by Kalana Senaratne
The lack of discipline shown by certain groups of students in universities has been a cause of great distress to many—quite naturally. The manner in which certain students behaved recently causing damage to persons and property deserves condemnation. Students who have violated the law have to be held accountable.
Politicians, too, are deeply worried by this lack of discipline shown by the students. The concerns raised by the politicians are understandable, for politicians ought to be seriously concerned about matters of discipline concerning the youth population.
But, one finds it quite amusing, nowadays, to hear and listen to such concerns raised by politicians, on the topic of discipline. This is because the politicians have miserably failed to set any acceptable or appreciable decent standard in that regard which others could be asked to meet or follow. Politicians are not role models that the youth can look up to in this respect; one cannot emulate them, because that might amount to emulating indiscipline.
Politicians dish out advice about the importance of proper public conduct and discipline. But who will advise them in turn? Discipline is an absolute necessity, but didn’t that genuine and sad question suddenly pop up when listening to these politicians: ‘Who are they to talk about discipline?'
The moment one is provoked to ask that question from politicians, one knows that something has gone terribly wrong in society, which needs urgent attention; for these people are the lawmakers, the rulers, and supposedly the ‘guardians’ of the State. Generally, their views ought to be taken seriously, but instead, those views are either totally disregarded or considered cynically and mockingly.
A society that does so is not a healthy one; it tells us much about the present level of discipline, but also about the future. Before proceeding any further, it should be noted that the main concern here is not about the personal lives of politicians. Rather, the concern here is about politicians needing to be more disciplined when it comes to behaving in public as responsible members of society and more importantly, as elected representatives of the people.
Take that supreme and august body which was inundated recently, the Parliament. And consider for a moment whether anyone would take the views and advice on matters of discipline coming from those inside that building with any degree of seriousness, given the way in which they have conducted parliamentary affairs in recent years. We know that on a number of occasions, the Speaker has had to remind the Parliamentarians that school children are watching the proceedings and therefore they ought to behave and conduct themselves properly and decently.
Such are the standards set by the politicians! Certain Members of Parliament are notorious for using improper language during debates. We also remember the way in which certain JHU-monks were treated (manhandled) in Parliament some years ago.
That is how some politicians behave inside Parliament. Then they come out, and show us that they haven’t changed. They continue to behave in the most horrendous manner possible (the most obvious example being the actions of a certain notorious minister who tied a man to a tree). Such abhorrent practices are then seen to be condoned by the party-hierarchy. And when certain students misbehave, the counter-response is no better.
When viewed closely, it becomes quite clear that it is the ‘politician’ who is most directly responsible for lack of discipline in society, especially in the student community today. Consider the plight of an innocent student: he is used by undisciplined politicians to further their own political agendas; then, he is being confronted and harassed in a similar way by the unruly and undisciplined politicians and their goons; and finally, the student is seen to be advised on the importance of respecting law and order by those very politicians who were seen to be condoning the lack of discipline shown by those belonging to their party. The beginning, the middle, the end; in all these stages, the role of the undisciplined politician is so palpable.
There is also advice given about ‘food discipline’, which is again good and valuable advice (i.e. concerns shown regarding the reports carried in the newspapers that around 1800 doughnuts were being sold every thirty minutes in certain schools). But here again, on this issue of the health risks related to the intake of doughnuts and Indian/Chinese food, one needs to question whether politicians themselves have given thought to such advice. So while the school children are deprived of such food, how sure are we, the public, that the food these politicians eat especially in the Parliamentary cafeteria is only healthy local food and what they drink is fresh fruit juice!
Cleaning up the school cafeteria is a healthy move, but if school children are to take these ‘political uncles and aunties’ more seriously, may be one also needs to clean up the Parliamentary cafeteria which one hears is not such a healthy place after all.
These are only two ‘disciplinary’ issues which were highlighted most recently. Much more remains to be said about this topic, of course. Yet, what is clear is that lack of discipline is a major problem. As Judge Weeramantry noted in his book titled, ‘A Call for National Reawakening’, ‘lack of discipline’ is a national weakness; a weakness that we, as well as those visiting the country, are exposed to.
This is seen in a number of places and Judge Weeramantry highlights a few: littered streets, the conduct of motorists and bus drivers, lack of respect for the ‘queue system’, "shaping" any matter on questions of law and order at government institutions by speaking to someone in authority, the "do you know who I am?" syndrome, etc. Lack of discipline is "a habit of mind which is carried over into nearly all activities" and this "element of discipline is increasingly relegated to a position of insignificance."
This is what seems to have happened and what seems to be happening today. And in many of this, lack of discipline and the uninspiring role of the politician has been a very significant and debilitating one. But, alas, we should ask ourselves the question: do we have to wait until the politicians discipline themselves? I believe we shouldn’t. Firstly, that is because we wouldn’t know who would be able to discipline them. Secondly, it’s because that wait will be a very long one.
(Kalana Senaratne is a postgraduate research student at the Law Faculty, University of Hong Kong)