What the Bangladesh Student Protests Teach Us About Youthful Idealism

Social Commentary

What the Bangladesh Student Protests Teach Us About Youthful Idealism

Illustration: Akshita Monga

“If the signal is red, the car must stop. Always use the zebra crossing. Never cross the speed limit while driving.” These are lessons we are taught in school. We are told that it is wrong to break rules. You will be punished if you do so, and resistance is frowned upon. So it’s ironic that a student protest in Bangladesh has forced adults to reflect upon how to better themselves.

As adults, we convince ourselves that nothing terrible will happen if you break rules once in a while. But when too many people start doing it, you suddenly have 150,785 deaths a year from road accidents, as was the case in India in 2016. We read about accidents in the papers every day, comment on how badly smashed the vehicle looks, turn the page, and move on with our lives.

We have accepted the reality that people break rules and die in road accidents. We have accepted that making guns available to children will massacre their schoolmates. We have accepted that education is unaffordable in certain parts of the world. That women will be molested on college campuses at times. Why is that? Reality’s brutal nature has done such a number on us that we’ve even stopped aspiring to be idealistic, to call out the obvious rights and wrongs around us.

Maybe it is time for us grown-ups to take a cue from younger folks around us.

It has been over a week since students took to the streets in Bangladesh protesting a deadly bus accident that led to the death of two teenagers, a boy and a girl, in Dhaka. Students in school uniforms marched with colourful placards, raising slogans and making their case for road safety, so that no more lives are lost to accidents. They have no political leaning. They don’t want any votes. They don’t aspire to create any divisions in society. They have no agenda. All they are is a bunch of students pointing out something wrong and asking adults to get our shit together.

With the power of social media at their disposal, students are making their voices heard, and it’s a wonderful trend.

Student protests are on the rise around the world. In February 2018, students walked out of class across schools in the United States, protesting gun violence after a series of mass shootings. An estimated 3,000 schools and a million students participated in the protest. In 2011, at the age of 14, Joshua Wong founded a student activist group in Hong Kong. Scholarism’s pro-democracy message to Beijing sent shockwaves around the world, as a teenager took on one of the world’s biggest superpowers. In 2016, South Africa saw its biggest protests since apartheid as students protested tuition fee hikes across various universities in the country. Back home, students went on a hunger strike at Jadavpur University in 2014 after a female student was molested on campus.

With the power of social media at their disposal, students are making their voices heard, and it’s a wonderful trend. In a connected world, they are aware of the happenings around the globe, from Donald Trump’s latest Twitter meltdown to the Women To Drive movement in Saudi Arabia. They hold strong social and political views and are not worried about holding opinions that might contradict those of their parents or relatives. They are not afraid to pose difficult questions to authority, and ask for the rights that they truly deserve.

Younger folks tend to have a romantic idealism about the world, and in the words of former NYT correspondent Stephen Kinzer, “It is never wise to discourage youthful idealism.” They see things in a very clear manner. They often identify right and wrong in a simplistic fashion. And maybe in these times of opinions, narratives, and agendas, we need someone to cut through the bullshit and call things out the way they are.

It is wrong to cross the speed limit while driving a vehicle. It is wrong to misbehave with women. It is wrong to massacre kids with automatic weapons. There is no grey area, it’s black and white. More power to student activists, the new catalysts for change in the world.