by Vaishali V
“DO YOU HAVE IT IN YOU?………… the Zeal to empower youths and make their future brighter….IF YES, THEN Y.E.S. Team is the Right place for you!”
“The modern youth are becoming headache [sic] for parents, teachers and country owing to lack of values and character. This club is an attempt to re-orient the value system of students with focus on character which will thereby channelize their potential for their own benefit as well as benefit of society and posterity.”
“These programmes ought to help you understand yourself better, take charge of yourself and lead a healthy, fulfilling life as a student.”
I counted. 9 emails, all publicizing one event, within a fortnight. From s-mail, my department group and the hostel group put together. 9 emails, for a two day event, not to mention the various IPs, pamphlets and even billboards put up across campus. The ISO certified Shaastra can certainly take a leaf out of Reflections-DHRUVA’s book.
We live in turbulent times, where our values and attitudes are brought into question. While the campus can be a wonderful place to live in, it has also witnessed its fair share of trauma: several suicides over the past few years, fear of moral policing, and general unrest. Life can get complicated in this heady mix of academics, peer pressure and uncapped freedom. Granted, we may emerge stronger (and wiser) at the end of four years, but the journey isn’t smooth for anyone.
One cannot help but notice a curious trend shaping up in this process, the rise of the Personality Development Groups. While they have always been ubiquitous on campus – the Vivekananda Study Circle and the activities by the Art of Living to name some, there has been a suggestive shift over the past few months. Suddenly, ‘moral values’ and a particular perception of propriety are being marketed aggressively, and quite as suddenly, the ‘reflect’ in Reflections seems to have disappeared.
I am not against the need to pursue an ethical life, nor am I against Youth Empowerment. Nor do I have anything against these groups’ seemingly laudable intentions and the events they organize. Choosing to be a part of a group or attending their events is a personal choice, something like one’s religious beliefs. What I do feel strongly about is the method of publicity adopted in the process, this brandishing of individual beliefs, an equivalent, I think, of trying to hard-sell one’s religion in a liberal era.
Indeed, we live in an age where basic values are commodified and packaged into neat events. The age which sends out a message that participating in a competition asking me to write a poem on ‘Good and Bad Habits’ somehow makes me a better person, or attending a music clinic will help me lead a healthier life. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But while I am being bombarded with this sort of ethical propaganda from all directions, I am being nudged to believe that these events are good for me, that I ought to participate, in order to prove my moral worth.
And what’s more, it is not about personality development in general, but one particular brand, the one which sends out a message that one’s ‘Spirituality Character Quotient (SCQ)’ ought to be greater than 7; or more fundamentally, one ought to be spiritual, in order to be truly human. Somewhere, the emphasis of free will in character building has been lost.
You would think that an event disseminating the values of life would place importance on simplicity. Why then, this aggressive publicity, which I am sure, does not come cheap? I have been told by a coordinator that lakhs of rupees were spent on the recent youth empowerment event. Gift vouchers running into thousands of rupees were given away for anyone who ventured to participate, and tons of goodies like t shirts, pens and notepads were distributed on both days. The SAC hall, I am told, was strewn with pamphlets and membership forms after the event, pamphlets meant for the participants who never turned up. This extravagance seems like a jarring note, a question which shall never be raised. For after all, in the face of promoting Integrity, Honesty and Responsibility, what role does Economy play?
There will be some individuals who benefit from these groups, for I’d like to believe, that at the core of it all, their intentions are noble. The Vivekananda Study Circle has been around for years and has been doing that, albeit in a more mature fashion. These groups have existed, and will continue to exist for time to come, and perhaps sprout more groups and events. It goes by the basic motto on campus, live and let live. But if you are going to organize another workshop in the future to teach us how to live, could you do it more quietly, please?
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