In Srikakulum district of Andhra Pradesh, a group of students sodomized their junior and forced another one to film their act. In Ujjain, menacing behaviour of some students killed a Professor. Elsewhere, humiliated by ragging, a student of a professional college committed suicide. Newspapers published photographs of students stripped naked by their seniors in a medical college hostel. At the beginning of every academic year such incidents have become common. They make sensational stories for the newspapers and the television channels.
For every reported brutal event, there are probably dozens of small, less dramatic yet equally humiliating incidents which go unreported. Many happen quietly in the classrooms, common rooms, college hostels, bus stops and in freshers? parties. We do not take note of them. We have, indeed, come to accept them as part of the harmless mischief of campus life.
Events that are ghastly and gruesome get recorded and brought to the society'sattention. They outrage us. But only for a moment. Unfortunately, they do not cause large-scale consternation in the society. The academic community does not let such concerns trouble its conscience anymore. The incidents are now merely matters for the governments to pass laws, the police to book cases and conduct investigations.
Who are these children who indulge in such behaviour? Who is accountable for such grisly episodes?
By any reckoning, children who enter the professional colleges are a highly privileged section of our society. For every one of them there are at least thirty who drop out before they reach class VI. Another thirty opt out of the system much before they sit for their board exams. They drop out mainly because their families cannot afford to send them to schools and colleges. Those who enter the institutes of higher learning must have, indeed, worked hard to get there. More importantly, however, their family circumstances permitted them to pursue their studies.
A reasonably good home and at least twelve years of training in our formal education system are what they have behind them when they enter the portals of a college. But they bring barbaric behaviour and quiet brutality to the campuses. Some of those who indulge in this kind of conduct would have been victims of horrendous conduct of their seniors. Obviously, the victims themselves turn into villains in just a year or two.
Perhaps their families overlooked some very critical cultural element in their upbringing. Any undying marks of a brute in their personalities must have escaped the attention of their teachers too. The teacher and the parents stood far removed from them. It is definitely somebody'sfailure that made a youngster to seek pleasure in the humiliation of a fellow student. Will one of them or both own up the responsibility?
The victims also have a narrative about the society. They are unable to stand up to the assaults of the bullies on the campus. The youngsters are not psychologically equipped to deal with humiliation. Some of them quietly absorb the insults. Some pack their bags, and leave for home. But both nurse those wounds throughout their lives. A few take the extreme step of killing themselves. Obviously, neither the family nor the educational system has prepared them to deal with such situations in life.
There is another section on the campuses. While its very presence is disappointing, its size is really worrisome. That is the passive onlooker. Youngsters in this category are neither perpetrators of the brutal acts, nor are they victims. They perhaps resent the assaults on the dignity of their fellow students. But they are indifferent. They do not act to stop them. They fight shy to intervene. On the one hand, they do not express their disapproval of the acts of the bullies. And on the other, they do not provide succour to the victims. Their inaction emboldens the bully. Their indifference increases the pain of the victim.
The aggressive bully, the helpless victim, and the indifferent onlooker together are the cream of our younger generation. They are going to lead the country'sforward march for the next four decades. These youngsters announce their deformities and their scars. They announce them quietly almost daily. And sometimes the announcement is loud and dramatic. We can choose to take note, face it squarely, and think of correctives. That is a complex task; but a necessary one. Or we can continue to pretend that there is no malaise on our campuses.
(The writer is Director, Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS). He can be accessed at: http://parakala.rediffiland.com)