Students have an important role in every society and state. Not only in social and educational affairs but also in the political arena, students have always played a part of paramount significance. A look at the revolutionary movements of the world gives us ample sense about the immense role that students played in shaping the destiny of various nations. Student activism has triggered university revolution in Argentina. May Forth revolution that led to a democratic revolution in China is considered as an important act of student activism in China’s history. And, besides many other movements, Indian freedom movement has the contribution of students at its back. The students came out with slogan “Charaka-Swaraj First, Education After,’’ during the freedom struggle. In Jammu and Kashmir also, credit goes to students who initiated activism under the banner of Reading Room Party that resulted in a full-fledged movement against Dogra regime. However, with changing political situation, the student activism slowed down and most of the student organizations were banned in 90’s owing to the emergence of armed struggle.
In 2016, the grim situation that prevailed in valley revivified student activism. The students abandoned schools and came out on streets to raise voice against atrocities and incessant killings. The students, hardly seen to be part of any protest before, were seen to vent-out anger against the government. Obsessed with the same old strategy of choking voice, the government resorted to suppression that escalated the protests. With the result, the wave of protests spread across the valley thenceforth there was no college in Kashmir, not rocked by protests, hitting education sector badly.
The government in some manner managed to stifle the dissent that time, but Kathua-rape and murder case have brought students once again on roads. There is an argument that, should students participate in protests, should students get involved in political activities? The opinions are mixed.
However, taking the significance of students into view, no one can oppose their participation for a legitimate cause. In fact, in every democratic set-up, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Like others, students have right to dissent without fear of victimization. They, being an essential part of our society have the role in each realm of affairs. They are our future thus their exposure to societal and national issues is necessary.
Agreed for a while, last year pro-freedom protests were ‘anti-national’ and government thus had to quell them. But the current wave of protest has its basis in humanity. There is the demand for justice for Kathua girl like innocent girls. It is to press the government to ensure the safety of women. It is meant to reject the Rape-culture, slowly growing in the country. It is meant to end vulnerability of girls to the felony. The objective of protest is to oppose pro-rapist gangs, thus is humanly and constitutionally legitimate. However, it is unfortunate on the part of the government and its forces that they do not allow the students to express dissent. They treat every democratic dissent as an anti-national activity. Rather than providing students a space to register protest peacefully, the trigger-happy forces view them as a mob.
The government either does not learn or deliberately does not want to learn from past. The government knows, muscular and militarily approach is useless, suppressive measures are unavailing. Gagging the voice is not the solution rather it’ is detrimental to credentials of democracy. Aware of the fact that it is Kashmir, where if a person is killed, another exposes bare chest to taste death instead of bowing before the brute and where the gun barrel acts as a trigger for an eruption, the government through its forces does not desist from unleashing repression even while dealing with students.
It is also understood, here peaceful protest can turn violent unexpectedly, however, in absence of forces, protests mostly culminate peacefully is also a well-known fact. The interference of forces has always been provocative, often giving a violent spin to peaceful demonstrations. And obstruction of peaceful means leads to ferocity at the end.
Consequentially, protests do not abate; on the contrary intensify with every passing day, leaving colleges and schools deserted. In other words, the subduing only adds fuel to the fire. The college principals, have expressed same views. However, the government seems to be in ‘no’ mood to budge an inch; instead of taking their viewpoint seriously, it warns of closing down colleges and now has ordered for closure of coaching centres. Where would it lead us? Would this strategy set the things right? Will it have any positive influence? No, not at all. It can never be a substantial method. Through this strategy, there would be a break in protests for some time, but how long this plan works. Later any other event will ‘spark’ protests again which might be more violent. Else, if students are allowed to mark protest peacefully, possibilities of intensification diminish altogether. Moreover, neither government will have to close schools, nor classes would present abandoned appearance.
It is better for administration to devise pro-education and pro-student strategy that will cast favourable impact. Instead of muzzling voice, encouraging and renewing student activism can be productive. Every educational institution should have a space where students can exchange their ideas fearlessly. The student must be allowed to debate and discuss issues including politics with freedom. They should be allowed to express a difference of opinion.
Importantly, their voices must be valued. If student activism would be promoted again and students are allowed to carry out activities; they would no longer be leaderless. Under the leadership, well-organized and disciplined activities of students can be seen. In addition, the chances of indiscipline and mischievousness will reduce to negligible levels. Ultimately, this can have a profoundly worthwhile impact on society. However, if students do not have legitimate means it will always be counterproductive – it will continue to manifest in other forms as is seen.
(The author writes on n current socio-political issues and can be mailed at: [email protected])