When I was invited to Santiniketan, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. I know about Rabindranath Tagore and the history (and what I didn’t I googled) but I really haven’t come across someone from Santiniketan either through work or the media – ever. I wasn’t sure if this is a wholly Bong college now, or if people from across India went there. I didn’t even realize it was a government college. I had assumed the Tagore family might be running it.
Anyway, so I went to the university – “from nursery to PhD” I was told really proudly. Of course Tagore is an overwhelming influence and his houses, chai spots et al are part of the guided tour. You even get to see Indira Gandhi’s dorm. There are sculptures all over campus. Most of them are by some guy, Tagore’s friend – whose name I can’t remember. They are really good! Classes are still held under the trees in the open. I asked if there is a holiday on rainy days, but sadly I was shown some covered spots. The college classes are held in buildings.
It was a typical government college in many respects. A bit run down, you can see the lack of proper infrastructure, and you can sense the complete lack of technology. At the same time, you can imagine the sculptors and painters loving this place.
Anyway, to my real story. The next day I spoke at the 10th anniversary of their media department. I was telling the mass com students that outside of TV, print and radio, as journalists they can become part of the development sector. I told them about the community video movement that we are spearheading. Etc.
So, it went well. Then came their regular program. “Discussions” which were actually debates. Two professors were called to sit on the stage and grade each speaker on style and presentation. No kidding. I thought I was back in high school!
But what really disappointed me were the debates. I have always sensed this since the time that I studied political science at Welham Girls, but the subject of politics (and media) seems to have an inbuilt institutionalized negativity. While I realize that corruptions and nepotism are all to real problems, but we teach students to hate the system, to hate politicians, to hate the media and to hate Indian government.
Ok, so things I picked up in the debates.
1. Youth in politics: Everyone talked about Rahul, Varun Gandhi and Sachin Pilot. That only children enter politics and that other young people have no chance. This really pissed me off. While I’m no BJP/Left lover, but these parties have seen many bright individuals rise through the ranks, as have other parties. It’s the Congress along that has this mummy-daddy issue written all over it, but I still don’t think that is the approach to take. When you talk about youth in politics, ESPECIALLY for students, counting only those who stand for elections is such a disservice. What about strategists, speech writers, online departments? When Advani ran last time, his office was filled with volunteers who came to help by leveraging their professional experience. It was all over the media. But it seems no one in Santiniketan could be bothered to read the papers. For soon-to-be professionals this is crucial,
2. Apathy: Let me say this for the record. I really really REALLY don’t think “todays youth” disinterested in politics, I have seen a lot of evidence to the contrary. Only one debater said that not everyone needs to be interested in politics, so lets not generalize. I was so surprised that that all the speeches said “During 1947, the youth came out to support the country… but today..” Ok, I know this college has a great Tagore hangover, so I will allow it, but seriously this logic is deeply flawed. Times, what was at stake, and passions were completely different then. Liberalization has happened, so many more avenues are open, people are rightly trying to build personal careers and personal lives. Politics is a career option and to be honest, when people are affected by a crisis – Jessica Lal to 26/11 – they pour out onto the streets.
I don’t mean to single out Santiniketan, it was a wonderful experience and the students there were very bright and articulate. But it did worry me as to what we are teaching our kids. (And really most of these ‘kids’ were just a few years younger than me.)
That these political science and mass com students are proceeding with a sense of disempowerment and even worse, that the best is over is criminal. That everything about this life, this India, is terrible. That politics is for criminals and there is nothing we can do about it. Ok, that is a gross generalization. I did meet a young girl who stood for local elections to prove a point. She is a great example of how we need to stop bitching and start doing.
I tried to tell the Professors my points and that there is a lot of opportunity and that students should be idealists not bordering on depression, they agreed. But I didn’t get the sense anything was going to change.
I see honor killings on TV and I see scams everywhere. We need to inculcate a sense of confidence in our students and I really don’t think we are doing that.
This is worrying.