Gurmehar, Ramjas episodes show BJP doesn't want youth to think

Because when our young think, they will debate the pros and cons of nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and democracy.

 |  4-minute read |   04-03-2017
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India’s demographic dividend will turn into a disaster if its school and college-going youth feel stifled and scared to speak.

Is the government at the Centre working to convert the demographic advantages into disadvantages?

The Gurmehar Kaur episode is a clear case of how the government is shooting at its own foot and thereby working to kill the country’s progress, development and creativity. 

The debate over Gurmehar’s Facebook post - “Pakistan didn’t kill my father. War did” - is somewhat akin to the JNU controversy, involving students’ union leaders Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid. It’s akin to the recent Ramjas College fracas. 

But it goes much beyond that.

Both JNU and Ramjas controversies have or can have two sides. One can debate whether the presence, participation or patronage of student leaders, PhD scholars, at an event where “anti-sovereignty” slogans were raised was desirable? Or whether it constitutes a penal offence under the country’s laws?

But to stretch the same logic to Gurmehar’s case is not just insane but corrosive to national interest. Forget debate, turning her post that primarily emphasised the need for peace as opposed to war - even in the contest of Pakistan - into a bitter national debate is against the very grain of a civilised society.

Ideology comes later. One has to observe the basic norms of behaviour first. Here a young 20-year-old is not being asked questions. She is being demonised.

One needs to ask BJP leaders, and the ministers who have jumped in the debate and who have fanned the controversy, a straight and simple question. What would be their response if a 20-year-old in their family was to argue in a school debate about what Gurmehar said? 

What as a chief guest at a school debate would be the response of MoS for home Kiren Rijiju to a young student’s argument that peace is desirable to war even with an “enemy” country, Pakistan in this case? Would he berate or demonise the student?

In an atmosphere such as this, no school or college in Delhi or elsewhere would risk putting up a motion for debate that reads: “This house believes that India and Pakistan should work for peace because war kills people.” Or even a motion that “nations don’t kill people, war does.”

rijiju-embed_030417075028.jpg What as a chief guest at a school debate would be the response of MoS for home Kiren Rijiju? (Photo: PTI) 

Because the team to argue the cause of peace with Pakistan would be fearful of being demonised by the BJP.

Our education system and the level of our school and college education is nothing much to speak about. India is home to one of the largest number of illiterates, almost 40 per cent, in the world.

Barely 5.4 per cent of those with education are graduates or above, fewer than one in ten people are graduates. Not more than 10 per cent of graduates are considered employable. About 7 per cent of engineering graduates are employment-worthy. So poor is the quality of our education.

India has one of the highest rates of dropouts from school and colleges. The rate of absenteeism among both students and teachers in school and college is among the highest in India.

For long our education system has been criticised for promoting learning by rote. Inculcating critical thinking from the school to the university is not the strength of our system.

In such a scenario stifling the voice of a 20-year old who dares to think amounts to killing the critical faculty and creativity of our young in the very infancy.

Gurmehar is at a stage when her thought process, her critical faculty is taking roots. Her ideas are not ossified; they are in the making.

And therein lies the problem. The people, the forces that have come out raging against her and her thinking don’t want our young to think.

Because when our young think, they will think of a variety of opinions and ideas. They will think of war and peace. They will debate the need for good neighbourly relations with Pakistan or otherwise. They will debate the pros and cons of nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and democracy.

It’s the tendency, the political ideology that wants to stifle the thinking of others that has led the ministers of the government to question Gurmehar.

It’s that very political thinking that has led Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make fun of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s Harvard credentials.

Will our children dare to think that the Prime Minister and his ministers are ridiculing and demonising a college student who dares to think, as well as India’s only Nobel Prize winner economist?  

Also read: Gurmehar Kaur isn't anti-national just because her views differ from yours


Ashok K Singh Ashok K Singh @kashoksingh

He is a journalist, writer and commentator.

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