Last week I was invited to the prestigious Khalsa College in Amritsar to talk about this column’s (Punjabi By Nature) journey as well as to discuss with students their aspirations, expectations and duties in the present political scenario of Punjab.
Before I opened the stage for interaction, I read out a letter that I had addressed to the youth via this column a few years ago.
Let me share some crucial points that emerged out of this interaction. They can also be taken as pointers by administrators in education as well as politicians, who I feel are underestimating the aspirations, power and zeal of the youth. And if they think that they have their hand on the pulse of the youth, they are either grossly mistaken or not doing the right thing.
The most significant aspect of the discussion was a collective desire of students to receive with world-class education. The visible fire in their bellies to match up to the best in the world did not come as a surprise to me but perhaps caught the staff unawares.
And trust me, this discovery is not specific to Khalsa College. I have felt this yearning in students all over Punjab.
Also, visible among students was the desire to work towards developing a scientific and academic temper as opposed to a religious or jingoistic one. Anger, frustration and disillusionment towards the politician and the system were evident on their faces. They rued that their future had been hijacked by a narrative that did not see them as more than just a vote.
Why has no political leader talked about promoting an atmosphere where Punjab can create a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs? Why is no one talking about making Punjab the home of inventions and innovations?
Unfortunately, growth, innovation and progress do not happen to countries and states that just keep harping on about history and religion. The two can form only a modest part of the narrative, but can’t become the narrative itself. Has anyone celebrated Science Day on the same scale as any historical or religious event? How about dedicating a Guru’s birthday to education? After all, it’s the most vital asset the youth can grow with.
Instead of wasting money on taking ‘budhiyaan’ (term used by Punjab politicians to address village women) for ‘tiraths’ (religious trips), shouldn’t the Punjab government take students to centres of excellence?
The fact of the matter is that Punjab is on a treadmill where you feel like you’re clicking miles but you’re hardly moving forward.
Today, no discussion is complete without getting into issues of reservation, intolerance, sedition, patriotism and nationalism versus anti-nationalism.
Students also asked me what the course of action should be if they wanted to show displeasure or dissent on issues that concerned them.
‘Has anyone written a letter to their local MLA, MP, administrator or their college authorities to flag issues that concern them, the nation or the state?’ I asked.
‘None of us,’ they said. But the seed had been sown as students pledged to effectively use the art of letter-writing and proper use of social media to voice their concerns. They also promised that they would do it in a manner that was decent and dignified for it to achieve the desired goal.
‘Sir, the other day Mrs Harsimrat Badal came to our college and was accompanied by Bibi Jagir Kaur. Bibi Jagir Kaur is convicted, and we didn’t like her presence. How can we show our dissent over this?’ asked a student.
The question left me with great hope, because not only did it reflect how closely the youth was observing politicians but how its conscience was still alive.
‘Did you write to Mrs Badal? Do write to her expressing your sentiments,’ I replied. ‘She is a reasonable lady and I’m sure she will ensure that this doesn’t happen again.’
‘We are ready to contribute our bit as citizens,’ said the students as the two-hour session drew to a close. With hope, I exited the campus that I can say is one of the most beautiful in the world.
(Email the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org)