Arindam Chaudhuri
The MMS scandal is clearly the result of what our schools, media and society at large make us believe is worthy of emulating

A seventeen year old boy, like perhaps many others of his age and times, has oral sex with his classmate, records the proceedings on his mobile phone, and perhaps rather un- chivalrously, forwards the contents to some of his friends. From here, matters go decidedly out of hand. Like a cancer cell that has gone berserk, the MMS clip spreads like an epidemic across cell phones, websites, TV channels, newspapers, coffee tables and perhaps even across boardrooms and extended parliamentary lunch breaks.

Like a nation of bored voyeurs, we made this juvenile experimental union of hormones and technology into an issue that sparks of a national debate. As a consequence, the self righteous moral police crawls out of the woodwork and effects the speedy arrest of an unwitting dot com CEO, the hurried disownment, expulsion and arrest of a juvenile, who was found guilty of the heinous and unpardonable crime of “kissing and telling”, and the humiliating arrest of an aspiring engineer because he was guilty of participating in an admittedly naughty enterprise. Now, isn't that a job well done?

This great mission that galvanized this nation (of bored voyeurs) would of course have remained unrealized, if not for the gallant role played by our “oh so conscientious” and morally responsible media. Like ravenous vultures descending on a carcass, they probed and prodded till all was revealed. Exposed thus, the classmate in question had no other choice but to leave the country of her birth and brethren. Well, what options would a young girl whose most vulnerable moments have fed the consciousness of a nation(of bored voyeurs) for weeks have, especially if the(oh, so conscientious) media steadfastly refuses to let either of them forget about the issue or their own journalistic uprightness.

The urge to explore ourselves and our desires is as old and as natural as nature herself. These secret but unarguably normal desires find expression or repression based on our environment and our education. It is our responsibility as a civilized and progressive society to provide ideal examples of both to our future generations. And if these desires manifest themselves in a manner which deviates from such an ideal (whatever that might be), the environmental and educational agencies are primarily responsible for the situation.

So, in a situation such as the above, what should an ideal educational institution do? Expel the child of course. What better way to absolve oneself of one's responsibility than to no not claim responsibility at all and just disown the problem, just like the “reputed and respectable” institution in question. It really does not matter how good he might have been at theatre or at thermodynamics. In one technologically flippant moment, he lost his identity as a potentially productive and whole person, and simply became a caricature a branded pervert. But the truth of the matter is that this horribly bloated issue has become what it has become because two seventeen year olds were acting their age, while the rest of the nation was not.

Scarred for life and ostracized by those who should have guided them through the greatest ordeal of their young lives, they now face a future on the fringes of society consigned and condemned to civilization's dustbins by a shamelessly hypocritical social conscience. A crime that could at best be described as a youthful folly, begat punishment that was unfair, insensitive and irrational, reminiscent of the witch hunts of the Dark ages.

Schools might believe that they are doing as much as they could have possibly done with the “regular dose” of moral science sermons and the “progressive dash” of sex education, in hope of a placebo effect. But from a student's perspective, such sessions are boring at best and usually worse. And clinical, un-empathetic expressions of scientific and religious morals serve no purpose for they fail to touch both the teacher and the taught as exemplified by the knee-jerk reaction of concerned institutions and the symptomatic treatment administered by morality mongers.

Sometime back, I was speaking to a group of school students, during a programme aired on Doordarshan. I asked the gathering, “How many of you read books other than those from your course?” Out of a gathering of 150 odd students, not a single hand went up. Undaunted, I posed my next question “How many of you watch at least one serial programme on television, everyday?” and, as you might have guessed, all the hands, without exception went right up. From my vantage point as an educationist, I feel that both the problem and the solution lie here, at this cusp between eras. 

While the media bombards our senses with a barrage of crass, easy to distill, pop programming which is relatively easy to both make and sell, we, along with young impressionable minds unfettered by the need for mature judgement, give in to the undemanding kaleidoscope as it pans its wares. In itself, the situation would not have been as alarming if the mind also had the opportunity to explore the world of opinions, ideas values, and heroic role models across time through the pages of a book. But it is a demanding medium, to both create and experience, and for a generation brought up on intellectual fast food, not many seem to have the appetite for salmon and caviar, and a five course meal. I strongly believe that the books one reads make us the people we become, so if we are a generation brought up on pulp fiction, why should it surprise anybody if our moral fabric displays the strength of the self same 'pulp'.

People like me who grew up reading tales of heroism and sacrifice mirrored in the lives of great heroes like Shivaji, and Harshavardhan, books like Uncle Tom's cabin and Roots, and the ideals and morals expressed in the works of Dickens and Victor Hugo, would never be guilty of racial intolerance, empty idolatry or of disrespecting women, or people of a different color or caste. For to us, a Shivaji or an Uncle Tom, or a Jean Val Jean are heroes who have become a part of our consciousness because through the books we read, we absorbed them into our being through all our senses. Unfortunately, today's glamour struck, MTV and FTV bred generation has not been exposed to such role models, and therefore are a disoriented and rudderless lot.

It is due to the kind of education that we are imparting, and what society is making us believe is worthy of emulation through overexposure to the glitz and gloss of music and fashion channels and the glamorous city supplements of leading newspapers, that matters have come to such a pass. Instead of passing a harsh judgement on accused parties, I would hold society and the education system guilty for the current predicament

Censorship works only if it is self imposed. Therefore it is vital that we empower our future generations with the power to choose between good and bad, right and wrong and indulgence and restraint, instead of turning away from them in their hour of greatest need just because we are ashamed of our own frailties. In hope of a more understanding, tolerant and considerate tomorrow, I wish all concerned an unscarred future.
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