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food for thought

A long-standing complaint of the people of Assam is that they have had to agitate for many things that are taken for granted in other States. Whether demanding a refinery, Assamese as State language, solution to illegal migration or perennial floods, land rights for the indigenous or a host of other issues, people in this State have had to hit the streets with students often in the forefront. Back in the Eighties during Assam Agitation and even earlier, there were doubters who asked what business students had in joining such causes. After all, they could hardly afford wasting priceless years in agitations, when they should be laying the foundations of their careers. But this same question can also be put to the powers-be who run the affairs of this State from Dispur or distant Delhi. Is it not an utter failure of statecraft and governance that students should be impelled to lead mass protests on matters of vital public interest? It is also true that several student leaders have built thriving political careers, while many others make comfortable livings as ‘professional agitators’. Nevertheless, students in Assam have lots of grievances that are genuine; they remain vulnerable to short-sighted, ham-handed and callous authorities who think nothing about playing ducks and drakes with their careers. In the past year, women students had to protest overt moves by Dispur to downgrade Assam Women’s University in Jorhat to a technical institute, engineering students vented their frustration at being forced to affiliate under a newborn university with little infrastructure, and presently students across the State are agitating against the proposed bill to amend citizenship law and regularize Hindu refugees as citizens at one stroke. However, the government machinery is now hitting back in underhand fashion. Recently, the headmasters of 3 schools in Golaghat district have received show-cause notices from the office of the Inspector of Schools as to why their students were allowed to participate in a protest organized by AASU. This is in line with earlier threats by Dispur of bringing in a legislation to outlaw students joining any agitation. Rather than taking recourse to such harshly authoritarian, if not fascist, moves to muzzle students, the powers-be need to introspect. They already have many ways and means at their disposal to prevent government servants, professionals, businessmen and working people from voicing protest even for legitimate causes. Students have historically been the only section of the populace against whom official repressive measures are seen in bad light. Intimidating the citizens of tomorrow when they happen to be young, idealistic and capable of seeing through all dishonesty — can backfire to darken a regime’s image. Lest it be forgotten, the power to vote is available when one turns 18, an age when almost all youths are students.