Juvenile militancy

By Benjamin Lyngdoh

Militancy is not a recent happening in Meghalaya. It has been there for decades and does not look like it will subside anytime soon. The problem with militancy is the cliché that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s hero.’ This acts as a motive/basis for militancy to initiate and thrive. In the process, its members increase. Now, it is always a problem when someone joins a militant group. It is even more so if that someone is a child/young adult whom we commonly refer to as a juvenile. Recently, the arrest of a juvenile member of the HNLC in connection with a blast in Shillong city (Khyndai Lad [Police Bazar] on 30th January, 2022 evening) has come as a worrisome development. Who is to be blamed for this? Is it the government or the family? Is it the HNLC for scouting juveniles to join them? These questions need answers.

Some learning:
To start with, let us put things in perspective. In Meghalaya, the involvement of children/young adults in militancy may have surfaced recently. But, it is not so, globally. One may infer that the present tendency of HNLC to rope in young minds for their cause may have been motivated by such global experiences. To this, add the frustration of the youth and the result is juvenile militancy. Although such juveniles may not be used for extreme ends (like killing), in any case their involvement is troubling. According to Human Rights Watch, ‘boys and girls as young as eight are involved in armed violence where they may fight on the front lines, participate in suicide missions, and act as spies, messengers, or lookouts, and girls may also be forced into sexual slavery’. Juvenile militancy is a continuous problem with the United Nations reporting that ‘more than 8500 children were used as soldiers in 2020’ with maximum violations in Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. In relation to these facts, an observation is that juvenile militancy happens when there is lack of opportunities (or mechanisms to highlight opportunities) and desperation. Meghalaya has features of both. This must be taken as learning to help reverse the trend.

Family in the spotlight:
The state government pointed to the role of the family in curbing the youth from involvement in militancy. Well, it is right; families do play an important role. The point to be noted here is that the moment the government rakes up ‘family’, the entire discussion on juvenile militancy gets watered down. One explanation for this is the societal psychological make-up where a lot of importance is given to the ‘role of families’ in child/youth development. But, what the government has failed to factor is that the external environment does play an equally important role in character/personality building. The mental make-up of a youth is more an outcome of this externality which is epitomised by friends and acquaintances, peer pressure, commercialization and the want for assets, free flowing electronic communication, access to violent content through gaming, a dynamic social media platform, etc. Now, these act as fluid mediums of desperation (and even depression) if they are not addressed appropriately. For example, the want for assets (gadgets or certain clothing, etc) combined with what is seen through social media can be a source of depression for the youth. To this, add the lack of employment opportunities; the mind will wander towards militant acts.

HNLC, do keep away:
In recent years, the encouragement by HNLC for the youth to join militancy can be traced to 2014. It openly claimed that it would welcome the youth to pick up arms. It can be construed that these current events of juveniles working for HNLC is an outcome of this consistent encouragement. In today’s world, reaching out to the target people for brainwashing into militancy is not difficult. The tools and means are readily available. Social media is used for testing the waters and hooking of the desperate and disillusioned youth. Once hooked, the young adult is opinionated through nefarious means such as alcohol, drugs and a certain feeling of communalism and hatred against the government. In fact, Human Rights Watch has observed ‘drugs and alcohol’ as the main tools of militant groups worldwide. The ground reality is that if HNLC would continue to entice the young minds to join its cause, then it would probably still succeed. This is because there are many who do support it openly. For example, just look at the support for HNLC in the YouTube comments section in any news concerning its activities. Being at an advantageous position, it would be best for the HNLC to be more responsible and at least care for the future of the young minds. As such, HNLC should keep away from the young adults if, as it claims it is fighting for the cause of the jaidbynriew.

Counselling towards becoming a fulfilled citizen:
Everybody is busy running after success. The goals we set are success oriented. This race does bring with it many pressures. Sometimes it leads to using any ways and means to achieve one’s goals. If we fail in achieving our goals, we are termed as failures. Today, when there is so much peer pressure and comparisons amongst the youth, it is time to revisit how the young minds are nurtured and trained. Instead of being a ‘successful citizen’ it is better to work towards being a ‘fulfilled citizen’. If one is successful, it may not mean that he/she is fulfilled. But, if one is fulfilled, then it would include being satisfied and successful too. This is because being successful is trying to become someone by force. But, being fulfilled is becoming someone which best suits us. A fulfilled citizen is one who is happy in his/her own position, employment, profession, assets and wealth, etc., without comparing himself/herself to others. It is about being happy where we are. For example, not everyone can become an officer. Some of us are destined to become entrepreneurs, artists, singers, etc because of the skill sets. Here, counselling is needed from all the stakeholders for the youth to achieve this end. In the process, that would make for a fulfilled citizen.

The role of teachers:
No matter how much we talk about family, the fact of the matter remains that children/young adult spends most of their time interacting with teachers. The teachers are role models. Hence, it becomes imperative for teachers to keep track of the activities and behaviour of the young minds and guide them accordingly. Learning English, arithmetic, science, social studies, etc., has no meaning if we cannot nurture them into being ‘fulfilled citizens’ by understanding their potential and interest in life. The parents generally believe that ‘they listen more to the teachers than to them’. It is a paradox of sorts but a valid one. This only throws into sharp focus of the important role that the teachers and the educational environment plays in shaping the mental make-up, thinking processes and behaviour of a youth. If parents get it wrong, a character is spoiled; but, if the educational environment gets it wrong, the entire future of a person is destroyed!
(Email: [email protected]; the writer teaches at NEHU)

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