Children should not speak unless spoken to. The old adage has come back to haunt us again. Or perhaps it never went away at all—at least not in our cultural context. Hence the harsh silencing of young people during the quota reform and road safety movements. The message has been loud and clear: “Don't try to be too smart”, another relic we like to hold on to since the good old caning and standing-in-the-sun-until-passing-out days.
Now we have added another dimension to this "disciplining" of the young. Now the state uses its law enforcement and authorises bullies to teach these kids a lesson or two. Regular police have become emissaries of morals, being the "ethical" group that they are. Thus in Bogra recently, reports Prothom Alo, police have raided restaurants, fast food joints and other eateries where school and college students get together, sometimes bunking classes. Armed police have successfully rounded up around 40 such "errant" students whose main crime is that they did not go to class and instead decided to hang out with their friends, eat some junk food and chat. The students were later handed over to their parents and guardians but not before making sure their humiliation was complete; photographs of these young people were published in the papers the next day and circulated on social media. One can only shudder to think what mental trauma these young girls and boys have gone through. Is this how we are nurturing our youth? By criminalising adda? By exposing them negatively on social media?
We don't need sophisticated research or experts to tell us the importance of socialising with peers from a young age. Okay, bunking classes may not be the best thing especially considering the expense parents must bear to get their kids educated these days. But really, can any of us honestly claim that we never missed a class to go to the school/university cafeteria or some fast food restaurant, just for the pleasure of "hanging out" with the group or to share a shingara or chow mein with a cute classmate?
In any case, if school students miss classes, especially on a regular basis, it is the responsibility of the teachers, principal and parents to sort it out and find out why they have bunked class and make sure they don't continue to do so not through fear but persuasion and motivation. The idea that armed police would raid fast food joints, pick up kids and take them to the station is abhorrent and frightening.
Such actions are even more petrifying in the wake of all the young university students who have been arrested from various parts of the country, some of them interrogated, placed in remand and cases filed against them—for posting on social media, for taking part in non-violent protests, for being part of a movement that demanded safer roads. And now they have been picked up by police for acting their age.
If we are to insist on research to come up with what is pretty much common sense, it has been well established that socially active teenagers are physically healthier than those who are loners. They also grow up to be better adjusted as adults. Having friends also helps coping with stress, studies have found. Thus while it may not be the only factor that can prevent depression, suicide or violent behaviour, having a group of buddies to turn to is certainly part of the deterrent. Which may entail bunking a class or two. So is that a criminal offense that requires the intervention of law enforcement?
In fact, the debate could be on why do they bunk in the first place? Well, first-time bunkers do it for the thrill—of the possibility of getting caught. But it can also be because the class is too boring, the teacher uninspiring or because of bullying by classmates or even the meanness of the teacher. A classroom is where every student should want to go, where the thirst for knowledge is not just taken for granted but instigated through engaging lectures and interactions. Teachers who engage the students by asking them questions or encouraging participation are actually compelling the students to think for themselves. Critical thinking, creative thinking and analyses can only be ensured if a young mind is kept interested. That's the job of the teacher. And if the textbook is unimaginative and boring, again it's the teacher who must make it exciting. Whatever the reason for students to want to miss a class, the police have no business teaching morality to children, intimidating them with detention and then humiliating them through media exposure.
In fact, such draconian treatment of young people only helps to increase their mistrust of the security forces as agents of the state that are out to silence their voices and break their spirit. As far as these kids are concerned, they are just another brick in the wall.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is Senior Deputy Editor, Editorial and Opinion, The Daily Star.