Youth, across continents and throughout history, more than any other segment of the population, believe that change and in particular systemic change is not only desirable but possible. They have the idealism, the energy and the belief in quantities that others just cannot muster.
This is why it is often said that youth are the agents of change. Youth make up the numbers in any revolutionary movement that dedicates itself to overthrowing dictatorships or hierarchical systems that invariably toss out as collateral poverty, frustration and even social and political chaos. This is why it is now usual for politicians of all ideologies to dedicate a paragraph or even a section of their manifestos about ‘resolving youth problems’. They talk of allowing youth to be in the forefront of development drives and expanding opportunities for both employment and political leadership. And in that spirit, let us speak of the student movement.
It is not that the students, particularly university students, have been nothing more than a rent-an-agitation bunch of mindless people, pampered by the general public and utterly ignorant of the facts and therefore absolutely irresponsible. They have had genuine grievances. They have on occasion taken on national issues that are not necessarily ‘student’ in character. They have time and again been the default voice aginst tyranny simply because other groups such as opposition political parties, professional associations and trade unions have been silent or silenced.
And yet, students have seldom won the support of the general public for what are arguably just causes. One of the reasons (and there are many) is the perception that students are hypocrites and nothing confers that hypocritical tag on students more than the stance that students leaders over the years have taken on campus ragging. When those who talk of liberty, equality and fraternity, ranting and raving about all manner of violence and injustice, professing to heal the world of all its ills, wipe out outdated, unfair and oppressive systems of distinction, and celebrate humanity now and forever, suddenly trot out excuses such as ‘sub-culture’ and demand a touch-me-not policy when university students (who are citizens, let us not forget) transgress the law, it is silly.
They may think that the general public will buy their half-baked sociology, but that’s a dream. The general public might not contest their idiocy on this issue, but when things get tough, when they really need the people on their side, they are sure to be alone. The people make up the water and if student revolutionaries are fish, they perish.
The horror story of some university students renting a house so they can strip, humiliate and hurt freshers is a blight not only on raggers but on the student leadership. It bleeds into and discolours even their just struggles.
The shameful incident, however, has provided a moment, an opportunity for the student leadership to do something radical which will help them for a long time to come. The student leadership can show courage, humility, vision and enhance their standing in society (or salvage it, if you want to put it that way) by tossing out the garbage and arguments about ‘sub-culture’ and ‘innocent, playful rites of passage’. They can say, just as theft is theft regardless of the magnitude (e.g. the fact that the bond scam does not decriminalize pickpocketing), violence is violence, oppression is oppression, humiliation is humiliation and from them express a more informed and humane understanding of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Boys and girls, it will not be a loss of face. Humility is rewarded. Don’t be like the politicians you rebel against -- be humble and trust the general citizenry.
This is the time. Just say that you will give leadership to ridding the universities of ragging in all its forms and manifestations. Your revolution will immediately divest itself of a lot of baggage it can do without.