On the Role of Students and Student Protests

On the Role of Students and Student Protests
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Zeeshan Rasool Khan

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 an ample sense about the immense role that students played in shaping the destiny of various nations. Student activism has triggered a 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 struggle against British Colonialism. 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 the Dogra regime. However, with changing political conditions, student activism slowed down and most of the student organizations were banned in 90’s owing to the emergence of the armed struggle.
In 2016, the grim situation that prevailed in valley revivified student activism. Students abandoned schools and came out on streets to raise their 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 administration. Obsessed with the same old strategy of choking voices, the administration 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 the education sector badly.
The government, in some manner, managed to stifle the dissent that time, but the Kathua rape and murder case has brought students once again on roads. This has raised a bevy of questions: 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 burning issues of the day is necessary.
It may be pertinent to note that he current wave of protest has its basis in humanity. There is the demand for justice for the Kathua rape murder victim like innocent girls. It is to press the government to ensure the safety of women. It is meant to reject the rape-culture. It is meant to end vulnerability of girls. The objective of protest is to oppose pro-rapist gangs ; thus , it is humanly and constitutionally legitimate. However, it is unfortunate on the part of the administration 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 administration either does not learn or deliberately does not want to learn from the past. It knows that a 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 that 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 fury 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 administration 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 closure of coaching centers. 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 the administration to devise a pro-education and pro-student strategy that will have a favorable impact. Instead of muzzling voices e, encouraging and renewing student activism can be productive. Every educational institution should be a space where students can exchange their ideas fearlessly. The studens t must be allowed to debate and discuss issues including politics with freedom. They should be allowed to express differences 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 a leadership, well-organized and disciplined activities of students can be seen. Ultimately, this can have a profoundly worthwhile impact on society. However, if students do not have legitimate means to express themselves, it will always be counterproductive and will continue to manifest in other forms as is seen.

—The author writes on current socio-political issues and can be reached at: mohdzeeshan605@gmail.com