The untapped power of teenage children

Shihab Sarkar | Published: August 09, 2018 20:55:46 | Updated: August 31, 2018 21:35:27

Of all the phases of age in man's life, adolescence is viewed as the shortest, yet most crucial. It displays the signs of the destination someone is set to reach finally.  The signs remain indistinct during puberty and start touching the fringe of youth as adolescence begins knocking at the door of 17. Rabindranath Tagore has defined the age as the most embarrassing in a man's life. At this stage a pre-youth is neither a child nor could he or she be called a young person. Being a mixture of childhood mellowness and advancing adulthood, the voice and behaviour of the fast growing teenager, especially of the boys, emerge as a strange combination. Tagore is believed to have found himself agonisingly caught in this difficult phase of life. However, the poet did not overlook the great creative and dreaming potential that remains latent in a teenager. A number of his poems eulogise the great courage and drive teenagers are capable of wielding. Throughout their brief adolescence, the teenagers remain filled with fancies and visions.

Poets Kazi Nazrul Islam and Sukanto Bhattacharya, throughout their poetic careers, have generously sung paeans to the age of early youth. While the teenage boy in Nazrul has expressed his resolve of breaking through the walls of a dungeon, Shukanto pointed out another attribute of the age: defiance. He says candidly the age of eighteen doesn't recognise any obstructions.

The period of the teens is, thus, an amazing and intriguing age in man's life. As the time of youth progresses, it becomes tainted with the smudges of earthly existence. Those include mundane interests, greed, ambition and the tendency to go ahead of others. Teenagers are free of these distractions. Owing to these adult features remaining largely unknown to the teenagers, they at times play the role of the agents of change in different times. They are found pointing their finger at irregularities and anomalies in society. When the whole social composition remains conveniently at ease with the status quo, the budding youths voice their note of dissent. They know well that they do not have much of a role in it, as the broader social and national issues belong to the adults' domain. But spontaneity and unity counts and eventually gains force. The whole feature later takes the form of a significant power. This power prompts the teenage segments in a population to display their inherent courage by saying 'No'. They see things in simple black- and-white. At the pre-youth stage, they are yet to become used to shades and doublespeak. Whenever they say 'no' to a prevailing condition or specific situation, they say this in all earnestness. Although the period of teens is not one for making commitments, on occasions they are driven to become committed to a cause.

The prelude to youth finds both the deviant and ideology-fired thoughts get the better of the teenagers. Which of the two covers their broader segments is dependent on given conditions. When a defective system cripples society, and there are precedents of dissent, remedial thoughts find grounds to geminate. On the other hand, in the irreparably disjointed times almost every aspect of social life is dictated by decadent forces. People in these periods remain benighted by myriad ills of the times, with few coming up in protest. It is the voices differing with the prevalent norms that come to the rescue of these societies replete with hollow promises. 

The independent and sovereign Bangladesh came into being through protests. They began in 1948, when young Bengalee students at Dhaka University at a campus ceremony roared in unison --- No, No! The arrogant declaration that Urdu would be the only state language of the then Pakistan was met with outright rejection. It was that protest which had sparked the sparks of scores of other protests in the erstwhile East Pakistan, leading finally to the birth of Bangladesh.

The recent teenage students' upsurge in Bangladesh over the demand for bringing discipline to road transport movement was unique in more than one sense. The event carried the legacy of numerous protests that had resonated the length and breadth of this land since the British rule. Despite being commonly undermined in the later times, the teenagers were attached due importance in the anti-British independence struggles. In the later Bengalee mass movements launched in Pakistan, pre-youth teens played their considerably major roles. The participations were driven by the unalloyed emotion centring round the strong urge to see a change. Beginning with Khudiram Bose, Prafulla Chaki et al in the anti-British movement, the teenage fighters were later joined by many others. They included Motiur in the 1969 mass movement, and Noor Hossain in anti-autocracy movement in 1987 in the then East Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively.

The spontaneous teenage upsurge was different in nature. It was not aimed at the creation of a new socio-political entity. Nor did it seek freedom from oppression by a ruling clique. But on being taken hostage by the reckless transport sector for year in and year out, they came out on the Dhaka streets. The outburst spread like wildfire all over the country. It was because few townspeople could remain unaffected by the anarchy that dominated traffic movement in the country. The reason the school and college students took it upon themselves to cleanse a system of some chronic ills was simple. To their disillusionment they had lately found that few were coming forward with solutions. In place of swinging into action, everyone, including the high-ups having authority, loved to adopt the same old style: sermonising and engaging in ritualistic exercises. Perhaps the inevitable had been waiting to happen. The macabre killing of two students at a stoppage by a wayward bus became the last straw. A tinderbox situation set in.

Since the teenage boys and girls are students and are on the path to becoming the country's future citizens, they cannot remain on the city streets for long. They have to resume their studies. They have returned to their classes. However, in spontaneous outbursts like this there are fears of derailment, and infiltration by vested interests cannot also be downplayed.

The teenage students' movement for a radical change in a blight-ridden system stands out with its distinctiveness. It is especially so in the context of Bangladesh. This land has been witnessing political upsurges and turmoil for over six decades. That a protest campaign to reform a flawed system can be launched successfully by teenagers has been beyond popular thought until recently. Now that the message of the movement has been made to get across, they can reasonably feel triumphant. But in the perspective of the student agitation's outcome and possible developments, the tendency to dig the heel in a monolithic system looms menacingly. It is a bad omen, because it may undo the auspicious start of a process of reforms long overdue in public sectors. This has to be done away with. Carrying out the necessary reforms in the public transport sector ought not to be caught up in foot-dragging.

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