Friday, February 20, 2009

cowards and fools - student politics in Bengal and Bangladesh (1908 - 2008)

Student politics is when the cowardly hide behind the ignorant.

"Mr. Sarkozy is even more worried about high school unions. They are more unpredictable, and more easily influenced by hard-left or anarchist groups, or by teachers, who lose pay for days on strike and so prefer the students to come out instead." (The Economist, January 24th 2009, p 46).

In Bangladesh, we have seen how teachers urge students on to violence, instead of getting out and getting their hands dirty and bloody.

In Bengal, this is a time-honoured institution.

When the Japanese defeated Russia in 1905, the Bengali intellectual was wild with joy. Fair enough – unlike what proceeded. The Muslims of Bengal were poor and backward, and they refused to quit British goods – which were expensive. This turned the Muslims into enemies of the Brahmins – and Muslims were quick to emphasize their allegiance to the British.

The mistake the British made was in pouring resources into tertiary, instead of primary, education: such education inevitably produced the educated and unemployed Babu. We see the same thing going on in Bangladesh today: resources are devoted to the public universities, while primary education is starved.
The partition of Bengal was a sincere desire by the British to improve the lot of the Muslims – but the Hindus would have none of it. The terrorist acts that students unleashed forced the government to backtrack. Some of these anti-Muslim elements are today heroes in Bangladesh.

Here are a few contemporary observations from a book on India published in 1908 (The Project Gutenberg EBook of India, Its Life and Thought, by John P. Jones):

"This spirit found its incarnation and warmest expression in the opposition to the government scheme, two years ago, under Lord Curzon, for the partition of Bengal. The Bengalees keenly resented the division of their Province; for it robbed the clever Babu of many of the plums of office. He petitioned, and fomented agitation and opposition to the scheme. Then, in his spite against the government, he organized a boycott against all forms of foreign industry and commerce. This has been conducted with mad disregard to the people's own economic interest, and has, moreover, developed into bitter racial animosity. The Bengalee has striven hard to carry into other Provinces also his spirit of antagonism to the State. Though he has not succeeded in convincing many others of the wisdom of his method, he has spread the spirit of discontent and of dissatisfaction far beyond his own boundary. Even sections of the land which denounce the boycott as folly, if not suicide, have taken up the political slogan of the Babu (_Bande Mataram_--Hail, Mother!) and are demanding, mostly in inarticulate speech, such rights and privileges as they imagine themselves to be deprived of.

"The movement is, in some respects, a reactionary one; and race hatred is one of its most manifest results. It is not merely a rising of the East against the West; it is also a conflict between Mohammedans and Hindus. In Eastern Bengal, where the Mussulmans are in a large majority, and where the Hindus have become the most embittered, the former have stood aloof from the latter and have opposed the boycott. This has led to increasing hatred between the members of these two faiths,--a feeling which has spread all over the country, and which has carried them into opposing camps. This is, in one way, fortunate for the government, since it has given rise to definite and warm expressions of loyalty by the whole Mohammedan community.

"Disgruntled graduates of the University and school-boys take the most prominent place in this movement. The Universities annually send forth an army of men supplied with degrees--last year it was 1570 B.A.'s; and it is the conviction of nine-tenths of them that it is the duty of the government to give them employment as soon as they graduate. As this is impossible, many of them nurse their disappointment into discontent and opposition to the powers that be. Many of them become dangerous demagogues and fomenters of sedition. Not a few such are found in every Province of the country. And they find in the High School and College students the best material to work upon. These boys have been the most numerous and excited advocates of this movement."

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