Time was when universities were nothing more than centers of learning. Student unions were always in existence, but their activities were mainly confined to ensuring the welfare of the student fraternity. Some of these unions were backed by political parties, but politicians were always kept at arm’s length.
The situation in universities today is vastly different. In some universities, campus politics has reached alarming proportions with unions taking their battles to the streets and often indulging in violence. Political ideologies have grown firm roots and unions have been endeavouring to ingrain certain strains of thought in the minds of the students, so much so that rebellions against authority and animus towards each other have become the order of the day. Political parties, meanwhile, are busy fishing in troubled waters, with leaders entering campuses, participating in organisational activities and throwing their weight behind student bodies that are affiliated to them.
Even prestigious institutions like the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) through whose hallowed portals some of India’s greatest leaders, intellectuals and scholars have passed, have turned into hotbeds of political activity with students openly clashing with each other and creating an atmosphere where mob frenzy has taken the place of peaceful discourse. Both right-wing and left-wing activism have entered the picture and students are in a dilemma about which side to lean. A truly alarming trend in recent times has been the germination of movements that have been indulging in raising ‘pro-azaadi’ slogans, making attempts to denigrate the country, the national flag and the anthem, critiquing the government in a harsh manner, praising forces that are inimical to the nation and so on and so forth. Only a microscopic minority might subscribe to these theories, but there can be no two opinions on the need to weed out these tendencies which only tend to corrupt young minds and lead them astray.
Today’s generation has a tendency to question the status quo and this is a welcome sign, as meek acceptance of everything that is dished out to them is only akin to meek surrender. Students showing spine is a healthy sign of the prevalence of democracy and freedom of expression in a nation like ours, and a perfect example of this was evident in the ‘Jallikattu’ agitation unleashed by students of colleges in Chennai recently; a spontaneous movement to ensure the revival of Jallikattu, a traditional sport in Tamil Nadu which had been banned by the Supreme Court on a petition by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. (PETA), just sprung up out of the blue. The world’s second largest coastline, the Marina beach in Chennai turned into an ocean of faces as young students, both boys and girls waged a relentless, silent and non-violent battle against the ban that finally led to the state government issuing an ordinance to restore the sport. The real highlight of the agitation was that the students, though part of a leaderless protest, kept the politicians at bay in a clear sign that they had little faith in these people’s representatives.
Students today form a large vote bank for all political parties as consequent to the reduction of voting age from 21 to 18, almost all college students have voting rights, and what better way for parties to woo them than by carrying out their propaganda through the unions in colleges and universities.
Students should not allow their campuses to be defiled by permitting entry of anti-social and anti-national forces and should steer clear of anything that would make them deviate from their mission in life. They should not for even an instant forget that their principal aim in enrolling themselves in universities is to excel in their academic and extra-curricular pursuits.