Mirror Magazine
4th March 2001

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A few rotten apples spoil the rest

It was not so long ago that I boasted to my friend from the university in the hill capital that ours had the most well-disciplined of students. She was at home then because their university had been closed down indefinitely due to clashes between the students. I was not just bragging, of course. I meant what I said and was truly and infinitely proud of it, too. Now I just don't have egg on my face, I have an omelette.

The worst was yet to come. I was on my way to the British Council the other day when a group of university students boarded the train. One of them made a brief speech. Their mission, they said, was to inform and educate the public about the government's proposed move to privatise university education. A "kate" was then passed around. Two or three contributed whilst most looked the other way.

No sooner had they left than this lady seated next to me burst into a verbal onslaught. She went on nonstop for a few minutes before I could figure out what she was talking about. The gist of what she said, toned down a good deal, was something like this: university students are a bunch of disgraceful, indisciplined, irresponsible, hopeless brats. It was a sweeping allegation. I was about to defend my breed when she became all fired up again.

"They are mere puppets of politicians. When the universities are open they lock horns with each other and when they're closed, they take to the streets shouting slogans and all. This is ridiculous. Universities in this country are more closed than open most of the time. When are they going to complete their studies? Will they ever come to their senses and stop wasting their time and their parents' money?" I was at a loss as to what to say.

She was not done. "Universities attract the cream of the country's youth. If they behave like animals, then God help this country. Have they become so degenerate that they cannot stand differences of opinion, that they should resort to violence at the drop of a hat? Have their values gone to the dogs?" I could hardly counter that.

She was positively fuming. There was quite an audience and almost everybody nodded in approval. I stood the danger of being thrown out of the speeding train if I ventured a single word in favour of our hapless selves. Is this what people think of us? I was shocked and grieved and justifiably angry myself. Because of a few miscreants the whole student population is being bad-mouthed. But anger begets anger. The wisest thing to do was to keep quiet.

I bow to my mother's opinion that at university or anywhere else for that matter, the less said about politics, the better. It stinks.

Freedom of thought and action is the lifeblood of a university. Everybody is entitled to their political views. Anybody has the freedom to engage in political activities if he or she so chooses to. All well and good. The trouble starts when party politics come on the scene and politicians play to popular prejudices to serve their ends. The much-revered freedom then becomes the freedom of the wild ass. As with power, 'freedom corrupts and absolute freedom corrupts absolutely'. To add to it, the blame culture has eaten into our society so much that nobody knows who is doing what.

Even more appalling is the lackadaisical attitude of some of my friends about what happened. "That is to be accepted. You can't change the world," they argued. How cozy! I was far from being convinced. Why should the majority pay for the folly of a few "rotten apples"? Why should they who have no interest in politics if their life depended on it be punished for no fault of theirs? We may not be able to change the world. But, surely, the worst thing we could do is to pretend not to see or hear what's happening around us.

Although this column is called "On the Campus," ironically, I'm writing this far away from the university I've come to love so much. It remains out-of-bounds for us students. For how long God only knows.

I miss running for lectures. I miss playing badminton. I miss idling at the canteen. I miss talking to my friends. I miss campus….

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