The son is in junior college. When the city gets shut down because of rain, bandh calls, anything. I panic. I call. I ask him to stay put until the situation subsides. He has managed to get home through some situations but these have so far just been situations where the weather is inclement, when the trains have been delayed. There haven’t been goons ransacking his college with iron bars, hockey sticks and, to my sinking heart, reports of bottles of acid in their hands. I don't know how I would have dealt with that, how I would have been able to stay in my city with such news coming through the media if my son was on those campuses. I say a prayer for those children who are in that horrific situation, and for their parents, who wait for reassurances that their child is okay, unharmed, safe.
Will the decision to send one's child to campus be one that you weigh with one's child's physical safety and well being, rather than just their academic progress?
For parents who’ve sent their children for higher education at campuses away from home, the stress right now must be unbearable. You never know where and when the violence could flame up. The visuals coming in on the wires, on the news channels, on social media were terrifying. I kept thinking, what if my son was there. What if it was my own? How would we be, stuck in another city, helpless, while our child had to confront this terrifying level of violence in his campus despite the presence of the law enforcers right there? I wonder if parents will now think twice about sending their children to study in Indian campuses away from home, no matter how venerated these institutions are. Would they choose to keep their child closer home, no matter the lack of educational institutions and consequentially, opportunities and choose to have them ‘safe’ and close at hand? Will the decision to send one's child to campus be one that you weigh with one's child's physical safety and well being, rather than just their academic progress?
The educational institution campus is a hallowed space, it is where learning happens, where ideologies are born, where young minds are shaped to explore the world and its socio-political fabric through the texts they study, through the discussions they have, through the research they do. These universities have given us academics of international acclaim, economists highly regarded around the world, Nobel laureates, authors and more. That educational institutions are vandalised with such impunity and that students are the targets of violence is scary; it says more about the growing lack of regard for learning than anything else.
This is not the first time students on campus have been attacked. In the past couple of months, students have faced unprecedented violence across campuses. Jamia Millia, Aligarh, and now JNU. The students on these campuses come from different parts of our country. Their parents, in distant towns, villages, states, wait in fear as the sketchy news of what is unfolding on their campuses trickles out. Some of them leave campus because it is safer outside than within. They are the ones who are safe outside, they are the ones who are lucky. There are those who have lost vision, lost a hand, been critically injured. Those are someone’s children too. These are the physical injuries, some might get healed. Some of the more severe ones will be lifelong. Loss of vision. Loss of a limb. Who bears the culpability for this? Who does one go to for redressal? And there is the mental trauma, the PTSD the children will have to deal with lifelong, trauma that we don't even factor in. This is the trauma that will not be erased easily, this trauma will affect them for years. We don't think about the emotional trauma that they will bear, deal with, be affected by for the rest of their lives, we don't talk about it. Emotional trauma can be as crippling and devastating as physical injury, these children will have to live through it, over and over, through memories, conscious and repressed.
Loss of vision. Loss of a limb. Who bears the culpability for this? Who does one go to for redressal? And there is the mental trauma, the PTSD the children will have to deal with lifelong, trauma that we don't even factor in.
Around the world, students have been the first line of resistance, the first line of revolutions, the conscience keepers, the voice for change. Student activism movements have triggered changes in the socio-political fabric of countries, even the world. Students are to be feared, they rise. They speak the words we hesitate to. They call out what they see, they are fearless because they have nothing to fear yet. They are the keepers of our collective conscience. Student activism and student politics have always been the fulcrum of political and social identity amongst young people. University politics and student activism movements have been recorded as far back as universities have existed through history. The youth find their voices through student activism, they learn how to navigate and interact with the socio-political landscape they are part of, through peaceful protest and calls for solidarity the students, the young citizens of the country, call out for changes. Student protests gave rise to the end of Apartheid in South Africa, the US saw the anti-war protests during the Vietnam war in 1968, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China, the Hong Kong Umbrella protests in 2014, the anti-gun protests in the USA last year led by high school students, and more recently the #FridaysForFuture protest by Greta Thunberg that galvanised the world towards taking climate change seriously. Students have always been a force for change, they band together and call out what is unacceptable.
It is this that is scary. The fact that they have strong opinions and have not yet been browbeaten by life and living into not voicing them. The fact that they will stand up and speak out. The fact that they will not toe the line, and accept what is dished out without protest. They are under attack. But yet they stand up, across the country. Across universities, across campuses. Someone’s children. Our children. All our children.
How can our hearts not sink when children are the targets of violence. Not once, not twice, but over and over again. These could be our children, our nieces, our nephews, studying away from home, living in hostels, far from their parents and the protection that parents could offer them. Defenceless before those who come for them armed with iron rods, sticks, lathis and more. Masked intruders who climb over walls, breach gates and ransack libraries and girls hostels. When educational institutions are no longer sacred sanctums and the youth are targets of unbridled violence, it is time for us to introspect as a people. These are our children. We are all collectively responsible for them. Their safety is our onus. We should all be worried. If the children are not safe, it is we who have collectively failed them.
Kiran Manral is the Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author's own.