“Teach him to scoff at cynics And to beware of too much sweetness… Teach him to sell his brawn And brain to highest bidders, But never to put a price tag On his heart and soul.”
Extract from Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s teacher
The blatant show of on-campus indecency in Rabindra Bharati University recently exposed the darker side of the youth in disarray today. The issue demands a clear and firm rethinking on campus discipline across the country. Discipline is a question of rules and ethics in institutions that must work out their internal mechanisms for maintaining it. But the youth who study in these institutions are also adults, and so the breach of internal discipline becomes a law and order issue that is part of an adult world. Institutions of higher education are dealing with a generation of students that seriously challenges the extent to which the maintenance of discipline is allowed to remain an internal matter.
This is made worse by party-political structures within which the educational institutions operate, and which infuse a sense of empowerment and entitlement in the students that makes them sometimes forget the book of rules with impunity. It is not the single case in point; many of our institutions of higher learning are increasingly becoming arenas of such ugly incidents.
The phenomenon is certainly an extension of what is happening in our society at large. In essence, the evils on campuses are both external and internal. The ethos of the outside world strongly impinges on the environment inside. At times it is disgusting to watch scenes near the girls’ hostels. Unseemly incidents usually involve outsiders and are between students and teachers or between outsiders and students. In some cases, even the higher authorities are seen involved.
On many campuses there seems to be no authority at all to impose discipline. Students with political affiliations rule the roost – it is they not teachers who help in total administration. It is generally seen that teachers do not assert themselves in creating a congenial academic atmosphere. Thus the youth, left to themselves, sometimes tend to drift. It is sometimes wrong to blame or deploy the police for security purposes and discipline.
It is not practically feasible to literally seal campus boundaries to prevent outsiders. It is also difficult to make the distinction in university institutions. Finally, everything is blamed on the vicechancellors. The youth are very vulnerable. They seek novelty. In the search of true heroes, they sometimes idolize stars; in the search of noble paths, they sometimes idealise incorrect paths. Having just grown out of childhood and parental dependence, they become momentarily romantic.
At the same time, they are faced with numerous social challenges. They find competition everywhere in the process of adjusting to a society marked by hatred, anxiety and tension. Sometimes there is bewilderment and stress at being rejected. They are as such attracted to fashion, gadgets, acrobatics, drugs, et al – all seeking group acceptance. So, they try their best to display heroism in different ways.
This sometimes leads to neurosis, guilt and misery. Yet the youth never feel that they are being grounded. Swami Vivekananda once remarked: “Every child is a normal optimist; he dreams golden dreams. In youth he becomes still more optimistic. It is hard for a young man to believe that there is such a thing as death, such a thing as defeat or degradation”. So, the youth become daring in outlook.
Thanks to media exposure many imagine that to dress, behave and live like Westerners means liberty and modernity. Thus, to many, drinking, consumption of drugs, misbehaviour and leading an unethical life become culture. In fact, it is time to realize that in educating our children, we have failed miserably. Switch on the television set and there is the young hero fighting off the baddies, winning the battle and going away with a pretty woman. That’s the lesson today, in a nutshell.
Our youth cannot stomach refusal and retaliate with vengeance. We have failed to teach them that winning is not always important, and that there is no substitute for ethical living. We have taught them how to walk, speak, read and write but, unfortunately, we have not been able to teach them how to listen. It is frightening how society propels a child to pursue success and happiness. We live in a society which promotes competition, but we have forgotten that if we believe in taking an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, we will end up with blind and toothless people.
Immoral behaviour on the part of youth shows our inefficiency and signals the imminent catastrophe we are headed for. Liberal values need a liberal society, a point most cogently argued by J S Mill in the context of mid-19th century England, which he considered a nation of dull conformists as a result of the pressure of public opinion.
Writing in his famous treatise On Liberty (1859), the most powerful defence of individuality and freedom advanced till date, he underlined the need for “protection against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, if possible, prevent the formation of, any individuality not in harmony with its ways and compels all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own”.
The youth of today are spirited and daring, but they need to be directed judiciously. However, it is not easy to prescribe a saner path. It is the lack of direction that makes them reckless. They need a selfless and spiritual leader, a Vivekananda who understood both youth and young nations perfectly. The regular presence of teachers on campus for longer periods will certainly make a difference. It is felt that campuses are often rocked owing to the authorities within – executive and academic – who are not able to handle the student community aptly.
Also, often students’ problems are not treated with adequate care or consideration. However, two things are obvious: security, discipline and academic activities inside the campus are basically the concerns of teachers and educational administrators. For this, people of character and integrity, vision and honesty need to be appointed to manage campuses and strengthen the teaching-learning process.
Vivekananda beckons the world’s youth: “Arise, awake! Awake from this hypnotism of weakness… Teach yourself, teach everyone his real nature, call upon the sleeping soul and see how it awakes. Power will come, glory will come, goodness will come, purity will come, and everything that is excellent will come when this sleeping soul is roused to self-conscious activity.”
(The writer is former Associate Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata and is presently associated with Rabindra Bharati University)