the mounting of likes, comments & Emoji’s, leave in oneself a sense of some great achievement. And in these times of societal approval by social media among youngistan, the temptation is high not to miss such occasions, whether you understand the cause and effect properly or not. Whether you believe in the cause or not.

A short clip of a young girl (probably a NRI) is going viral on social media where she talks of being there in Azad Maidan in Mumbai to protest against the CAB which she felt was discriminatory using her liberty, freedom etc….and when she is asked to explain how the Act is discriminatory, she just smiles off and excuses herself. At least that’s what the clip reveals. I feel sorry for the girl for being trolled like this for her ignorance. I don’t think she should be singled out like this. There would be many others who in spite of living in India having limited knowledge on the Cause and Effect of CAA. Therefore, just picking on her is a bit unfair.

In India, particularly if you are from the middle class which is a big pie in itself, your only calling card for a better future is education. One’s stepping stone for jobs is the degree what you have. There could be exceptions of few individuals who made it big “without taking shelter in schools/colleges even during rains” to use a popular Tamil cliché. But that’s not the rule. I can bet that most of the students  have a better lifestyle than their parents only because their parents studied well, helped themselves with good careers and reached a stage where they could afford a better life for their wards.

As a college student, if you are not well off, if you are not dependent upon your educational credentials to find a career and if you are not wanting to become a career politician, it doesn’t really make sense to ignore your studies and waste time indulging in campus politics and activism. One would site examples of a Sitaram Yechuri or a Brinda Karat or a Arun Jaitley as role models who made it big in politics after being student activists. But for every successful Arun Jaitley there are at least ten other nameless individuals who fell by the way side without completing their studies in time.

There are other issues as well. It just takes one provocation for what seemingly starts as a peaceful protest to turn violent. Even if you are a peace loving dove with no intentions of fermenting trouble, you could get in the thick of action involuntarily, beaten up black and blue and even locked up. One police entry on the wrong side is enough to deny you a passport. In these days of prying camera phones, you may just get captured randomly by random people who share these pictures in social media. And who knows? You could be the next viral sensation but for all wrong reasons!

And this is exactly what happened to two young girls from Kerala – Ladeeda Sakhaloon and Aysha Reena who are studying in Delhi and participated in the anti-CAA protests. When the pictures of them protecting their male friends from the menacing lathis and standing up to the might of the police went viral, they were hailed as “Sheroes” by the ever over- enthusiastic media, only to climb down in a few days when their now deleted social media profiles revealed their radical faces! I am quite certain that in a country like India, this episode would shadow them where ever they go.

At the risk of sounding extremely conservative, the point I am trying to drive at is – if you are a college student from poor or middle class, just focus on activities that will enhance your employability. That would mean studies and probably other creative pursuits. I know of bright students who got distracted by campus politics and ruined their lives. And for once no one should think that I am saying all this keeping the current CAA/NRC student protests in mind. I held the same view during the Chennai Jalli kattu protests as well.

Its’ good to be politically aware and have an opinion as a student. But taking it to street every time for a political cause sounds romantic. And that’s about it.  Unless you are a wannabe Kanhaiya Kumar who wants to be a career politician. Which makes sense.

18 thoughts on “Romanticism of Student Activism!

  1. Mukund S says:

    Well articulated piece Anand. Student activism for some real issues impacting them may be understandable. But for something like CAA, any student activism doesn’t bring in the intended credibility

    Liked by 1 person

  2. RaSA
    I just recall my participation in the protests for Ceylon Tamils during 1985-86 without knowing the problem itself. Had been a part of two processions from SIT, Ariyamangalam to the Collector’s office shouting some popular slogans of that time. But as you rightly said it was just to be freed from classes, which everyone of us wanted then. Applies equally now too.

    The year 1987 saw the first and last strike in that annals of Seshasayee Institute of Technology for genuine(!) demands like no quality drinking water is not available, quality of canteen tea not up to the mark, mess food not tasty and the like.

    This was organised and executed by me as my classmates wanted it to happen but didn’t have the guts to face our Principal at that time. I had the full support of my lecturers too because nobody liked our Principal and they didn’t have the boldness to face him. But it was a decent strike with strict discipline and with no disturbance to anybody. My Principal strategically met my people at home and made me stay put at home the next day and the strike was simply brought to an end.
    Later when the Principal answered logically to the demands placed, I was ashamed.

    It was all about the romanticism or (pseudo)heroism that made me fall into the strike, which I realised later.

    Now again I re-realise after your blog RaSA..
    🙏🙏

    Like

  3. RaSA
    A good piece of advise to students of today.

    I just recall my participation in the protests for Ceylon Tamils during 1985-86 without knowing the problem itself. Had been a part of two processions from SIT, Ariyamangalam to the Collector’s office shouting some popular slogans of that time. But as you rightly said it was just to be freed from classes, which everyone of us wanted then. Applies equally now too.

    The year 1987 saw the first and last strike in that annals of Seshasayee Institute of Technology for genuine(!) demands like no quality drinking water is not available, quality of canteen tea not up to the mark, mess food not tasty and the like.

    This was organised and executed by me as my classmates wanted it to happen but didn’t have the guts to face our Principal at that time. I had the full support of my lecturers too because nobody liked our Principal and they didn’t have the boldness to face him. But it was a decent strike with strict discipline and with no disturbance to anybody. My Principal strategically met my people at home and made me stay put at home the next day and the strike was simply brought to an end.
    Later when the Principal answered logically to the demands placed, I was ashamed.

    It was all about the romanticism or (pseudo)heroism that made me fall into the strike, which I realised later.

    Now again I re-realise after your blog RaSA..
    🙏🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  4. M S PRAKASH says:

    Very good one RSA 👏👏👏..

    Students movement have been very effective since long time. It proved in the recent Jallikaatu agitation as well… In this case what bothering is students indulge into agitation without knowing pros/cons of the act.. With this information age, these students must be fully aware of what is what n what to protest etc., It is sad that they are playing in the hands of political parties.. Certainly parents role to be questioned here in not guiding their children properly esp. during situations like this..

    Good points in your blog, hope many students get to read this in this SM age.. I will do my part by sharing the blog

    Liked by 1 person

  5. prasadvirgo says:

    Very well articulated.. I absolutely agree… Even if they want to protest they should not go by the mob mentality. Rather students should try and atleast get some basic knowledge of the CAA and decide for themselves whether it is the right thing to protest.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Balaganesan.k says:

    Well written.. Most of the students don’t even know why & what for they are agitating.. Absolute lack of application of “Sense of Rrasoning”.. And am sure large chunk of this Student Community should be from LIG or MIG groups and they very well know what their patent’s dream about them and between what struggles, they are funded for their studies.

    In spite of this, getting indulged in ” mindless” protests and violence.. Which is only detrimental to their careers and makes life difficult in next stages of life.

    Every student should read the last para which is a stark reality / options presented today before students..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sridhar says:

    Good one RSA. As a parent, discussing topics like this is common in many middle class households. If a parent is not able to influence by a debate, it reflects poorly on the part of the parent’s clarity of thoughts – this could be the issue with so many protesting students.

    We need to continue to engage with the next generation – not as pompous advisors but as inquisitive friends who can put some sense in their little heads. There’s an increased need of educating the parents now.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s