08 June 2012

The world-changer cannot foot-shoot

Mahanuwara is a historic city and not because it was the last seat of power prior to the British take-over of the island.  History is written in books and it is written on landscapes, contained in culture and artifact, inscribed in architecture.  The more ‘recent’ elements of this history would include the University of Peradeniya and the Botanical Gardens. 

Less ‘marked’ and talked of is the Peradeniya Rest House, which hugs a bend in the Peradeniya-Mahanuwara Road, just as you pass the Gardens and before you reach Getambe.  There was ‘talk’ of this (let’s say) minor historical address today, though, and ironically but not surprisingly that ‘talk’ was linked to talk of the bigger, louder, august (in appearance) and place of sporadic outburst, the university.
It is reported that some undergraduates had gone to the Rest House for a drink.  Nothing illegal about that.  It is reported that they wanted some food and wanted it free of charge.  It is reported that they were agitated when refused and had left in a huff, only to return with an army of undergraduates who had stormed the place, assaulted the staff and caused damage to the tune of 10 million rupees.

Now that’s one side of the story.  The undergrads probably have a different version of what happened that night.  On the other hand, there’s one indisputable fact: the undergraduates took the law into their hands and acted like hooligans; whether they felt wronged or whether they were indeed wronged in any manner is beside the point. 
This is not ‘politics’, as in the work of the Peradeniya Student Council or the Inter University Student Federation.  The act however mimics the operational signature of student politics, both in Peradeniya and in the overall university system.   And it is this that pulls the rug from under student activism when it comes to winning over public opinion about student grievances.  Thugs, however righteous their cause may be, are not cheered by the public and whatever support they get is given grudgingly at best. 

If students mimic the modus operandi of politicians, i.e. socking the detractor in the jaw at the slightest provocation, then they are not being ‘different’, they are not offering an alternative, they are essentially saying ‘this is what works’. 
What happens then?  Well, for starters, they lose the moral high ground.  Secondly, they are in fact endorsing the present political culture with its fascination for strong armed tactics.  And if students don’t have the intellect to sort out a simple matter such as a dispute in a restaurant without resorting to brute force, then they are screaming only one thing: ‘We are totally incapable to being tomorrow’s leaders’. 

For decades, undergraduates have operated on the mistaken belief that they are above the law.  Now it is true that many politicians, especially those in power, operate the same way.  On the other hand, undergraduates constitute a tribe that over-punctuates sentences with the word ‘justice’. 

When they enter university, they are benefitting from the largesse of ordinary people, expressed through the mechanisms and institutional arrangement of the state.  The ordinary people would not say ‘you must keep your mouths shut!’ They would not begrudge the undergraduate to articulate opinion on systemic anomalies or protest institutionalized injustices.  But it is hard to imagine ordinary people cheering when students, empowered by the strength of numbers, vandalize public or private property and think fit to assault a waiter so bad that he requires hospitalization.  There’s nothing saadhaarana (just) in that sahodaravaruni! 

The university authorities, meanwhile, are reported to have stated that what happens in areas outside their jurisdiction is not their business.  True.  On the other hand, molding undergraduates with excess testosterone into sober, reasonable, useful and just citizens is not something that begins when the said students walk into the lecture theatre and ends when they walk out. 
Regardless of what the university authorities decide, it is clear that the law has been violated by these undergraduates.  While the principle of equality can be cited (‘If you won’t arrest Mervin, then you cannot arrest me!’) undergraduates have only themselves to blame if they play into the hands of a skewed system of law enforcement. 

Those who want to change the world cannot, in word and act, mimic the world they want to change and hope to build ideology out of idea, movement out of discontent, or turn agitated individuals into determined collectives. 
Every slip counts. Negatively.  And those they want to defeat will take note.  And cite.  Does not help.  

 [Also published in 'Editor's Blog' in The Nation website, www.nation.lk]



SANDIKA said...

you have reminded everyone the necessary and important things that everyone should remember and the things that you discuss here are relevant to present , future of our country.

i do not know why some behave such a way is that because of their inexperience, lack of understanding,common sense, or is it because of the influence of something, system etc. using such a place for a discussion (let us assume) what are they going to prove? their class? or their thinking? what? what had their minds before visiting the place?
entertain friends?
pre - planned or well planned one can not take the law in to any ones hand.

people might not say anything every time they see things or observe but they get a chance to show how they weigh the things at a very particular time of a country. the decisions that the people of this country took from time to time gave them the results expected most of the time when ever they are not getting the expected outcome from the expected then they do not hesitate to react to such situations. NO! i do not think that the people are cheering they are laughing at them 'thinking how they fight with each other sometimes, how they try to find peace in a group that consists their own people, friends etc, they are watching ( the people) ......... things and then back home they discuss things how good it is if all of us get the chances to hear what people and the people involved discuss back home or behind curtains.