Students’ Engagement with Politics

The average Indian student’s encounters with the word ‘politics’ is often colored with negative experiences and connotations. When one talks of politics at the workplace or at the church, it is always used in a manner that signifies that something is wrong there – there is a moral implication in these ideas. Many use the word itself as referring to something which is the domain of a certain few who are power-hungry and seek to control. This is because their definition of what is political is extremely limited and their experience of the world has been limited to certain spaces that they inhabit. Many do not see their duty as a citizen of a democratic country to include anything but going to the voting booth whenever elections come along. Many also do not know whom to vote for or what they stand for, so they are easily persuaded by campaigners, many are promised material benefits, many others go with what their family or friends say, and still others for whoever appears to match their personal tastes. With India being the largest democracy in the world and yet finding itself the hub of many communal riots and systemic shutting down of voices, it is time we start asking what our role is in a political system.

The student is considered the future of the country. She is the one who is going to inhabit the world that is currently being built and who will go on to shape and change the world as she moves into the public arena. In this context, it is absolutely vital that she be able to understand what the system that governs her stands for and how it functions. A general understanding of political systems of governance, ‘political literacy’ itself is one of the most essential qualities that an individual should possess. This also makes the person aware of the challenges that are facing their society, the issues that other sections of the society are fighting against, and also nurtures a sense of responsibility. It will aid in creating a bent towards social action and for standing for what is right.

It is in recognition of the potential that resides in young minds and their part in creating the future that many fundamental aspects of the government are included in school curriculums for all students and not just those going onto study political science or sociology. This is also why the government’s move to remove many-core passages from CBSE textbooks which talk of these very things is looked upon with apprehension. This is also why political parties are allowed to exist on many college campuses, although this is becoming rarer now. It is in these formative years that a student’s capacity to think is shaped by what he reads and sees, and his perception of the world expanded. While many college politics stories turn violent, the solution is not to curb all activism but to instill principles that will guide students as they make decisions and decide what is worth standing for. The idea that machoism and calling for blood is the epitome of political interaction has to be dismantled and replaced by consistent engagement and listening. There should be dignity and freedom of making choices that are based on strong moral principles, and spaces of dialogue created. The youth will not disappoint if they are given the tools they need to navigate these discussions, and they are standing up for causes as is evident from the number of student-led protests that happened in our country in the past one year. Students are to be exposed to arenas of political interaction and allowed to participate so that they can develop their own ways of seeing and thinking, as well as ensure that the country is in safe hands.

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